Michael's Dispatches

Stuck in the Mud

24 September 2012

2011-09-23-0001-1000Chazray Clark was blown up in September 2011. His buddies posted his image on the door, and on the wall of our tent. Nearly everyone in the tent had been wounded at least once.

Before Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton was blown up and killed in Afghanistan, he wrote to U.S. Representative Bill Young about incompetent leadership and meaningless risk-taking in this hollow war.  Matthew was on his third Afghan tour.

The Soldier’s words are emblematic of the realities and frustrations of a war that many Americans do not realize is still on.  The veteran wrote, “As a Brigade, we are averaging at a minimum an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives.”


2011-09-19-111435-1000U.S. weapon destroyed when an Afghan Soldier stepped on a bomb in Zhari in September 2011.

Combine that lethal meandering with the fact that our troops are inadequately trained in Ground Sign Awareness (GSA), and are nearly blind when it comes to combat tracking, and it is no wonder that we take so many casualties.  Much of the billions of dollars that we spent on counter-IED gadgets were wasted.  We burned the money.  Most counter-IED appliances cannot be used in the places where our people walk.

In southern Afghanistan, all but a few gadgets are useless in those fields, grape rows, and villages.  Dogs are of limited use.  Matthew wrote truthfully that many missions are about nothing in particular.  They are busywork, combat style, in fields of bombs, where small-arms ambushes and snipers are the daily norm.  Plenty of veterans can vouch for the authenticity of Matthew’s observations. Ask them.

Yet the enemy is not the cause of most frustrations.  This is war.  We try to frustrate each other and this is expected.  The worst frustrations are caused by our own leadership, by our Afghan cohorts, and because we create our own obstacles.  Nothing is more maddening than watching the incompetence of our own side become more disadvantageous than enemy bombs and bullets. We are not just fighting the enemy. We are fighting against ourselves.

image005-1000SecDef Panetta: Fan of Red Crosses and unarmed MEDEVAC helicopters.

For example, after 11 years of war, our leadership is still forcing unarmed MEDEVAC helicopters to fly over Afghanistan.  They force our pilots and crews to fly into danger, unarmed, while displaying the Red Cross, the symbol of the Crusaders.  I would give a hundred bucks to fly a Red Cross-emblazoned Blackhawk into a hot LZ with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey aboard.

Secretary Panetta and our Generals pretend that we must display Red Crosses to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions.  This is false.  We are not obligated to display the Red Cross. None of our allied partners display them on their helicopters in Afghanistan.  The Norwegians and other armies removed them.  It was nothing more than common sense.

The Taliban pay no heed to the Geneva Conventions.  When our MEDEVACs do display the Red Cross, it is illegal for them to carry offensive weapons.  The Taliban know this. A helicopter wearing the Red Cross is defenseless. Red Crosses do not just offend the religious sensibilities of the Taliban: they embolden them. The Taliban consider our MEDEVACs to be an easy kill. And they are.

Is it any wonder that we are losing this war? Red Crosses themselves are not entirely to blame, obviously, but they are indicative of poor generalship, and we have had that in abundance. Pundits blame this disaster on former President Bush, on Obama, on the press, on our ISAF partners, and most of all on the Neolithic Afghan “government,” all of which are rancid ingredients of this unhealthy pie. But the reality is that the U.S. military leadership has failed. Who does the President ask for options? He asks the Generals. Our Generals have helped morph Afghanistan into a bomb and opium factory.

Even if our Presidents had made perfect decisions, incompetent military leadership and the inability of our current leaders to execute maneuvers more complex than blunt trauma would still have hobbled them.  It took years for us to get serious about training Afghan forces. When we finally got underway, we did it sloppily, and we have lost many men due in part to our haste and our poor security measures.

America needs a purge of its top military Generals.  Not a wholesale purge, as there are some good leaders, but we have too many Generals and attempts to weed them down have failed.  We need to get back to basics.

2011-08-04-052459-1000Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

After 11 years, our troops are inadequately and inappropriately trained, and wrongly outfitted.  Money has never been the issue.  Americans were not stingy.  The money supply was generous.  We used the money to buy monster trucks with space-tech gadgets that cannot go off-road on even semi-rough terrain, and counter-IED gear that cannot find simple bombs, because the bombs are too simple. Most of Afghanistan has no roads.  Using these monster trucks is like running missions while staying on railroad tracks. The enemy knows exactly where we will be.  They are not running from us.  If you sit still, they will come.  Believe me.

In Zhari District, the enemy is accurate with their 82mm recoilless rifles, which easily penetrate our armor.  The enemy can stop us with a real or a decoy IED, and then take out four vehicles in thirty seconds.

Inside the wire, Green on Blue and insider attacks have reached an all-time high.  Our Afghan counterparts murder our troops on a near weekly basis.  (Green on Blue refers to Afghan forces attacking ISAF forces.  Insider attacks refer to Afghan contractors, etc., doing the same, and include Green on Blue.)

When you ask top commanders about the war, the response is something straight out of Apocalypse Now.  The supreme officer in our military is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.  Just this week, Dempsey is quoted on the JCS website:

“The surge had its intended effect,” Dempsey added. “I think it was an effort that was worth the cost -- and don’t forget, it did have its cost. But I think it will prove, as we look back on it, to have set the conditions necessary for us to achieve the objectives by the end of 2014.”

Who does Dempsey think that he is talking to with his comment, “and don’t forget, it did have its cost”?  We get it, General Dempsey.  Loud and clear.  We wonder if you do.

General Dempsey is a favorite on the milblog Small Wars Journal.  The SWJ editor-in-chief is a journalist named Dave Dilegge, a retired service member, and a director at the Small Wars Foundation.  With those credentials, we might expect that Dilegge spends much time downrange to help tune his BS sensors.  If not downrange … at minimum, we would expect him to be at work in a dark basement poring over information streaming in from myriad sources.

The truth of the matter is that amateur journalist and editor Dave Dilegge owns and operates a food truck in Largo, Florida.

imagetruck-1000Office of Dave Dilegge, editor-in-chief of the influential Small Wars Journal.

truckinside-1000Nothing against food trucks, but this is hardly the place to come for advice on Afghanistan, on small wars, or on nation building. Nevertheless, for folks who would like a free counterinsurgency consultation, or to book this food truck for a party, go here.

General Dempsey seems to have booked the food truck.  He does a good job pushing his word out through the service window.  This is a safe way to peddle information.  Critics who actually spend time on the ground in Afghanistan are dangerous, on the other hand: they know too much.

Some of us want more than street food.  We want to know why Camp Bastion security was breached, and we want to know how the Taliban destroyed a Marine Corps Harrier squadron. Who has been held responsible? Who was fired?  HQ in Kabul refused to give me the name of who was in charge of Bastion security.  Typical cover-up.

American taxpayers paid hard earned money for those Harriers, and now they are wreckage.  $200 million is gone.  We lost two U.S. Marines who were trying to save those jets, including the squadron commander, who by all accounts was an outstanding officer.  Our men are gone.

Why is it that sangers (guard towers) sometimes are unmanned in Afghanistan?  Since 2010, I have written about unmanned sangers at least twice, and now word comes that unmanned sangers were the norm at the Bastion base complex.

image009-1000General Dempsey: Fan of Red Crosses, unarmed MEDEVACs, and food truck information operations.

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