Throughout July and August of this year, US forces suffered almost 90 soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Heeding recommendations from military leaders and his advisors, President Obama has approved sending 17,000 troops, which includes a 5,000-member Marine Regimental Combat Team, to support the overextended combat troops in southern Afghanistan. While these numbers may seem impressive, in military terms this is the equivalent of scrounging couch change trying to pay off a balloon mortgage payment.
The desired purpose of the additional troops is twofold: To train pro-US Afghan troops, and help secure territory taken from Taliban forces. Concerning the former, recent events have demonstrated that our Afghan allies have as much enthusiasm to fight as the ARVN did in the Vietnam War. On the latter objective, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has hedged his bets by telling General Stanley McChrystal to be "forthright" in requesting the necessary forces to get the job done, while adding this disclaimer:
“I have expressed some concerns in the past about the size of the American footprint, the size of the foreign military footprint, in Afghanistan, and clearly I want to address those issues,” Gates said during a visit to Fort Worth, Texas.
“And we will have to look at the availability of forces, we’ll have to look at cost. There are a lot of different things that we’ll have to look at once we get his recommendations, before we make any recommendations to the president."
This is a nothing more than a veiled confession that the US military is stretched to the breaking point. Somehow, General Stanley McChrystal must find a way to secure a country twice the size of Vietnam, with only a third of the troops that were employed in that disastrous Southeast Asian war. As a previous secretary of defense once said, “you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want." So much for a change from the previous administration, eh?
This token reinforcement of troops tragically demonstrates the cliché of hope triumphing over experience. It reeks of the same desperation that existed during the Battle of Stalingrad. General Paulus 6th Army, consisting over a quarter of a million men, was bogged down in the rubble and ruins of the city. On November 7, 1942, in a bid to break through the stubborn Russian resistance at the factories, Hitler personally authorized the deployment of five combat pioneer battalions. In a brutal war involving millions under arms, much was riding on these three thousand elite soldiers to break the stalemate. After five days of intensive fighting, these specialized combat engineers suffered one thousand casualties. Though they made considerable gains in pushing back the Russian defense line, in the end they ran out of steam, and could go no further. Twelve days later, on November 19, the Soviets launched a massive counteroffensive, Operation Uranus, that doomed the entire 6th Army.
While US forces cannot be defeated in a climactic conventional battle in Afghanistan, they will lose trying to secure the geography and defeat a people that offer them nothing substantial to grasp as leverage for victory. I sense that our government knows very well this token force is nothing more than a political sop to give the impression that something is being done to gain victory in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, President Obama must being be feeling more akin to LBJ than FDR in attempting to pass a national health care bill while maintaining an expensive military occupation overseas. Attempting to build the Great Society while making the World Safe For Democracy at the same time has as much chance as Hitler’s Germany winning a two-front war. None at all.
Meanwhile, the constant trickle of US soldier’s deaths continues — One here, a few there, day after day, persisting like a constant bloody drip from a leaky faucet. Instead of stopping the leak, our country chooses to be distracted by louder issues such as who will win the next American Idol competition, or the ongoing news marathon on the life and death of Michael Jackson. Every couple of days, somewhere in the US, flags in various parts of the country are set at half-mast to honor those local men and women sacrificed in this winless war. If our government’s goal for an ongoing commitment in Afghanistan (and Iraq) comes to pass, then I humbly suggest leaving all US flags permanently at half-mast, to save time and effort. Better yet, upside down as well.
Ron Shirtz [send him mail] is a transplanted Californian teaching Graphic Communications in Northern (Not “Upstate”) New York. His hobbies include arranging deck chairs on sinking ships, tilting at windmills, and being fashionably late.