Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Waste of Fine Infantry

So this platoon comes back to an Afghan village it hasn’t visited in three months. One of the village elders tells the platoon commander, Lieutenant Thomas Goodman, "We ask you not to come here. It is better for us, and better for you." As the platoon leaves the village, the Taliban attack it and a four-hour firefight ensues.

This compelling story, told by a Knight Ridder/Tribune correspondent, perfectly illustrates the futility of the foreign policy course we are pursuing, especially in Afghanistan.

The U.S funded a clinic to be built it the village to “demonstrate to Afghans that they have more to gain from the Americans than from the Taliban.” Last spring the Taliban blew the clinic up.

Goodman takes off his helmet and sunglasses and explains to the village elders that the Taliban have been passing through their village on their way to attack U.S. outposts along the nearby Pech River. "Unless this is stopped, you have to understand that you'll be getting regular visits from coalition forces," Goodman says.

The elders politely tell him to bug off.

The platoon splits into two squads and walks away from the village. The platoon’s Afghan translator asks the journalist if he has a mobile phone. "You should call your loved ones now to say that you care about them,” the translator says. “I'm telling you, the walk home from here is not a joke.”

The platoon walks about 500 yards out of the village with helicopters patrolling overhead when gunfire sizzles down from the mountainside. Four hours later the fight is over. The platoon thinks they and the helicopters maybe killed five Taliban. There’s no way of knowing how accurate this assessment is. The platoon, thankfully, merely suffers two sprained ankles.

What’s wrong with this picture? Everything.

If the platoon isn’t there, nothing bad happens. If we hadn’t built the clinic, the Taliban wouldn’t have blown it up. If we didn’t have outposts along the Pech River, the Taliban wouldn’t pass through the village to attack them.

Is it any wonder the village elders don’t want the Americans in their village? Is it any wonder Afghans don’t want us in their country?

Our interventionist foreign policy creates many problems and solves few of them. It certainly doesn’t make us more secure. For every Islamo-hooligan we kill or capture we create two or more new ones.

Our policies are strategically foolhardy. They’re tactically imbecilic as well.

A platoon—roughly two-dozen troops—of the best-trained, best-equipped military in history, supported by helicopter gunships, got hung up in a four-hour battle with dudes who probably live in caves. The Americans are running out of ammo. The American helicopters fly in more machine gun bullets and grenades. The Taliban don’t have any helicopters to do that for them, but they don’t run out of ammo. Nearby U.S. bases provide covering artillery fire. The Taliban don’t have any artillery.

“Gradually,” the Knight Ridder correspondent says, “the Soldiers made it to safety. The firefight had lasted about four hours. The entire operation, from dawn until the return to base, went on for about seven hours.”

This is sorry stuff. This platoon, backed by airpower, didn’t defeat a Taliban ambush. It escaped from it, barely.

What was the point of the platoon’s mission? It went into an Afghan village to act tough and got run out of town by a herd of goat ropers. That sums up our entire Afghanistan experience.

Don’t confuse this firefight with one of those deals where the bad guys are mixed in with the population and Gen. Stan McCrhystal’s goofy rules of engagement require our guys to tie both hands behind their backs and box with their chins. This was a straight up fight between our guys and an inferior force, and our guys were lucky to get out of it with mere ankle sprains.

It was a case of a tactical situation reflecting the bathos of the strategic mindset. High command sends 20-somethng year-old Lieutenant Goodman and his platoon of teenagers into a village to tell a bunch of old Afghans we’re not happy that the Taliban are passing through their village to attack us. The old Afghans tell Goodman to pack rocks.

The platoon leaves town the way it came, through a riverbed surrounded by high ground. The bad guys, who saw them come in, know exactly how to whack them coming out.

Stanley McChrystal wants to put 40,000 or more Americans in this exact same position. As Georg Patton would say, "Such a waste of fine infantry."

This is a sad patch in American history. We need to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon and its rabid Long War followers don’t want that to happen, and I’m losing faith in President Obama’s ability to stand up to them.

From what one reads, Obama is likely to let his generals put more good infantry into bad terrain.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Clear-hold-build. It did not work in NAM, it will not work here. Now Mc Chrystal want to send patrols out into the hinterland and use them as bait to draw fire. His hero must have been General Custer. I used to think of Mc Chrystal as General Westmoreland. Now i will refer to him as Custer.

  2. "Bait"is a perfect word for it.

  3. A few alarming thoughts for this rainy (here, anyway) Thursday.

    Daniel Ellsberg thinks that Obama will approve McChrystal's demands because he fears a mlitary revolt if he doesn't.

    Now that's comforting.

    Nick Turse over at TomDispatch has done some delving and number crunching to show the military spending going on in Afghanistan . Some of the completion dates stretch to 2014, and probably beyond.

    There were reports yesterday that some of the Afghan police recruits are about fifteen years old. They have false identity cards, and quite often their pay is supporting entire famlies.

    One report, from Sarah Chayes, I think, said that she marveled at how much the police recruits, small and skinny at the start, had grown and filled out when they were fed properly. That may have been because they were young boys who do have an alarming tendency to do that in their mid-teens.

    And in Iraq, there are something like 1.4 million pieces of equipment, one of the reasons cited for not being able to get out quickly. The contractor who is supposed to remove them, or move them to Afghanistan, has a contract which runs out just as the date to move approaches. More contractor pork, more gazillions of dollars and more years just to move all that junk?

  4. Just to let you know I still come by and read. I'm just to pissed off to comment much.

  5. Anonymous9:32 PM

    Like the Muslims, if the US Army comes down my street I can deal with them. There are 80 million armed Americans.

    There is nothing to fear from a "military revolt" fear.

    The wars have caused the All Volunteer force to descend to the same level as the post Vietnam army.

    See Ft Hood today.

    The Generals may revolt, but what is worrisome is the lack of control and discipline of the Army.

    Tell Mc Crystal to secure Ft Hood.

    That is also beyond Mullins' and Petraeus' abilities.


  6. Anonymous2:22 AM

    Ah Ft. Hood.

    Well, it seems to be just a "home-front fragging". You can't discipline out personal beliefs. Nor should should you want to.

    This event reflects well and badly on the US.

    Well, because the US Army is made from people from all over with many kinds of persuasions. Badly, because that same US Army is occupying the places where these people come from, stretching itself to the breaking point.

    I imagine if Vietnamese had made up a detectable percentage of the US troop strength in the late 60's, we would have seen these things happening then, too.

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