On the Front Lines in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Jim Landers of the Dallas News is on the front line with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.  All of his observations are interesting, but there are two that are particularly poignant.

KALAGU, Afghanistan – Sgt. Corey Tack guns the engine of the 18-ton armored truck up a snow-streaked, gravelly hill. He parks on a spot with a commanding view of the valley between white, jagged mountains. Sgt. Oscar Macias opens the 400-pound back door and jumps out.

Facing a night of midteen temperatures and heavy frost, the soldiers start digging holes for their sleeping bags.

“A mortar hits in the middle here, bang, we’re all dead,” said Macias, from Rio Hondo, Texas. “But if it hits over there, you’ll be in a hole and the shrapnel will go over your head.”

The confident, weather-burned faces of these soldiers tell a story. They’re battle-tested and undefeated. They sense the enemy knows and avoids their truck with its red-and-white banners that read “Hooligans.” But they also know they are not winning the battle against insurgents in Afghanistan.

“When I first rolled in, it was kill everybody and everything,” Macias said with exaggeration.

No more.

Even if you do take their leaders out, there’s always somebody else to replace them,” he said.

These Cavalry Scouts say there aren’t enough American troops here to cover a country the size of Texas.

They know their enemies roam unchecked across much of the bleak high plains. They know the enemy is winning on the information front, spreading propaganda about U.S. soldiers smashing down doors in the middle of the night to rape, pillage and murder.

To win, they know they have to hand over security to their Afghan counterparts, who often come to a fight ill-equipped and stoned on hashish.

The hash smoking “happens a lot – more than I know or want to know,” said Sgt. 1st Class Bruce Kobel, a Lewiston, Maine, firefighter with the Vermont National Guard who is training Afghan soldiers here. “It’s like, you learn there’s an accepted level of corruption. Well, there’s also an accepted level of drug abuse, too. It’s part of their culture.”

Macias’ observation runs right in line with reports to The Captain’s Journal from field grade officers in Afghanistan.  Kill a mid-level Taliban commander, and they stay low for a few weeks to regroup and realign.  Then the violence starts again, and the cycle continues.  The Special Operations Forces campaign against high value targets, however effective it might have been to get us far enough to stand down troops in Iraq and switch focus to Afghanistan, is now failing us.  A HVT campaign is no replacement for counterinsurgency.

We have previously commented on the corruption in Afghanistan and how it will cause the campaign to fail if it proceeds unchecked (because it legitimizes the Taliban shadow government).  But we learn something new with Landers’ report from the front lines.  Hash smoking is not only rampant within Afghan culture (we knew this), but the Afghan Army doesn’t control it among their own.

This is yet another example of reverse legitimacy.  It would almost be better for the population not to see the Afghan Army at all than to see them staggering towards their home on patrol, stoned on Hashish.  The Captain’s Journal thinks that it’s time to throw away the bongs and pick up a rifle.  Without being able to turn over to a legitimate Afghan Army, all will be lost in Afghanistan.




You are currently reading "On the Front Lines in Afghanistan", entry #2167 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency and was published February 16th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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