Losing Morale In Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 10 months ago

Michael Yon recently penned a piece entitled Stuck In the Mud, written in the same spirit as my own Doing The Same Things For Too Long In Afghanistan.  Michael details better than I did the deleterious and debilitating effects that technology has had on our war efforts.  Visit my own article, and then visit Michael’s article.  Michael adds flesh to the skeleton of my own views.  My friend John Bernard continues Michael’s thoughts by observing:

This is another important piece chronicling the perverse nature of an ill-advised battle strategy chosen by a mindless body politic and their morally defunct General Grade surrogates.

If the strategy (COIN) was such a magnificent contrivance, there would be no discussion about progress; it would in fact be self-evident. Instead we have journalists like Michael Yon, who is not of the exact same camp as I am. He and I have talked and he has held out hope for a properly run COIN operation even in the midst of the demonically possessed while I believe every iteration is doomed to failure.

This, his latest piece, provides even more insight into this nightmare called COIN, conceived in the hearts of spiritually soiled men and in meetings governed by a coward’s concern for global perceptions! This travesty of strategy, as a principle of theater-wide application ought to be outlawed by this Nation!

Readers know my own views.  I disagree with population-centric COIN as a strategy.  It is a tactic, and at that, a poor one.  But I must caveat what John says.  While I agree with John that COIN practiced the way we have in Afghanistan is doomed to failure, if it is practiced in a different way it can succeed in certain parts of the world.

To be more precise, In Fallujah in 2007, al Qaeda fighters had been driven from Ramadi, and had such control over the city that the inhabitants were persuaded to send their own children out to encircle the Marines when they patrolled, raising black balloons in order to show the insurgents where the Marines were for the purposes of mortar targeting.  FOB Reaper was built while my son and others passed sand bags over their heads, being shot at by snipers for much of the time.  Fallujah was utterly controlled by al Qaeda fighters.

Enter the 2/6 Marines for a 7 month deployment.  They went in hard, patrolling heavily, laying down massive fire at times, engaged in forced (and at times violent) searches of homes, performed census operations, locked the city down from vehicular traffic with only two checkpoints into and out of the city, shot insurgents as they attempted to boat over the Euphrates river into Fallujah (my son engaged in those operations), and other things that I simply cannot discuss.

As part of this operation, they had the assistance of the IPs who did everything they could to earn the trust of the Marines, looked up to them, and admired them and their work.  This leads me to my next point.  My son observed that the people of Fallujah were Islamic in name only.  They weren’t committed, and according to my son, were virtually as Westernized as Americans.

We can practice counterinsurgency (not population-centric per se, but a different brand of counterinsurgency like my son did in Fallujah) to an extent that is inversely proportional to strength of belief in Islam.  For example, we couldn’t conduct COIN operations in Egypt, home of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Operations in foreign countries have to be much more brief than we have done in Afghanistan, must find and kill the enemy more effectively, and must lead to the understanding that we may have to do it again within ten or twelve years, which is what the U.S. Marines are for.  The Army’s (and administration’s) notion that we can build a state that never … ever … considers itself an enemy of the U.S., and that is the only definition of success, has in part led to the debacle we have witnessed in Afghanistan.

Population-centric counterinsurgency is based largely on nineteenth and twentieth century Western psychology.  If I reject the pronouncements of those studies, and I do, then I must reject in large measure population-centric COIN and state building.

Finally, take note of Michael’s more recent piece entitled America’s Dumbest War.  Take careful note of the comments.  It’s as if a herd of PAOs dropped by to talk about how the guy who wrote the letter is an idiot and couldn’t possibly have known the full truth.

These commenters missed the point entirely.  First of all, I have reason to believe the Soldier’s comments, at least in part, based on communications with an officer currently in Afghanistan concerning travel, new directives, etc.  But second, what if only part of it is true?  A problem, yes?  Finally, what if none of it true?

Still a problem.  When we get to the point that the grunts feel this way, we have lost the campaign.  If the grunts feel this way, their parents and spouses do to.  When you’ve lost the fighters’ morale, you’ve lost everything.  Technology is useless at that point.  I have said before that one of the most debilitating effects of lousy rules of engagement is the effect they have on morale.  The same thing goes for our strategy.  If they see none (except for the exhausted talking points), they will lose hope.

No, not lose hope.  They have already lost hope.  Bring them home.  The campaign is over.

  • TheOddAngryAnalyst

    Afghanistan, in my opinion, was largely lost during the criminally stupid and misguided adventure our nation engaged in, in Iraq. Once we shifted the military/intelligence focus (and weight of our military personnel and material) to the completely unnecessary 2003 expedition to remove Saddam Hussein, we essentially lost the momentum, and thereby the war, in Afghanistan.
    My current understanding of certain US Army units’ ROE is that it’s purely defensive, and along the lines of “you may not fire unless you are DIRECTLY fired upon, and can verify the location of the OPFOR”. This, to me at least, is a recipe for needless American deaths, and failure. If we’re truly at this point, we need to own up to our mistakes and withdraw our forces immediately, instead of continuing to place our soldiers and Marines in harm’s way for reasons of national prestige and “face”. Obviously the people on the ground pick up on this, and their morale is understandably negatively effected.
    The fact is that the stated missions of training up the ANA and Afghani police forces to a level of competency which would be even remotely up to the task of quashing a Pakistani supported Taliban insurgency by 2014 is an absolute mountain of insane gibberish, and completely devoid of credibility.
    There are even rumored intelligence estimates that put the survivability of the Kabul government, after a complete American/NATO withdrawal, at anywhere from 48-hours to 2 weeks.
    I don’t know about the Corps, but the Army is now at a point where there are no-longer enough deployable infantry platoon commanders and NCOs to send to Afghanistan to assist in said training missions. They are actually “volunteering” staff officers to fill the void. I personally know of a Major (pilot/aviation), who is a Latin American FAO, with no Pashto, Dari, or even Russian language skills, who has been “volunteered” in this way. He has a wife and a small child. With the recent and increasing “Green-on-Blue” attacks, I’ve become of the opinion that the mission, such as it is, is hopelessly broken, with too many shallow thinkers and egos in the way, and we need to get our people the fuck out of there will all due haste.
    Just my $.02. I could be wrong.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Well, I must demur. I don’t think Iraq had anything to do with it. I have written many times about the fact that in the last years I have seen so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that they literally couldn’t house them all, and were building housing as fast as they could.

    But what did we do with those Marines, other than send them to Iraq? We sent them on wasteful MEUs that were never used for anything other than humanitarian missions. They could have been sweeping through Afghanistan. But we didn’t do this because our Afghanistan strategy wasn’t to sweep through and find and kill the enemy. It was to build a state.

  • Jim Keats

    First off, let me admit that I have no military experience. I’m simply a “student” of history (particularly military history…and, recently, er, recent military history).

    I’m greatly saddened by the loss of all of our troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that both missions were worthwhile…but I believe that both of them would take a GENERATION to be successful…and the USA can’t really afford the price (in either blood or treasure). Both of these “countries” are formed of various clans and tribes…and don’t really have a sense of “nationality” (they are “family/clan” first). I think that the only way to successfully create workable nation-states in these areas is to re-draw national boundaries and let the “countries” break up ala Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia (hopefully more like the former than the later!!). Of course this solution creates it’s own problems (e.g. who gets what land, do neighboring countries want a Kurdistan, etc.??).


You are currently reading "Losing Morale In Afghanistan", entry #9181 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Michael Yon and was published October 1st, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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