U.S. Military Under Increased Pressure
By: John Hampton
As the war in Afghanistan grinds on, our troops are faced with an ever increasing amount of danger, stress and pressure. Many of them are on their third, fourth or even fifth combat deployment. Officially, our commitment runs through the year 2014, and President Obama recently declared that he is holding to his plan which calls for the U.S. and its allies to transition to more of a support role in 2013, before turning over full time security to the Afghans in 2014.
Recent events, including urinating on Taliban corpses, burning Korans and the killing of Afghan civilians, have engendered intense anger and resentment from the Afghan people toward the United States. My mission here is not to justify any unlawful, unethical or immoral behavior. I am not assuming that anyone is innocent or guilty. If, after an investigation of these incidents someone is found guilty of a crime, that person/persons should be punished appropriately. At the same time, I certainly do not hold the opinion that retaliatory actions taken by the Afghans were justified. My purpose here is simply to irradiate some of the extraordinary conditions American forces are now faced with while serving in Afghanistan.
So far in 2012, a total of 46 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan. One third of those deaths can be directly attributed to the actions of Afghan security forces. And these are the people who are supposed to be our allies! The latest incident took place on Monday when an Afghan dressed as a policeman killed an American serviceman in eastern Afghanistan. Last month two U.S. military advisers were executed while working in their offices inside the heavily guarded Interior Ministry Building in Kabul. And at least four other U.S. servicemen were killed in the rioting that broke out after the Koran burnings.
General Allen, commander of NATO forces, said that the Afghans and the International Security Assistance Force have systems in place to help stop these attacks before they happen, and that they were having an effect. Considering what has happened to date, I’m guessing these systems have done little to convince our soldiers that they will not be targeted by an Afghan ally.
Regarding the Koran burning, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for the U.S. government to bring the perpetrators of the act to justice and put them on trial and punish them. He has even consulted jihadi leaders in his quest for justice. But at the same time, Karzai has acknowledged that the incident was not deliberate. Deliberate or not, there is also evidence to show that NATO held prisoners were using the Korans to transmit extremist messages to each other. This was accomplished by prisoners writing messages directly on the pages of the Korans. Burying or burning are both considered appropriate methods for disposing of desecrated Korans. So it seems as though the Afghans want it both ways. It is acceptable for a Muslim to desecrate a Koran, but an atrocity if a non-Muslim disposes of a desecrated Koran in an approved manner.
This incident has been the catalyst for countless apologies from the Obama administration and hours of cultural sensitivity training for our troops. I think this sends an ambiguous message. Do we apologize for every enemy combatant killed by our troops? Do we apologize for destroying said combatant’s vehicles and places of shelter? Do we apologize for confiscating said combatant’s weapons and other supplies? Of course not! So why do we apologize profusely for the burning of Korans? Especially when it has been acknowledged by both the U.S. and Afghan governments that the incident was not deliberate.
Regarding our tactics and strategy, Karzai has demanded that coalition forces conduct no more night raids into Afghan villages. The raids are designed to target insurgents, but inevitably civilians are sometimes swept up in the violence. Karzai insists that if any more night raids are conducted, they will be carried out by Afghan troops alone. Our soldiers are being killed by friendly Afghans. Can they be expected to believe that Afghan only raids would be conducted in the best interests of the U.S.? Would U.S. commanders even be invited to participate in Afghan only raid briefings/debriefings? Could Afghan only raids lead to the giving of aid to known terrorists? I’m not in favor of innocent civilians becoming casualties, but it is imperative that U.S. commanders have full and complete control of their mission.
As stated in my opening paragraph, President Obama intends to continue U.S. presence in Afghanistan until 2014. However, President Karzai seems to have a different opinion. According to a New York Times article, Karzai lashed out at the United States, saying he was at “the end of the rope” over the deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of NATO forces. He emphasized his call to confine coalition forces to major bases and to speed up the handoff to Afghan troops. He also accused American officials of not cooperating with a delegation he had sent to investigate the killings in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, in southern Afghanistan.
After speaking to President Obama by phone earlier this month, Karzai reiterated his desire that the U.S. stay out of Afghan villages and the transition of power to his own government be accomplished in one year, not two. He also noted that widespread Afghan resentment to the presence of foreign troops appeared to be intensifying.
Secretary of Defense Panetta visited Afghanistan this month, after the killing of the civilians. He made a stop at Camp Leatherneck to address the Marines. Much to the surprise of these combat veterans, they were ordered to leave their tools of the trade (guns – and lots of them) outside prior to the appearance of the SecDef. Of course they complied, but the Sgt Major of Camp Leatherneck said the request was unusual because it’s not customary to disarm for a SecDef visit. The Commanding Officer of the camp told reporters that the decision to disarm had nothing to do with the civilian deaths. He said there would be unarmed Afghan soldiers at the meeting as well, and he did not want them treated differently than the Marines. Did Secretary Panetta agree to address the Marines only on the condition that they were unarmed? If the Sgt Major said it was not customary, then why was it ordered? Was Secretary Panetta implying that he would be in fear for his safety while in a room full of armed Marines? I would posit that he could go nowhere else in Afghanistan that would be more secure!
I can’t imagine being ordered, by my own commander, to separate myself from my rifle in a war zone. As mentioned above, one third of U.S. fatalities this year can be attributed to Afghan security forces. And the notion that the Afghans would somehow feel offended if only they were ordered to disarm is crazy! Is the Commanding Officer unaware that one third of U.S. fatalities this year are attributable to Afghan security forces? You can bet this practice of disarming will be duly noted by those with evil intent.
I would interpret this act to mean that because a soldier is suspected of a crime (a crime that has not yet been adjudicated by a court) my government no longer trusts me to handle a loaded weapon in the presence of a VIP. If a person cannot be trusted to handle a loaded weapon, he/she should be discharged from the military. And the actions of those who have proven themselves unworthy, should not cast a pall over those who continue to offer their blood, sweat and tears while serving with honor and distinction.
As usual, our men and women continue to perform their duties in an admirable way. They spend long months away from family, friends and the comforts of home, in hostile environments. None of the information presented here can be helpful to their morale. Think of them often. Pray for them and their families. Send them letters or care packages. Let’s remind them as often as possible that we have not forgotten about them or the impossible work they do.
John Hampton lives in Tehachapi CA and is quite concerned about the policies and motives of the current Administration. He believes in a system that holds our freedoms sacred, promotes personal responsibility, prudence and high moral standards.