Friday, October 7, 2011

Ten years of war

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the first U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan.

Perhaps to commemorate the event, insurgents struck four American combat outposts along the Pakistani border with coordinated 107mm rocket attacks. Considering their proximity to the frontier, the attacks are thought to have been staged in Pakistan.

C.J. Chivers reports on the actions taken by combined, multinational forces in response:
[The attack] also highlighted the relative weakness of Afghan soldiers and police officers living and working on the American-built bases. As the attacks escalated in the morning, only the United States military possessed the firepower, communications and skills to fight back in what developed into a long-range, artillery-and-rocket duel.
While the American soldiers organized and coordinated their part of the battle on the outpost here, the Afghan soldiers did not participate. Some simply sat and watched.
The U.S. presence in Afghanistan will gradually draw down in the coming months and years. We are told this drawdown will proceed at a pace that is sensitive to the timeline on which that country's security forces grow more capable of dealing with the insurgency independently.

According to the commander of the combined U.S./NATO organization responsible for training, equipping, and advising those Afghan security forces, there are currently two (of around 180 total) Afghan National Army battalions capable of independent operations. Even those formations cannot function without what the U.S. military calls "enablers" -- logistics, maintenance, and sustainment support -- which don't exist in the ANA. The "independent" Afghan battalions still must largely be transported, tuned up, and treated by coalition assets and personnel.

Osama bin Laden is dead. al-Qaeda is presumed not to exist in numbers larger than the dozens on Afghan territory. The Taliban government that coddled and sustained them has been gone for a decade, and shows little sign of again taking up such manifestly unhealthy behavior if given the opportunity to do so.

When President Bush announced the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, he spoke for a time directly to American military personnel:
To all the men and women in our military, every sailor, every soldier, every airman, every Coast Guardsman, every Marine, I say this: Your mission is defined. The objectives are clear. Your goal is just.
Today, ten years later, American soldiers had rockets fired at them by men who had nothing to do with 9/11, men who slipped into Afghanistan from a neighboring country with which we are not at war, and who returned there after the attacks.

The tactical task those U.S. soldiers performed today -- returning fire in an effort to destroy the enemy -- was only one half of a mission, which consists of a task and a purpose.

At the strategic level, U.S. forces' mission in Afghanistan is no longer defined: the purpose of OEF is obscure and its component tasks lay beyond the reach of the American armed forces. The objectives may be clear, but they are largely inaccessible to our ways and means. The goal may be just, but such judgments are strategically irrelevant.

How many more must die or be ruined for the indefinable "success" of this insensate mission?

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