Best Defense

Gourley responds: Would limited goals really have improved our chances? And let’s stop blaming the Pakistanis so much

By Jim Gourley Best Defense team leader, Afghan debate I liked Kriegs’s answer, but the discussion brought up by Waris-Safi tells me there are some cracks in it. Basically, Kriegs is saying “we should have limited our objectives.” I’m not sure how that would have diminished the amount of fight the AQ/Taliban put up. So ...

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-MILITARY
To go with 'Afghanistan-Unrest-Military' FOCUS by Ben Sheppard In this photograph taken on December 11, 2014 Afghan soldiers from the 2nd unit of the third brigade of the 205 Corps clear a rural road leading to their small combat outpost at Siah Choy in southern Afghanistan. One ergonomic office chair, heaters that don't work and some maps are the only signs that US troops once battled daily with the Taliban at Siah Choy, a small combat outpost in southern Afghanistan. Now manned by just 30 Afghan soldiers, the base is in Kandahar province's Zhari district -- the birthplace of the Taliban movement and scene of years of heavy fighting as NATO forces struggled to gain a foothold in the area. AFP PHOTO / Roberto SCHMIDT (Photo credit should read ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

By Jim Gourley

Best Defense team leader, Afghan debate

I liked Kriegs’s answer, but the discussion brought up by Waris-Safi tells me there are some cracks in it. Basically, Kriegs is saying “we should have limited our objectives.” I’m not sure how that would have diminished the amount of fight the AQ/Taliban put up. So even if you go with his “restoration” policy, you’ve still got guys running around trying to screw up your plan.

I like this statement, with the exception of saying that it was all wrapped up in the first six months: “My take is that we won the war we needed to win (driving out Al Quaeda in the first six months) and lost the war we should never have fought (trying to modernize Afghanistan and extirpate the Taliban).”

But I don’t think this is true: “Had we not moved on from our six month triumph (chasing out Al Quaeda) to the role of an occupying power trying to build a state that almost no Afghan wanted, we would not have needed to fight a protracted war against the Taliban.”

This is where I think the COIN-danistas start drinking their own kool-aid too much. The Taliban were a reasonable enemy that could have been brought to the bargaining table? I need to be convinced of that.

I don’t buy into the Pakistan argument. Yes, it was a problem. But I think it gets morphed into something more than it is when you try and look at an overly-big picture. At a certain point, the military has to take ownership for some things. If we spend trillions of dollars to have the best military force in the world, and it can’t eradicate a group of hard-bitten mountain men on horseback with AK’s, do we really have the best military force in the world? The military is supposed to serve our policy, not the other way around. Why do we keep blaming the policy instead of questioning why the military failed to serve it? Everyone keeps saying “the military can’t do that.” Why does the conversation stop there? Why don’t we move onto “how do we structure the military so it can do that?”

We talk about how few Americans died in Afghanistan compared to WWII. Why don’t we talk about how relatively few of the enemy we killed compared to the casualties we inflicted on the Germans and Japanese? Why is it that no one ever once challenged McChrystal on his “you can’t kill your way out of Afghanistan” remark? I’m not advocating bloodthirsty genocide, here. I want to challenge a pretty major philosophical assertion. If we only killed about 20,000 enemy fighters in roughly fifteen years, it seems to me we’re not actually using a lot of force at all. For all the shooting and bombing, that’s an extremely polite war. We went to unprecedented lengths to not kill people over there. This is the war that gave rise to the term “courageous restraint.” Again, I’m not advocating that we resurrect Sherman and set him loose on the Swat Valley, but I very much want to question the sanity of this line of reasoning. If we are that averse to violence in warfare, should we even be conducting warfare on this scale in the first place?

That’s why I want to ask the question— because I’m not asking in a post-Afghanistan frame of reference. I’m asking from a pre-next war perspective.

Jim Gourley is a former military intelligence officer. He now works as an author and journalist covering military affairs and sports science. His newest book, about ultra-endurance triathlon, is in stores now. His Twitter is @jim_gourley

Tom: Don’t be the last kid on your block to take the Gourley challenge. E-mail info is on this blog, up near my foto.

Roberto Schmidt/AFP

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com.

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