Best Defense

Inside an Afghan battle gone wrong (VII): What it tells us about the Afghan war

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on February 2, 2009. A friend who has read this series on the small but deadly battle at Wanat last summer suggested ...

U.S. Department of Defense.
U.S. Department of Defense.

While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on February 2, 2009.

A friend who has read this series on the small but deadly battle at Wanat last summer suggested that we should consider one more issue — that is, what this incident might tell us about the war in Afghanistan.

I think the insights of this infantry veteran, who must remain anonymous because of his position, are important. Let him explain:

We are so very exposed in this land-locked country, with no infrastructure, not nearly enough enablers, not enough transport… it’s frightening, really.

. . . [R]emind folks that this is an enemy that may in fact look more like Hezbollah in Lebanon 2006 than al Qaeda in Iraq. This is an enemy that apparently has no problem massing force in space and time, and is tactically proficient at understanding our weaknesses. My own view is that we have to employ a properly resourced COIN mission . . . while simultaneously ensuring that those folks out in the hinterland have all the enablers they need. A tough problem.

Not only are his points important but they get at a key problem that the battle of Wanat highlighted: the ongoing, long-running confusion between a counterterrorism mission and a counterinsurgency one. How do the two fit together? The U.S. military, embroiled in two such wars now simultaneously, in Iraq and Afghanistan, would do well to spend more time on that question.

That’s all I have. I am sure there are more lessons here. What else should we understand about Wanat?

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. @tomricks1

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