So what determines victory in Afghanistan? If you asked me after 9-11, my answer would have been simple and probably shared by a lot of SOF operators.
Answer=Disrupt a prolific terrorist training network (that we put in place) and capture or kill Bin Laden.
We could learn a bit from the Romans, they would not interfere with a culture’s ideological and moral differences when playing nation builder. That’s one of the things the Romans did best, leave well enough alone and let the host nation run their own society and culture. How can you unlearn centuries of culture in a decade?
JSOC and War
At least JSOC and the CIA started figuring out that you can’t buy temporary loyalty in the Afghan hills with US currency (it does work elsewhere). It comes down to what’s important to a society, what matters to them. Turns out more than few village elders liked Viagra better than cash, and information started to flow. Whether their wives thought the same of this transaction is another matter entirely.
War is a terrible necessity in the world we live in, it seems like it always has been. Free people continue to sleep soundly at night because certain men and women volunteer to go into harms way to protect them.
I am proud to have served in US SOCOM with my SOF brothers. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That includes giving a lot of JDAM headaches to a few bad guys, and sometimes their families that were unfortunately with them. While sometimes killing is an unfortunate consequence, I do realize that you can’t kill your way into the hearts and minds of any culture. And it is in the hearts and minds of human beings that the true seeds of freedom and compassion are planted.
I asked Mary Walker (former USAF Attorney General) during an executive dinner in San Diego a few years back this question.
“What is your opinion of the current US strategy in Afghanistan? Because I’m confused on what our (US) ultimate objective is over there. And if I’m confused then I have to assume that the American public and common Warfighter must be confused. If this is the case, then I see a situation similar to having players on the football field that don’t know what direction to run to score a touchdown. We have players who are running around with no understanding of how the game is won. And this is a terrible thing for me to watch from the stands these days.”
There were a few seconds of silence and the Mary said “I agree“. You could have heard a pin drop in that room full of powerful Defense Executives.
JAG Witch Hunts
[pullquote_right]My former SOF friends and I also don’t like seeing the JAG run their “Operator” witch hunts against our friends. Especially when these guys shoot someone that needed to be fucking shot.[/pullquote_right]A good plan that is not shared with your team is a recipe for failure. I can tell you that most SOF I know don’t like jumping into a game we don’t know the rules to. My former SOF friends and I also don’t like seeing the JAG run their “Operator” witch hunts against our friends. Especially when these guys shoot someone that needed to be fucking shot. War is war and it is hell. Just ask the 500,000 Japanese we fired bombed in WWII (more than both US Atomic Bombs killed). So jump in the assault train Mr./Mr’s Junior JAG Officer and let’s see how you handle yourself with decisions regarding life, death, and seeing your family again. I’ve seen more than a few good men get sold down the river by some overzealous JAG trying to make rank. Who is the enemy after all?
A SEAL friend of mine from Boston said it best after a heated house-to-house run in Iraq that involved enemy KIA. Situation: He had shoved his M-4 into the arm pit of a bad guy (the bad guy had jumped the SOF OIC from behind) and proceeded to inject 600 grains of lead into his heart. Afterwards, back at the safety of the Green Zone and cable TV, the JAG had the nerve to pull him aside and question the killing. “Why did you have to shoot that guy? What was that guy doing in the room?” the twenty something JAG asked (last job was folding clothes at the GAP most likely). My Boston friend said in a very serious and matter-of-fact tone, “He was getting shot, that’s what.”
Thank (insert deity of choice) that JSOC has gone a bit off the reservation with regard to its secret intelligence capabilities these days. Someone other than the Mossad has to not play by the rules for us to be effective against a distributed radical ideology.
So watch the video below and realize yet another complexity to the US Afghan equation. 100s of millions in drugs float out of Afghanistan and into the posh Universities in the US, UK and elsewhere every year. Count the Opium bags in this short clip and you’ll get the idea. And we’re just starting to scratch the dirty pigs underbelly when it comes to how deep the rabbit hole goes.
[pullquote_left]The irony is that I don’t know too many Afghan kids doing Heroin.[/pullquote_left]The irony is that I don’t know too many Afghan kids doing Heroin, mostly affluent kids a world away from the jagged mountains of northern Afghanistan. Maybe we should start paying attention to the consequences of what happens when you ignore root causes at home (education, unemployment, radical financial philosophies, and Ponzi schemes).
Reflection & The New War
What determines victory in Afghanistan? That’s up to the U.S. to decide. I’ll stick with my original opinion.
The new war will be waged outside of Afghanistan; it will happen in the hot African desert, tropical climates of southeast Asia and a metropolitan city near you. And JSOC will continue to outflank the CIA when it comes to producing Actionable Intelligence and meaningful results. Just look at who’s really killing the bad guys…..
Brandon is the Editor-in-Chief of SOFREP and Author of The Red Circle