The cost of ignoring the ongoing war and alleged wrongdoing in Afghanistan
Before examining the U.S. predicament in Afghanistan, a review of history is essential, but not just Vietnam. Go all the way back to Rome.
If the Roman army had a problem with a group of soldiers, such as those who now stand accused of disobeying the rules of engagement and killing Afghans for sport, their "generals" or consuls employed unit decimation. The soldiers involved would draw lots and the loser would be stoned to death, as would the commander.An indecisive chain of command, coupled with a mission of dubious merit, has the U.S. Army virtually decimating itself. What is a soldier to think when the secretary of defense admits the public doesn't accept the casus belli for war in Iraq.
Retired Canadian Army Maj. Karl Gotthardt, who served in the bloody Balkans, was the Officer Commanding the Canadian Airborne School, and trained with Americans and Germans, said a clear chain of command and mission are missing in Afganistan.
Objectives should be:
"1. Secure all of Aghanistan.
2: Train a specified number of Afghan troops by a certain date.
3. Train a specified number of Afghan police by a certain date.
4. Provide security for both the UN and NGO entities to improve the life of Afghans.
5. Provide security for diplomats and assist in governance.
The latter is a must if NGOs and the diplomatic corps want to do their work throughout the country. It also behooves the other NATO countries to take over certain sectors in the country all pulling on the same rope."
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the media and the public have given the military the kind of slack commanders would have loved to have had in Vietnam. But a rising number of suicides, murders at home by solders, and alleged war crimes, is a warning sign that is ignored at one's peril. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has warned the number of suicides will rise.
Speaking to reporters last week, he noted there had been five suicides during the previous weekend. "I think we're going to see a significant increase in the challenges that we have in terms of troops and our families. Things that have been pent up, or packed in, or basically suppressed or sucked up -- whatever term you want to use -- we're going to start to see that as well."
Mullen continued: "Dealing with PTSD, dealing with the injuries, dealing with just the overall pressure that so many have dealt with for so long, I think we're going to see a growth in that before we see a decline." He called it an emergency.
Short of a draft, the Army has been forced to send troops still suffering from PTSD into combat zones.
Seventeen soldiers from one post, Fort Carson in Colorado, have been tied to killings and attempted killings in the Colorado Springs area, according to various media reports. Many had been deployed in Iraq.
The Army has said it has found no "commonalities" in the deaths of ten infants at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Hints that pay and benefits may need to be cut to reduce the cost of the two wars isn't going to lift morale. Bonuses, higher pay and better housing kept new recruits coming but isn't bringing in the highly educated men and women needed to do the job.
With the wars attracting little attention as the November elections approach, soldiers can rightly feel they have been abandoned by the general public. With this lack of support who needs enemies? And they already have plenty of them.
The military's latest dodge to deal with the rising casualty rate is to increase the use of drones. The idea is that suddenly the generals have discovered that by bombing sanctuaries in Pakistan somehow the Taliban can be vanquished.
Twice as many tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War than were dropped by Allied forces in Europe and the Pacific.
Apparently blithe to offending neighboring Pakistan with aggressive raids into its ally's territory, the risk of a coup increases. For now, the crucial supply route through the Khyber Pass has been closed since Thursday.
Pakistan said it closed the route because of outrage over the killing of three Pakistani soldiers by U.S. helicopters who had violated its air space. Drones do it on a regular basis. The Beltway spinmeisters have declared this to be only a minor setback.
Ultimately this could result in a coup in Islamabad. The U.S. actually endorsed a coup in Vietnam with disastrous results.
As a plan for using U.S. resources, this strategy leaves little power if a crisis should erupt in North Korea, Iran, Iraq or between China and Japan.
The increasing use of mercenaries creates its own problems. Afghanistan has ordered them out of its country.
The effectiveness of the Roman army, which initially relied on citizens who owned property, declined as its use of mercenaries increased.
Image: Adm. Mike Mullen/Defense Department photo