Decisions Or Lack Thereof Have Consequences
I’ve taken some time to reflect on what has happened in Afghanistan, to process what it all meant to me personnally. I went through various stages of emotions; from rage, to sadness, to grief and finally to acceptance. The trouble with Afghanistan in the simplist terms is we should’ve never been there that long.
Lack Of Clear Guidance
I struggled to find a way to express some of these emotions. I can recall the first time I flew into the country, flying over what I can only describe as beautiful mountain ranges. Like many, I found much to like about the country. Having spent my entire adult life traveling all over the world I have seen some pretty bad places. This was about as bad as I’ve seen at the time. The wounds from 911 were still raw and another memory I shall never forget was a detour on our way to the airport. The stop was the Pentagon, specifically the side still smoldering. It left a very deep mark on me. My mission was clear, my resolve was unwaivering. I traveled over the next several years multiple times to Afghanistan. I eventually declined to return, not because I didn’t like what we were doing, but because I didn’t understand our mission and what I was seeing.
Gut Wrenching Feeling
A lot of people are commenting about the last 20 years being a failure. I don’t see it that way at all. In the last 20 years we have not seen a 911 style attack. Our mission was to deny the enemy freedom of movement and keep them looking over the shoulders wondering when they would be next. Take a moment to reflect on the emotions you felt when the twin towers fell. Be grateful we haven’t had to experience something similar. There were moments when peace existed in that 20 year period. When people were free to live their own lives without fear of death. When I first got on the ground, part of our area familiarization was to visit a soccer stadium regularly used for stoning. The trouble with Afghanistan is a lot of people have no idea the horrible death stoning produces. Be grateful you don’t. At a certain point the vibe started to change. Maybe it was a sense of comfort or maybe it was the tide shifting. All I can tell you is what I saw, my observations.
What Its Like To Be A Woman
Years after I left the country for the last time I was asked to give a speech about my experince in country. I was somewhat reluctant, but eventually with some encouragement I agreed. I was asked to go first as there would be a second speaker. They were providing a different perspective to contrast mine. Part of my agreement was not discuss some matters so in the interest of maintaining OPSEC all I talked about was what I saw. The trouble with Afghanistan was how once the shock of being in theater started to wane I realized there were no women to be seen. None. Aside from those within our compound they were nonexistant. As my deployments continued I started seeing groups of woman. According to religious dictate they must move in large groups or with their husbands for fear of retalitaion. What people don’t undestand is honor killing is a normal part of life there. A father to perserve his honor will without reservation seek cruel punishment on his own blood. After more visits I started to see mothers moving along with their children. Still dressed head to two in a burka and I mean from the top of their head to the their feet. Sometimes you couldn’t even see their hands it was so extreme. Then I remember seeing a woman walking in only the tradition head piece, the hijab. I was a little surprised, but nothing could prepare for my last trip where I saw a woman in western dress, a pant suit no less. She was waiting on a street corner. I remember almost missing the turn out of the traffic circle because I had to do a double take to make sure what I saw was real. This is what progress looks like. This is what it looks like when our efforts produce results.
Freedom Is Not Always What You Think
On one of those trips I remember speaking through our intepretors to a local woman. This was well before the progress I described. She was afraid of being seen with me for fear of realaition. I could not look at her or give the impression I was talking to her, but she was kind enough to help us get more information. I remember the interpretor who was also a female saying to me she was afraid, not only for retalition. She was afraid we would abandon her. I was taken back and angered she would make this claim. That was my arrogance. What I’m most distressed about is I reassured her we would not. In the end, we did. Back to the briefing I gave. As I ended my brief, which was short the other speaker began asking me questions. I made it clear it is not my place to speak on government affairs, I was only there to share my observations. She would not relent and eventually the exchange got heated. I can recall ending the exchange by telling her the conversation we were having while vile in my opinion was in fact a privilege. I went on to say, if we were teleported to that soccer stadium I feel she may change her mind. The trouble with Afghanistan is the freedom this lady was exercising is lost to many in countries like Afghanistan.
The Blame Game
Who do I blame? I can tell you who I do not blame. My teammates and every other person who went there to support the mission. The level of professionalism, herosim and fortitude is everthing you would be proud as an American. The blame rests squarely on our leadership, all of it over the last 20 years. I specificlaly blame our executive leadership for failing to not only have a well thoughtout objective, but an exit strategy. It boogles my mind that in all that time whatever exit strategy might have exists was continually ignored. Now, here is a nastly little secret. The trouble with Afghanistan and many other countries is not everyone wants to be an American, not everyone wants democracy, not everyone wants freedom. That last one hurts my heart, but it is true. We were naive to think we could bring prosperity and democracy to a culture that is not interested. To be honest they will never be interested. Our mission should have ended when we dismantled the enemies will; which happened quickly. From there, it should have soley been to capture or kill the enemy when they popped their heads up with surgical strikes. If we truly were trying to stop any future terrorist attacks, then that would have been the extent of the operation. It might be ongoing all these years, but the footprint would be much different.
When You No Longer Know What War Means
The blame goes further than that though. I blame the politicians masquarading as flag officers. The lethality of our fighting force should always be their top priority. It should be abundantly clear, that when diplomacy fails the war that rages serves one purpose. To impose our will unequivocally and unapologetically. If our politicans understood that better, I believe they would try harder to make diplomacy a priority. For knowing they failed means lives will be lost, on both sides. No stone should be left unturned in our efforts to find an amicable solution. But when none exists, it is time to step away from the table and let loose the dogs of war. When I say step away, you stay out of the picture until the objective is secured. Just because you feel guilty because you couldn’t make peace work, doesn’t mean you endager our war fighters by hog tying their ability to wage war. War is not civilized. War is ugly…for everyone involved. When war is your only option, then you must have a fighting force so ruthless their means bring an end to conflict swiftly. There is no good way to wage war, their is only the way that accomplishes the mission with the minimal amount of casualties. We have lost the stomach for waging war as a country because our leadership all the way up the chain are more interested in feelings and perception.
Shouldering The Blame
The blame goes further. I blame those who elected this politicans. You see, the blame rests squarely on the American people’s shoulders. If you voted for this current adminstration you must bear witness to the atrocities that will occur. It won’t be as popular as say pride month, but rest assured the atrocities we saw all those years ago will pale in comparison to what will happen now. Take a moment to realize, the enemy is already going door to door disarming the populace. They will wait until your attention is focused on the next distraction. They know we are so easily distracted. At a time when this past elections results are challenged it is no surprise we are all outraged by what is happening. I can promise you many of those good people will suffer greatly, unimaginable suffering. You may think that death is suffering, but it will be living each day knowing death awaits you. Watching so many people try to flee their country should be a wake up call to what lays in store for those left behind. I know some and I truly wish they escape safely. That is truly their only option.
You Are Either Part Of The Problem Or…
The blame goes even further. I blame political correctness, wokeness, nanny state and cancel culture. These ideas are the single greatest threat to our freedoms. They are a joke! If you believe in these ideas, then you are part of the reason we have lack of true leadership. It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this, but no longer do I feel there can be a middle ground. If you believe in these ideas, then you do not believe in freedom, liberty or self-governance. A line needs to be drawn to protect our way of life. The trouble with Afghanistan is we allowed it to happen over 20 years. Every change of command, there was a different view point. Every elected official used it as a barganing chip. Every media outlet used it for ratings. As far as I’m concerned, the use of our fighting force must always be reserved for the final option. There is no value in nation building, there is no merit in trying to colonize American values. All of this to end with one final thought. The trouble with Afghanistan is it will be vastly more dangerous now, than pre-911. Allow that to sink, all those who are to blame should take a moment to admire their handy work.
The good people of Afghanistan saw what freedom looked like for a short while. I’m afraid if they want freedom they will have to fight for it on their own.