Is The War In Afghanistan America's Next Vietnam?
America has just entered its tenth year of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Since the War in Afghanistan started, more than 1,300 US soldiers and 800 coalition Troops have been killed; thousands of other soldiers have also been wounded, to go along with the equally tragic deaths and injuries of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan.
The original mission of Operation Enduring Freedom, as made clear by Former President George W. Bush, included: the capture of al-Qaeda leaders; the destruction of terrorist training camps and infrastructure in Afghanistan; and the cessation of terrorist activities in that country.
All of these are sound goals, especially if you look at our military history pre-Vietnam. The United States military is a mission-oriented force, designed from the ground up to enter hostile foreign territories, engage specific targets and conventional opponents, destroy said opponents and continue to take territory until our enemies capitulate. We are the best in the world in that role.
The problem is that we never learn our history very well.
The Vietnam War taught America a hard lesson in the fallacy of applying World War II thinking to a low-intensity conflict. The GI’s who pushed Hitler’s minions from Normandy all the way across the Rhine and back to his own doorstep were now the Generals commanding the forces in Vietnam. They wanted to see the same results as they had a couple of decades earlier.
A huge political and morale problem emerged when people started to realize that in Vietnam, no ground was gained. There was no Atlantic Wall to have a D-Day showdown against, no huge Battle of the Bulge pitting massive armies in a winner-take-all gambit.
Instead, we found ourselves paying double the blood for the same mud, over and over again. No objectives were captured. No great battles emerged. The only thing that remained constant was death, which the military attempted to commodify by releasing ‘Body Counts.’ By releasing the counts, the US military wanted to show that we were winning the war by attrition. They were proved wrong.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The big, traditional military targets and objectives in Afghanistan were neutralized with stunning speed and effect in that favorite of American ace-cards, the opening round air strike.
Operation Enduring Freedom kicked off with a bang, as warplanes of every size and description streaked to their targets, unleashing a smorgasbord of America’s latest, most lethal ordinance on the hapless enemy who had dared to strike our hallowed homeland. But when the dust settled and the ground forces started rolling into Afghanistan, we began to realize the ugly truth that we had forgotten from Vietnam and failed to learn from the Soviets: you can kill a terrorist, but you cannot kill terror.
Such a battle is ultimately unwinnable, at least from the historical American viewpoint of what a successful military campaign looks like. To think that a body count—or even a captured Osama-bin Laden—is anything more than a fleeting success is fallacy.
You do not even have to look at our military history to know that is poor thinking. Ask any cop who arrests a drug dealer if that makes the street safer, and he will probably tell you it does—until the next guy steps up to fill the void. And that next guy just might be even worse.
The same is true of terrorists: kill one and you might make another. You just killed somebody’s father, brother or son; their relatives, friends, and countrymen are now going to come for blood. The terrorists have no objective other than death. They are not trying to capture territory, to hold ground. They are not going to push us back to the sea. But what they are doing is bleeding us white, in terms of casualties, money and national support for a war that has become the longest in US history.
It has become a slugging match and everyone is waiting around to see who will blink first. If we don’t want that to be the US, then the public must change their priorities in terms of what constitutes success in a military operation such as that in Afghanistan.
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