Allen B. West

Strange déjà vu feelings as the flag is folded in Afghanistan

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I landed in Kabul ,Afghanistan back in June 2005 as an employee of Military Professional Resources Inc (MPRI) with duty as a civilian-military advisor to the Afghanistan National Army (ANA). My assignment was at Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC) out west along the Jalalabad Road — can’t tell you how often a certain part of my anatomy was in my throat traveling down that road. You see, we weren’t authorized to carry weapons — I had a big knife but than again y’all know the maxim of “never carry a knife to a gunfight.”

It was a rewarding experience developing and instructing an Afghan staff officer course — it quickly became one of the most requested. We were invited to the graduation ceremonies for the new soldiers and watched when they took their pledge to Afghanistan — of course we’d also wonder who among them were infiltrators.

Well, I did so well in that duty, I was rewarded with a jewel assignment — downrange Advisory Team Leader for a deployed Afghan Army Corps (U.S. Light Infantry Division equivalent). I was assigned to work with the 205th Corps based in Kandahar.

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I landed in Kandahar in October of the same year and what a difference — but this was where I felt most at home, in the zone, and with the combat troops. I quickly got on board with the U.S. Special Operators and the 173rd Airborne Brigade paratroopers who were there — many with whom I had served on active duty. We were breaking new ground in southern Afghanistan and the following year the command in RC(S) — Regional Command (South) — would go over to the NATO forces. First were the Canadians, then the Dutch, last the Brits.

Great memories, but as I departed Kandahar for good in November 2007, there was truly a feeling of sorrow as I bade farewell to one of the best teams of Interpreter/Translator teams I had ever seen — one of whom I was later able to get along with his family here to America. And three more were able to sign on with an American contractor and come to America for training.

But mostly we felt what we had accomplished over the two-and-a-half years in Afghanistan was incredibly fragile and could be easily lost. It was the same feeling I had when I visited the border crossing town of Spin Boldak, gazed over into Pakistan with binoculars and saw the black turban-clad Taliban walking freely in the open.

I left with the feeling that we would not seal the deal.

And so this week, we folded the flag and proclaimed the end of Afghan combat operations. As reported by Fox News, “The U.S. and NATO closed their combat command in Afghanistan on Monday, more than 13 years after invading the country in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks to target al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Though quickly routing the Taliban-led government that sheltered the militants, the U.S.-led coalition soon found itself spending billions of dollars rebuilding a country devastated by almost 30 years of war while an insurgency grew as the invasion and occupation of Iraq quickly took America’s attention. As NATO’s International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command, which was in charge of combat operations, lowered its flag Monday and formally ended its deployment, resurgent Taliban militants launched yet another bloody attack in the country. And with President Barack Obama allowing American troops to go after both al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the country into the next year, the fighting likely won’t be over anytime soon.”

This is the failing policy of optics. We declare combat operations over but sadly, no one told the enemy — and as I always say, they do have a vote.

We don’t have signed surrender document and the enemy is still on the battlefield — heck, we’re releasing the enemy from detention because of political campaign promises and misguided benevolence. This operation isn’t even ending as the Korean War did with an Armistice and a separation. We just said “we’re done.” That is not the right message to convey to this enemy — as well as releasing CIA reports believing this is consistent with “transparency” — I call it selective transparency of partisan politics. But this along with other actions doesn’t just incite the enemy, it emboldens them to believe we don’t possess the intestinal fortitude to defeat them.

“I don’t think the war will slow or stop during the winter, as attacks on cities are not contingent on the weather,” Afghan political analyst Wahid Muzhdah said, according to Fox News, “I believe attacks in the cities will increase — they attract media attention.” Monday’s ceremony saw the NATO flag of the command folded and put away amid the foreign troop withdrawal. From Jan. 1, the coalition will maintain a force of 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak around 140,000 in 2011. As of Dec. 1, there were some 13, 300 NATO troops in the country.”

You can expect the Taliban to launch a surprise urban attack similar to that which the Vietcong did during Tet. In Vietnam, Tet was an abject failure, a complete defeat for the Vietcong — however, that was not how Walter Cronkite and the media portrayed the operation. And if you’ve ever read General Giap’s memoirs — it was the spark to embolden the communist North Vietnamese — they learned the way to defeat America was not on the battlefield but in the newspapers — the media. And if you don’t think the Taliban and other Islamic terrorists and jihadists don’t understand that platform, you are dead wrong — as we reported here on the purpose behind ISIS using social media to broadcast beheadings and their savage actions.

The image of folding your flag while the enemy is still in the field is completely absurd, and will serve as a massive propaganda tool. And 13,300 NATO troops? Heck, you had half that number on Kandahar Airfield running support operations when I was there.

“The Afghan security forces are capable,” Campbell told The Associated Press. “They have to make some changes in the leadership which they’re doing, and they have to hold people accountable.”

We heard that before in Iraq, but at least this time we’re not just going to cut and run. The Afghans are tough fighters, but the key is to make them loyal soldiers to defend their country — and eliminate the corruption. And I’m truly encouraged by the new Afghan civilian leadership — which far exceeds that of Hamid Karzai. But the combat multipliers such as attack helicopter and air support will be necessary.

An indicator of how much more dangerous it has become for the ANA is the now record-high casualty figures they face, rising to 6.5 percent this year, to 4,634 killed in action, compared to 4,350 in 2013. Fox says, “by comparison, some 3,500 foreign forces, including at least 2,210 American soldiers, have been killed since the war began in 2001. President Obama recently allowed American forces to launch operations against both Taliban and al-Qaida militants, broadening the mission of the U.S. forces that will remain in the country. They also will be permitted to provide combat and air support as necessary, while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also considers resuming controversial night raids that could see Americans take part.”

So my closing question is why did we fold a flag, stating that a combat mission has come to an end, if we are still going to be engaged in combat?

Austrian military strategist Carl von Klausewitz spoke of the “Fog of War” — this resembles blind absurdity. I’m getting that same sinking feeling I had when I loaded up on the C-130 back in November 2009 departing Kandahar.

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