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Our Troops in Afghanistan Are Props

Our Troops in Afghanistan Are Props

By Jack Kelly - March 29, 2012

The mission in Afghanistan is on track, despite the murder of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier March 1 and the accidental burning of Qurans at Bagram Air Force Base last month, Marine Gen. John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

If Gen. Allen really believed that, he'd be delusional.

Afghan soldiers and policemen have murdered a coalition soldier or aid worker once a week on average since early 2010, according to an Army study. In all, 77 coalition troops have been killed by members of the Afghan National Security Forces, the Wall Street Journal reported in February. That tally doesn't include seven U.S. troops killed in the wake of the Quran burnings.

Our soldiers think their Afghan "allies" are unstable, incompetent, drug abusers and thieves, according to that Army study, "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility." They call them cowardly and lazy and say they lack discipline, are dangerous in firefights and have poor hygiene.

The Afghans don't like us, either. "Many ANSF members demonstrated a general loathing of U.S. soldiers" the study said.

"Security responsibility for some areas has transitioned to Afghan forces with notable success," Gen. Allen said. But not, he admitted, in the areas where the Taliban is most active.

The training of Afghan soldiers and police has lagged because of a shortage of trainers and widespread illiteracy (only one recruit in 10 can read and write), high attrition and corruption, the man in charge of training them, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, said last June.

"The Taliban's momentum has been broken," President Barack Obama said Jan. 24 in the State of the Union address.

A Taliban victory is "inevitable" once coalition troops withdraw, concluded a NATO intelligence report last month. The Taliban remains "resilient"; the Afghan government and security forces are corrupt and ineffective, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, also in February, concluded.

So don't bet on the Afghans being ready to take over in 2014, the deadline the president set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But that's the lesser problem.

"[Afghan President Hamid] Karzai is tantamount to being Taliban and has not bothered to apologize," our best war correspondent, former Special Forces soldier Michael Yon, wrote in the New York Daily News March 15. "Instead, Karzai whips up anti-U.S. fervor at every opportunity. Twice, Karzai has threatened to leave politics and join the Taliban.

"Even our most disciplined troops have lost all idealism," Mr. Yon wrote. "They fight because they are ordered to fight, but they have eyes wide open. The halfhearted surge and sudden draw down leave little room for success."

There's less room now. In the week before Gen. Allen testified, an Afghan interpreter at a NATO base tried to assassinate Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. President Karzai, who has called U.S. troops "demons," has demanded they leave their outposts in villages and stop night raids, their most effective tactic against the Taliban. The Obama administration agreed to turn over security for all military convoys and bases to the Afghan army and police.

Gen. Allen knows all this, which is why I think he was telling Congress what his political superiors wanted him to say.

In 1997, H.R. McMaster, then an Army major, wrote a book about an earlier war in which senior military leaders paid excessive deference to political superiors.

"The Joint Chiefs of Staff became accomplices in the president's deception and focused on a tactical task, killing the enemy," he wrote. "The war in Vietnam was lost ... even before the first American units were deployed."

The book was entitled: "Dereliction of Duty." Now a brigadier general, Mr. McMaster is one of the Army's brightest stars. I wonder what he thinks of today's senior commanders.

Our military as well as our civilian leaders are "bankrupt of ideas, bankrupt of ethics, bankrupt of moral courage," said Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a retired Army intelligence officer. "We're told, endlessly, that things are improving in Afghanistan, yet, 10 years ago, a U.S. Army general, unarmed, could walk the streets of Kabul without risk," he said. "Today, there is no city in Afghanistan where a U.S. general could stroll the streets.

"Our troops are being used as props in a campaign year," Lt. Col. Peters said. "In war, soldiers die. But they shouldn't die for [expletive]". 

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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