How the Afghanistan Air War Got Stuck in the Sky

Been so busy that I somehow missed this article by Noah Shachtman in Wired.

While the debate rages in Washington, the Marines on the ground are mostly on their own. Even with Paz’s squad being attacked from three sides, a bombing run is not automatic. The Marines not only have to prove that civilians won’t be hurt, they also must guarantee that the bombs won’t so much as scratch civilian homes.

Back at Echo’s schoolhouse headquarters, Faucett stares at an aerial view of Moba Khan on his tablet computer. He sees a problem: The building Paz has identified as the sniper’s perch is next to several farmhouses.

Here’s a past quote from General McChrystal that Shachtman points out:

“We must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories — but suffering strategic defeats — by causing civilian casualties”

Yes, we absolutely must avoid that. But we also need to avoid the trap of trying to win strategic victories with an endless series of tactical stalemates.

And now the best way to make sure your house doesn’t get bombed is to invite in some Taliban fighters. Where’s the strategic victory in that?

Go read the story. Lots of good info.

Afghanistan was tough enough the way it was. Every new ROE directive makes it tougher. At some point (possibly a point in the past) victory is going to look damn near impossible. Again, I wonder if that’s not the ultimate goal.


  1. No one has yet painted a convincing picture of what victory in Afghanistan looks like. There’s just a fair amount of agreement about what’s f*cked up.

    But staying another 18 months to “train” the Afghans how to fight doesn’t even make sense. Number one, they don’t need help fighting. As a woman I work with succinctly pointed out the other day, “they come out of their mother’s vaginas ready to fight”.

    If I may draw an entirely unnecessary Star Trek analogy, this is like the Federation trying to teach Klingons how to wage war.

    Number two, we’ve been training Afghan military and police units for 8 years. Another year and a half is going to get them to some desired proficiency that was unattainable in the prior 8? Huh?

  2. “But we also need to avoid the trap of trying to win strategic victories with an endless series of tactical stalemates.”

    Oh, I don’t know — that strategy worked pretty well for the North Vietnamese.

    People need to get the idea out of their heads that we’ve been effectively fighting the war in Afghanistan and effectively training the Afghan military and police for eight years. Physically having a presence does not equal effective. We’ve been marking time for most of that eight years, and though fighting and training of the military has certainly improved over the past 18 months, training of the ANP and ABP still have a long, long way to go to be considered effective.

    But I’ll grant you — it’ll take longer that 18 months to finish, just as it will be almost 4 years from the start of the surge in Iraq to departure of the majority of formations and start of transition to a true “security cooperation model” that we can sustain more like our 50+ year presence in Germany, Japan, and Korea.

  3. Hey, wait a second. I thought I remembered there were instances in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 where we used precision guided missiles with concrete warheads to take out BMPs parked next to farmhouses.

    If my memory is not playing tricks on me – why can’t they drop buckets of concrete on the sniper’s perch?

  4. As a former Marine Forward Air Control Team radio operator, this infuriates me. ROE’s get Marines killed, they won’t do a thing to win the war.

    Ask a WWII Vet about ROE’s in France. The question wouldn’t even make sense. If Germans were in your farmhouse and the Americans are coming – run, because all Hell is about to break loose.

  5. 1. Comparing WWII to fighting against terrorists is STUPID!

    2. The REO’s make perfect sense to those who are informed and intelligent enough to know wining the war is more important than killing the wrong people.

    3. Michael Yon and others agree with me.


  6. MO, have you seen this? Apparently the Taliban is offering to make legal guarantees to not allow Afghanistan to be used in attacks on other nations.

    According to Asia Times:

    …It suggested that the Taliban were interested in negotiating an agreement with the United States involving a public Taliban renunciation of ties with al-Qaeda, along with some undefined arrangements to enforce a ban on al-Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan in return for a commitment to a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

  7. Neil,

    I’ve this condescending argument before. Apparently I’m too dumb to understand how losing firefights and getting Marines killed is the key to victory.

    As always, my reaction is – Screw you, you put this crap on and walk into a Taliban ambush with no air or fire support. Good luck.

  8. Well Bram,

    Unless you are a very good looking, great body woman, I have no desired to be screwed by you.

    Do you really think you know more about how to fight to win the war than do either General Petraeus or Michael Yon? (If so, have you been eating “conceited pills” long?)

    I want to WIN THE WAR!

    From your comments, YOU do NOT!

    Were I young enough to get back in, (and I sure wish I was) I would, as are others, be willing to operate under the ROE’s in place. I say this because I know that in the long run, IT IS the intelligent, logical, rational and RIGHT course of action to follow.

    It’s really too bad, you and other “shallow thinkers” do not.


  9. How many wars have General Petraeus or Michael Yon won so far? Please tell us about a war won by fighting with highly restrictive ROE’s. Any war, anywhere.

    The surge worked in Iraq because local Iraqis helped us hunt down insurgents and kill them – with as much firepower needed. None of this ROE BS with JAG second guessing fighters.

    If I was 20 years younger I would be back in an ANGLICO Company – so I probably wouldn’t have to worry about this bullshit. No need for us, just send in the JAGs – maybe they can sue the Taliban.

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