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Thoughts after Springing Forward: A Symposia, Time with Family and Miscellaneous Thoughts

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Sprung forward

Last night most of us that observe Daylight Savings Time “sprang forward” losing an our of sleep but gaining added daylight with which to enjoy life. As usual I was “one of us” and though it was my last night home following a week at a Navy Medicine Chaplain Training Symposia, which happened to be where my wife is, I did get some sleep.

The week was interesting because for the past two and a half years I have been stationed in Camp LeJeune North Carolina while my wife has been in Virginia Beach Virginia. So the week was kind of like one of those weird make up baseball games where the visiting team, which I was got to be the home time, or more fitting the home team playing as the visiting team.

A Symposia

The training was well worth it and featured speakers from both the Pastoral Care and Psychological disciplines who spoke on how Chaplains work as part of the interdisciplinary team in health care, mental health and other aspects of caring for wounded warriors. One thing that was nice to see that the Navy Hospital that I serve at is on the cutting edge of much of what was discussed and that what the speakers discussed was not really news to me. Most of that is because I work with a wonderful team of Physicians, Chaplains, Mental Health Professionals and Pastoral Counselors who are not threatened by each other and who work together for the good of those that we serve. We are not perfect, we are all still learning; I guess that is why they call it “practicing” medicine but we are constantly moving forward. For me it was nice to see just how far along we are compared to other military, VA and civilian health care and mental health care services.

Family

The week also allowed me to spend time with Judy and both of our dogs. For those that have not experienced military life, it is not only deployments where you are apart but quite often due to health, family or professional concerns military personnel are forced to serve in locations away from their families, sometimes after deployments and injury that affect their family relationships.

Like many, if not most returning veterans, especially those suffering from PTSD or TBI injuries our relationship suffered and there were times that we wondered if our marriage would survive. I can say now that despite the fact that we are still apart that we are enjoying our life together again. Our times together, mostly limited to long weekend or unusual situations like the past week are becoming sweet again, times that we both look forward to whenever they are possible. It will be about two and a half weeks before we are together again when I take a bit of leave in conjunction with the Easter Holiday to celebrate my birthday with her.

While we were together we were able to spend a lot of time together and saw the new film The Great and Powerful Oz and take Judy to her first hockey game watching the Norfolk Admirals defeat the Hershey Bears by a score of 4-1 in an American Hockey League game at Norfolk’s Scope Arena. The sad thing was there were no fights in the hockey game and I missed the bench cleaning brawl between Canada and Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

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Miscellaneous Thoughts on Krazy Karzai, North Korea Nukes, Sequester, a Papal Conclave, NASCAR and the World Baseball Classic

Kim and Karzai

Hamid-Karzai

I have been watching with mixed feelings as I have caught bits and pieces of the news. First in my mind has been the continued nutty rantings of Hamid Karzai, President and First Buffoon of Afghanistan. I wonder how long before someone in his own government does away with him.

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Then there was Kim Jun Number One and his new nuclear threats against the US and South Korea mixed in with a You-Tube video combining nuclear explosions going off to the tune of We are the World. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK8zQIsMmnk But who can blame him for wanting to destroy us after spend a weekend with Dennis Rodman?

Seaquest-ration 

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Amid this the continued Sequester nonsense continues to amaze me. First of all because I thought the series Seaquest DSV was positive stupid but especially when I realize that if it happens that I won’t be getting much time off. This is because my civilian Pastoral Counselors will not be able to keep their place in our on call chaplain duty rotation. The limitations on hours that they can work, overtime and comp time will keep them from doing this, not to  mention that we will have to do what we can to make up for the 32 hours per pay period that they cannot work. If it happens as planned it looks like I will have the after hours and weekend duty pager 15-16 days a month and still work 5 days a week. The same will be true for my other Navy Chaplain. Yes sequester will be a pain in the ass. I challenge anyone in the civilian world to work 50 plus hours a week and be on call 24 hours a day 15-16 days a month dealing with life and death issues on a base heavily impacted by the war with suicides, murders, drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness. So if you are one of those “I hate the government types” please don’t tell me how overpaid I am, or for that matter anyone else dealing with this working for the Federal Government. If you think that then you can blow it out your ass. With all due respect.

Papal Conclave

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The Cardinals arrive

Of course I have written about the upcoming Conclave to elect the next Pope in Rome so I won’t say much more about it now except to say that if elected I will turn down the job, I have such a hard time keeping white uniforms clean. My money is on one the the old European guys dressed in red to be elected as the next Pope.

NASCAR

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Then there are sports. Living in North Carolina is starting to wear me down. I am getting interested in NASCAR and am now doing strange things like read about the technical specs of the cars and the types of tracks. I think that part of this is because I think that Danica Patrick is hot, something that I can’t say about any of the men racing the other cars.

Baseball

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I have also gotten a chance to follow more baseball this week with Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic going on. What is nice is finally to have baseball on TV again. Tonight I am watching Puerto Rico play the Dominican Republic following the victory of the United States over Canada in their elimination game. The really cool thing about the game I am watching now is to see how much energy the fans of the Puerto Ricans and Dominicans bring to the game. It makes it a joy to watch.

Site Notes 

I have done some updates to a number of the pages on this site and added pages titled Baseball and Life, Shipmates Veterans and Friends and TLC Book Tour Reviews as well as the addition of several new links. 

Coming this Week

This week, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise I expect to do some baseball writing, and write about the Conclave and the new Pope. whoever he may be. Tomorrow I will publish a book review for TLC Book Tours on Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani’s memoir Beyond the Possible about Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. Of course I will also write about other events as they break or others as I inspired.

Have a great week.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Murder of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel

It was 68 years ago in Ulm Germany that a car pulled up to the residence of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. In the car was the driver and two Generals dispatched by Hitler.  Rommel was recuperating following being severely wounded in an air attack in Normandy on July 17th 1944.

Rommel was never a Nazi but like many Germans he believed Hitler’s promises and propaganda. As a division commander in France and as the commander of the troops sent to bail out Mussolini’s failed African adventure Rommel gained fame, earned rapid promotion and was a poster-child for Goebels’ propaganda machine. His fame also earned the resentment of many fellow officers who since he was not an officer of the General Staff regarded him with jealous envy and distain.

That was until he discovered the reality of Hitler’s promises as the troops of the Afrika Corps found themselves subjected to constant privation from lack of supply, air support and reinforcements. As commander of the Afrika Corps and the Panzer Armee Arfika he and his troops achieved amazing success against an enemy that was always better supplied and equipped and which had air and sea superiority. Battling the British as well as the political machinations of Mussolini and Germany’s Italian Allies as well as opponents in the German government such as Hermann Goering, Rommel saw his troops crushed under the press of the British as well as the Americans who landed in French North Africa. Eventually, sick and worn out he was sent back to Germany.

His honest assessments of the chances of the Germans winning the war which he spoke candidly to Hitler and the High Command made him persona non grata in Berlin and Berchtesgaden. In the time before he was posted to France in late 1943 he became a part of the plot to end the war and overthrow Hitler. Rommel’s Chief of Staff at OB West General Hans Speidel was a key man in the conspiracy and Rommel had contacts with a number of key conspirators. He believed that the war was lost unless his forces could repel the coming Allied invasion on the beaches. His recommendations for the deployment of Panzer Divisions where they could immediately counterattack were not taken. He was given command but not control of many important units which Hitler alone could release.

When the invasion came Rommel was away and sped back to Normandy. He fought a desperate battle against an Allied force. His outnumbered forces under constant assault from the land, sea and air received paltry reinforcements compared to the Allies. German troops inflicted many local defeats and exacted a heavy price in allied blood in Normandy. Many American infantry regiments suffered 100% casualties but remained in action because of a continuous stream of replacements. Rommel urged a withdraw before the allies broke through his front and found that he was now considered a defeatist.

He was wounded just days before the attempt on Hitler’s life which Hitler survived and exacted a terrible revenge on anyone connected with the plot. Show trials and public hangings of officers who had served valiantly at the front were common.Thousands were killed and thousands more imprisoned.

Eventually Rommel was identified with the plotters. He was recommended by the “Court of Military Honor” to be expelled from the military and tried by the “People’s Court” of Judge Roland Freisler. Because of his fame and popularity in Germany Hitler was decided to offer Rommel the choice of being tried by the People’s Court that was busily executing anyone suspected of disloyalty or committing suicide and ensuring his family’s safety. German military heroes were hauled before this court and humiliated by Freisler before they were sent to their deaths.

Rommel suspected that he would be identified and killed and told that to his friends and family leading up to the day that the staff car carrying Generals Wilhelm Burgorf and Ernst Maisel from OKW with the ultimatum. They met with Rommel for a short time before giving him the opportunity to say goodbye to his family. Rommel told them of his choice and left his home for the last time. 15 minutes later the Generals called his wife to say that he had died of a heart attack. Rommel was given a state funeral and the German people were lied to about his cause of his death.

Rommel was 52 when he died, the same age that I am now. I find in the story of Rommel some commonality in my own life. Before Rommel went to Africa he believed that Germany would win the war, during his command there he discovered that what he believed was lies and that Hitler had little regard for him or his troops. Before I went to Iraq in 2007 I believed much of the political propaganda about that war. I have written on this site numerous articles critical of that war and our current war in Afghanistan. Like Rommel I feel that our troops have been and are being sacrificed in a war that we have no chance of winning. We are saddled with an Afghan ally who we put in office, President Karzai who makes Mussolini look like a winner and does nothing to help our war effort, condemning our troops at every opportunity even as his own police and soldiers kill ours. Our troops do valiant and often heroic work and in spite of the terrible situation that could get worse of more war breaks out in Iran or Syria.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq, world war two in europe

The Afghanistan Quagmire and the Escalation of “Green on Blue” Attacks

US Army Advisors training Afghan Police

We have forgotten what it is to be wise when it comes to foreign policy and have over the past ten years failed to learn from history when it comes to fighting in Afghanistan. A survivor of the horrific disaster that befell the British in the First Anglo-Afghan War, Chaplain G.R. Gleig wrote after that war:

“a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.” 

This week has been another particularly horrific week for American troops in Afghanistan with our Afghan “partners” killing more Americans and NATO troops than our Taliban enemies. This week the command element of a combat brigade was attacked by a suicide bomber while going to a meeting with tribal leaders in Kunar province killing the Brigade Command Sergeant Major and two Majors from the Brigade staff. In a separate incident in Helmand Province three Marines were killed by a man described by an unnamed source to Reuters News as a Afghan National Police commander in charge of local police in Sangin district. They were at dinner with the Afghan when attacked. In a third attack a Afghan worker on an American base in Helmand killed three more Marines.

So far this year there have been at least 22 attacks by Afghan soldiers or police on US or NATO troops killing 33. In 2011 there were just 11 such attacks and 20 deaths. Any student of history should know that a foreign occupation force will never be accepted by most Afghans, especially tribal chieftains or elders. For them alliances with occupiers are only temporary measures to advance their own standing and power in Afghanistan. The British and Soviets both learned this the hard way and we seem to have forgotten the maxim that it is better to learn from the mistakes of others than make them yourself.

If there ever was a purpose to the Afghanistan campaign we seem to have forgotten it. We are in the process of withdraw. There is a danger inherent in any withdraw, especially in a geographically isolated place like Afghanistan. As we decrease in number and have fewer forces available to conduct operations our “partners” will make new alliances and turn against the forces that remain.

However we do not have the strategic or operational flexibility to send the number of troops needed to succeed in completely pacifying the country so we are in a double bind. The war saps our military strength, degrades our ground forces and pours money into an operation that we neither have, but need in order to modernize and strengthen forces for the wars that will certainly follow Afghanistan.

Soviet Advisors and Afghan Officers

The British met with debacle in the First Anglo-Afghan War and the Soviets were saved from disaster by a smartly executed withdraw that did not leave many forces exposed to Afghan treachery. British leaders were especially deceived by their Afghan partners. Shortly before his murder at the hands of Afghan tribal elders who had supposedly agreed to protect withdrawing British forces and their camp followers, British envoy Sir William MacNaghten wrote: “We shall part with the Afghans as friends, and I feel satisfied that any government which may be established hereafter will always be disposed to cultivate a good understanding with us.” 

The Soviets had no such illusions after their advisers in Herat were attacked with great loss before the 1979 invasion. They had their “green on blue” incidents but exacted painful and brutal retaliation. They also kept Afghan security forces at arms distance neither trusting them or allowing them much access to their bases. Unlike Iraq where green on blue incidents were isolated the situation in Afghanistan is little changed from when the Soviets or the British occupied the country.

“The latter [Soviet military advisors] served in particularly daunting conditions. They faced difference of language and tradition as well as mujahadeen infiltration in the ranks of supposedly loyal Afghan troops….” (Kalinovsky, Artemy: The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-Insurgency and Nation-Building in Afghanistan, p.6)

American and NATO political leaders are deceiving themselves if they believe that whatever Afghan government that comes after we withdraw will be friendly. It will not be and when we leave the unfortunate thing is that the Afghans will return to doing what they always do best, fight with one another. Nothing good can now come from our involvement in Afghanistan. The often heroic and noble sacrifices of so many brave men and women will be wasted and for what gain?

Otto Von Bismarck warned to “Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deeds is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.” The situation in Afghanistan grows more precarious with each passing day. Our “alliance” with Pakistan is problematic and all supplies going into the Afghanistan must pass through either it or Russia. Our Afghan “partners” do not deserve the title of “Allies” we have made a Faustian bargain with the notorious Karzai government that has not helped our interests or those of the Afghan people an iota.

The situation in Afghanistan grows more precarious with each passing day.With the situation in Syria deteriorating and threatening to spill over into neighboring countries, with Iran and Israel blustering as we build up forces in the Arabian Gulf we do not have the luxury of simply keeping the status quo. We have to seriously ask why we are in Afghanistan and what we hope to accomplish for the great amount of blood and treasure that we are spending there.

That question must be asked of an answered by current political leaders in this country as well as those seeking to lead the country.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Troubled by Events Here and Afar…But at Least I can Watch Baseball Tonight

Remnant of an Army 

I have had a hard time sleeping this week. There have been two things on my mind. One is the situation in Afghanistan which I think is much more dangerous than anyone wants to admit and which bears a terrible resemblance to the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842) which ended very badly for the British as well as the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1988.)  The events of the past couple of months in that “graveyard of empires” should trouble anyone.  We are finding just as the British and Soviets that Afghanistan is ungovernable and that our “control” of the country and the stability of the government that we prop up is a fantasy.  American and NATO troops are being killed by the Afghan soldiers and police that they are training and attempting to help control the country. It is so dangerous for our troops located with Afghan troops that we have had to institute force protection measures that can only further detract from our ability to both wage the war and transfer the prosecution of the war to Afghan forces.  To remember the words of Charles Metcalfe who headed the British administration of India prior to Lord Auckland who launched the First Anglo-Afghan War “We have needlessly and heedlessly plunged into difficulties and embarrassments not without much aggression and injustice on our part which we can never extricate ourselves without a disgraceful retreat which may be more fatal in its consequences than an obstinate perseverance in a wrong course.”

Many of my friends are serving in Afghanistan now and I fear for their safety should things go even more badly than they have been. Unfortunately that is very possible. Our southern supply route through Pakistan is still shut and supply convoys are being attacked with more frequency and violence.  I am just wondering when an entire Afghan unit will turn on an isolated NATO post or group of advisors as happened to the Soviets in March 1979 at Herat where 50 advisors and near 300 dependents were brutally killed when the Afghan units there mutinied and provoked a brutal Soviet response and the Soviet invasion. The Afghan troops were led by Captain Ismail Khan who now serves as a cabinet minister in the Karzai government.

I am also troubled by what I see happening in this country regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin. I am troubled that those that seek a full investigation are being called “race baiters” and worse and that some in the conservative media and politics are openly using materials produced by White Supremacist groups such as Stormfront, a Neo-Nazi organization and website in order to destroy the reputation of a dead teenager.  Likewise I am troubled by those in the New Black Panthers and Nation of Islam that are calling for revenge and or putting a bounty on the life of the man that shot Trayvon, George Zimmerman.

I am bothered by so much about this case and its aftermath that when I tried to start writing it all down I had to quit.  I will probably come back to it at a later time but all I want to see is that someone fully investigate the death of this kid. Too many things from the actions of Zimmerman at the site in ignoring the police by pursuing Trayvon.  I wonder why people defending Zimmerman’s right to stand his ground don’t at least in the absence of any evidence to the contrary at least give the dead kid the right to have stood his ground when he felt threatened by a man who was following him. But the police reports don’t match up with other evidence and the man who claims that he was brutally beaten barely looks tussled by the event when filmed entering the police station barely 40 minutes later. All I am saying is that I am bothered by lots of things about this case and the one that is most bothersome a re-emergence of the the spirit of Jim Crow racism that seems to permeate a lot of the discussion even in allegedly “Christian” discussions on Christian websites. I know that there are racists in every race and country but this is a something that has been part of our history since before our Independence. Just when you think we are over it it shows up again in all of its hateful ugliness.

Tonight I have put on the replay of the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners game that was place this morning (US time) in Tokyo.  At least that is not troubling and I got to do something really fun today that I will write about tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Failing to Learn from History: The Lesson of the First Anglo-Afghan War and Questions about the US-NATO Campaign

“The Americans in Afghanistan are Demons. They claim they burned Korans by mistake, but really those were “Satanic acts that will never be forgiven by apologies.” Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai

It seems that we in the West seldom learn from history nor do certain Afghan leaders like Hamid Karzai. The situation in Afghanistan has taken on a more ominous tone as the situation continues to spiral downward with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s demand for the US and NATO to redeploy their troops to large bases and leave the countryside to Afghan control. Even more ominously he said that the Afghan-NATO relationship was “at the end of the rope.”  Karzai alluded that he did not believe that US and NATO account of the killing of 16 Afghan villagers near Kandahar.

This should come as no surprise to any observer of Afghanistan or anyone familiar with the relationship of Afghan leaders with western occupiers.  Karzai knows that the US-NATO era is coming to an end and even though he rules only because he is buttressed by western military power he is now trying to ensure his political and literal survival when we leave be it in 2013 or 2014.  The one thing that Karzai needs to keep in mind is that like his predecessors who turned on their western supporters be they British or Soviet he will be dangling from the end of the rope when we leave. He and his corrupt band of thieves who have alienated and plundered their own people will not survive their wrath once the protective cordon of American and NATO troops is withdrawn.

Karzai’s anti-American stance is further reinforced by the growing number of killings of US and NATO troops by Afghan police, soldiers and other personnel. Even this week an attack was made by an interpreter who drove a stolen pickup truck at a Marine Corps General and his British Brigadier assistant commander at Kandahar while awaiting the arrival of Secretary of Defense Panetta. Likewise the death of a Marine in February was officially announced as being at the hand of an Afghan soldier. The death occurred before the Afghan reaction to the burning of the Koran and was the 7th NATO service member who died at the hands of Afghan forces in February.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales at the National Training Center in 2011 (US Army/DoD Photo)

The final nail in the coffin for the campaign occurred last week when Staff Sergeant Robert Bales for unknown reasons went on a shooting rampage killing 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children when they were asleep in their homes.  Bales actions whether attributable to a psychological breakdown, being drunk or if he was simply a cold blooded killer have effectively destroyed any chance of the United States and NATO recovering the situation in Afghanistan. It is already said that Bales attorney plans to use the case to also put the US war effort on trial. Since Bales reportedly has a Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI and possibly PTSD who allegedly was told that he would not be deployed again expect that the Army Medical Department and Madigan Army Medical Center will be raked over the coals. Those institutions and the Commanders of Joint-Base Lewis McChord are already being investigated for downgrading PTSD diagnosis to other mental illnesses that do not qualify for medical disability payments.

Staff Sergeant Bales appears to be a man who appeared until this incident to be an honorable and professional soldier with a distinguished combat record. However he had a number of potentially troubling legal and personal situations occur over the past number of years and had not been selected for promotion. How those events play into this and what may have happened to push him over the edge or to unleash an evil in him that no one knew was there will be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks.  None of it will be good for the United States.

At the same time the question will have to be asked how and why a soldier with injuries of PTSD and TBI was deployed as part of a small team supporting Special Forces troops instead of with his own unit even after allegedly being told that he would not redeploy.  That is a question that must be answered.  Why would the Army deploy a soldier with known PTSD and TBI as an Individual Augment with different unit than which he was assigned? In this environment he would not be in a place to have the same camaraderie of being part of his own unit probably suffer much more isolation with the inherent dangers of such a situation. Having served on small bases in Iraq with the small teams of advisors and having worked with Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen assigned to commands as Individual Augments (IAs) and having been one myself I can say that these assignments are often much more dangerous for those with preexisting trauma.

The result of this latest incident coming on the heels of the burning of the Koran and other religious texts at Bagram Air Base, the release of a You Tube video of a US Marine Scout Sniper team urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters and the revelation of the “Kill team” in 2010 has for all practical purposes ended any chance of making a successful transition in Afghanistan.

Last Stand of the 44th Regiment of Foot 1842

Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war” and for a couple of years that is what it was. US forces had taken down the Taliban regime with minimal effort in 2001 and appeared to be well on their way to finishing off Al Qaeda and banishing the Taliban from Afghanistan. However in 2003 the US took its focus off of Afghanistan by invading Iraq. We also had placed our trust in Hamid Karzai to guide Afghanistan into a new and democratic era. Karzai has proven to be much like Sujah Shah Durrani who the British imposed on Afghanistan in 1838 when they could not get Emir Dost Mohammed Khan to do their bidding in trying to keep Russia and Persia from dominating Afghanistan. That was a mistake of epic proportions that led to one of the greatest British military, diplomatic and political disasters of the Empire.

A survivor to the First Anglo-Afghan War Chaplain G.R. Gleig wrote about that war something that may be said about our campaign there in years to come:

“a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.” 

We can pray that it doesn’t happen that way. What started as an attempt to find and kill Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda leadership in Afghanistan in October of 2001 has turned into a long term occupation that serves no strategic interest of the United States.  Nearly 100,000 US troops are tied down in a country where they can do little conduct local operations against an intractable enemy to support a corrupt government that the people of Afghanistan loathe.  It is so similar to the British experience that it makes one wonder if anyone has ever read a book about the country before invading it.

Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is still reeling from continued strikes on its leadership. The goal of the war was achieved. Afghanistan is Afghanistan. It will not change and any threats brought by terrorists that may try to use it as a base can be defended so long as we are able and willing to whack a mole whenever they raise their head up, just as we are in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and even Pakistan. That does not require 100,000 tied down in Afghanistan where they are exposed to local threats as well as the possibility of being cut off from supplies should Pakistan or the Russian Federation cut supply lines or should hostilities break out with Iran.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under counterinsurency in afghanistan, Foreign Policy, iraq,afghanistan, Military, national security, News and current events

Unforced Errors: The Bane of the American-NATO Campaign in Afghanistan

The Scene at one of the Houses (Reuters: Ahmad Nadeem) 

The efforts of the United States in Afghanistan and chances of coming out with anything resembling a successful conclusion to the longest war in its history are being destroyed by unforced errors. Of course anyone who watches any kind of sporting event knows that there are many times that the team that should win self destructs by committing unforced errors that result in them losing a game. In football they might be penalties, fumbles or badly thrown balls that result in interceptions. In basketball the errant pass, the bad foul, the unforced turnover in baseball the error that costs a game. However in war unforced errors cost precious lives, harm the strategic goals of a nation and lead to greater suffering of the populations affected.

Today we learned that a US Army Staff Sergeant went on a rampage in the Afghan villages near his base in Kandahar killing 15 or 16 Afghan civilians including 9 children and 3 women. The killings were particularly brutal. We don’t know details except that some reports indicate that the sergeant had recently had a breakdown and had deployed at least one other time to Iraq or Afghanistan. I would guess that he had multiple deployments.  The initial reports say that he was assigned to troops supporting a Special Forces team that was working with the local villagers.  Some Afghans say that more than one soldier was involved although NATO says that the soldier acted alone.

The murders come after the accidental burning of a Koran sparked riots and attacks on US and NATO forces killing 6 NATO soldiers including 2 US officers working inside a secure area of the Afghan interior ministry. They also follow the video display of Marines urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban and the trial and conviction of soldiers who had their own killing team. All the incidents were unrelated and none had the imprimatur of the American or NATO command.  However like the My Lai massacre committed by the platoon led by Lieutenant William Calley during the Vietnam War the crimes have tarnished the honor of the US military and are undermining all efforts to bring about a successful conclusion to the war in Afghanistan.

Unforced errors do not help when the strategic goals are totally dependent on the cooperation and goodwill of the populace of the country that you are operating in and trying to secure. The whole tenant of Counterinsurgency Warfare is securing the population and by doing that bringing them to cooperate with you. If you do not have the massive numbers of troops to actually secure the country yourself it is doubly important. In fact by doctrine there should be 4 times more troops to conduct a successful counterinsurgency campaign. In places where the indigenous forces are larger and more capable some or even much of the burden can be born by them, however the Afghan National Army and National Police are able to shoulder the burden. Riddled with corruption, plagued by incompetent leaders, poor discipline, high desertion rates and awash in Taliban sympathizers. A growing number of American and NATO soldiers have lost their lives in attacks from the Afghan soldiers and police working alongside of them.

Of course there are other factors such as that the government of the country must inspire the confidence of its own people in order to turn back an insurgency.  Afghanistan is “governed” if one can call it that by the regime of Mohammed Karzai. The government can most charitably be described as corrupt and incompetent.  However the Karzai government has little power or authority outside of Kabul.  It has little control over its own security forces or for that matter even regional governors who function in a near autonomous fashion as best benefits them personally or the tribe that they belong.  A shadow government of the Taliban factions often hold as much real power over the people as the “legitimate” government.  The biggest money maker is the Opium trade as Afghanistan is one of the top Opium producers in the world. The real truth is that for all practical matters Afghanistan is for all practical purposes a narco-State run by criminals and thugs of different factions.

Afghanistan also is a nation whose people believe that it is an offense against Islam foreigners to occupy the country. The Afghanis have shown their resolve against every invader and though successfully invaded they have never been long occupied nor cooperated well with their occupiers, even those that considered themselves liberators. As such the campaign to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and bring about some form of democracy has had little chance of success after forces were diverted to the invasion of Iraq.

The latest incident will cause more American and NATO soldiers to die and will likely erase any possibility that we can succeed in our goal of an orderly train up of Afghan security forces and transfer of the conduct of the war to them.  It is very likely that the situation on the ground will get worse, perhaps markedly worse.  The American military will do the right thing regarding the investigation and prosecution of this case but that investigation may prove to show how bad things have become.

Unforced errors.  I don’t know how to overcome them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Deep Thoughts and Musings on a Lazy Fall Saturday

I have been down with an ear and sinus infection most of the week which has added to my insomnia and made me pretty useless.  It is no fun to get up in the morning with vertigo.  When this happens I wonder where Verti went. Over the past few days with the vertigo, occasional fever, sinus headaches and some coughing and sneezing I have officially welcomed in the 2011-2012 cold and flu season.

The past few days have given me time to do a lot of thinking, some praying and a bunch of writing.  At least my PTSD-Mad Cow brain is functioning relatively well.  But not getting out much and only going to work to go to the doctor is a bit of a downer.  But it is now time to stop whining to you about this and simply be thankful for the blessings that I have.

I could have a job that had paid time off for sickness or that provided no medical coverage.  I could be wondering where the next meal or paycheck was coming from or where I will sleep.  One thing that I am thankful for is that we paid off a painful reminder of when where the next meal, tank of gas, medical care or pace to live was our reality.  I left the active duty Army in September 1988 to attend seminary and that as about the time of the big Texas oil bust and real estate collapse.  I was an Army Captain and couldn’t get a job because I was overqualified for most jobs or competing against people who could be paid less than me for others.  It was brutal.

Judy was sick and could not work and eventually despite eventually getting a job with a social service agency, things fell apart. We lost our home and even our cars.  It was the worst time of our lives.  We never declared bankruptcy and paid off everything that we owed and this week I paid off the balance of the home that we lost in 1989 to the Veterans Administration.  When the market crashed and the foreclosure came owed almost 40% of the selling price when the house sold at auction.

I am so grateful for what we have now and so being sick and laid up for a few days is really nothing to complain about.  There are far too many people in our country that even a couple of years ago had what they thought were stable well paying jobs with benefits that don’t have them now.  Many are veterans and their families.  It is most likely that things will get worse before they get better for most people as the effects of the sovereign debt and banking crisis in Europe hits our banks.

For me what people are going through is not abstract because we have been there. I really wonder when I see people in political and economic power doing nothing with one Presidential candidate blaming the unemployed if they didn’t have a job and were not rich.  I wonder what has happened to our country.  I wonder why so many churches side with the rich and powerful and seem to despise the poor.

It seems heartless to say the things that this Presidential candidate said with unemployment remaining over 9% for over a year and companies deciding when they do have a job opening to give preference to those that currently have jobs.  Even well qualified unemployed people are not even considered for job openings because they don’t have a job.  And this is happening when the supposed “job creators” on Wall Street who the taxpayers bailed out in 2008 and 2009 are giving themselves bonuses.  It just immoral and when I see many of my fellow Christians making the support of polices which are condemned by Jesus an article of faith in both theology and politics.

I have also had time to think about what is going on in the Middle East especially the Iraq withdraw and ongoing war in Afghanistan.  I am really concerned with Afghanistan because of the veiled threats that Pakistan is making about cutting our supply lines.  They have done this for short time periods before and there have been numerous attacks on supply convoys in that country by Pakistani Taliban.  To make matters even more uncertain Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that if there were a conflict between the United States and Pakistan that Afghanistan would help them.

Sometimes I hate being a military historian because I understand what happens to armies with tenuous supply lines that are under the control of unreliable allies.  Stalingrad comes to mind. Likewise the lesser known but very significant The Second Jassy-Kishinev Offensive between August 20 and August 29 1944 in which the Romanian allies of the Germans switched sides during the battle.  This allowed the Red Army to destroy the German 6th Army and maul the 8th Army. The offensive probably shortened the war by six months.  At Stalingrad the Germans and their allies suffered 841,000 casualties and at Jassy-Kishinev they lost 100,000 killed and 115,000 captured.  Currently there are about 90,000 American and another 40,000 NATO or coalition troops in Afghanistan deployed in penny packets throughout the country fighting an insurgency.  They are very vulnerable to any supply disruption especially during the winter months and if there was a conflict that shut down the supply lines we would have to rely on the good graces of the Russians to resupply or withdraw our troops. When I think about this I think about my friends and comrades serving in Afghanistan and I pray to God that this does not happen.

When I think that the burden of these wars has fallen on under half a percent of the American population and that politicians and their allies in the business sector are looking at ways to make substantial cutbacks in medical care and other benefits to those that have been sacrificing in ways that no one else has been doing the past ten years.  Talks of cutting VA care for veterans is obscene when because of their preexisting conditions they wouldn’t be able to afford medical insurance even if they could get it.  And the word that these politicians and their allies use is that these are “entitlements.”  That is a really nasty word and it is used pejoratively because everybody knows that “entitlement programs” are bad and those that receive “entitlements” haven’t earned them and are leaching off of society.  In fact a letter from the “Super Committee” in charge of finding ways to slash the budget has proposed cuts to veterans benefits including pension, disability compensation and education payments.

This is why I would rather be at work, I think too much.

But I am still grateful for all that I have and honored to serve with the fine men and women of the US Military in this time of war.  I do pray that things get better in our nation, which those suffering from the terrible economy will have their needs for employment and other physical needs met. I pray that somehow the deep division that has rent our people asunder will be healed and that our political and economic leaders will do what is right for the country and our people rather than the quarterly bottom line of select corporations.  And I pray for the safety and success of my friends and comrades in both Iraq and Afghanistan and that our political and business leaders will not sacrifice us and then abandon us after beating us to dust the past 10 years.

But at least the World Series is on and nothing bad accrues from Baseball.  For that I am very grateful as Sharon Olds said “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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