In the running of any enterprise, you will encounter some triumphs and some disasters.
If you remember your schoolboy Kipling, you will know that the right path is to “treat those two impostors just the same.”
That is well and good, but it is also critical to assess what went wrong, why, and how to avoid it in the future.
Which, dear reader, brings me to the subject of Afghanistan and America’s two decades unending war in a far away place called the Graveyard of Empires.
How did Afghanistan get so fucked up?
That is, of course, a technical question of some substantial military importance — war, military, big time — and one that needs to be asked. Here are some thoughts.
Aren’t we a bad ass Superpower, Big Red Car?
Well, yes, we are. In fact in Afghanistan we had the following advantages:
1. At our high water mark, we led a coalition of forces totaling 200,000 versus a Taliban force of 65,000 which was more like 30,000.
2. In the tooth to tail ratio which is modern warfare, we outnumbered the Taliban not as much as the preceding numbers might suggest (we had Burger Kings at some of our facilities — who makes war without fast food these days?), but still enough to offer battle with a high likelihood of success.
3. The US and our allies enjoyed complete, total air superiority. The Taliban didn’t have an air force.
The Taliban did have rockets capable of shooting down helicopters and they did, but we had total domination of the sky.
4. We had awesome firepower and could deploy it quickly and with pinpoint accuracy.
We’re talking both close air support — the legendary A-10 Warthog, a thing of great beauty — and artillery from big guns (howitzers) to company level mortars.
The Taliban had luggable mortars and nothing more with a burden to lug their ammunition.
5. Using drones, we had standoff power with which we could deliver deadly strikes without endangering personnel.
6. Speaking of ammunition, we had tons of it and used it with profligate lavishness like we were county commissioners running for re-election.
7. We had suffocating signals intel, the ability to listen in on the enemy, and stand off intel capabilities such that we could follow the enemy wherever they went — including into Pakistan where they wintered over.
Drones — we had drones that could follow enemy formations forever. We could watch them heading to Pakistan for the winter.
News flash — Pakistan was not really our ally.
8. Afghanistan is a nasty bit of Mother Nature with its mountains, and its ferocious winters, but passage through the country is limited to a poorly developed road net and thus provided us with a clear avenue to find the Taliban.
9. We were there for two decades, enough time to figure out the lay of the land, the nature of the enemy, and to build on successive triumphs.
So, what went wrong, Big Red Car?
Ahh, now we are in the soup. What went wrong?
Our generals were never able to fashion a winning strategy for our awesome military force to beat a third world, poorly armed, light infantry led by guys who were not Rangers or grads of the Command & General Staff School or the Army War College that wintered over in Pakistan. This is a failure of strategy.
We had twenty years to figure it out and we never did. We have an Army War College and a bunch of drop outs who could not solve the problem.
Allow me to editorialize for just a second, if I may.
1. The profession of arms is a complicated bit of wizardry. At the top of the food chain, a general has to master the sea, air, land battle doctrine.
Today, a general has to be a slick PR guy and control the message, in addition.
2. At the boot top level, soldiers — young company grade officers — have to fight the combined arms fight — infantry, artillery, signals, air power. The whole shoot-move-communicate thing.
3. The military fancies itself a “science” and as a graduate of a military school and a former soldier, I must say they are right.
4. In the way our military system works, we have civilian control over the generals. Our Secretary of Defense is a civilian. Our President is a civilian and the Commander-in-Chief, but let’s be clear — the generals look down their noses at these rank amateurs.
They say stuff like, “Well, it’s very complicated. You don’t have the right background to understand it. We’ve all been at this for thirty years.”
Then they knock their West Point or VMI rings on the table and smile smugly at each other.
5. What some Presidents do — well, OK, only President Trump — is to say, “What the fuck is so hard to understand? You’re getting your ass kicked by some guys with rags on their heads who don’t have anything bigger than an 81mm mortar. Why can’t you come up with a fucking strategy to kick their asses? You’re military professionals, right? We’re throwing billions at the problem. And the fucking Taliban doesn’t have a War College do they?”
6. To which a bunch of generals replied, “We are working our asses off conducting petri dish experiments with women in Ranger School and transgender battalions and diversity training and other important stuff.”
7. “But, fellas, isn’t your raison d’etre the winning of our wars and isn’t this Afghanistan chum chopper of a war your core competency?” the President would ask.
8. To which the generals would cluck to each other, knock their rings on the table, shake their heads, purse their lips, clutch their pearls, and whisper, “He doesn’t understand us, does he? He can be so rude.”
Bottom line it, Big Red Car
OK, here’s the bottom line. If you are running anything, you have to dissect what went well and what went wrong — moreso what went wrong.
In the specific example of Afghanistan, let’s lay the blame where it belongs — the generals.
These graduates of the Army War College and other professional schools allowed us be humiliated by a much lesser force.
They did not solve the problem. They did not come up with a winning strategy.
There are only three things we should ask of generals:
1. Win our wars — come up with a strategy to vanquish our enemies.
2. Improve the lethality of our armed forces.
3. Safeguard the lives of our warfighters.
Nothing else matters. Identify and run your damn lane.
Let’s air this stinky laundry out and assess some accountability.
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car, but I am a graduate of a military school, and I was a soldier and I can smell bullshit on a freshening wind from 10,000 miles away. Be well, amigos.