Such a Waste of Fine Infantry

So this platoon comes back to an Afghan village it hasn’t visited in three months.  One of the village elders tells the platoon commander, "We ask you not to come here.  It is better for us, and better for you."  As the platoon leaves the village, the Taliban attack it and a four-hour firefight ensues.   

This compelling story, told by a Knight Ridder/Tribune correspondent, perfectly illustrates the futility of the foreign policy course we are pursuing, especially in Afghanistan.  

The U.S built a clinic in the village to "demonstrate to Afghans that they have more to gain from the Americans than from the Taliban."  Last spring the Taliban blew the clinic up.

The platoon commander takes off his helmet and sunglasses and explains to the village elders that the Taliban have been passing through their village on their way to attack U.S. outposts along the nearby Pech River. "Unless this is stopped, you have to understand that you’ll be getting regular visits from coalition forces," the platoon commander says.  

The elders politely tell him to bug off.  

The platoon splits into two squads and walks away from the village.  The platoon’s Afghan translator asks the journalist if he has a mobile phone. "You should call your loved ones now to say that you care about them," the translator says.  "I’m telling you, the walk home from here is not a joke." 

The platoon walks about 500 yards out of the village with helicopters patrolling overhead when gunfire sizzles down from the mountainside.  Four hours later the fight is over.  The platoon thinks they and the helicopters maybe killed five Taliban.  There’s no way of knowing how accurate this assessment is.  The platoon, thankfully, merely suffers two sprained ankles. 

What’s wrong with this picture?  Everything.  

If the platoon isn’t there, nothing bad happens.  If we hadn’t built the clinic, the Taliban wouldn’t have blown it up. If we didn’t have outposts along the Pech River, the Taliban wouldn’t pass through the village to attack them.   

Is it any wonder the village elders don’t want the Americans in their village?  Is it any wonder Afghans don’t want us in their country? 

Our interventionist foreign policy creates many problems and solves few of them.  It certainly doesn’t make us more secure.  For every Islamo-hooligan we kill or capture we create two or more new ones.   

Our policies are strategically foolhardy.  They’re tactically imbecilic as well.   

A platoon — roughly two-dozen troops — of the best-trained, best-equipped military in history, supported by helicopter gunships, got hung up in a four-hour battle with dudes who probably live in caves.  The Americans are running out of ammo.  The American helicopters fly in more machine gun bullets and grenades.  The Taliban don’t have any helicopters to do that for them, but they don’t run out of ammo.  Nearby U.S. bases provide covering artillery fire.  The Taliban don’t have any artillery.   

"Gradually," the Knight Ridder correspondent says, "the Soldiers made it to safety. The firefight had lasted about four hours. The entire operation, from dawn until the return to base, went on for about seven hours." 

This is sorry stuff.  This platoon, backed by airpower, didn’t defeat a Taliban ambush.  It escaped from it, barely.   

What was the point of the platoon’s mission?  It went into an Afghan village to act tough and got run out of town by a herd of goat ropers.  That sums up our entire Afghanistan experience.  

Don’t confuse this firefight with one of those deals where the bad guys are mixed in with the population and Gen. Stan McChrystal’s goofy rules of engagement require our guys to tie both hands behind their backs and box with their chins.  This was a straight up fight between our guys and an inferior force, and our guys were lucky to get out of it with mere joint sprains.   

It was a case of a tactical situation reflecting the bathos of the strategic mindset.  High command sends 20-something-year-old lieutenant and his platoon of teenagers into a village to tell a bunch of old Afghans we’re not happy that the Taliban are passing through their village to attack us.  

The platoon leaves town the way it came, through a riverbed surrounded by high ground.  The bad guys, who saw them come in, know exactly how to whack them coming out.   

Stanley McChrystal wants to put 40,000 or more Americans in this exact same position.  As George Patton would say, "Such a waste of fine infantry." 

This is a sad patch in American history.  We need to get our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Pentagon and its rabid Long War followers don’t want that to happen, and I’m losing faith in President Obama’s ability to stand up to them.   

From what one reads, Obama is likely to let his generals put more good infantry into bad terrain on a pointless mission. 


Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.