|Afghan Army Soldiers
One way of knowing for sure that America has lost a war is when the Pentagon begins navel-gazing. That's exactly what the US military is doing now - an autopsy of its dismal performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Where did America go wrong and when? In both wars that was Day One. American forces went into Iraq and Afghanistan prepared for one outcome, failure.
Ten years of war have given the U.S. military more than its share of frustrations. According to an internal Pentagon study, two of them were as fundamental as they were related: Troops had terrible intelligence about Iraq and Afghanistan, and they told their own stories just as badly.
Those are some preliminary conclusions from an ongoing Pentagon study into the lessons of a decade of combat, authorized by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the multi-tour Iraq veteran and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The study doesn’t single out any sensor or spy platform for criticism. Instead, it finds that U.S. troops didn’t understand the basic realities of society, culture and power structures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and couldn’t explain what they were doing to skeptical populations.
“In operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” the report reads, “a failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define the operational environment led to a mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions and goals.”
The report considers that less a strategy failure than an intelligence failure, and it doesn’t point fingers at anyone outside of the military. But the military’s intelligence structure, once in Iraq and Afghanistan, was entirely focused on discovering and locating its enemies, which left it blind to the experiences of the local population, which nourished them.
“A focus on traditional adversary information” limited the U.S. and its allies’ “effectiveness in countering asymmetric threats such as insurgencies and mitigating terrorist and criminal influences,” the study finds.
In Afghanistan, the Americans and our own forces went in prepared to fight a military war, the type we were trained and equipped to fight. Ours was a war of heavy firepower and numerical superiority. We always had the Taliban outnumbered and we alone had the jet strike fighters, the attack helicopters, the artillery and tanks, the drones, all the good stuff. We had the intensely trained professional soldiers. They relied on sparse numbers of farm boys equipped with Korean-war vintage assault rifles, light machine guns and RPGs.
We arrogantly expected the Talibs to fight our war, to stand up in the field and allow our firepower to mow them down. They didn't like that idea, not when they knew they could win. They chose to fight their war, knowing that so long as we didn't defeat them on their terms they would win and we would pack up and leave in failure.
We truly "didn't understand the basic realities of society, culture and power structures," in Afghanistan. We ignored the proven fact that the sort of government and society we sought to establish in Afghanistan has never been achieved without first overcoming tribalism and warlordism.
Yes, the Americans screwed up. What else is new? But Canada's political and military leadership were no better. We could have and should have stuck with our original commitment under the Martin government, a fixed term mission. No military or political goals beyond holding Kandahar for a few years until it was turned back over to the Americans.
Stephen Harper and his uniformed minions screwed Canada's soldiers by reframing the mission into a war to defeat the Taliban and save Afghan society for democracy. Neither objective was ever within our grasp or means. We simply kept extending the duration of our hopeless mission without ever upping the ante in forces to meet our expanded objectives.
Harper cynically milked the war for all the political capital he could squeeze from the dead and maimed bodies of Canadian soldiers. The general staff of professional ticket punchers did scarcely any better by their troops. Their repeated and stupid proclamations of having the Talibs on the run stand as testament to their incompetence. They didn't even understand they were wasting Canadian lives fighting the wrong war, the one that didn't matter.
Will Canada have its own post-mortem on our first failed foreign war? Probably not any time soon. That will have to wait until the incompetents who so richly deserve condemnation are flushed out of our political and military leadership and into the safety of retirement.