I was asked what I thought about it.
OK, just to establish my bona fides for the latecomers.
About 775K American service members have deployed to Afghanistan.
I was one of them.
Over 2K died there.
I have the names of seven of them tattooed on my leg.
Children born the day the towers fell are now adults.
Some of which are training to deploy there as I write.
Over 8K and change are there as I write this.
Whenever someone asks me how the war in Afghanistan was like, I answer the question with another question. Namely, "What did you think we were there to accomplish? There's so many goals to choose from?"
I mean, the initial goal was somewhere along the lines of "fuck up Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Bin Laden, in no particular order, and prevent another 9/11."
Welp, that mission was accomplished by Christmas of 2001.
What happened after that boils down to a two-word phrase: Mission creep.
"Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. officials wanted to use the war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and elevate women’s rights. Still others wanted to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.
'With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone,' an unidentified U.S. official told government interviewers in 2015. 'By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all.'”
It wasn't the first time the US had meddled there (Charlie Wilson's War should be required reading in High School.) But it was exacerbated with the typical arrogance of people convinced that what's made them prosperous and happy will work for someone else.
Afghanistan is the size of Texas, speaks three times as many languages, the people are just as diverse and even more belligerent. There are two cities deserving of the name, both of which have repeatedly tried to be modern since WWI only for some fundamentalist asshole to want things the old-fashioned way. Outside of the cities? The fucking Iron Age. They're good ranchers, but have barely any concept of literacy, let alone history. I'm talking "Mohammad himself was wandering around during Great Grandpa's day." I had friends who were mistaken for Russians by older folks who remembered the 80's.
The quick, smart response would have been to say, "don't do that shit again. Just do what you do until the next warlord that decides to rule here shows up." and fucking leave.
But Dubya had visions of widespread freedom and plug-n-play New-England style representative republics. And the Dems had visions of taking these poor little brown brothers and sisters and showing them the light of nanny states and third-wave feminism.
So a token force was left in Afghanistan and State Department hangers-on hung around Kabul (guarded by the dirty, dirty, but so hawt-looking in polos and plate carriers Blackwater bubbas).
“Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government,” an unidentified former State Department official told government interviewers in 2015. “The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have.”
By 2007ish, Iraq had been invaded, Saddam had been found, tried, and executed, and their own shitshow was well underway. But while Iraq wound down to a lull in anticipation of Obama's exit (which was about as stupidly done as Dubya's entrance), Afghanistan kicked up.
The central problem was that America wanted Afghanistan to transform itself into a strong practitioner of a representative republic and poster child of human rights reform. But America wasn't going to annex or claim the country. That would be worldbuilding, and we don't do that.
And unfortunately the kind of gun-toting dickhead warlords that are GOOD at ruling a rural, spread-out, tribally cultured country aren't fans of human rights, representative republics, or all of that modern mess.
"Was al-Qaeda the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadists, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll?
According to the documents, the U.S. government never settled on an answer.
As a result, in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe."
Which dickhead with a gun do YOU want in charge? The one openly slapping around his burqua-wrapped wives? The one taking your money with a smile but screaming jihad the second your back is turned? How about the one spending his nights raping the dancing boy that serves his tea?
I'll even be generous and make sure that they're not all the same person.
(And no, I'm not exaggerating. Look up the background of the Martland Act.)
Add in the fact that Afghanis are pretty awesome as ranchers and farmers, but there's no infrastructure to let them exploit their own mineral resources. Which means their biggest cash crop is opium. Gee, it's not like we've been fighting a War on Drugs since I was a gleam in my dad's nutsack or anything. Don't see how that could be a fucking problem.
Sorry, got a little sarcasm on your screen there.
"At first, Afghan poppy farmers were paid by the British to destroy their crops — which only encouraged them to grow more the next season. Later, the U.S. government eradicated poppy fields without compensation — which only infuriated farmers and encouraged them to side with the Taliban."
So, there we were. Given a bullshit mission and no real manner of accomplishing it. But surely there were regular checks? Progress reports?
"Upon arrival in Afghanistan, U.S. Army brigade and battalion commanders were given the same basic mission: to protect the population and defeat the enemy, according to Flynn, who served multiple tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer.
'So they all went in for whatever their rotation was, nine months or six months, and were given that mission, accepted that mission and executed that mission,' said Flynn, who later briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser, lost his job in a scandal and was convicted of lying to the FBI. 'Then they all said, when they left, they accomplished that mission. Every single commander. Not one commander is going to leave Afghanistan . . . and say, ‘You know what, we didn’t accomplish our mission.’
He added: 'So the next guy that shows up finds it [their area] screwed up . . . and then they come back and go, ‘Man this is really bad.’ ”
Odin bless the Pterodactyl, wherever he is. My old CO wasn't Scipio Africanus or anything, but he knew bullshit when it was handed to him. And taking over a FOB in the middle of a fucking ghost town with a village four miles south and another seven miles Northwest with the mission of "deny the enemy freedom of movement" was a pretty big pile of bullshit.
Hell, we had a secondary mission to train the Afghan police. For a few months there we had two guys from Dynacorp there to train local police officers. But with no local people, there was nobody to train. You'd think Dynacorp would have put them somewhere else. But nope. They showed up to morning command & staff meetings and chow, spending the rest of their time lifting weights and masturbating. Probably getting paid a decimal place more a month than I was at the time, too.
If the CO had been a glory seeker, he might have done some stupid shit like try to clear and hold the ghost town. Probably would've gotten him a silver star. Of course, 20 or 30 of us would've gone home on our shields instead of seven, but the AAR's would have been amazing.
But to his credit, he fulfilled the mission to the letter without selling our blood for the peanuts he knew he'd get. We kept watch on the area, cleared the main roads as best we could, and made the FOB more functional during our time in there.
And thus were careers of those who didn't make waves saved.
I was a trigger puller in my 20's who spent most of my time in Afghanistan in the same three-mile radius. But I kept my ears open and put pieces together. So if you're reading the Afghanistan Papers, know that I've yet to come across anything about them I consider untrue.
If, in the fullness of time, I am chosen to go to Valhalla, and those I struck down fill my cup, I can look them in the eyes and say, "you were armed, you were wide awake, and you were facing me. My honor is satisfied."
But that's about all I'll be able to say to them.