The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA |

January 23, 2009

DEAR PRESIDENT OBAMA
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 1/23/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

Dear President Obama:

I know that you just took office about 48 hours ago and you’ve got a lot on your plate, but I thought I’d provide you with a small letter for SA, situational awareness. I’m sure that Gen. Petraeus will provide one for you also; but mine comes from the trenches of the War On Terror. My team is out here every day making sure that the policies you set forth get carried out, so we see the impact, successes and failures first hand.

First, let me describe the current situation from my fighting position. It’s not great. Currently we’re chasing the wrong thing, that being enemy forces. They can always recruit more people. We need to attack the motivations to join the enemy. Eliminate the supply. 

Predators, ROVER and other implements that we’ve paid billions for are most often used to second guess the guys on the ground and tell them that they’re not seeing what they’re seeing. If this seems convoluted, it is! It boils down to this; you’re getting shot at and some dude a long way off is telling you you’re not and that by the way you better not shoot back at the enemy.

Logistics suck! No ifs, ands or buts about it. This is day 26 for this team without mail. This is a lot different than you’ll see at the big FOBs, where there’s ubiquitous ice cream, coffee and hot chow, and totally different than Iraq. There they throw away more than we eat. I haven’t seen a PX in three months and I just ran out of deodorant and soap today. My wife mailed some to me in the middle of December, but I haven’t seen it yet. As they say, “Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics."

There are some great American Warriors here doing their darn best to win the war, but the higher ups are too afraid, so they won’t let them off the FOB to do the work that needs to be done.They track things like how many rounds we expended and what patch you’re wearing on your ACUs instead of issues like how many feet of road or how many schools have been built.

So now that I’ve painted a little picture of what it looks like, let me indulge myself and highlight a couple of things I think we could do to close the deal.

Roads; we need more of them. A lot more! This is the cornerstone to building Afghanistan and the government.The Romans were not successful because of military technology. It helped, but they were successful because they built an extensive network of roads, many of which still exist today and are in better shape than roads in Afghanistan.

Without roads the Afghans don’t really need a centralized government. That’s a broad statement but I’ll qualify it here in a minute. The tribe pretty much provides what they need.  The tribe protects them, settles disputes and enforces laws.They’re more than capable of doing this and have been for the last several centuries.They fulfill the basic governmental requirements -- common defense, law and order.

The tribes, though, can’t build and maintain roads. You need a centralized government to construct, maintain and protect the roads. You get an influx of money and people work on the roads instead of getting paid to blow us up, and it stimulates a demand for goods and services.

With the road comes inter-province commerce, for which you need regulation by a central government; a function a tribe can’t accomplish. Sounds kind of like a little situation we had around 1776. The road brings money, communication and progress. You cut the link between Pakistan and the tribal regions because it’s now easier to travel to the interior of Afghanistan to get medical treatment, goods, services, the whole lot.

So with a simple road we’ve now created an environment friendly to the support of the Afghan central government. That doesn’t exist now. It’s a lot easier to explain to the Afghans that the Army and police protect the roads and regulate commerce. It also takes the, “This is a war on Islam” factor out of the situation.

We’re making sure people can conduct trade and are free to travel as they wish. Sounds like freedom.

Democracy and liberty are damn hard concepts to explain to someone who doesn’t see any benefit from the government in Kabul. So what if I elect the guy, if he does nothing for me? The population earns money and then we explain that the government will protect their continued ability to do so, and that’s a discussion someone understands.

Next we need education. Only about 10% of the Afghans are literate. This means that 90% of knowledge and news is spread through verbal means. Thus, you’re at the whim of whoever is telling you the information. You get the info with the bias and slant of the communicator; there's no real way to get an independent source.

If we start educating people they can form their own opinions. Once again this sounds a lot like freedom to me. But I’m just a dumb ground pounder.

We open up a whole new world to people if they can read and write. The Taliban has the corner on the market for information; they tell the locals what they want. We don’t even participate in the information operations fight. We’ve put in radio stations, but that’s a small step. They need to be able to read and write for themselves.  

Finally, start letting us make decisions at the tactical level. That doesn’t mean we go out and start shooting everyone. It means we go out with our Afghan brothers and protect roads, trade and schools. We help them enforce the laws that have come with the roads. It’s damn hard to do that sitting on a FOB or only going out to attack people. Quit rewarding commanders who only think they’re killing enemy. No one ever won an insurgency by killing insurgents. Instead, reward those guys making a real long term impact and who get the counter-insurgency fight.

Also, force the Afghan government to start taking the lead. Make them build roads outside the major cities and quit letting them do nothing while we shovel money into this country to no avail. Make the government a meritocracy instead of a means of rewarding tribal loyalty. This goes for the Army and police too. As long as these guys just enrich themselves nothing is going to happen, and the people will become more pessimistic, forcing them back to the tribe that looks out for their welfare.

So, Mr President, just a few thoughts from the trenchline. You probably won’t hear any of this from the higher ups.They’ll tell you we need more combat troops, but we can’t even support the ones we already have here. They should tell you to send engineers and logisticians, but that’s not too sexy.

Very Respectfully,

VAMPIRE 06     

Comments

Please consider running for public office when you get back home. You sound smart, and even better than that, you sound sensible. We could use more people like you in government.

Vampire06 - Terrific postings! My gig was Viet Nam, and as always, it seems that the guys on the ground should be heard from. Your points about roads and schools are very well taken: all we hear about here is tracking down Bin Laden and that would solve everything -> WRONGO! I'll keep following your postings. We're all with you, and trying to get you all home safe and sound...with sincerest thanks.

Vampire,

Thank you for your intelligent post. I hope you'll be heard now that the CIC is an intelligent guy.

You're so right. Too much money is spent on destruction, and not enough on construction. It should be spent the other way round.

Thank you. Take care.

Vampire06;
"Just a dumb ground pounder"? I don't think so!! I agree with Nancy B-you obviously have plenty of intelligence and common sense, a very rare combination. This country needs guys like you in government, and much less of the over educated know nothings that we've been saddled with for far too long! If you ever run for office, you've got my vote!

It is only the greatest of misfortunes that you are not the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. We, the queen of battle remember this in the 70's all too well.
My blessings to you and all of yours brother, keep safe!
RLS

Fantastically well worded. I know I'm a bit late to the party, but with as active as this government seems to be with internet technology, someone should be able to get this blog post to his desk.

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