November 30, 2009

Name: Anthony McCloskey (Tadpole)
Posting date: 11/30/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Army Sailor: War in the Sandbox 

I am an active duty sailor who served for nearly 13 months on the ground in Afghanistan. I worked as a member of a Civil Affairs Battalion embedded in the country with 10th Mountain Division, and U.S. Army Special Forces. My role as a Civil Affairs Operator afforded me a unique perspective not only on the war, but also on the Afghan people with whom I so closely worked. Before going to Afghanistan I was given a lot of cultural training, and training in Humanitarian Assistance, in addition to the combat training you'd expect. While I was in Afghanistan I became a real believer in the cause, I saw the genuine possibility not only for our success, but also for us to be able to positively influence that entire region and greatly improve the quality of life for all Afghans.

Most anyone who knows me knows that I have not been the biggest fan of the war in Iraq. However, I am a big supporter of the war in Afghanistan. I firmly believe that if the war there is conducted properly, and given the logistical support required, that the efforts there can result in a very positive outcome not only for the United States, but for Afghanistan and the world as a whole.

The October 17th-23rd issue of The Economist refers to the war in Afghanistan as "Obama's War." I find this to be a rather interesting misnomer. Afghanistan is not Obama's war, it is America's war, and we have done a disservice by not providing it the full attention and support required to conduct it properly. I understand that the President's handling of the war in Afghanistan will likely play a major role in the success of his presidency, but to call it "Obama's War" seems to belittle the whole thing in my opinion. This war is more than just a talking point, it is an international effort that is of vital importance to the whole of southwest Asia, and indeed, the world.

General Stanley McChrystal, a long time Special Forces veteran and current Commanding General in Afghanistan, has submitted a request to the President for an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that he has submitted multiple plans, with his least favorable option requiring only 10,000 more troops, and his most favorable option requiring between 40,000 and 60,000 more troops to serve on the ground in Afghanistan.

The case for supporting the General's request is strong. The West has a very real security interest in preventing the region from slipping into further conflict and utter chaos. Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor to the east, is particularly vulnerable to the Taliban's potent mixture of ethnic-Pashtun nationalism and radical Islam. Anarchy in Afghanistan, or a restoration of power to the Taliban, would leave Pakistan woefully vulnerable to cross-border instability. Let us not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, which we certainly want to keep out of the wrong hands.

Just as importantly, defeat in Afghanistan (or the perception thereof) would only serve to embolden the West's opponents in Pakistan and around the world. It would be a major IO (Information Operations) win for our enemies, thus leaving us open to more attacks and garnering further support for Terrorist organizations globally. In short, it would only serve to show the tactic of Terrorism works.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to leave Afghanistan or to falter there, would be a terrible betrayal of the Afghan people. Many of these people have risked their lives to help us, many more are suffering troubles that are a direct result of our intervention in the country, and many of Afghanistan's best and brightest are Afghans who repatriated to their homeland to help rebuild, trusting in American success and the promise of long-term stability and security.

The U.S. currently only has about 62,000 troops in Afghanistan out of a total of about 100,000 foreign troops serving there. That may sound like a lot, but it really is not when you consider the reality of the logistics imposed by the harsh Afghan terrain.

One must also consider the types of troops that are deployed. A war requires many types of service men and women to ensure success. You need infantry and Special Forces to ensure security and conduct kinetic operations on the ground, but just as important are the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations troops who conduct Civil Assistance missions and ensure stability. The continuing effort in Afghanistan is not a simple one by anyone's standards. General McChrystal himself was quoted as saying "Every day I realize how little about Afghanistan I actually understand." The country has a bewildering tribal make-up that is alien to most westerners, and its communities are broken at best due to tribalism and 30-some-odd years of war. And the country is physically comprised of forbidding deserts and mountains. This is not an easy problem to solve, but it must be addressed and any signs of uncertainty on the part of the United States will dishearten our allies, while serving to embolden our foes.

I personally feel very strongly that we must send more troops to Afghanistan, and we must do so quickly. We cannot appear to be uncertain or undetermined, the costs of losing this war are too great, and too wasteful, and would be a slap in the face to those of us who have served and continue to serve there.

Editor's note: Tadpole made numerous contributions to The Sandbox during his 2006-2007 deployment, and four of his posts were included in the Sandbox book. Here are links to some of his earlier work:

The Dance

The Great Blog Scare

Odd Dreams

Coping With Homecoming


Interesting comments. I served two tours in Vietnam and never once felt that the Vietnamese people were on either side. That war could not be won despite what a few blowhards are saying now. The Vietnamese people were always mostly disinterested bystanders, not caring very much either way. Just let us alone.

I get a different feel from Tadpole's comments. I sincerely hope he is right. We need to win this war and not necessarily by bombs. Thanks for your writing.

Tadpole, thank you for your service and especially for this very eloquent argument for supporting an increase in troops in Afghanistan - and for the broader picture of what our men and women are engaged in over there beyond the fighting we see or hear about back home.

You are on the money with your comments. Afghanistan is important also because of its unstable neighbors. Thanks for your eloquence.

Tadpole,i am a civilian and i had 2 sons in the military 1 in the Army 8 years and one in the Marines 4 years both spent time in Iraq.I agree that we must not leave afghanistan till the country is stable! my opinion is we should never have left! and you are correct in saying it is Americas war not Obamas.i fully support the troops, thank you for your insights and especially your service!!!!! Peace

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