The Taliban attack last week on Camp Leatherneck was a stunning success. It was the worst defeat suffered by the U.S. Marines since the Marine Barracks attack in Beirut on October 23, 1983. A quarter billion dollars in military aircraft, equipment and facilities was reportedly destroyed. The battle within the heavily protected base reportedly lasted for hours. The Pentagon initially tried to down play the debacle. On September 14th it stated that two Harrier AV-8B jets were damaged. It took days before the Marine Corps would admit that six Harriers were destroyed and others damaged; the full damage report continues to be withheld. The Pentagon has refused to release the list of U.S. casualties (killed and wounded) and it has refused to release photographs of the widespread damage inflicted by Taliban forces. This occurred in supposedly “pacified” Helmand Province, the focal point of President Obama’s 2009 military “surge.” The reality is that the costly surge achieved nothing.
Camp Leatherneck is the headquarters for NATO’s Regional Command South-West. The South-West commander is Major General Charles M. Gurganus, and the base commander for Camp Leatherneck is Marine Corps Colonel Scott Arnold. Both have remained invisible since the Taliban assault. In a military organization with accountability, both would have been publicly removed from command for this security debacle. If they had any integrity, they would have acknowledged their culpability and tendered their resignations to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Unfortunately, the buck stops nowhere anymore. Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos has likewise remained invisible during this embarrassing defeat, emphasizing that leadership is for junior officers only.
The Taliban foray across Camp Leatherneck follows some incredibly accurate rocket attacks by the Taliban on Bagram air base that destroyed a large Chinook helicopter and damaged the C-17 aircraft that was ferrying the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. This follows yet another string of fragging attacks by Afghan security forces against American and NATO trainers and other forces.
In response to the new multi-faceted Taliban “fear and awe” campaign, the Pentagon’s response has been befuddled and indecisive. It’s knee-jerk reaction is to suspend most training and joint operations, a signal that it does not trust its Afghan allies. This simply hands the Taliban a major victory. It is all because Pentagon officials simply do not know what to do. Likewise, another Pentagon response is to boast that only 25% of the “green on blue” insider attacks are directed by the Taliban (as if that is a good thing!). The fact that, in 75% of the cases, Afghan soldiers and police are killing their allies due to real or perceived American outrages, is even more alarming than if the Taliban were orchestrating these attacks. The Pentagon’s own statistics indicate that there is a huge and unnecessary gulf between the two militaries. This problem is fixable, but the Pentagon does not seem to even understand that it is a problem.
At the same time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has listed the “haqqani network” as an FTO (foreign terrorist organization), an equally befuddled response. The current U.S. effort in Afghanistan is uncoordinated, disjointed and aimless, with each member of the “country team” flaying away in frustration over a situation that appears seemingly beyond their comprehension.
It is not just Afghanistan that is beyond the comprehension of U.S. officials, but events in Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, Egypt and Libya, just to name a few. On September 19, 2012, CNN reported that U.S. diplomatic security officials were spinning the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Seeking to keep their jobs, State Department officials were arguing to the press that they could not have known that there would be a military style attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. In fact Scott P. Bultrowicz, the director of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and other senior security officials including Eric J. Boswell and Philip S. Goldberg, had more than enough intelligence information, they simply lack the integrity to admit their failure.
The American and world publics should expect more aimless flailing by the Obama Administration. This may include air strikes on militant camps in Libya. The problem is that acts of revenge that are not tied to a coherent strategy usually do nothing but spur a cycle of violent responses.
For example, last week U.S. strike aircraft killed eight Afghan women collecting firewood and nuts in a forest, injuring another seven women and young girls, the youngest was 10 years old. Unreported in the U.S. media is that most of Afghanistan is a free-fire zone which apparently allow any group to be targeted as “suspected militants.” This tragedy took an all too familiar path. The U.S. aircraft struck on September 16, 2012 in Laghman Province, with the U.S. claiming that it killed Taliban only. The next day local villagers drove to the provincial capital with the bodies of the dead women. The U.S. then denied that any civilians were killed. The Afghan Government confirmed the civilian deaths and days later the U.S. finally admitted responsibility. The villagers should not have had to publicly drive the women’s bodies to the provincial capital in order to refute lies by U.S. officials. While accidents happen in warfare, there is no honor in deception and false statements. Such dishonorable tactics simply fuel the rebel movement and lend credibility to the Taliban’s propaganda.
The fact is that hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer funds have achieved nothing. The investment in U.S. strategic and tactical intelligence has proven to be a failure; the investment by USAID in foreign development projects has not translated into any appreciable American benefit and the increased ability of the U.S. military to bomb targets around the world with drones and other aircraft has only increased the ranks of militant groups. These data reveal that the Pentagon cannot kill its way out of this problem.
The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote that a military leader that has to use his army is a failure. A true military genius is one who achieves victory without having to take the field. The current U.S. effort in Afghanistan and around the world is amateurish. It is formulated by frightened U.S. diplomats living inside heavily protected forts, isolated from the populace; and by a beleaguered corps of mediocre Admirals and Generals who lack the vision to grasp and implement sophisticated strategies.
One cannot deploy to Afghanistan for a short 12 month tour, speak English, live on a forward operating base and hope to understand the situation. Only a professional Afghan Expeditionary Force, trained in its languages, deployed for multi-year tours and devoted to the people of Afghanistan has any hope of success. As this will never occur, U.S. and NATO forces face the certainty of defeat. The only questions are:
How many more lives are U.S. and NATO politicians willing to sacrifice and how much money are they willing to waste just so they can avoid telling their citizens the truth?