Why are we still in Afghanistan?

hornet's nest

Does anybody know?

The three Marines killed Monday [April 8, 2019] in a car bombing outside Bagram Air Field died only days before there were expected to return home from Afghanistan.

Now friends and family of Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., are left with memories and grief.

Officials are still investigating the incident, which wounded three other Americans, an Afghan contractor and five Afghan civilians. No specific details were available, Marine Forces Reserve said in a statement.

“Our focus in the wake of this attack is to support the family, friends and loved ones of our fallen Marines,” said Maj. Roger Hollenbeck, a Marine Forces Reserve spokesman. “These Marines are honored for their extraordinary bravery and for their direct contribution to the defense of this nation.”

The fallen Marines were assigned to 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. They deployed to Afghanistan in October 2018 as part of a program in which Marines train and advise Georgian infantry troops that the former Soviet republic contributes to the NATO mission there.

So the answer in this case is that US troops are in Afghanistan to train Georgian troops to be in Afghanistan. This makes sense because after all, freedom is a universal value and only some provincial bigot would ever think that Georgians don’t need their freedom defended too.

I’m personally skeptical of the Iraq-Afghanistan-freedom nexus. I don’t perceive that my life has gotten any less complicated or more free since Operation Enduring Freedom. But nobody wants to believe they lost an eye or had to bury their children for government propaganda.

I watched the 2014 documentary The Hornet’s Nest recently, which is a war correspondent’s account of a group of US troops in Afghanistan.

The film was thin on details and the bigger picture, but my impression from this small slice of the Afghan campaign is some Afghans really resent the US presence in Afghanistan, so they join the Taliban which lays low but pops up every now and again to kill US troops. On the other hand, some Afghans seem to really like the US troops and are glad to tell them about Taliban activity in the area. I suspect this is because the Taliban relies on brutal shakedowns of the locals in order to buy arms and explosives and to stay fed.

The whole thing seems kind of disorganized, with the word coming down from on high that the Taliban are “active” in some area so US troops need to go on patrol there to kick in doors and seize arms caches. Sure enough, when they go into an area they draw small arms fire and end up in these ad hoc firefights. They kill the bad guys, seize the caches, high-five each other, and head back to the base.

The troop count is small enough that we can outfit them in the latest gear. Like the photograph in the lede shows, everybody gets night-vision goggles and red dot scopes that practically aim themselves. Everyone in the documentary is the God’s-honest best of white male America: big, brave, good-humored, and armed to the teeth. But all it takes is one little bit of supersonic metal hitting the femoral artery and that young, fit 200-pound soldier just slumps down and dies within a few minutes.

I didn’t get the sense from the film that the troops are emotionally or ideologically invested in their mission. They love each other, they love the soldier’s trade, and Afghanistan is where they get to ply it. So I think as soon as they hear that we’re leaving Afghanistan then they’ll follow their survival instincts and tell their superiors to go on their own m—–f—ing patrols.

The withdrawal announcement will produce numerous cascade effects. The money to the big network of informants and local rajas will dry up, so they’ll start getting assassinated. Arms and money will start flowing in the other direction and patrols will become more dangerous. We’re already unwilling to commit expensive air support and tanks for ground campaigns, so everybody will find excuses to stay on the base and wait for transport home. At the very end, it looks like this.


And after the last helicopter takes off, then the Taliban get to roll into Kabul and declare victory over the biggest, baddest army on the planet.

So there’s your answer for why US troops are still in Afghanistan: nobody can think of a good way to end it. Everybody gets careerist credentials for participating but leaving just means humiliation and back to the petty bureaucratic world of Stateside postings. So we stay.

3 thoughts on “Why are we still in Afghanistan?

  1. “These Marines are honored for their extraordinary bravery and for their direct contribution to the defense of this nation.”

    That really stuck out to me. Does anybody buy this? Does the spokesperson really believe it? We can believe they were brave, sure, but in just what way were they directly contributing to our defense? I know it’s a platitude and a courtesy, but it’s really insulting to our intelligence.

    My heart does go out to the families. May they never suspect that these soldiers lives were wasted.

    Liked by 1 person

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