Accelerate The Acceleration

From The New York Times:

PANJWAI, Afghanistan — Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said…

Coming after a period of deepening public outrage, spurred by the Koran burning by American personnel last month and an earlier video showing American Marines urinating on dead militants, the possibility of a violent reaction to the killings added to a feeling of siege here among Western personnel. Officials described growing concern over a cascade of missteps and offenses that has cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission and has left troops and trainers increasingly vulnerable to violence by Afghans seeking revenge.

From Bloomberg:

The fatal shootings of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by an American soldier, add to a series of incendiary incidents that threaten to drain remaining U.S. and European support for the decade-long mission…

Any violent backlash by Afghans to the shootings in the southern province of Kandahar may add to domestic pressure on President Barack Obama to speed troop withdrawals, ahead of the the security handover now set for 2014.

From The Los Angeles Times:

The killing of 16 civilians in Afghanistan, allegedly by a lone U.S. serviceman, is one more blow to President Obama’s hopes for an easy exit from a 10-year-old war and deepens doubts about U.S. plans to assign advisors to Afghan forces.

From The Washington Post:

The massacre of at least 16 Afghan civilians, apparently by an American soldier, forced the Obama administration Sunday to confront yet another nightmare from the war zone and fresh evidence that patience back home is increasingly wearing thin.

Cast doubt on the ability of NATO personnel to carry out their mission,” “pressure on…Obama to speed troop withdrawals,” “one more blow to President Obama’s hopes for an easy exit,” “patience back home is…wearing thin.”  Those phrases seem understatements of the sentiment here at home relative to what has so obviously become a no-win war.

In June of last year—against the advice of then-General Petraeus and then-Defense Secretary Gates—Mr. Obama prudently announced an acceleration of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and said most of our goals there were met. “The tide of war is receding,” he declared, adding,

America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home…We will not try to make Afghanistan a perfect place. We will not police its streets or patrol its mountains indefinitely.

Ironically, that New York Times story from last June included this:

…troops have succeeded in clearing many towns and cities of insurgents, and then keeping them safe…

And today’s Times story described the alleged shooter this way:

…he had been part of what is called a village stabilization operation in Afghanistan. In those operations, teams of Green Berets, supported by other soldiers, try to develop close ties with village elders, organize local police units and track down Taliban leaders.

Who can blame some Afghanis—especially those  in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province where this atrocity took place— for thinking that not only are they not “safe” from the Taliban, but it may not be the Taliban they have to fear.

For all of the good we have done there, for all of the costs in  lives and dollars, our efforts in Afghanistan seem now to be doing more harm than we could ever have imagined.

It is time for Mr. Obama to accelerate the acceleration and get out soon, very soon.

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  1. It is a terrible conundrum. Getting out too soon quickly becomes “cut and run”, especially in an election year, and that would apply to a Republican president as much as to Obama.


    • The politics of this thing are impossible, which I suppose is a good reason for ignoring the politics and following your non-political instincts.



  2. ansonburlingame

     /  March 12, 2012

    First Duane,

    I agree and have written as such before this incident. Declare an end to all combat (except for self protection), anywhere in Afghanistan, withdraw all American forces to just a few large and well protected bases and immediately begin the withdrawal of all American forces except diplomatic personnel and the troops needed to protect them. That is the correct MILITARY decision. Militarily, we have lost that war and it is time to come home, without having to be lifted off of the roof of an embassy by Helo’s, a la Vietnam.

    Now Jim,

    What was it that Sekan just wrote (and I agreed with) on a previous blog. Something about “pandering to politics” in decisions related to war and peace??

    Absent the above change in American deployment of forces and a fast withdrawal, even if some call it “cut and run”, how would YOU feel if ONE American soldier dies by continuing current American policies in order to “wati until after the election”. How would the President respond to the grief in ONE American family in such a case?

    Two admininistrations, over ten years of blood and treasure, the best tactics the military could come up with to achieve (uncertain) national objectives and we have FAILED in such efforts, just like Vietnam. It is time to admit our failure and bring home the troops, NOW, not begin such “after the election”!



    • Anson, I see the Afghan War having two possible endings:

      1. An honorable and orderly drawdown with a phased assumption of policing and military responsibilities by Afghan forces, albeit much less capable than our own forces.
      2. An abrupt retreat, abandonng all promises of support made by our military under two presidents, however misguided those efforts might have been. This would doubtless entail the slaughter by the Taliban and their followers of those Afghans who supported U.S. and British forces for the last 10 years and would probably look a lot like a certain other withdrawal on April 30, 1975. Link:

      I’m in favor of accelerating the timetable if possible, but not if the result is #2 above.

      I hope I’m wrong, but it is possible for me to imagine that you and other conservatives might be satisfied with the image of a Democrat President opting for ending number two. Would you, in the aftermath, defend his decision as brave and honorable? And how then would you address the troops and their families who have endured the sacrifices made over the last 10 years? That’s a speech I would be interested in hearing, but then that would fall to the President who inherited the mess and not you, wouldn’t it?


      • ansonburlingame

         /  March 14, 2012


        If I call for an immediate cease fire and rapid withdrawal, that means that I would support such actions by the President, publicly. It would take extraordinary political courage on his part to do so and I would applaud such, for sure.

        In my view, remaining in Afghanistan under combat conditions for the next year or even two will not make the end result any better. It will simply prolong the end result which will be a return to a very tribal culture, which has existed for millenia and we will not change it. As well it will be a strong Islamic tribal culutre whether the Taliban or any other particular group assumes power later on after the American withdrawal.

        The Soviets tried and we have tried to bring Afghanistan into the current times, politically, one with communism and one with democracy. The Afghan people reject such outside attempt. The ONLY group to ever truly conquer Afghanis tan was Genhgis Kahn and look how he did so. And guess what happened after he left, eventually.

        Do you really believe another year or two of American combat is going to change that long term result in Afghanistan?

        As well does your potential support for continuing combat for another year or so sound much like “Peace with Honor” about 40 years ago in “you know where”?



  3. This is the kind of thing that happens when soldiers are on their 4th or 5th tour. The damage to the psyche can be irreparable. I hope we get out soon.


  4. henrygmorgan

     /  March 12, 2012

    Duane: I think I posted this incorrectly the first time. Let me try again.

    I couldn’t agree with you more. War is brutalizing, no matter which war, where it is fought, or against whom. You cannot expose young men to savagery without expecting some of the savagery to rub off. And when the purpse of the conflict, its expected duration, and its expected outcome are unknown, the frustration of the troops grows exponentially. Most Marine platoons had at least one individual, usually called “Animal,” who thrived on savagery, such as collecting enemy ears. To the question, “Was the owner of the ears alive or dead?” the answer was “Does it matter?”

    I don’t intend anything above to excuse the Army Sergeant’s actions, but to try to help to explain them. One of the most difficult tasks confronting the military is convert individuals raised on the dictum, “Thou shalt not kill” into those who are willing to do so. But once they learn it, they learn it very well.

    As brutal as it may sound, the primary function of troops is to kill, not nation-building or “Winning hearts and minds.” Marines used to say, “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” This echoes the real purpose of troops in war: to fight.

    We’ve already been in Afghanistan longer than in any other war, and what have we accomplished? You’re right; it’s time to come home.



  5. Henry,

    Your point is well made and one that frequently gets overlooked.

    I have thought that the counter-insurgency strategy not only contradicts the training to fight and kill that these soldiers undergo to rid themselves (hopefully only temporarily) of their “thou shall not kill” mores,  but over time it inevitably leads to some foreseeable amount of frustration, as some of that comparatively passive strategy will at times lead to Americans getting killed, as they try to “win hearts and minds” through means other than grabbing the other guy by his balls.

    It has become clear to me that the least likely place the counter-insurgency strategy could work is in a place that has little in formal governmental institutions and is hopelessly corrupt at the highest levels of what government there is. Yet it seems that because we have lost so much there and for so long, that, as Army Col. Gian Gentile (a military historian at West Point), said, change is hard:

    There are alternatives. But they are hard to articulate with an Army and senior leaders who’ve been doing this for nine years and are morally committed to it because we’ve shed blood and they believe they can make it work.’

    Doesn’t that just about sum up the feeling we all have about what is going on in Afghanistan?




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