Afghanistan 2010 – ‘Decent Interval (COIN Remix)’

We all get IMAX 3D seats to the 2010 remix of a flailing Superpower’s failing war. (No, not the in-camera expensive 3D shot on location but the sloppy, shoddy and cheap post production 3D ).

Per Fred Kaplan, COIN and all that? So 2009. “U.S. and NATO forces are [now] concentrating more on a different, possibly faster, explicitly more forceful means of pressuring the Taliban to the negotiating tables.” Stand-off kinetic fire on target has risen 300% in the last 12 months (NYT says 50%). The increased operational tempo presumably is intended to assist NATO’s effort to facilitate ‘reconciliation’ talks among Karzai and Taliban factions.

‘Grooming’ the battlespace for a fantasized secondary coercive political effect is, of course, more PowerPoint nonsense. Considering that the U.S. is actually more ignorant of its environment 9 years into this sordid affair than by comparison 1974 (9 years after Da Nang). Moreover, both the Mayor of Kabul, Karzai, and the Taliban loathe the U.S. and keenly aware of the clock running out.

Petraeus et al. have some advantages. Unlike the Southeast Asian Unpleasantness, the Nation never really went there. No draft. With 15 minute news cycles, ADD tweeting ‘thought leaders’, what is a ‘Decent Interval’ now? After all, who remembers the Gulf Oil Spill? That happened here. It’ll also assist with the inevitable “Stab in the Back’ narrative. (Btw, anyone else notice Time/Life hawking Nazi porn commercials on cable this October with almost Beckian urgency? Expect the forthcoming ‘Stab in the Back’ to be of that ilk, more an apolitical merchandizing opportunity than immediate post-1975. Everyone is in the click throughs and ‘Likes’ chase now).

On a related note, we’d like to say the reports of war crimes, sanctioned murder of unarmed Afghans and cover-up by the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade is a surprise. But can’t. As longtime readers will recall, we’ve long predicted this would happen as a systemic inevitability, when mission incoherence fosters creeping nihlism that subborns institutional ethos, discipline and self-image. The late Charlie Moskos might have had much to say on the sociological phenomenon/vulernability to militaries throughout history.

When the 5th Stryker Combat Brigade arrived in Afghanistan, its leader, Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV, openly sneered at the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency strategy. The old-school commander barred his officers from even mentioning the term and told shocked U.S. and NATO officials that he was uninterested in winning the trust of the Afghan people.

Instead, he said, his soldiers would simply hunt and kill as many Taliban fighters as possible, as dictated by the brigade’s motto, “Strike and Destroy.”

What resulted was a year of tough fighting in territory fiercely defended by the Taliban and a casualty rate so high that it triggered alarms at the Pentagon. By the time the 3,800-member brigade returned in July to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma, Wash., it had paid a steep price: 35 soldiers were killed in combat, six were dead from accidents and other causes, and 239 were wounded.

The brigade also carried home a dark legacy that threatens to overshadow its hard-won victories and sacrifices on the battlefield. In some of the gravest war-crime charges to arise from the Afghan conflict, five soldiers have been accused of killing unarmed Afghan men, apparently for sport, and desecrating their corpses. Seven other platoon members have been charged with other crimes, including smoking hashish – which some soldiers said happened almost daily – and gang-assaulting an informant.