The invasion started 10 years ago, 100 miles from my tent. Marines flew to the Eastern side of the Helmand River to start the war that I was tasked with ending. My area of responsibility extended from Marjeh in the north to the border of Pakistan 200 kilometers south, the edge of the empire. It was the size of Maryland and contained 5000 Afghan tribesmen learning to be soldiers in the desert heat and dust. Under my tutelage, they would learn to make sense of the activities the Taliban, the drug smugglers, and the people of southern Helmand province. They would use this knowledge to plan Afghan Army operations and defeat the enemy. They would do this so that my fellow Marines could stop bleeding and come home.
That was the dream I had when I embedded with the Afghan National Army. I believed I was training noble men from a warrior culture, eager to master their own destinies. In truth, I was training perfect economic rationalists whose only long-term thought was to their own survival after America departs. They sneered at the countrymen that they purportedly protected, extorted their meager incomes, and abused their positions for their own advancement. These men cared more for money and drugs than the security of their country; their allegiances laid far more with girlfriends, boyfriends, and tribes than the country of Afghanistan. American largesse built their army into a fat force with little desire to defeat the enemy.
The fault cannot be laid solely with the Afghans. This is the army that the American military conceived. We naturally believed that since we were the best military in the world, if we built a rough copy of ourselves in Afghanistan, then they would succeed. This and many other biases have greatly hindered our progress.
In The Wrong War Bing West suggests that I was the Exit Strategy, that training the Afghan National Army is the only way out of this conflict. I want to tell the American public how their exit strategy is actually faring. I will give a first-hand account of this singularly critical component of the US Military’s strategy in Afghanistan. I want to tell the American taxpayers that for the first time in my life, despite all that they invested in me as an enlisted marine, and now as an officer, that I have failed. As currently executed, all I see ahead is intractable conflict, more Americans being killed, and another $160 billion sunk into the country next year. Should this war continue, I want to tell other members of the one-million strong military not to recommit my blunders. This blog could pull some success from the ashes of this mission. I owe that to a country that I love and that I swore to protect.