We didn’t fight the enemy in Afghanistan. We fought ourselves.

BY MAJOR FRED GALVIN

US Marine Major (retired)

Author of the best-selling book, A Few Bad Men, Ambushed in Afghanistan and Betrayed in America 

One year ago, the Taliban seized control over Afghanistan. A decision by President Biden in April 2021 to remove all US troops by September 2021 initiated a Taliban offensive on 1 May 2021, which American Generals remarked that the Afghan National Army would be able to maintain control over most of the major cities in Afghanistan. The US military had reduced troop levels from 2,500 in Jan 2021 to 650 by Aug 2021 creating significant security risks to processing evacuees at the only evacuation airport determined by the US Government to be located at the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). 

President Biden approved 3,000 additional US forces to deploy to Afghanistan on 12 Aug 2021 to assist in the evacuation as the Taliban were on the cusps of seizing control of Afghanistan. By 17 August 2021 the US troop strength was 7,000. 

Contrary to US military doctrine on Non-combatant Evacuation Operations, on 15 August 2021 the initial wave flew 823 Afghan citizens out of HKIA on one US Air Force C-17, with several Afghans dangling and falling to their deaths on international television. US military and US State Department policies direct the processing and evacuating American citizens first versus last. 

After the US military withdraw from Afghanistan on 30 August 2021 the New York Times reported that approximately 1,000 US citizens and Afghans holding US, or other visas remained in Afghanistan. Forbes reported that the US left over $7 Billion dollars’ worth of military equipment was left behind in Afghanistan which remain in the hands of the Taliban. 

The former Commander of the US Forces for all of the Middle East at the time of the American withdrawal, General Frank McKenzie USMC (now retired) told NPR and Politico this week that he would have kept American troops on the ground in Afghanistan “indefinitely.”

Is it possible that either the Taliban suddenly became extremely effective, or that General McKenzie’s intelligence team focusing on Afghanistan for 20 years was completely incompetent and duped into believing that the Afghan National Army would be able to hold the line against the Taliban; or is there another reason. 

Could it be as General McKenzie literally stated this past week, that his intention was to keep American troops on the ground in Afghanistan indefinitely was the real reason why the withdraw may not have been an unintentional blunder, but possibly that the Pentagon and the Military Industrial Complex wanted to show President Biden that the Pentagon and the Military Industrial Complex make decisions regarding combat. 

America’s longest combat operation in Afghanistan was not always a failure. By May 2003 the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld stated that President Bush and Afghan President Karzai, “we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability.” 

However, two years later Presidents Bush and Karzai met again on 23 May 2005 at the White House and issue a joint declaration allowing US forces to commence, “the war against international terror and to strengthen US-Afghan ties and help ensure Afghanistan’s long-term security, democracy, and prosperity.” This plan as stated to spread “democracy” in Afghanistan was the beginning of the end for military success against the Taliban. Our military leaders knew this plan would fail but instead of challenging the failed hypothesis of spreading democracy through Afghanistan they developed a joint US Army and US Marine Corps Counter Insurgency Strategy (COIN) authored and approved by Generals Petraeus and Mattis. This was the Pentagon and the Military Industrial Complex’s way to take full advantage of the politics that had created a situation the American public would know little of and care even less about with closed door deals to build massive staffs to promote more military leaders who would later retire to work for the Military Industrial Complex as board of director members and fuel defense spending for decades. 

The application of the COIN/forever war strategy was observed on 18 May 2006 as the Marine Corps announced its plan to withdraw its forces out of Afghanistan. A US Army unit the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division replaced the Marine Corps last combat unit of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in Eastern Afghanistan. The Marines had been applying very aggressive raid operations and sustained three Marines and one Navy Corpsman that were killed in action. The US Army Brigade Commander, Colonel John Nicholson told NBC news that on his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2006 his unit sustained the highest casualty rate of any unit previously deployed as 45 soldiers were killed in action and 350 were wounded in action. Nicholson firmly stated his belief in the COIN strategy in May 2007 to the Pentagon press corps that a core tenant of COIN is to, “first do no harm.” Nicholson’s Battalion Commander in Jalalabad Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Cavoli even refused to have a soldier man the turret of his vehicle with a machine gun during presence patrols and instead replaced the machine gun with a spare tire on the top of his HMMWV. Nicholson named his Task Force, “The Spartans” who ironically, held their leaders accountable for their every word and action. Both of these COIN enthusiast Army officers went on to become promoted to four-star generals. 

Nicholson’s second tour to Afghanistan in 2008 as a one-star general resulted in a 9 Oct 2009 CBS 60 Minutes’ exclusive where Nicholson stated that the orders from the Administration were very clear, “use restraint…win the hearts and minds.” Nicholson was additionally asked in the interview about how long it takes to fight a counter insurgency like this, to which Nicholson responded, “a successful counter insurgency usually lasts at least 14 years.” Nicholson was then asked by 60 Minutes, “General you are talking about building a country, it would take generations to do that.” Nicholson responded, “yeah, the first thing I would say is, it’s doable.” The seed of the forever war in Afghanistan grew its root deep. The American Generals to this day are very open and clear with their promise to stay indefinitely. By the time Nicholson’s 2nd tour in Afghanistan was over, extreme restrictions over the use of force had been increased and the US killed in action increased by 104% year over year while Nicholson was a one star.

Nicholson’s third tour in Afghanistan as a three-star general began in 2011 as the US strategy aggressively focused on training, advising, and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces. While Nicholson was the Deputy of the International Security Force mission the insider attacks increased from 35 deaths in 2011 to when Nicholson left in 2012 the deaths from insider attacks reached 61 deaths, the highest level ever during the nearly 20 years of combat operations. 

These gruesome casualty statistics did not favor the American front line foot soldiers at all, but did they lead to Nicholson being relieved or retired? No, it led to him being promoted to a four-star general and returning to command all US and Coalition Forces in Afghanistan for two and a half more years from March 2016 to Sept 2018. 

On Nicholson’s final tour he stated, “We’re seeing offers on the table (sic- from the Taliban) about peace…I would say this is extremely positive.” Nicholson continued to state that the Taliban were tired of fighting, wanted reconciliation, and that the Ulema Council in Indonesia would delegitimize jihad in Afghanistan. Did one of Nicholson’s predictions become fulfilled? No, we know how this story miserably ended last year under Nicholson’s successor. 

Where is Nicholson now that the Middle East wars are over? Besides being on the speaker circuit, he sat on the board of Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PENFED) from 2019-2021 and now is the General Partner of PENFED’s Bravo Fund. Additionally, the largest defense contracting firm in America, Lockheed Martin appointing Nicholson as their new Chief Executive for Middle East in December 2021 shortly after the fall of Afghanistan. 

America our military did not fight unwinnable wars. The sons and daughters were able to win. Up until 2005 we had tremendous success in Afghanistan, until politicians and opportunistic US military Generals realized how profitable it is to fight forever wars around the globe. 

Americans who provide their sons and daughters to fight these forever wars deserve competent and moral commanders who will win no matter what and not focus on the profits of big business. One of America’s most famous Marine Generals, Major General Smedley Butler wrote a book and provided a speech titled, War is A Racket, in 1935 stating, “Our boys were sent off to die with beautiful ideals painted in front of them. No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason they were marching off to kill and die.” Sadly after 87 years the same facts are true, except during World War One businesses in the war industry did not utilize military Generals shamelessly the way they presently do.

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