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Trump Is Right To Be Skeptical Of The Pentagon When It Comes To Afghanistan
What the heck are we doing in Afghanistan right now?
I ask this very important question because President Donald Trump's senior advisers are proposing sending thousands of additional US troops there so they can "start winning" again, according to one official who spoke with The Washington Post.
That would be great if the word "winning" could be defined.
Let's put this into perspective: Since October 2001, the United States has had a military presence in Afghanistan.
We have paid a heavy price for a loosely defined end.
After 9/11, we went into Afghanistan to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban so we could deny them a safe haven. But in 2004, when I was on the ground as a US Marine, the job I was given was a simpler one: drive around in the hope you get shot at. That's how we found the enemy.
Fortunately, Trump has been deeply skeptical of his top military advisors — and that's actually a good thing. As I expressed recently on Twitter, the generals will give you rosy assessments; the sergeants will give you the truth.
Soldiers pay their final respects to two fallen Marines and a Navy Corpsman at Forward Operating Base Morales-Fraizer.U.S. Marine Corps photo
A reality check
For years, we have been offered rosy assessments from the military's top commanders in Afghanistan. Gen. John Abizaid said in 2005 that "interesting progress" had been made. Gen. Dan McNeill said in 2007 that we were making "significant progress." And Gen. David Petraeus highlighted the progress made in 2010.
In 2013, Gen. John Allen said we were "on the road to winning" in Afghanistan.
Reality check: We're not. And we probably never will be. The war in Afghanistan has been a lost cause for a long time.
It's not a "stalemate," as the Pentagon has taken to characterizing it. The latest assessment from the Institute for the Study of War, released in February 2016, shows the situation has been deteriorating, especially since troop levels were lowered significantly after 2011.
Sending in 3,000 more troops, as the Trump administration is reportedly debating, would do little, especially when the 100,000 boots on the ground during President Barack Obama's "surge" didn't result in "winning."
I remember driving around Kabul in early 2005. We were stuck at an Army base near the city getting some Humvees repaired, so my gunnery sergeant decided to take us on a little tour of the city.
We drove through the bustling streets, went to the "boneyard" of old Soviet planes and tanks, and visited the training academy for Afghan National Army soldiers. Soon after the invasion, he said, he had helped set up the academy to train Afghan troops.
The US military can train a civilian off the street and turn them into a highly capable soldier or Marine in about three months. But we still can't claim Afghan security forces are a "strong, sustainable force" after training them for 15 years.
It's hard to see that changing anytime soon.
I don't want to "lose" in Afghanistan. There may still be options to turn the situation around, though its nickname as the "graveyard of empires" may prove true once again. But the way forward is not to send in a few thousand more soldiers who would inevitably feed failure.
The war requires a full, independent review of the situation — and, most importantly, realistic goals and a clear strategy for achieving them.
This is our forever war, and I can guarantee those 3,000 troops would slowly but surely increase, just as our troop levels have increased in Iraq and Syria since 2014.
When "the enemy is digging a hole, don't stop them," Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told an interviewer in 2014. "Let them continue to dig themselves into the hole."
We should not, as Mattis knows, keep digging ourselves into a hole we can never get out of.
I don't know how or if this war will end. But I know what comes next: more flag-draped coffins landing at Dover, mothers crying over children they have lost, and tribute posts for years to come in honor of our brothers and sisters who never came back.
That's not a strategy in Afghanistan.
But it is the reality.
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For one veteran who fought through the crossfires of German heavy machine guns in the D-Day landings, receiving a Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of his service and that of his World War II comrades would be "quite meaningful."
Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to award the Army Rangers of World War II the medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States, along with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed confidence on Sunday in the U.S. military justice system's ability to hold troops to account, two days after President Donald Trump pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.
Trump also restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq.
Asked how he would reassure countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the pardons, Esper said: "We have a very effective military justice system."
"I have great faith in the military justice system," Esper told reporters during a trip to Bangkok, in his first remarks about the issue since Trump issued the pardons.
On a military base, a black flag is bad news. That means it's too hot outside to do anything strenuous, so training and missions are put off until conditions improve.
As the climate changes, there could be plenty more black flag days ahead, especially in Florida, a new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found. America's military bases could see an average of an extra month of dangerously hot days by mid-century. In Florida, they could quadruple.
Pentagon data shows heat-related illnesses and injuries are on the rise in every branch of the military. Last year, nearly 2,800 troops suffered heatstroke or heat exhaustion, a roughly 50 percent jump from 2014.
"I think most of us, if we hear there are tens of thousands of cases of heat stress in our troops every year, our minds would go to where they were deployed," said Kristy Dahl, a senior climate scientist at UCS and the lead author of the study. "But more than 90% of the military cases of heatstroke happened right here at home."
BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.
The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.
An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.
This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.
Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."