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Has The US Military Created A Small Class Of Killers?
Tom note: Here is the sixth entry in our 10 Long March posts for 2018, the 5th most-read item of the year, which originally ran on June 11, 2018. These posts are selected based on what’s called ‘total engaged minutes’ (the total number of time spent reading and commenting on an article) rather than page views, which the T&P; editors see as a better reflection of Long March reader interest and community. Thanks to all of you for reading, and for commenting–which is an important part of this column.
The thin cold air of the Hindu Kush, those legendary mountains, poured through the gunner’s windows onto my shoulders. The 10-minute call went out and I started to check all my gear as I had done maybe 30 times already. It was so dark that I couldn’t see the faces of the men sitting next to me, but I knew them all. Many had spent three or four, in some cases five, years of their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some had lost friends or family or watched others get hurt.
The guys we were going after were hardcore jihadists. One was the child of a Mujahedeen father and a Pashtun mother; he was literally born from the anti-Soviet Jihad. On our bird was a warrior class, touched by the fire and pain of years of continuous combat and at our destination that night was a group of jihadists whose personal history mirrored our own.
I survived the night, but a few weeks earlier a Green Beret leading an Afghan force trying to prevent the capture of Lashkar Gah did not. In death, he joined the around 350 Americans and over 500 other coalition soldiers killed trying to defend the same ground over the previous 14 years.
As his flag-draped coffin was loaded onto a C-17 in the Afghan dawn, I was struck by the thought that perhaps my children will one day fight in those same valleys against the children of my former enemies. I was shaken by the idea of dying for a vaguely defined cause that could send nearly 1,000 men to die in some shit-hole corner of Afghanistan one year only to abandon it the next and then send more men to die to retake it a few years later.
On the plane home I wondered what would have happened if we never tried counterinsurgency. What if we had decided to treat our fight with jihadists like a generational feud where the goal was simply to kill as many of them as possible at the lowest cost to the United States? We would be right where we are today. The only difference would be we wouldn’t have spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to turn benighted countries into democracies.
Since SOF and the CIA, alongside their increasingly effective partner forces, started their quiet war against jihadist groups from a few major bases, just over 100 Americans have died in jihadist terrorist attacks in the U.S. It is more likely that an American will be shot by a police officer than a jihadist. It is safe to say we have mostly solved the problem presented on September 11th, 2001.
People often complain that killing our way to safety is, to use one of my favorite phrases from the Global War On Terror, “just mowing the grass.” They mean that raids and airstrikes eliminate one generation of terrorist only to have another generation grow up from the roots. More sensitive souls worry that asking a small warrior class to do this preemptive killing for decades may privilege some the worst instincts of our sons and daughters; drug abuse, alcoholism, broken marriages, suicides, violent crime, and brutality in combat. It is a rough world to see up close.
Yet these worries miss the point because the fight against jihadist groups isn’t like a crusade against tyranny or a limited war to keep the communists from expanding their territory. Like previous struggles against pirates, anarchists, and violent crime this fight doesn’t end conclusively. One day, like the great feuds of the Icelandic sagas or the age of anarchist terror, it will simply stop, and no one will remember exactly why it started or why it killed so many people.
To get to that point, America will turn to increasingly smaller circles of elite forces forged over a generation do the killing. Few Americans will actually be touched by this grim fight. This means the circles of sorrow that spread from the loss of a young man or woman remain small. It also means that the resources available remain moderated so that America can continue it.
The dark truth is all the killing at night in far-away places is keeping us safe and we need to continue it indefinitely while keeping the scars on our society and costs to our country a small as possible. America cannot afford to mortgage its future prosperity and spend the capital of its youth on remaking countries in its own image. Because at the end of the day, the leaders go home to paint pictures, passing classified information to their biographers/mistresses, and collect huge speaker and consultant fees while tens of thousands of boy and girls don’t come home or have their lives changed forever.
As a former grunt, my hope for future generations is that the U.S. government and the generals don’t forget this and leave the killing to a small tribe of rough men and women.
Fletcher Schoen is a former U.S. Army Ranger with five and half years of service. He enlisted in the Army in 2012 and finished as a Sergeant in 2017. A graduate of Ranger, Airborne, and Sniper Schools, he deployed twice to Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment. He currently lives in D.C. and is pursuing his Master’s degree in Security Studies at Georgetown University.
Former Marine Commandant tells Trump that pardoning troops accused of war crimes 'relinquishes the moral high ground'
Former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak has issued a statement urging President Donald Trump and members of Congress to oppose pardons for those accused or convicted of war crimes since, he argued, it would "relinquish the United States' moral high ground."
"If President Trump follows through on reports that he will mark Memorial Day by pardoning individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he will betray these ideals and undermine decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country's fighting forces the envy of the world," said Krulak, who served in the Marine Corps for more than three decades before retiring in 1999 as the 31st Commandant.
Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Associated Materials. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Associated Materials Incorporated is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.
Associated Materials, a residential and commercial siding and window manufacturer based in Ohio, employs people from a variety of backgrounds. The company gives them an opportunity to work hard and grow within the organization. For Tim Betsinger, Elizabeth Dennis, and Tanika Carroll, all military veterans with wide-ranging experience, Associated Materials has provided a work environment similar to the military and a company culture that feels more like family than work.
President Donald Trump will nominate Barbara Barrett to serve as the next Air Force secretary, the president announced on Tuesday.
"I am pleased to announce my nomination of Barbara Barrett of Arizona, and former Chairman of the Aerospace Corporation, to be the next Secretary of the Air Force," Trump tweeted. "She will be an outstanding Secretary! #FlyFightWin"
The Trump administration is trying to assure Congress that it does not want to start a war with Iran, but some lawmakers who fought in Iraq are not so sure.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford both briefed Congress on Tuesday about Iran. Shanahan told reporters earlier on Tuesday that the U.S. military buildup in the region has stopped Iran and its proxies from attacking U.S. forces, but the crisis is not yet over.
"We've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans," Shanahan said. "That doesn't mean that the threats that we've previously identified have gone away. Our prudent response, I think, has given the Iranians time to recalculate. I think our response was a measure of our will and our resolve that we will protect our people and our interests in the region."
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump warned on Monday Iran would be met with "great force" if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East, and government sources said Washington strongly suspects Shi'ite militias with ties to Tehran were behind a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone.
"I think Iran would be making a very big mistake if they did anything," Trump told reporters as he left the White House on Monday evening for an event in Pennsylvania. "If they do something, it will be met with great force but we have no indication that they will."