This weekend’s news reports on a battle in the province of Nuristan — which resulted in nine American KIAs — underscore the dangerous situation facing our troops in Afghanistan. This is not the first time we’ve read about “hundreds” of Taliban fighters (300 in this attack) laying siege to an outpost manned by a platoon (40+) or company (120+) size element, accompanied by Afghan counterparts.
Similar attacks occurred in Iraq during the Surge, like the siege on Combat Outpost Blackfoot in Baghdad in September 2007. That day, more than 125 al-Qaeda-affiliated insurgents attacked the U.S. outpost for over seven hours, only to be repelled and eventually defeated. The pure heroics of men like my former First Sergeant — Eric Geressy — carried the day, as did U.S. air superiority.
I have absolutely no doubt similar heroics are what eventually repelled the even larger attacking force in Nuristan. Our warriors are the finest the world has ever seen, and they know how to rain lethality on the enemy with deadly precision. However, at this outpost in Nuristan — and throughout Afghanistan — our troops are often outnumbered and under-supported, with troops defending themselves in enemy territory, and reliant upon air support that isn’t immediately available.
The big difference between the Surge violence in Iraq in 2007 and the increase in violence in Afghanistan today, is that in 2007 our troops knew reinforcements were coming, and would be added to the fight wherever necessary. Men like Eric Geressy fought in enemy strongholds, knowing that additional forces were coming and would be all around them — squeezing al-Qaeda like a pimple.
Right now, I can’t imagine our troops in Afghanistan feel the same way. Our Soldiers and Marines are manning remote combat outposts, surrounded by enemy fighters, with no idea whether the reinforcements they so desperately need will ever come. Nonetheless, our troops are bravely following orders and taking the initial steps necessary to implement the counter-insurgency strategy President Obama approved in March and General McChrystal has been implementing aggressively.
However, our troops also know they don’t have enough boots on the ground to defeat the enemy — just like we didn’t have enough troops in Iraq in 2006. And while it is understandable to accept risk at the beginning stages of a new strategy as new troops arrive in theatre, asking our troops to do so indefinitely, without the reinforcements they so desperately need — in men and capabilities — is not just bad war policy, it’s plain wrong.
We owe our troops the strategy, resources, and support they need to win — not just enough to defend themselves or to “not lose,” but to win. (Winning defined as creating the conditions for Afghans to take over and deny haven to Al Qaeda and the Taliban). Count me squarely in the win-this-thing-or-bring-them-home camp. And this is what makes President Obama’s upcoming decision so important, and so urgent.
Right now, as the policies are being debated inside the White House, our finest are manning distant outposts, outnumbered and under-resourced. Events like the attack in Nuristan remind us of this fact. And I hope they inject a sense of urgency into the review being executed by the Obama White House.
President Obama blessed a counter-insurgency strategy in March of this year, and now he’s reviewing the strategy again. Why? Hopefully to ensure he gets it right. But, with the military leadership on Afghanistan — Mullen, Petraeus, McChrystal — united on the right strategy and on the need for more troops, it’s tough to see why the president continues to deliberate. He needs to put everything else on hold, and make a Commander-in-Chief decision on Afghanistan.
As Revelation 3:16 says: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” It’s time for President Obama to stop being “lukewarm” and either supply the troops needed, or scale the mission back. It may not feel like an urgent decision in Washington, but it sure does in Nuristan.