Into the valley of death in Afghanistan
Seems like simply shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan isn't as simple as all that, because -- and I know this will surprise you -- Iraq and Aghghanistan are different countries. And so, our chateaux generalz send more of our troops to their deaths, through stupidity, for the sake of the imperial project, which is evil. Well done, all:
On a sunset patrol here in late December, U.S. Marines spotted a Taliban unit trying to steal Afghan police vehicles at a checkpoint. In a flash, the Marines turned to pursue, driving off the main road and toward the gunfire coming from the mountain a half mile away.
But their six-ton vehicles were no match for the Taliban pickups. The mine-resistant vehicles and heavily armored Humvees bucked and swerved as drivers tried to maneuver them across fields that the Taliban vehicles raced across. The Afghan police trailed behind in unarmored pick-up trucks, impatient about their allies' weighty pace.
The Marines, weighted down with 60 pounds of body armor each, struggled to climb up Saradaka Mountain. Once at the top, it was clear to everyone that the Taliban would get away. Second Lt. Phil Gilreath, 23, of Kingwood, La., called off the mission.
"It would be a ghost chase, and we would run the risk of the vehicles breaking down again," Gilreath said. The Marines spent the next hour trying to find their way back to the paved road.
The men of the 3rd Batallion, 8th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Lejeune, are discovering in their first two months in Afghanistan that the tactics they learned in nearly six years of combat in Iraq are of little value here — and may even inhibit their ability to fight their Taliban foes.
Their MRAP mine-resistant vehicles, which cost $1 million each, were specially developed to combat the terrible effects of roadside bombs, the single biggest killer of Americans in Iraq. But Iraq is a country of highways and paved roads, and the heavily armored vehicles are cumbersome on Afghanistan's unpaved roads and rough terrain where roadside bombs are much less of a threat.
Body armor is critical to warding off snipers in Iraq, where Sunni Muslim insurgents once made video of American soldiers falling to well-placed sniper shots a staple of recruiting efforts. But the added weight makes Marines awkward and slow when they have to dismount to chase after Taliban gunmen in Afghanistan's rough terrain.
Remember how hard we had to fight to get the troops body armor in Iraq in the first place? And how parents and home towns chipped in to save the troops lives when the fucking Bush administration wouldn't?
And now, irony of ironies, what's life-saving in Iraq turns out to the death-dealing in Aghanistan, but our glorious Department of War couldn't figure that out in advance. I guess we don't pay 'em for that, eh?
Even the Humvees, finally carrying heavy armor after years of complaints that they did little to mitigate the impact of roadside explosives in Iraq, are proving a liability. Marines say the heavy armor added for protection in Iraq is too rough on the vehicles' transmissions in Afghanistan's much hillier terrain, and the vehicles frequently break down — so often in fact that before every patrol Marine units here designate one Humvee as the tow vehicle.
The Marines have found other differences:
In Iraq, American forces could win over remote farmlands by swaying urban centers. In Afghanistan, there's little connection between the farmlands and the mudhut villages that pass for towns.
In Iraq, armored vehicles could travel on both the roads and the desert. Here, the paved roads are mostly for outsiders - travelers, truckers and foreign troops; to reach the populace, American forces must find unmapped caravan routes that run through treacherous terrain, routes not designed for their modern military vehicles.
In Iraq, a half-hour firefight was considered a long engagement; here, Marines have fought battles that have lasted as long as eight hours against an enemy whose attacking forces have grown from platoon-size to company-size. ....
Students of the Iraq war know that change came slowly and only after years of casualties made worse by inadequate equipment.
But 40 percent of the 3-8 has served previously in Iraq's Anbar province. Indeed, the 3-8 was originally scheduled to deploy to the Iraqi/Syrian border and learned just two months before it shipped out that it was headed to Afghanistan instead. By then they had finished most of their training, all of it geared toward Iraq.
So they are learning on the ground.
When the Taliban does take on the Marines, it's a different kind of fight, Marines said. For one, the Taliban'll wait until they're ready, not just when an opportunity appears. They'll clear the area of women and children, not use them as shields. And when the attack comes, it's often a full-scale attack, with flanks, trenches and a plan, said one Marine captain and Iraq veteran who asked not to be identified because he wasn't sure he was allowed to discuss tactics.
Afghans "are willing to fight to the death. They recover their wounded, just like we do," said the captain. "When I am fighting here, I am fighting a professional army. If direct fighting does not work, they will go to an IED. They plan their ammunition around poppy season. To fight them, you are pulling every play out of the playbook."
History doesn't repeat, but it rhymes. And sometimes the rhymes are off-rhymes.
Who'd like to make a bet on how many troops we'll have in Afghanistan the 2012 Presidential election? I'll take the over at 75,000.