Shrapnel From Afghanistan VIII


In mid-January 2010, I made my second and last trip to Pakistan…


I returned convinced that Pakistan would work with the United States in some ways ~ such as providing supply lines through Pakistan, which were also highly profitable ~ while at the same time providing sanctuary for the Taliban and other extremists, so that no matter who came out on top in Afghanistan, Pakistan would have influence.  If there was to be any reconciliation, the Pakistanis intended to control it.  Although I would defend them in front of Congress and to the press to keep the relationship from getting worse ~ and endangering our supply line from Karachi ~ I knew they were really no ally at all…


In Afghanistan, McChrystal continued executing his plan to devastate the Taliban on their home turf in southern Afghanistan, first in Helmand and then in Kandahar province.  After focusing his efforts in the south, he would swing the main effort to the eastern part of the country along the Pakistani border…


Then disaster struck…


I went in to see the president a little after three p.m. on the twenty-second.  The first words out of his mouth were “I’m leaning toward relieving McChrystal…”



from the memoirs entitled



U.S. Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates

Copyright 2014


Obama then asked, “What if Petraeus took command?”  I told Obama that if Dave would do it, it would address my worst fears ~ Petraeus knew the campaign plan, knew Karzai, knew the U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan, knew the Europeans, and knew the Pakistanis…


I am convinced the Rolling Stone article gave the president, egged on by those around him in the White House, and himself distrustful of the senior military, an opportunity he welcomed to demonstrate vividly ~ to the public and to the Pentagon ~ that he was commander in chief and fully in control of the military.  Absent any effort by McChrystal to explain or to offer mitigating circumstances, I believe the president had no choice but to relieve him.  The article simply was the last of several public missteps by the general in the political minefield, a risky battlespace where he had little combat experience…


Karzai, who attended the Afghan part of the meeting (NATO summit in Lisbon on November 20-21), had proposed at his inaugural a year earlier that foreign forces end their combat role by the end of 2014, transitioning security responsibility for the entire country to the Afghans ~ not coincidentally, at the end of Karzai’s last year in office.  Obama embraced that date two weeks later in his December 2009 announcement…


Major General J. F. Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne and Karzai’s and my host the previous May at Fort Campbell, provided a realistic picture of the tough fight in the east.  There were some areas, like the Pesh River Valley, he said, where a long-term U.S. troop presence was actually destabilizing.  The locals hated both us and the Taliban, and we were better off leaving them alone…


As much as President Bush detested the notion, our later challenges in Afghanistan, especially the return of the Taliban in force by the time I became defense secretary, were, I believe, significantly compounded by the invasion of Iraq.  Resources and senior-level attention were diverted from Afghanistan.  U.S. goals in Afghanistan ~ a properly sized, competent Afghan national army and police, a working democracy with at least a minimally effective central government ~ were embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naive) when compared to the meager human and financial resources committed to the task, especially before 2009…


The December 2009 decisions and related troop surge provided sufficient military forces to break the stalemate by rooting the Taliban out of their strongholds and keeping them out while training a much larger and more capable Afghan army…


For us, the chance of success will be significantly enhanced with a modest continuing NATO military presence after 2014 for training, logistics, intelligence, air support, and counterterrorism ~ along with financial support for the Afghan security forces.  If we signal early that we will support such a role, it will inform friends, foes, and those on the fence that we will not repeat our strategic mistake in the early 1990s of abandoning Afghanistan.  We know all too well the consequences of that mistake…


I am eligible to be buried at Arlington National Cemetary.  I have asked to be buried in Section 60, where so many of the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan have been laid to rest.  The greatest honor possible would be to rest among my heroes for all eternity.




5 thoughts on “Shrapnel From Afghanistan VIII

  1. Hmnn … Wonder what is the ratio between those buried in Arlington who died defending the United States and those who died defending U.S. Government interests around the world?

    • I don’t know. Wars are a terrible thing. But with a little bit more pluck and buck from the U.S. the Afghans might very well be able to build a democracy of sorts and keep Taliban tyranny at bay ~ keep it in Pakistan where it can feed on itself…

      J.C., you might want to consider: the more people who vote the more representative our government might be, and it might be in the interest of the American people to have Afghanistan as a “friend” in a pretty hostile area of the world. And the American people might want to consider there’s a good possibility of this “friendship” coming true ~ if we as a nation handle it right.

      What do you think?

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