Book Review- “The Wrong War” by Bing West
Posted by KingShamus on June 26, 2011
The Afghan War has been a constant part of America’s political and cultural landscape for almost ten years. Like catching sand in a sieve, victory has been incredibly hard to grasp. The war has bedeviled two presidents, two Secretaries of Defense (soon to be three) and numerous top commanders. Unlike Iraq, where American perceptions have shifted to see it as a victory for the US military, Afghanistan is seen as a confusing morass where winning just might be impossible.
Into this muddled situation comes “The Wrong War” by Bing West. The author, a former Marine, lays out the details on the ground in stark terms. By putting himself directly into battles alongside the American and Afghan troops, West gives the reader a view of the fighting from the eye of the soldiers themselves. West focuses on two areas, the Konar Province in the northeast and the Helmand province in the southwest. Each has it’s own tribal tensions, linguistic diversity, economic issues, geographical challenges and political difficulties.
Reading “The Wrong War” makes it clear just how foolish our nation-building efforts have been in Afghanistan. The country–and calling Afghanistan a ‘country’ is almost comical– is spectacularly unsuited for the kind of Western political reforms we’ve been trying to graft onto it. West details several ways that Hamid Karzai, our hand-picked ‘democrat’, has undercut much of what we are trying to accomplish. The battle of Barge Mattal, where Americans fought and bled not to secure a military objective but to secure votes for Karzai’s reelection, is an especially infuriating portion of the book.
In 2009, Karzai put pressure on the American commander General Stanley McCrystal to retake Barge Mattal. The town, deep in the Nuristan Province and close to the wide-open Pakistan border, served as an optimal location for insurgents to jump between the two countries and conduct operations. However, Karzai didn’t really care about the military importance of Barge Mattal so much as the political expediency of taking back the town to look tough and get votes.
This put heavy constraints on what the Americans could and could not do to achieve the mission. Worse, there was no counterinsurgency goal to be had there. Instead, the US was forced to land Batallion 1-32 into the middle of Barge Mattal’s ‘punchbowl’ location, surrounded by high cliffs from which the enemy could shoot from the high ground onto the American forces. Predictably, this resulted in the needless deaths of American troops.
West offers Barge Mattal up as an example of the incompetence and corruption of Hamid Karzai’s cronyed-up leadership. But it’s not just the Afghan elite that is suspect. The rules of engagement that the Western forces labor under are constructed so poorly that the enemy uses them to their own advantage. In a stunning passage, West finds himself in a firefight alongside American, British and Afghan security forces against an insurgent group.
“I see one over here, ‘ Cpl. Gareth Robson yelled from a side wall. Le ran over and peered through his M4 scope at a man dressed in black who was running bent over to the west end of the building, presenting an easy target.
“Should I shoot him?” Le [Ed.-Pfc. Khanh Le] asked me.
“I’m just a writer,” I said. “It’s your call.”
A few meters away, Roxy [Ed.-Sgt. Scott Roxborough, a British soldier] pursed his lips to emit a farting sound, amplified by jeers from the two Marines and several Brits.
“Okay, okay, ” I relented. “In Vietnam, I’d light him up. Now, what’s your ROE?”
“I don’t see a weapon,” Le said.
“Our rule,” Roxy shouted, ”is that you have to testify at your hearing that the shooting was justified.”
The absurdity of that conversation is mind-boggling. “The Wrong War” is littered with the frustration, lost opportunities and senseless American deaths brought about due to horrible ROEs. Not only do we send our troops into harms way, we readily tie their hands while gleefully patting ourselves on the back for our humanitarianism. War is already insane; how we have forced our troops to conduct themselves in Afghanistan borders on the suicidal.
When the American armed forces are not busy looking through the Yellow Pages for lawyers to defend them at the court-martial they could be subject to for accidentally farting on an insurgent’s pet goat/next meal/best friend with benefits, the Afghan civilians often do their best to kill our troops as well.
Picture credit: Bing West
The picture above shows Afghan teenagers strewing rocks into the path of the 1-32 during an ambush at the village of Ganjigal. They did this in order to hem the Americans into a narrow area so that insurgents could have a better chance of killing US forces. Remember that these are the people the US taxpayer has invested billions of dollars in order to turn them into democrats. Worse, these are the people the US citizen has sacrificed its sons and daughters in order to turn Afghanistan away from international terrorism.
Why has Afghanistan gone so horribly wrong? In West’s estimation, it’s because America has tried to run a counterinsurgency operation that focuses on protecting the civilian population rather than killing the enemy. This brings into question what the American civilian leadership and the generals believe the US military is meant to do. The fact that there are people in positions of power who see our military as just a heavily armed Peace Corps is an indictment on the American military command, the civilian leadership and the American voter who puts up with monumentally incompetent leaders talking massively wrong-headed strategies.
“The Wrong War” is not just a scathing indictment of the current debacle in Afghanistan. West offers up stories that highlight the tremendous professionalism, deadly skill and selfless courage that are critical assets of our military men and women. The ambush at Ganjigal might’ve been an unmitigated American tragedy. Instead, the courageous actions of Corporal Dakotah Meyer–which West documents here–are nothing short of breathtaking. For every tale of misery in “The Wrong War”, there are incidences of American heroism and resolve that should be part of our national mythos.
Moreover, West offers his solutions for an exit strategy. The final chapter should be required reading for anybody even remotely connected to the decision-making process in Afghanistan. His ideas help the American troops maintain their reputation for being the most deadly fighting force on the planet. Better still, they remove the American military from being pawns of Hamid Karzai and the scumfuck Afghan elite’s tribal machinations.
In light of Barack Obama’s unrealistic dewy-eyed dreamer’s speech last week, “The Wrong War” becomes only that much more vital. Bing West’s book is a cold honest assessment that counter-balances the President’s partisan political agenda with facts, insight and real workable solutions. For anybody that cares about the global war on terror, the American military and our national security, ”The Wrong War” is vital to understanding where we are now and where we should be in the future.