During my last trip to the sandbox, about 3 years after the final American troops departed Iraq, we had started weening Iraqi Security Forces and militias off the flood of money, weapons, vehicles, equipment and fuel that we dumped into their coffers during the fight against militants across the country. Naturally, it was a difficult time. They felt they were being abandoned and whined about the austerity measures at every level of partnered command, while we felt they were milking us for every penny and ounce of fuel they could get their hands on before we bolted for the exits. This was a painful but necessary experience, as the stage was slowly set for Iraqis to take ownership of their own fates.
A few friends downrange are going through the same experience in Afghanistan. Wrote one:
The mission is fine, though we collectively question on a daily basis why we’re here. The Afghans are not smart and at this point don’t want much to do with us because we can’t give them things anymore.
This whole Afghan endeavor is pointless – most folks are just out here collecting metrics to justify fitreps and awards. The Afghans take every opportunity to milk us out of more dollars or resources. Truly bleak.
(Editor’s note: “Fitrep” is slang for fitness report, which serves as a periodic report card for service members at the rank of sergeant and above. Good fitreps boost chances for quicker promotion. As for combat awards, don’t get me started – I’ve seen guys get awards despite never leaving the wire and doing nothing more than their damn job, yet bureaucrats trifle over whether a Marine deserves the Medal of Honor for absorbing the impact of a grenade blast because it may or may not have been a conscious act. Ludicrous.)
As a story in Saturday’s Washington Post discusses, the new federal budget dramatically reduces the amount of U.S. military and developmental aid to the Afghan government ahead of the scheduled troop withdrawal by the end of this year. I imagine the voices who blamed American inattention and ambivalence for creating a terrorist safe haven in Afghanistan in the pre-9/11 years are ready to head-butt the closest wall (or each other).
All of this occurs amidst contentious Afghan-U.S. negotiations over allowing the sizable contingent of forces (several thousand) to remain in country to serve as a quick reaction force if things go to hell in a hand basket. Meanwhile Hamid Karzai – Afghanistan’s petty, delusional and stubborn president – does his best to inflame bitterness – earlier this month, he ordered the release of several dozen detainees previously implicated in attacks on U.S. and Afghan troops.
The cuts to Afghanistan aid occurred with barely a peep from the White House, and I’m eager to hear what President Obama will say about America’s longest war during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.