Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion L.A.
Opinion Opinion L.A.

Bring my son, and everyone else's, home from Afghanistan

My soldier son called last month to wish his mother and me a happy Thanksgiving. My iPhone buzzed and there he was, sitting in a gun tower, his smiling face bathed in gauzy infrared light, an M249 machine gun propped at the ready behind him. For security reasons, we didn't talk about his location. It could've been Afghanistan, Iraq or Kuwait. He's spent the better part of this year serving in all three.

His infantry company will soon be rotated back to the United States after a one-year deployment. Because he's an officer, he'll probably be among those on the last plane out. We're hoping it'll be by Christmas. My son would like to be home for the holidays, of course, but his biggest concern is getting back before the start of postseason play in the NFL. He's warned me, however, that the mysteries of Army upper management may mean we are both disappointed about the timing of his return. And so the clock ticks. Slowly.

During my son's tour of duty — his first overseas assignment — the number of U.S. dead in Afghanistan climbed past 2,000, while the total wounded surpassed 18,000. That's about 500 fewer Americans killed and nearly three times the number wounded during the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive in 1968. Certainly, Vietnam was a much different engagement than the one in Afghanistan, which has gone on for more than 11 years, but the casualty figures from both, in my estimation, raise the same question:

How long should we as a nation continue to sacrifice blood and treasure for what is clearly a losing proposition?

While Tet was by no means a victory for North Vietnam, the offensive demonstrated to the American public that the communist forces were still capable of waging war on a broad scale, contrary to Pentagon assurances that the enemy had been nearly beaten into surrender. Tet disabused many Americans of the notion that the war was winnable and helped spur the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia five years later.

In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, the Pentagon routinely claims that American-led combat power has measurably degraded the enemy's capacity to fight. Still, that enemy continues to wage war effectively. Witness the rising phenomenon of what the Defense Department refers to as "green on blue" shootings — Taliban sympathizers within the Afghan military and police turning their weapons on NATO military trainers. In 2007, there were two such insider attacks, resulting in two deaths. This year, 58 of the nearly 400 coalition military personnel who died in Afghanistan, including 35 Americans, were felled in such attacks.

These incidents don't often make the daily news cycle anymore. But they are far more important than lurid insights into the extramarital dalliances of generals. There are still about 67,000 U.S. soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines deployed in Afghanistan, alongside 37,000 military personnel from other coalition member nations. The White House has said it intends to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan more or less indefinitely, both to help train Afghan forces and to carry out counter-terrorism operations, long after NATO's mission in Afghanistan formally concludes at the end of 2014.

But what is to be gained by stationing so many troops in Afghanistan after 2014? In fact, why not leave now?

In 2001, American forces invaded Afghanistan with the goal of hunting down 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and toppling the Taliban government, which had allowed Bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network safe haven. Bin Laden is now fish food, courtesy of SEAL Team 6, and what remains of his inner circle is on the run, thanks chiefly to CIA and Air Force drone strikes in the remote tribal regions of neighboring Pakistan. Logic suggests that ground forces should be stationed there instead of in Afghanistan, but that won't happen any time soon. Pakistan, our "ally" in the fight against international terrorism, wouldn't allow it.

Washington's goal from the start has been to train Afghans to the point that they can stand up alone against the Taliban. No question, some units among the 337,000 soldiers and police who compose Afghanistan's National Security Forces are up to the task. But, after more than a decade of intense drilling, many other units remain woefully, almost comically, unprepared. At what point does the problem become Afghanistan's and not ours?

It's hard to see how the United States can help much in the current climate. Joint operations have had to be significantly curtailed because of the rise in green-on-blue shootings. Indeed, Americans stationed at bases that also house Afghan military or paramilitary are now required to carry their weapons with them at all times; at night, they sleep under the watchful guard of other, fully armed Americans.

Realistically, objectively, what future is there in a partnership like that?

About five years ago, I read a book by an Islamic scholar, Rory Stewart, who decided he'd become the first tourist to walk across a post-Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Relying on his wits, knowledge of Muslim customs and the kindnesses of strangers, Stewart trekked for a month from village to village. His "The Places in Between" proved a remarkable travelogue, if for no other reason than it underscored just how primitive and disconnected much of Afghanistan really is. Loyalties rarely extend beyond the village, the tribe and Allah.

Given those realities, the idea of instilling in the Afghan people anything resembling American-style, flag-waving, defend-the-homeland nationalism is almost laughable. It would be laughable were it not for the fact that more than 2,000 brave Americans have died trying to change things. How many more have to die before enough is enough?

I want my son home. I want to watch him eat a barbecued tri-tip burrito with guacamole from his favorite restaurant, the kind he's been craving for nearly a year, the kind you can't get in an Army MRE packet. I want to see him open holiday presents. I want to watch football with him. Most of all, I don't want to lie awake anymore, staring at the ceiling, wondering if he's still alive.

I don't want him to go back to Afghanistan. I don't want anyone's son or daughter to have to go back.

It's no longer worth it.

David Freed is a former Times reporter who covered Operation Desert Storm. His next novel, "Fangs Out," will be published in May.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • McManus: A Plan C for Afghanistan

    McManus: A Plan C for Afghanistan

    Election year or no, Obama needs a new plan for getting out.

  • Bush vs. Trump, en español

    Bush vs. Trump, en español

    It's tempting to treat Donald Trump's claim that Jeb Bush “should set the example by speaking English while in the United States” as just another bigoted remark from a presidential candidate who infamously referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” (though he added that “some, I assume, are good...

  • Iran nuclear deal is an opportunity the U.S. should seize wholeheartedly

    Iran nuclear deal is an opportunity the U.S. should seize wholeheartedly

    Arms control agreements are by their very nature controversial. They often fall short of achieving everything that was hoped for. Potential gaps in enforcement can make the threat worse, and even if the parties abide by the terms of the agreement, evasion is always suspected.

  • The county is awol in the fight for Malibu beaches

    The county is awol in the fight for Malibu beaches

    Everybody knows this beach story: The rich and powerful who own property along Malibu's 27-mile coastline battle to keep the public away from the sand, surf and sunshine that fronts their houses. (Think David Geffen and his endless lawsuits to keep the access way closed next to his Carbon Beach...

  • Bounce the kangaroo bill from the Legislature

    Bounce the kangaroo bill from the Legislature

    For decades, California banned the import and sale of all products made from kangaroos — including food and shoes, particularly high-end soccer cleats — out of concern for their conservation. The Legislature twice agreed to lift the ban on kangaroos temporarily at the urging of the Australian government...

  • The death of Aylan Kurdi and the need for a moral policy on refugees

    The death of Aylan Kurdi and the need for a moral policy on refugees

    The photo was heartbreaking: A toddler in shorts and a red T-shirt lay face down at the edge of the surf, waves lapping at his head, his body settled into the sand like a piece of driftwood. His name, the world would learn, was Aylan Kurdi, and he and his Kurdish family were heading from Syria...

  • I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    I've got the perfect job for Donald Trump right here

    In a few days, the queen of England -- “Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" and so forth -- becomes the longest-reigning monarch in the even longer history of that sceptered isle.

  • Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    Can Californians' privacy be protected in a wired world?

    State lawmakers have been trying for four years to provide Californians with more protection against warrantless snooping into their Internet-connected lives. The Legislature is about to take up the issue again, voting on a bill, SB 178, that would require state and local law enforcement agencies...

Comments
Loading
73°