In Afghanistan, 80 percent have seen a friend killed or wounded
By Michael Prysner
June 10, 2011
The author is an Iraq war veteran and a member of the anti-war
organization of veterans and active duty service members, March Forward!
The Associated Press reports that soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan
are suffering the highest rates of psychological problems since 2005.
Similarly, troop morale is down the drain.
The reason for this is no mystery. A military report found that up to
80 percent of troops have witnessed a friend being killed or wounded in combat.
This is a staggering number. Indoctrinated from a young age, all the
fantasies from a culture brimming with over-romanticized "glory" of
war disappear when one watches a close friend's legs blown offthe
new "signature wound" in Afghanistanand has to try to stop the
gushing of blood by tying tourniquets around mangled flesh; or when
one is powerless to do anything but watch someone die from the sheer
devastation of their wounds, and having to literally pick up the
pieces. This would have a devastating psychological effect on any
personeven the most "Army Strong" of us. And 80 percent of us have
had to endure it.
But it is much more than just the reality of combat that is
responsible for plummeting morale. Human beings are capable of
enduring great hardship when there is a feeling of purpose.
And what is the purpose of endlessly fighting in Afghanistan?
Well, for service members, we are told first and foremost that this
is not our concern. Our job is to follow orders and trust the supreme
wisdom of the politicians in Washington. They are all millionaires,
so we are told they must be pretty smart! You know, they are people
like Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose "expert" military and
foreign policy decisions come from two whole years in the Air Force
(never deploying), and much of the rest of his career spent in
corporate boardrooms for weapons manufacturers and oil drilling
companies. Surely, it is just a coincidence that his former office
buddies are making record profits. Chances are he will not be having
to watch any of them bleed to death in combat. Maybe that's why on
his trip to Afghanistan last week he said that there was "no rush" in
removing combat troops.
No good reason for war in Afghanistan
But for those of us who do look for purpose in what we are doing,
what do we find? We are told, on the one hand, that the purpose is to
defeat al-Qaeda, but then we hear CIA Director Leon Panetta admit
that there is virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan; maybe
"50-100 individuals," he says. Over 100,000 troops on the ground in a
10-year war to fight 50 individuals? That makes a lot of sense. He
also says to not pay attention to the fact that al-Qaeda is in 40
other countries as wellthe fight is in Afghanistan, where, as a
recent study found, only 8 percent of young men have even heard of
the Sept. 11 attacks.
We are told that there is a purpose because we're "making gains"
against the resistance movement in Afghanistanthat we are "winning
the war." Then, an April White House report says that there is "no
clear path" to defeating the insurgency. So when speaking to us, the
people who have to do all the fighting and dying, the politicians say
that "we are winning." But amongst themselves, in the Oval Office and
halls of Congress, they say "there is no possible way to win." What a
great sense of purpose they instill!
It comes from the generals, too. Gen. Petraeus tells us that we are
"reversing the momentum" of the resistance. Then, on May 21, he says
that this summer will bring even higher levels of violence and
"increased high-profile attacks." U.S. casualties are at record
numberswith a 60 percent increase in the loss of a limb and a 90
percent increase in wounds to genitalsand the past three months have
yielded far more fatalities than any previous year. It does not sound
too much like "reversing" anything. It sounds like things are about
to get much worse for us and our buddies. No worries for Petraeus,
though, he will be safe in his office.
And, of course, we're told that we must fight and die because
allowing the Taliban to regain any type of political power would be
catastrophic for the Afghan people and for us here at home.
But if any of us read the news, we can see that, actually, the U.S.
government is desperately trying to negotiate with the Taliban
leadership, offering them positions in the Afghan governmentbecause
Washington knows they cannot win the war militarily, even though they
tell us we are. And the Taliban will not take a power-sharing deal
right now, well, because they are winning and their morale is high,
so why would they quit? For those troops who try to believe that the
war will "save" Afghanistan from the Taliban, Washington's end game
puts the Taliban back in government. The war for "democracy" and
"national defense" is revealed to be just a political game.
Besides, the generals and politicians give the false impression it is
only the Taliban who are against the foreign occupation. Again, they
tell us our purpose is to defeat this one group. Then the Pentagon
releases official reports estimating that there are around 1,800
different armed resistance groups fighting the occupation.
Even Army General Ben Hodges admits that 80 percent of Taliban
fighters are not with the group for ideological reasons. Most, like
the vast majority of Afghans, just want us out. How could anyone
think "democracy" has anything to do with our purpose there?
The truth about the war
For those of us looking for purpose in why we are fighting, something
completely lacking, here is the truth that we find:
The war obviously is not about al-Qaeda or "fighting terrorism." It
is just another war for "American interests"or, American business
interestsin the most resource-rich region of the world.
Our esteemed leaders admit that the war cannot be won, yet they keep
sending us to die. Washington's goal is to put the Taliban on the
defensive so that they will accept a deal and enter into a unity
government, returning to political powerand they are using our
bodies as the bargaining chips.
The people of Afghanistan are not fighting because they are
"terrorists." They are fighting because a foreign military has been
bombing their villages and raiding their homes for 10 years. The
Afghan people were not a party to the Sept. 11 attacks, and many know
nothing about it to this day.
The people of Afghanistan, no matter which faction of the resistance
they fight with, are not our enemies; they are people struggling to
survive and provide for their families, just like us.
The people who are not like us are the smirking generals and
politicians who think they can treat us like pawns and give us vague
and ambiguous explanations for the supposed "purpose" of our suffering.
They are lying to us. Morale is not low just because 80 percent of us
have witnessed a friend killed or wounded, but because there is no
purpose for that bloodshed.
There is only one thing that can improve morale: realizing that we do
not have to follow the orders of those millionaire politicians and
armchair generals who are throwing our lives away.