After spending a few months here in Afghanistan, I’ve learned a few truths about this war: As much as others may try to deny it, we are fighting terror, and doing it well, every single day; some of the greatest and most dedicated American patriots are now walking Afghan soil; and, Afghanistan is nowhere near ready to take over its own security.
The last point is an especially onerous one for an Administration deadest on withdrawal, an eventual imperative all of us here on the frontlines would love to witness.
A couple of weeks ago several of us in my deployed unit watched in disbelief as a high-level Administration official assured a CNN anchor that “we trust the Afghan Army 100%,” and are now ready to allow Afghanistan to police itself.
There is one problem, however: this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Last week, six U.S. troops were killed in a single attack led by Afghan forces, the last of a string of five similar attacks committed during the week. Yesterday, two more Special Operations troops were murdered after giving a newly graduated Afghan trainee his weapon. After assisting with the transport of my brothers to their final resting spot, seeing the tears of some of our fellow troops, and participating in ceremonies honoring their sacrifice, these deaths have opened our eyes and exacerbated the state of mistrust that exists between our troops and Afghan forces here in Southern Afghanistan.
The surprising truth is that this is no longer unusual. At least 37 troops have been killed this year by Afghan security forces (even more that the public is unaware of). At only halfway through 2012, that number has passed the record high of 36 in 2011, which now constitutes nearly 15% of all American deaths this year, more than three times the percentage of last year. The attacks have become such commonplace that they were given the moniker “green-on-blue” attacks (which the pentagon has recently changed to “insider attacks”) for the colors of the uniforms of the Afghan forces and the symbol of NATO troops, respectively.
Given the increased number of attacks, we are at an increasingly high level of security in the region. Although in the long run many believe that one of the most dangerous actions we can take would be to increase the distance between Afghans and our troops in order to ensure our security, safety trumps politics. We now keep a significant distance between ourselves and the Afghan Army and are even required to be armed, with weapons loaded and cocked, if we are conducting operations in their presence. It’s an unfortunate turn of events necessary for our troops’ safety and detrimental to the overall state of trust between our countries.
At this juncture, trust is still vital in order for the Afghan Army to survive. Afghan security forces depend largely on the U.S. for their operations, as we provide most of the logistical planning and supplies needed to fund Afghan soldiers.
On top of our monetary and logistical support, the Afghan Army also tends to lack the discipline necessary to fend off a determined enemy.
“There are two main problems with the ANA (Afghan National Army),” quoted a member of the U.S. forces who trains ANA’s. “The Afghan government doesn’t give them enough logistical support and there’s an inherent laziness. They’re never on time for missions and they don’t like staying out for more than a few hours. You have to make them do it.”
Although it seems that local Afghans appreciate the mission of the U.S., hoping for the eventual eradication of the Taliban, most believe that the Taliban will retain its stronghold when we leave.
“We want our soldiers to get rid of the insurgents, but the soldiers are not always here . . . We can’t give you any names [of militants] –we can’t take this risk,” said one villager to a Stars and Stripes reporter, exemplifying the current mood of Afghans.
On top of all of its other concerns, Pakistan, Afghanistan’s richer and more powerful neighbor to the East, seems only interested in helping insurgents. There has been a long dispute over the Afghan-Pakistan border, also known as the Durand Line, which has fueled tensions. Recent attackers have also been found with supplies and weaponry from the Pakistan military.
Despite all of the doubts and concerns, our military is one of the most dedicated in the world, ready and willing to put forth the effort to successfully complete any mission. We all want to come home, but more than that, we all want to come home in victory, knowing we have done what we have always purported to do: protect and defend freedom around the world.
But, the mission isn’t nearly complete and, given our current trajectory, may not be for a long time.
Justin Vélez-Hagan is currently serving with the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is also the National Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, an international developer of senior living facilities, and the Sr. Contributing Writer for Politic365. He can be reached at Justin@Politic365.com or @JVelezHagan.