On New Year’s Day 2018, U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Mihail Golin died of injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire while on patrol in the Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, an Islamic State stronghold close to the Pakistani border. He was the first American soldier killed in the 17th year of the Afghan war.
The 34-year old career soldier died in pursuit of the latest “new” strategy to subdue the so-called graveyard of empires that has fiercely resisted foreign occupation for 3,000 years. The gateway between Asia and Europe was conquered by Darius I of Babylonia circa 500 B.C., and by Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 329 B.C. Since then, it has battled just about every empire to come down the pike. Sometimes it won, sometimes it lost, but it has never been put down for the count.
The First Anglo-Afghan War — the “Disaster in Afghanistan” — was fought between British India and Afghanistan from 1839 to 1842. The British lost 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 camp followers at the hands of tribal fighters during 1839 before eking out a hollow victory. The main British Indian and Sikh occupying force was almost annihilated while retreating back to India in January 1842. Thirty-eight years later, Britain would try again.
Author Thomas Barfield claims Afghanistan has actually been the cradle of empires, not their grave. The Boston University anthropologist published a book, “Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History,” that argues Afghanistan is historically a “highway of conquest” rather than a final resting place for empires.
For example, Barfield says, the British conquered Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), occupying most of the country before forcing its rulers to agree to giving the British a veto over future Afghan foreign policy. The British wanted Afghanistan to be a buffer state between India (a colony at the time) and the Russians. They stayed 200 years before modern political war drove them to find other fields to fight on.
The dead sergeant from Fort Lee, N.J., probably knew all that. Special Forces soldiers are trained in almost all aspects of the culture with which they intend to interact. American military policy is based on the carrot-and-stick philosophy, and Golin died while applying that stick to mujahideen fighters, one of whom shot him dead during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the successor to 13-year long Operation Enduring Freedom that began on October 7, 2001 following the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks on America.
After chasing the Saudi-led and funded terrorists around the world for 10 years, U.S. Navy SEALS cornered al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The founder and first leader of the Islamist terrorist army was killed on May 2, 2011 by SEALs of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Soon afterward, then-President Barack Obama said it was time for the U.S. to pack up its tents and go home.
Two years later, Obama tried winding down the war that had already cost the U.S. thousands of lives and trillions of wasted dollars. Troop levels were cut in half from 32,000 to roughly 16,100 by the time Obama declared their mission over in 2015. By March 2015, American military manpower declined to about 9,800 personnel, “on track” for a near total withdrawal by 2016, the Pentagon announced at the time.
Fat chance that would ever happen, with critics claiming there is simply too much money is involved. Before the self-proclaimed greatest military leader in America’s almost 241-year history was elected in 2016, candidate Trump campaigned on promises to pound the Islamic terrorists to protoplasm wherever they were hiding. Then he went golfing, leaving the details to newly minted Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, a reputedly brilliant former Marine Corps general.
Mattis spent six months deciding on a new game plan to win the longest war in American history. His announced strategy is so far as pedestrian as it is jaded.
This time around, the U.S. will use more airpower to win, the Pentagon says. Since the strategy was announced, the U.S. has already dropped “more than 3,000 bombs” on Afghanistan, almost tripling the number of bombs dropped in 2014, according to military records. Subsequently that sort of information was deemed secret, and only people with a “need to know” are allowed to find out.
During the 13-year Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped about 7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia — more than twice the amount dropped on Europe and Asia during World War II. It worked out pretty well if smoking holes and ruined countries are the best measures of victory. Otherwise, American strategy remains a dismal failure.
United States Army four-star Gen. John William Nicholson Jr. was chosen by Obama to command the war in March 2016. He followed more than two dozen generals who have commanded troops from the United States and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, since the American invasion in late 2001. That’s enough generals to form a healthy infantry platoon. Nicholson initially faced a storm from Mr. Trump, but it subsided when Mattis stepped in to prevent Trump from screwing the pooch before it even got fed.
On Feb 9, 2017, Nicholson declared just “a few thousand” more troops were needed to break “a stalemate” in Afghanistan. He was provided 3,000 troops, more airpower and Trump’s authority to bomb Stone Age Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Speaking via satellite from his headquarters in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul on Nov. 28, 2017, Nicholson emphasized that the new strategy is based on the long term.
“We will be here until the job is done,” the general said. “The U.S. approach aligns with the NATO approach. The president has left no doubt in terms of our will to win.”
What exactly We The People will win has never been revealed.