The purpose of this letter is to present to you a different outlook and a potential problem solving idea that may help our position in Afghanistan. This latest travesty of an American soldier killing 16 civilians, including nine children, reminds me of what occurred in My Lai, Vietnam. In both instances, I believe that soldiers fighting a nondescript enemy with burdensome rules of engagement (ROEs) create the environment that allows psychological pathologies to develop. This problem is exacerbated by soldiers being forced into multiple deployments in an unwinnable war. The question is how to reduce the threat the Taliban without a large and continuous military presence in Afghanistan.
My answer is to do the following:
1. Remove all regular force ground troops from the entire country as quickly as safety considerations will allow.
2. Embed special forces personnel who possess forward air control training with the Northern tribes who populate those areas close to the northern boundaries of Afghanistan and share the same ethnicity as their neighbors to the north. In particular, tribes that are populated by Kazaks, Uzbeks and Tajiks. They are the natural enemy of the Pashtuns who provide the majority of the Taliban and are ethically close to the Pakistanis.
3. Station AC-130 gunships in bases located in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. These gunships would work with the embedded American Special Forces personnel to provide airpower for the tribes forces in which they are embedded.
4. Allow the tribes that are we are supporting militarily to determine the rules of engagement.
The advantages of doing the above are as follows:
1. Our footprint in Afghanistan is reduced to a very small contingent of special forces. That would almost totally reduce the number of casualties suffered to near zero.
2. The cost to our treasury to maintain the special forces and the gunships is significantly less than what we are paying now.
3. The mineral wealth of Afghanistan is in those areas controlled by the northern tribes. In supporting them militarily, we would have some influence on how that mineral wealth is developed and distributed.
4. Our impact on their culture and the way they live their lives would be almost nonexistent. That single fact would reduce a great deal of the animosity that we now face.
5. What we are doing now (nation building) simply does not work. Given the backwardness of Afghani culture, it will never work. My suggestion is militarily plausible and has a strong chance of working.
My own personal history leads me to believe this. I was an AC-130 Fire Control Officer (FCO) from February 1972 to February 1973. I flew many sorties in the second Tet Offensive which occurred in April of 1972. That offensive, orchestrated by the North Vietnamese, was demolished in their attempt to overtake the city of An Loc. The enemy gathered their forces both north and south of the city. We found them and proceeded to destroy them. The ground forces we supported were South Vietnamese Rangers who were greatly outnumbered and whose armament was vastly inferior to what the enemy possessed. We worked with three forward air controllers in An Loc and the nearby vicinity. The gunships gave South Vietnamese Rangers the upper hand and the offensive was literary obliterated at that location. For the next two years, the gunship were stationed in Eastern Thailand which made it impossible for the North to gather its forces in strength and invade the South. Gunships make large ground forces a target rather than a capability. On December 15, 1974, the last of the gunships left Southeast Asia. The Congress of the United States decided they would no longer fund their presence in the area. Five months later, to the day, South Vietnam fell. Two months later, Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and Hmong tribesmen were defeated by the Pathet Lao. The resulting slaughter in the three countries exceeded 3 million human beings. Gunships kept the peace and their absence resulted in chaos and slaughter.
Fighting a war with intrusive ROEs is not only a way not to win a war, but to cause terrible psychological damage to the men and women were charged with fighting that war within the parameters set by the ROEs. I’ve seen it in Vietnam and those who were lucky enough to return from that war. I am starting to see the same damage to those coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. It must be obvious to everybody that we’re going down the wrong path. It is time to change direction. That’s why a spending the time writing this letter.
GORDON L. BOCHER
Major USAF Retired