I figure that if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had been victories, we would have seen some victory parades, or at least some triumphalism like a four-color insert in Pravda or something. Also too some “leaders” in the political class taking credit for starting them instead of ending them. But no.* So here’s one reason why we lost. Paul Jay of the Real News Network interviews Gareth Porter, a historian and investigative journalist on US foreign and military policy analyst.
This exchange caught my eye:
PORTER: Yes. There is a third—and in some ways, I think, most important of all—strategic defeat that the United States and NATO command and the Pentagon have suffered in the Afghan War in the last two years, and that is a strategic defeat in the IED war, that is, the war over improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban forces, essentially in order to injure or kill U.S.-NATO troops. And this is clearly a strategically key part of the entire war, because when the U.S. troop surge took place in 2009, the commander in Kabul, McChrystal, and the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, both determined that they would do things to, essentially, reduce the damage that the Taliban were able to do through these IED explosions to U.S. and NATO troops, primarily to U.S. troops. …
Well, now, two years later, with all of that high-tech gadgetry having been transferred to Afghanistan—at one point the skies were filled with blimps who were taking photographs from the sky of everything on the ground, wherever they felt there might be a possibility of IEDs being laid and various other things being introduced into the war—it’s clear that the U.S. counter-IED war has failed completely, because in 2011 the number of people who were killed by the IEDs was more than twice the number in 2010. …
And we know that a large part, a significant part of the injuries had been amputation—have involved amputation of limbs. There has been a huge increase in the number of U.S. and NATO troops who have lost limbs, and in many cases multiple limbs, to IEDs. So the toll of this war, this IED war, on U.S. forces has been enormous, and it has not been reported in any meaningful way.
But believe me, the U.S. military knows very well what the toll has been. And one of the things that has happened in the past year is that the U.S. has transferred roughly 4,000 to 5,000 troops from Helmand Province, which is where 45 percent—Helmand and Kandahar, where 45 percent of the IEDs have been going off. And part of the reason, no doubt, is to relieve the pressure on U.S. troops in that part of Afghanistan where they’re taking tremendous casualties from dismounted patrols which stepped on IEDs.
So I think that the U.S. again has suffered a tremendous strategic defeat. It has been unable to reduce the number of bombs, unable to essentially destroy or attrit the networks that have been laying the bombs. And in so doing, it has allowed the Taliban to continue to carry out a critical part of this strategy, which is to impose very high casualties on U.S.-NATO forces.
Of course, one of the consequences of being an imperial power is that every barfly on every barstool in every bar with a TV has an opinion about which class of faraway brown people we should be blowing to red mist, and how we should do that. In this case, the question the imperial barflies might be asking themselves would involve the ROI on an IED (for the Taliban) as opposed to the ROI on the blimps, high tech weaponry, expensively trained soldiers, and the entire supply chain needed to keep blundering about in the graveyard of empires (for “us”).**
CIVILIAN: How will we know the aircraft carrier is obsolete?
ADMIRAL: When it fails in war.
Supply chain issues are everywhere, aren’t they? And with that gnomic comment…
NOTE * One of the more hilarious aspects of the election is that our famously free press has allowed Obama to get away with claiming he ended the Iraq war, when he did so on Bush’s timetable, which he in fact sought to lengthen. You got to win the hearts and minds of the people.
Also too, Iraq and Afghanistan might not have been victories, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t successes. After all, those billions of dollars of cash that grew legs and walked off mean that some people did very well out of the war, thank you very much.
NOTE ** Of course, considered solely from the standpoint of and American arms manufacturer like Lockheed or a contractor like Lockheed, the (current) war is simply a self-licking ice cream cone. Comparative ROI between combatants is not a concern. It would be nice if the imperial barflies arrived at such a level of cynicism, or realism, but it may be that an outright and undeniable loss of materiel or territory will be required to for that to happen, and not merely a slow trickle of deaths, suicides, and maimings for home-town boys and girls who are, after all, heroes, and none of whose parents are rich.