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Loss of 8 Americans Saturday Underscores Afghanistan War's ComplexityTim King Salem-News.com
As the death bell rings, the winds of change increase
(SALEM, Ore.) - An attack on a forward operating base in Afghanistan's Nuristan Province Saturday left eight U.S. troops and two Afghan soldiers dead. It is among the most costly days for the United States since the war began.
Provincial security chief Muhammad Farouq, told a reporter with AFP that a tribal militia in Nuristan launched the attack in an area near the Pakistan border. The militants apparently began firing after emerging from two areas; a mosque and a village.
It was described as a complex attack in a difficult area by Colonel Randy George, who commands U.S. forces in the area.
The deadly firefight took place at a point in time when the U.S. is evaluating the idea of closing remote outposts and moving American combat forces to more populated areas.
Some of the remote Afghan outposts near Pakistan that I visited in 2006 and 2007, were scarcely defended. It seemed like there was more perimeter than there were men to guard it. Many of the American troops in these areas are known as Embedded Training Team members, or ETT's.
They train the Afghan soldiers and work closely with them in an effort to bolster their military and organizational skills.
The ranks of Afghan soldiers, according to John D McHugh with the Guardian UK, who was in Afghanistan in March, are filling with rejects; young men who were considered troubled in their villages, who smoke way too much hash, to a point that they are ineffective.
I learned while living at the Kabul Military Training Center, Afghanistan's Army boot camp, that few of the soldiers were literate. They are known for being brave, but not necessarily for knowing which way to fire.
The American commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has stated publicly that tens of thousands of U.S. troops must be added. Forces on the ground in Afghanistan who contact Salem-News.com, tell us that far more people will be required in order to successfully get anywhere with the conflict. Our writer Gordon Duff's article from the weekend, compares Afghanistan to the war in Vietnam and it doesn't seem like a stretch of the imagination. (see: Militants in Afghanistan Are Learning the Vietnam Model - Gordon Duff Salem-News.com)
But on Sunday, National Security Adviser General James Jones, showed optimism toward keeping the hard pressed forces at apparent lower levels.
Jones said, "I think the end is much more complex than adding 'X' number of troops." He also believes, "the Karzai government is going to have to pitch in and do much better than they have."
Which leads back to the quality of the current Afghan forces. I knew a couple of years ago, that the attrition rate in basic training is very high and that many Afghan National Army recruits desert with their U.S. supplied Woodland camouflage uniforms. Then there is the problem that the Taliban and other anti-Coalition militants pay more than the Afghan government. The Afghan National Police told me their pay was even worse.
It seemed clear to me after spending two months in Afghanistan, that the forces there were vastly understaffed. I know many people who have served in Nuristan, a province in high country where jagged steep mountains divide Afghanistan from Pakistan. It makes the process of attacking Coalition troops and disappearing very easy. All too often, the attacking forces have the high ground advantage over American forward operating bases.
Another problem soldiers and Marines stationed here describe, is the difficulty in distinguishing between villager and militant. The elevation is high, and aircraft work hard when they fly in this part of Afghanistan. Sometimes they are targets. The answers are not clear.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
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