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Oct-05-2009 12:20printcomments

Loss of 8 Americans Saturday Underscores Afghanistan War's Complexity

As the death bell rings, the winds of change increase

Afghanistan by Tim King Salem-News.com
Photos from Afghanistan by Tim King Salem-News.com
Video recorded by a U.S. Army soldier, name unknown.

(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.

American soldiers videotape an Afghan firefight

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.

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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.
Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), the first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several other awards including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators.
You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Scott October 7, 2009 8:21 am (Pacific time)

It would be wrong to do nothing to stop the horrible treatment of decent people in Afghanistan - I think the right/middle/left all agree on that.


Scott October 6, 2009 4:52 pm (Pacific time)

President Obama called this war a "war of necessity". I wonder what he will do. What's your opinion, Tim?

Tim King: Scott, I have lost my way a little on this.  As you know I went there a couple of years ago.  I noted how low the numbers of Americans were.  This wasn't so much the case on the bases like Camp Phoenix and other bases in the Kabul area, but it sure was in other areas like the Korengal Valley and the Ghazni province. 

At that time I talked to many Afghans who praised the U.S. and Coalition troops.  I saw tons of kids giving the thumbs up and the hang loose sign to our passing convoys of HUMVEE's.  So I was able to pretty much leave there thinking the Taliban need to be defeated, mostly because of the horror stories I heard about them.  On that note, I interviewed women who were cripped and in wheelchairs for life because they were attacked by the Taliban.  An Afghan man who was an interpreter who became a friend, had one brother decapitated with a knife by the Taliban, and they drove by his house in a pick-up truck and shot and killed his two-year old daughter. 

I also visited Usama bin Laden's former camp at Jalalabad and saw the execution tree and wall and heard stories about what that group was like.  Women throughout Afghanistan are still wearing burqas.  I am shocked that people here in the states frequently refer to the burqas as a thing of the past, no way.  Most women in Afghanistan still are almost 100% covered. 

You find exceptions at the Kabul University and I met young women who worked as interpreters who dressed western, but were Afghan, though they were raised in Pakistan.  I don't know if Americans realize that Afghan people fled by the million to Pakistan and Iran during the Soviet Invasion that spanned from 1979 to 1989.  They come back to Afghanistan today as regular people, like my interpreter friends, and they often come back as jihadists who want to defeat the occupying army, that is us.  So, if we are the designated policemen of the world, then Afghanistan has some problems that should be straightened out, though that is not necessarily possible.  I recall going to the MOD with friends who were all field grade officers with the 41st BCT.  They were negotiating with the ANA and came out of the building so damned frustrated.  Good bad or otherwise, Afghanistan is a serious land of corruption.  The odds of it being able to function without a lot of help from outside is unlikely.  The odds that we are going to "defeat" the Taliban and anti-Coalition militias seems harder to visualize.  It goes back to that occupation factor.

Afghanistan is an issue of and unto itself, I also get stressed thinking about Iraq and the eventual outcome of that, and I fear for the Sunni people I met who worked with U.S. forces, and for the members of the IA itself. 

Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is a genuine fourth-world country, at least most of it.  There are still beautiful and nice places there, but they are very disconnected.  I have an amazing collection of photos shot by (I believe) a British diplomat in the late 60's that show Kabul as a beautiful place.  Today it is a ruin, the river is a trickle of mud, there are no trees, the Russians poisoned water systems, it is tragic.  Little tiny kids push huge carts loaded twice their height.  Women shuffle along with no identity.  Anyone reading this, if you haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War, please do.  It is a must see.  The good points for good decision making seem to be in the past.  I fear that the collateral damage is unforgivible for the people who experience it, and each mistake breeds more enemies.  That can range from our vehicles accidentally running over a local kid, to many other things that claim Afghan lives.  They are very cool in their own way, I really care about the people of Afghanistan. I wish Ahmad Shah Massoud had not been killed, I wish the Taliban hadn't adopted such a hardcore twisted version of Islam, which most real Muslims scoff at   Sorry to ramble but there is so damned much to say.  I think I need to go back there and get up to speed on the current picture.  I do not know if Obama is right.    


Mike H. October 5, 2009 9:27 pm (Pacific time)

Sorry Tim, wasn't me. I thought you tracked IP's...? I haven't been on SN for a few days, and if I did I haven't commented. I believe an apology is in order. JK man, keep up the good work. The disrespectful voice of Anonymous' comment should have led you to believe that it wasn't me. I completely respect vets and military 100%.

Tim King: Hey Mike, this is an individual who uses only Mike and you always use Mike H. so he is a different guy for sure.   Some of his past comments were cool, but this wasn't.  Anyway, never a problem with you my friend, thank you.


Anonymous October 5, 2009 6:27 pm (Pacific time)

You should leave the analysis to experts.

Tim King: I know a hell of a lot more than most reporters Mike.  I guess you think people who have been to these locations fail to learn and discover information?  In this region, I don't know of a single reporter who is a military vet with twenty years of experience in news and time covering the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  I like the way you leave your name off on this one by the way, the only post you have left where you did.  


t.cuthair October 5, 2009 1:28 pm (Pacific time)

that stuff is hardcore.....dude..

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