Brian Harmsen: Finger-Pointing and Afghanistan

in Column/Brian Harsman

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By Brian Harmsen, Colonel, US Army (Retired), guest columnist

It’s been a disastrous week, and the deaths of 13 of our finest, and the tragedy otherwise unfolding for our Afghan allies and people who looked to us for hope, while at the forefront right now, probably won’t ultimately sum up the damage that’s being done. 

Finger-pointing. I’ve lost count at how many have pointed back in time to fault the previous administration in order to deflect responsibility from the current administration which somehow saw fit to reverse course with the Paris Accords and the WHO, yet for some reason stuck with their plan to exit Afghanistan.  

Maybe we’ll soon see the day where the new coach of your favorite sports team will blame their losses on the prior coach?  But that’s becoming the nature of political partisanship in this country. Transfer credit for the good from your predecessor to you, shift blame back to them for the bad that you have caused. Ultimately, no one is accountable. 

Fairly, a withdrawal from anywhere is going to be messy.  Afghanistan is no different, and yet it is. For some 20 years, our operations there have leveraged what’s become known as “the fighting season.”  A period when the combination of weather and lack of other things to do or concern themselves with freed fighters up to … fight. Any guess what season it is in Afghanistan right now?  

The past administration’s plan was to be out of  Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The current administration extended that date to August 31, 2021. The “fighting season” is generally accepted to begin in April and end in October of each year. Both administrations were/are eager to end America’s longest war.  Either administration was/is going to find such a withdrawal to be messy.  One administration lost the chance to implement its plan, and the other inherited the team and the playbook. 

But that administration chose a new play and a date which let the Taliban leverage their traditional “fighting season” toward toppling a succession of Afghan provinces, all the while gaining momentum, toward what is now the current crisis in Kabul. 

If Joe Biden had followed the May withdrawal date and the plan established by Donald Trump and this mess had happened, placing the blame on Donald Trump would absolutely have been warranted.  Joe Biden put his own stamp on things though, and in doing so, he now owns this one. 

What’s more concerning though is the appearance of weakness and indecision at best, incompetence at worst, coming from the United States. The geopolitical world will never be static, and there is always a player or two looking to expand their spheres of influence globally. In the 1930s, Nazi Germany and Japan would have been notable members of that club. Today, China is probably our principal adversary, yet also one of our primary trading partners.  

How might the CCP view the past few weeks in Afghanistan?  The Taliban have tested the Biden Administration and all appearances are that the Biden Administration has come up short. American muscle has always been a primary deterrent to China’s eye on Taiwan. Do they assess that America still has the same muscle now?  Even the best equipment on the battlefield is useless if the leadership and resolve required for its employment is indecisive or incompetent. 

I’m a member of a few groups affiliated with Army units I once served with. With one consistent exception, the “accomplishments” they tend to celebrate have less and less to do with what we used to consider “war fighting skills” or “the warrior spirit.”  Classroom stuff. HR stuff.  Way, WAY too much of it. Heck, it looks like the Infantry, engineers, and field artillery have gotten a whole lot easier in the past ten years? 

I hope that’s not the case, but to anyone who saw the emergence in the mid-1990s of more hours of “mandatory classes” than there were hours on the training schedule, ammo allocations cut, and restrictions on the tough field training that had once been hallmark to those military occupations, there is cause for concern. 

RIP brave warriors.  The rest of us had better pull our heads out of our collective ass pretty quickly or there could be many more who will join you, and soon.

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