The US military has retreated from a base in Afghanistan’s remote Korengal Valley after spending over four years trying to hold the area. The US forces even negotiated the terms of their defeat, paying the resistance fighters and leaving them the base fully intact with buildings, fuel, generators and military equipment, in order to be allowed a peaceful retreat out of the valley.
The corporate media and, for the most part, the Pentagon brass have framed the forced retreat from the “Valley of Death” as a “shift” in strategy. This so-called shift has been eye-opening for the soldiers and marines who have lost friends and shed blood in the mountains of Afghanistan, while forced to defend an outpost which US military commanders have argued is “a remote backwater of limited strategic value”. Despite its “limited strategic value,” a startling 42 US troops have been killed there, hundreds have been wounded, and a disproportionate number of Afghan civilians have perished. One of the last soldiers to die there took his own life, unable to cope with the daily horrors of a hopeless mission.
US troops used as bait
The soldiers stationed in the Korengal Valley had one mission – to act as sitting targets and wait to be attacked on a daily basis. The Afghans in the Korengal Valley were fighting because foreign invaders have occupied their country for nearly a decade. The US military occupied the Korengal Valley to provoke them into a fight. This is the logic of empire.
The harsh reality that US troops have been used as nothing more than bait cannot be overlooked. The strategy of Korengal Valley – to place soldiers and marines in harm’s way in an attempt to use them as bait to lure the Afghan resistance into battle so that military fighter jets, helicopters and other resources could be called in to target the Afghan fighters and kill them using whatever equipment was available – has been a complete failure.
The retreat should serve as a clear signal that ordinary US soldiers’ pain and suffering is of no concern to the officers and politicians forcing us to fight. Specialist Robert Soto of Company B, First Battalion, 26th Infantry, was quoted in the April 22 New York Times. His words offer us a glimpse at this truth: “It hurts”, he said. “It hurts on a level that – three units from the army, we all did what we did up there. And we all lost men. We all sacrificed. I was 18 years old when I got there. I really would not have expected to go through what we went through at that age.”
Even individuals from the officer corps have commented on the absurdity of the outpost baiting tactics. “Realistically no one needs to be there”, said Major Ukiah Senti, the executive officer of Second Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Lethal, which oversees Korengal and neighbouring areas. “We’re not really overwatching anything other than safeguarding ourselves.”
Just like the US outpost that was overrun in Wanat in 2008, leaving 75% of the troops there dead or wounded in one of the deadliest attacks of the war, there was “no point” except to wait to be attacked. US forces retreated from that outpost as well, defeated by the local population. All the US troops who perished at Wanat, Korengal Valley and every other outpost in Afghanistan died because the generals did not know how to defeat the growing resistance. Instead of admitting defeat, the generals sent troops to an area where they were hated by the local population and left them to be constantly bombarded. The generals knew full well that they could not defeat the resistance this way; the only goal was to keep them fighting to stave off defeat.
Afghan resistance strengthens
Korengal Valley is a microcosm of the entire country. The generals arrogantly thought that by occupying the valley, they would draw out and kill all the resistance fighters and eventually win over the local population. But the troops’ presence only infuriated the people and inspired countless more fighters to resist the occupation. This is the situation in all of Afghanistan. The Pentagon brass openly admit that the resistance forces cannot be defeated militarily. The goal in Afghanistan as a whole, as it was in Korengal, is to fight and die endlessly, while the generals figure out how to avoid the appearance of being defeated.
US troops are now being sent to fight a war that US politicians know is unwinnable; a war in which it is impossible for military commanders to define “victory”; a war in which there is no foreseeable end. The Afghan resistance grows and intensifies by the month, as it has since the start of the war.
In 2009, US fatalities in Afghanistan were twice the number who died in 2008. The first three months of 2010 have doubled 2009’s fatality numbers. A US military defeat is inevitable, as civilian death tolls continue to rise, and popular sentiment shifts further against the US-led occupation forces.
US politicians refuse to accept this clear fact and will continue sending thousands to kill and die in the mountains of Afghanistan. The same politicians who had delivered speeches on the floor of Congress denouncing the Taliban are now openly declaring their intentions to strike an agreement with them. The same Taliban that was demonised by George Bush and Barack Obama alike – the same ideology that the US military was sent to remove from power – is now being offered positions of power in a new coalition government.
The goal of war in Afghanistan was never to “establish democracy”, as Bush once stated or to fight against “terrorism”, but to create a government that would be friendly to US corporate interests and serve as a staging ground for further invasions and interventions in the resource-rich Central Asia region. At this moment, the soldiers and marines, the fighting men and women of the enlisted ranks, are being used as bargaining chips against the anti-colonial sentiments of the Afghan people. Washington must continue sending us to die in order to strike a better deal for US corporate interests.
Soldiers, marines: Fight back!
As members of the enlisted ranks in the US military, it is completely against our interests to continue fighting this criminal and illegal war in Afghanistan – a war waged on the basis of US imperialist aggression and with the sole intent of becoming the dominant power in the region. The people of Afghanistan want the same things that we do – the ability to live in peace, free from occupation, fear and death. The politicians in Washington, and the military brass – from the Pentagon to our Company CPs – will stop at nothing, however, in their attempts to conquer the people of Afghanistan. But this will never happen. The Afghan people will never accept colonialism. They will never bow down or break.
We are sent to our deaths by individuals who proclaim themselves to be our “leaders” – the US officer corps – but this does not have to be the case. We have every right to refuse these illegal and criminal orders given to us by men and women who do virtually none of the fighting, none of the suffering, none of the dying. These officers build their careers on the blood and tears of the enlisted ranks. They will continue to send us to our deaths, until we stand up and fight back. This is not our war!
[From March Forward!. The author is an Iraq war veteran and co-founder of March Forward! who deserted the US military, refusing orders to deploy to Afghanistan in 2007.]