[Editor’s note: this was last edited on October 8, about halfway done, and allowed to languish for over six months. Now seemed like the time to release it, for no particular reason. There is not a Part II – this was intended to call for a troop buildup in Afghanistan
that ended up happening in December. This was what the troop level debate looked like
around the time of the Kamdesh firefight.]
“In Afghanistan, this is the problem, because everybody holds a piece of that mirror, and they all look at it and claim that they hold the entire truth.” – Iranian filmmaker Moshen Makhmalbaf
It was a beautiful but soggy morning in Kamdesh. The rugged mountains pierced the overhanging clouds, while fog and mist flowed through the deeply furrowed valleys between the peaks. Rain was falling periodically, and through the vapor, the gray, green and brown of the landscape blended as if the whole vista was a watercolor. The sun, unseen behind the wall of clouds, scaled the tall mountains to the east that formed the border with Pakistan.
Mainly, it was quiet. The nearly unpeopled landscape was devoid of the traffic sounds, the siren wails and the jet engine whines that form the auditory background for almost everyone in America. Out in the wilds of Nurestan Province, silence was the norm.
The Kamdesh Forward Operating Base was home to 50 soldiers of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Mountain Warrior and about twice as many Afghan army troops, and they hadn’t seen much action of late. Once, years earlier, the troops had relieved many travelers through that sector of the Hindu Kush Mountains of their weapons, and ferreted out their share of Taliban materiel caches and fighters in the area.
The Taliban had found alternate routes, though, and for months had bypassed the tiny base completely. The skill of the Islamists navigating the terrain surpassed the ability of the Coalition and government troops to adapt to and counter the insurgents’ shifting tactics. So now, in the early morning hours, there was little to do. Sentries leaned against their sandbag turrets, the .50 caliber machine guns idle beside them. Men stirred awake, grabbed coffee, listened to music. It was unhurried. It was quiet.
Then, it was chaos.
Explosions rocked the compound as small arms fire erupted all around. The troops scrambled into position as they suddenly found themselves in heavy action, inundated with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and facing a swarm of Taliban fighters descending down the mountainside, appearing out of the mist that had obscured their movements in the pre-dawn hours.
The radical fighters, hundreds strong, beseiged the camp for hours on end, raining down hell from nearby buildings and the mountain ridgelines above. The bombardment set buildings ablaze and pinned down the Coalition forces as fire spread through the outpost. At the height of the battle, the fighters blasted their way through the allied lines, breaching the perimeter and taking control of a portion of the base. Only a deadly, close-quarters firefight drove them back out, during which casualties on both sides mounted. Eventually reinfocements were able to reach the area – too late for the Afghan army checkpoints that had been overrun during the offensive. Airstrikes and additional troops were enough to clear the attackers’ positions, but exhanges of gunfire continued through the afternoon.
By nightfall, the outpost was in ruins, and eight Americans lay dead. The Afghan Security Forces lost three men, and nearly twenty were captured by the Taliban. Three dozen others were wounded. Ironically, the Kamdesh base had already been scheduled for closure prior to the attack. Now, there was little left to abandon.
The date was October 4, 2009. This happened on Saturday.
Whether any of us likes it or not – and it is a safe bet not many do – the United States is engaged in an ongoing, full-scale military operation in Afghanistan, and the likelihood is that we will be for years to come. The Battle of Kamdesh was an honest-to-God battle, in a real war.
Our path out of that country cannot be carved through our armed forces exclusively, nor through our diplomatic efforts alone, nor through humanitarian intervention as our sole means. It is only through a well-conceived, precisely executed program utilizing all three of those tools that we might secure our safety, improve life in the region and refocus our resources on other equally or more pressing issues, domestically and abroad.
U.S. soldiers manning a lookout at Kamdesh, where a fierce battle was fought Saturday
The National Razor asserts firmly that, while the Iraq War was perhaps the gravest foreign policy mistake in the history of the Republic, an almost equally devastating mistake would be to leave Afghanistan in the hands of murderous, maniacal and motivated savages, whose stated mission is to supress women, curtail education, impose fundamentalist religion and spread their reach of violence and repression worldwide. Simply because George W. Bush said it does not automatically make it wrong. These men are evildoers.
Those who conflate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are free to do so, but they do a grave disservice to their nation, whether they are on the right or the left. This was true when the Bush administration attempted to fuse them so as to lead us into an irrelevant and costly conflict, at the expense of our operations in Afghanistan. It is true now, when protestors of the far left rail against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the same breath and with the same vehemence, as if there was no distinction.
Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist and former protest candidate against Nancy Pelosi for her San Francisco congressional seat, was arrested Sunday when she chained herself to the fence outside the White House. Sixty others were also detained and cited, but possibly not the “pall bearers” who carried coffins draped with U.S., Iraqi and Afghani flags. Sheehan was wearing a shirt that read “Greed Kills” during the protest.
Yesterday, the day before the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Afghanistan War, peace activist and former congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan announced that she is starting a new project, Peace of the Action, for which she is calling on 5,000 supporters to join her. Their plan, apparently, is to daily reenact the scene anti-war activists, Sheehan included, created outside the White House on the same day.
Cindy Sheehan, who doesn't perceive a difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo: AP
“We are not calling for this commitment for a day, a week, or a month. We are not even interested in making symbolic gestures. We are calling for this commitment until our demands of: All troops and para-military mercenaries, are ordered out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the drone bombings in the tribal regions of Af-Pak are discontinued and we get about the business of healing, reconciliation and REPARATIONS.”
We must sacrifice a few of our creature comforts to rein in the Empire we live in before it’s too late. We will not start Peace of the Action until we have 5000 people who are willing to join us.
Peace will unfortunately require more than that. Peace will not come with the Taliban getting their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, or al-Qaeda going unmolested. It will come with patience and tolerance for a necessary increase in troops. The Left may not like it, but we will go with the commanders on this one.