|photo credit: Wired Magazine|
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — Two years ago, when I was last in Afghanistan, soldiers complained to me off the record that there weren’t enough of them to properly fight the war. This time around, in similarly candid moments, I heard a more fundamental complaint: The war doesn’t make sense.
To get the caveats out of the way: This post is based on an unrepresentative sample, drawn from what fewer than a dozen soldiers, airmen and contractors told me at this sprawling military base (and only here). There’s some anecdotal evidence that troops stationed on megabases are prone to greater despair than those serving in more spartan conditions. Most of my interlocutors sought me out to vent; none of them wanted speak on the record, fearing command reprisal. And I’m factoring out the typical (and understandable) deployment gripes. Your mileage will vary around the battlefield. I don’t mean to suggest there’s a groundswell within the ranks against the war. But it would feel irresponsible if I didn’t report the skepticism I heard at Bagram about the course of the Obama administration’s strategy.
Some considered the war a distraction from broader national security challenges like Iran or China. Others thought that its costs — nearly ten years, $321 billion, 1243 U.S. deaths and counting — are too high, playing into Osama bin Laden’s “Bleed To Bankruptcy” strategy. Still others thought that it doesn’t make sense for President Obama simultaneously triple U.S. troop levels and announce that they’re going to start coming down, however slowly, in July 2011. At least one person was convinced, despite the evidence, that firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal meant the strategy was due for an overhaul, something I chalked up to the will to believe.
But if there was a common denominator to their critiques, it’s this: None understood how their day-to-day jobs actually contributed to a successful outcome. One person actually asked me if I could explain how it’s all supposed to knit together.
(Click here to read the full story on the Wired Magazine website.)