"He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." Isaiah 49:10

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Vietnam Redux: Without protests, demands and outrage, is the Afghanistan conflict endless?

By Fidel "Butch" Montoya

We have all heard or read the news about President Obama's reevaluation of America's commitment to the war in Afghanistan. The war has dragged on for over nine years, with the coalition forces having lost 1,500 causalities. The current commander, General Stanley McChrystal has said 40,000 more soldiers are needed to fight the Taliban insurgents. There are reports that General McChrystal wanted as many as 80,000 additional troops, but that will never happen.

When this war started, it was to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the Islamist group responsible for training terrorists in secret camps around the country. President George W. Bush claimed al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization, was the main threat to our internal national security and safety; thus the buildup to destroy these camps and the insurgents.

In fact, at one point, it seemed like the coalition forces were making progress and slowly hitting the insurgents hard, and closing in on the leadership of al Qaeda. That was when the American leadership diverted their attention, obsessed with starting another war in Iraq to protect the oil fields and keep any disruption of oil production from the Middle East. I know that some still believe we started the war in Iraq to spread "democracy," but by now, I think many of us know better.

Without our full attention and resources, we were reminded that Afghanistan isn't so easily contained or tamed. It's easy to forget that the mighty Soviet Union took on the mujahidin in Afghanistan in 1979 and slowly became entangled with an enemy it could not destroy. In spite of the Soviet army's strength and modern weapons, they could not bring down these resistance fighters. One of the reasons was that the mujahidin used guerrilla tactics against the Soviet army.

The Soviet army was brutal as it destroyed villages and crops, and killed millions of Afghans. Unable to secure the nation, after 15,000 troops killed in the war, the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan without reaching its military objectives. One of the reasons of course was that we were helping to arm the mujahidin with U. S. made shoulder--launched antiaircraft missiles. This turned the war in favor of the mujahidin. This assistance helped the mujahidin bring down the feared Soviet helicopters, which were the Soviet army's major advantage in the war at one time. But after losing so many of these heavily armed and technologically superior helicopters, along with their crews, it became a losing battle for the Soviet army.

Ironically, when American and NATO troops moved in to fight the mujahidin and Taliban in Afghanistan, they began to fight resistance fighters armed with sophisticated American weapons. What seemed like a great idea in the 1980's - to help destroy the Soviet presence in Afghanistan - became one the biggest threats to our own army. After nine years in Afghanistan and still needing additional troops, the scenario and circumstances, I fear, are beginning to resemble that distant war we all wanted to forget - Vietnam.

Back in 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King, becoming more concerned about the USA's growing role in the Vietnam War, courageously called for an end to that war. He said, "If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read 'Vietnam'."

We are mired in our present-day Vietnam, and we clearly are not making any progress in containing the insurgents. In fact, our troops have been badly outnumbered in the remote outposts in recent battles, forcing General McChrystal to move them back to more secure bases.

A few weeks ago, we suffered one of the most deadly weekends in Afghanistan, which claimed the lives of eight soldiers based out of Fort Carson, Colorado, the 4th Brigade Combat Team. This was the highest level of war causalities suffered by the troops out of Fort Carson. The battle took place in a remote area near the Pakistan border. The enemy reportedly was armed with modern automatic rifles and rocket propelled grenades. In the battle that took place, which lasted a day, hundreds of insurgents took on the remote outposts manned by U. S. troops. In the end, U.S. troops suffered the heaviest loss of lives. Ironically, INDT.com reported this battle was the deadliest fighting for Fort Carson soldiers since the Vietnam War.

In fact, there are questions about the weapons used by our ground troops, the A4 carbine. Some wonder if they are reliable enough for our troops to trust their lives to these weapons. There are confirmed reports that the Pentagon is investigating the efficacy and reliability of weapons used in battle skirmishes in remote U. S. outposts, where American troops suffered heavy causalities. The investigation centers on questions around whether or not the weapons may have malfunctioned, jammed and failed to fire, leaving our outnumbered soldiers at further risk. With questions and doubts raised about the weapons used by American troops and if they are the best we can provide, can our troops depend on them in battle?

Is our objective to destroy al-Qaeda and the terrorist training camps, which we've been told repeatedly are a direct threat to our national security? If so, where is the commitment from our president to fight this war to win it? Half-hearted attempts will not suffice this time around. The Vietnam War strategy did not work before and it will not work in Afghanistan.

We lost the Vietnam War because the nightly news was able to show how brutal and bloody this war actually was. Families eating dinner in the comfort of their homes, watching the news out of Vietnam, soon found that this war was not dinnertime fare. They watched our young become casualties of a war that had no winning objective.

The Vietnam War generated some of the biggest war protests in our country's history. More and more people demanded that we get out of Vietnam and stop sending what President Johnson called "American boys" to fight someone else's war. In fact, the Vietnam War convinced LBJ not to seek another term as president.

This brings to mind a question as to why those who marched in protest against the war in Vietnam and Iraq have not seen fit to take to the streets to demand that we get out of Afghanistan. Still embedded in our minds and memories are the visual images of thousands marching through the streets of New York City, demanding an end to the war in Iraq. Some labeled former President George W. Bush both a war criminal and a puppet of the oil industry for fighting the war in Iraq. The crowds of protestors demanding that Bush get us out of Iraq spread across the country like a wild fire. Yet, as America evaluates its commitment and position on Afghanistan, there are no protests, no demands and seemingly scarce opposition to this war.

I find it ironic that no demands are made of President Obama to get us out of another possible Vietnam. It is as if the war is so far away and, after all, we have only lost 1,500 troops in nine years of battle.

I believe it is time we called for an end to America's participation in this bloody conflict. We cannot afford to continue to fight a war with no end in sight. We have allowed the insurgents to dictate the direction of this war and have done very little to change their objectives. I believe most Americans would be hard-pressed to explain how our mission in the war in Afghanistan has been accomplished. Or how it can be accomplished.

As we read in the news several weeks ago, right here in Denver, Colorado, allegedly a terrorist cell was busy planning another terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11. The main suspect was trained in Pakistan, our ally in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. There is no doubt that we must continue to be vigilant and fight the war on terrorism, and that we never allow the violence of terrorists to be manifested on our streets. That Pakistan -- our ally -- allows terrorist training camps to operate without real fear of reprisal speaks to how our own allies could care less about our national security.

Perhaps, if the Rev. Martin Luther King were alive today, in his powerful voice he would remind us that, "If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read 'Vietnam and Afghanistan'."

This column first appeared at http://www.latinolandscape.com/

Fidel "Butch" Montoya is Director of H.S. Power and Light Ministries. He was the Vice President/News Director of KUSA Channel 9 News from 1985-1990, and worked at the news station for 24 years. Montoya also served as Deputy Mayor of City and County of Denver from 1995-1999; as the Manager of Public Safety for the City and County of Denver from 1994-2000.  Montoya was Licensed as a minister in 1972.

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