Afghanistan: We Can't Win on the Cheap, but We Can't Afford to Lose

Yesterday, Defense Insider reported that, according to a Senior Defense Official, JIEDDO (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization) plans to "have 'very robust' tools in Afghanistan to counter improvised explosive devices geared toward the fight there but never used in our war in Iraq." Lieutenant General Michael Oates said that "'just south of $2 billion' will be spent on equipment to battle roadside bombs and explosives 'by the times it's all over.'" The military expects to deliver the "tools" by the end of the year.

The DI article also reported that Oates had acknowledged there had been a shortfall in the equipment that combatant commanders had asked for, but he said that JIEDDO has now "funded and started to ship a great deal" of the necessary equipment.

The volume of IEDs in Afghanistan is significantly higher this year than last, but the bombs are relatively primitive. Oates said most of them are "homemade explosives typically involving fertilizer and 'very rudimentary detonation systems, pressure-plate devices or command wire', adding that 'some are remote-controlled.'"

By contrast, IEDs used in Iraq were more sophisticated because "the [Iraq] government had a huge inventory of 'every type of munition,' and sometimes had sophisticated detonation systems courtesy of Iran's Qudes Force." If I read this correctly, it means that in Afghanistan we can't use the same anti-IED weapons we used in Iraq because the Afghan IEDs are less sophisticated than the Iraqi ones, and we will have to spend close to $2 billion dollars to fix the problem. I don't get it, what kind of a war are we fighting here where our equipment is so specialized that we have to change it when the enemy substitutes primitive equipment for more advanced weaponry?

In Iraq, when the surge began there in July, 2006, the military discovered 3200 IEDs. In January, as the surge began in Afghanistan, only 1,000 IEDs were discovered, but still, according to Oates, fifty troops have been killed and about 400 wounded "due to improvised explosives" in the last ninety days, and they remain "the No. 1 killer of troops in Afghanistan."

The DI also reports that Oates said that in order to "allow coalition forces to 'keep persistent surveillance on the road networks'" and that, according to the DI, "This will entail sending more troops to Afghanistan, improved protective vehicles and 'a pretty significant suite in terms of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability...And that's a range of fixed wing and unmanned aerial vehicles.'"

In other words, we'll be sending in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware to Afghanistan in order to prevent the Taliban from killing our troops with IEDs that cost a hundred or two hundred dollars. (See The Hurt Locker.) Somebody outside of the Pentagon must find a more efficient way of fighting wars of insurgency.

Yesterday, The NewYork Times reported that the Army closed its last base in Korangal Valley, called the "Valley of Death", where forty-two Americans died and hundreds were wounded over the past four years. One of the soldiers told The Times "It confuses me, why it took so long for them to realize we weren't making progress up there." The executive officer of the unit's regiment said "Realistically, no one needs to be there."

I have always thought that we had to be in Afghanistan just to keep Osama Bin Laden out of there. But, looking at the cost in lives and dollars I'd like to ask how many lives, how much money, and how long will it take us to reach our goal.

Last September, I posted "Afghanistan: Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham" on Huffington. It's the same story all over again.