Bill Moyer’s Journal – LBJ’s Road to War, Part 1
Novemeber 20, 2009
Part 1 / Part 2
Bill Moyers has this brilliant piece of journalism pointing out the similar difficulties faced by President Johnson in Vietnam and President Obama in Afghanistan. Quite obviously there are important differences, but the basic issues are the same. Both inherited an unpopular war and were pressured by the Joint Chiefs and the Republican hawks to commit further troops to what everyone acknowledged could not result in victory. Political calculations took precedence over strategic wisdom.
In both wars the goal would be to train military personnel in the country so that the US could withdraw. The problem, however, is that what the United States wants for the region is not what the local people want. South Vietnamese recruitment continued to decline and the number of soldiers who went AWOL increased dramatically. Likewise, in Afghanistan, of the official estimates claiming 95,000 soldiers and 93,000 police officers, close to 40% have either abandoned their unit or don’t even exist.
As Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group on the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, explained to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform at the House of Representatives in February:
On any give day, about 20% of the supposed 80,000 police officers were absent from duty–another 17% are listed on the rolls but are actually the names of dead or wounded police, but remain there so their families will receive a paycheck.
And according to investigative journalist Gareth Porter writing for the Inter Press Service, the same applies for the Afghan National Army:
The impact of the 25-percent combat troop turnover rate on the ANA is actually more acute than it would appear, because of the high absenteeism rate in the ANA. The GAO report revealed that, as of February 2008, out of 32,000 combat troops on the rolls, only 26,000 were available for duty – a 19 percent absenteeism rate.
Assuming that same rate of absenteeism remained during the past year, the number of ANA combat troops actually available for duty increased only by about 9,000 from 37,000 to 46,000.
Sending an additional 30,000 American troops will not change the reality that Afghans are looking primarily for jobs and aren’t interested in pursuing the US strategy for the region. Once again the United States is committing to a military strategy that seeks victory through a narrow ideological lens. Long term victory for both us and the Afghan people requires a very different approach.