Sunday, November 1, 2009

US occupation soldiers - from Cheesecake to Gung-ho

I couldn't help noticing this piece in today's Washington Post that contrasts US soldiers' living conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The soldiers in Afghanistan have had to deal with spartan conditions, rodent-infested quarters, and declining morale as so many have seen their comrades blown up.  Soldiers in Iraq, on the other hand, have had (as one soldier put it) "all the cheesecake you want," pizza delivery, many of the comforts of home (even better, I'm sure, for some of them).  But they profess themselves eager for the fight, wanting to get to Afghanistan so that they can kill the enemy.

Why does this remind me of practically every war movie I saw as a kid, as well as recent Iraq-wars books like Anthony Swofford's Jarhead or Evan Wright's Generation Kill?  From boot camp on, these young men are hyped-up to "get some" - whether the "some" have been krauts, or nips, or gooks, or charlie, or hajjis; they're the "enemy."  And (though not a combat veteran myself) I can imagine that much of this is necessary psyching-up as these guys face being put into harm's way.

Here's the rub.  These guys who are now in Iraq, professing frustration with their situation when they're not able to "kill the enemy," are being sent into an entirely different situation in Afghanistan where (according to the Petraeus/McChrystal counterinsurgency [COIN] doctrines) they're supposed to be, first and foremost, protecting the population, getting the locals to accept and even want their presence.  But again, what they've been trained to do is to engage and kill "the enemy."

In Afghanistan, of course, the "enemy" comes largely from the same local population that they're supposed to be protecting.  And that population historically, from Alexander's Macedonians, to the 19th-century Brits, to the Soviet troops in the 1980s, has never welcomed foreign troops.  The locals have risen against them, fought them tenaciously, brutally.  (The mutilations inflicted on captive Soviet soldiers by Afghan resistance fighters are legendary, and horrific.)

To reiterate a comment made by General Petraeus early on during the Iraq mess: "Somebody tell me how this ends."

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