Today is our 3,901st day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,003
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,037
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 341, 576, 800, 000 .00
I've got a number of disconnected stories today, but we'll start with the big news. Pentagon officials admitted this week that we're not that good at war anymore.
When President Obama announced in August 2010 the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, he complimented the soldiers who had served there for completing "every mission they were given." But some of military's most senior officers, in a little-noticed report this spring, rendered a harsher account of their work that highlights repeated missteps and failures over the past decade, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was a "failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define" the environment in which the conflicts occurred, leading to a "mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions, and goals," says the assessment from the Pentagon's Joint Staff. The efforts were marked by a "failure to adequately plan and resource strategic and operational" shifts from one phase of the conflicts to the next.
From the outset, U.S. forces were poorly prepared for peacekeeping and had not adequately planned for the unexpected. In the first half of the decade, "strategic leadership repeatedly failed," and as a result, U.S. military training, policies, doctrine and equipment were ill-suited to the tasks that troops actually faced in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These self-critical conclusions appear in the first volume of a draft report titled "Decade of War" -- part of a multi-volume survey of "enduring lessons" from the past ten years of conflict. When completed, "it will be used by senior leaders" to develop U.S. military forces for the future, according to Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Fields, a Joint Staff spokeswoman.
Fields said the 36-page May 2012 report remains an internal document and is not available to the public, but a copy was posted last Thursday on the website of a trade publication, Inside the Pentagon (accessible only to regular or trial subscribers).
Its criticisms are largely familiar to anyone who closely followed the two wars' fitful progress or who read author Thomas Ricks' seminal, bestselling 2006 account of the U.S. military's early failings in Iraq, bluntly titled "Fiasco." An internal Army War College assessment in 2005 cited in Ricks' book reaches similar conclusions.
But this new retrospective may be more significant because it was prepared by the Pentagon directorate responsible for developing military educational curricula, war-fighting doctrine, and training regimes for all the services. What the report makes clear is that senior officers have fully accepted the judgment by so many others that their prosecution of the wars -- at a direct cost to the federal budget of more than a trillion dollars -- was in some ways inept.
While it does not name those responsible, the assessment points fingers in unmistakable directions. It says that the early dismantling of Iraq's security forces and firing of mid-level government officials - decisions , made by Ambassador Paul Bremer with broad support in the Bush administration - crippled Iraq's ability to govern itself and fueled the insurgency, creating social chaos that lasted for years. The task of creating a new police and military force was a "severe burden" that neither U.S. troops nor civilian agencies were prepared to undertake.
The early signs of the insurgency, the report says, were ignored. Intelligence failures were rife, with early shortages of key analysts and interpreters, remotely-piloted aircraft, and electronic eavesdroppers. What intelligence was gathered was sometimes over-classified, with the result that it failed to reach those who needed it. And units were not taught in advance what local populations were really like; instead, they depended on what the military calls "discovery learning" - otherwise known as flying by the seat of one's pants - with lessons not systematically passed along to units rotated in as replacements.
But maybe there's hope; the mere fact that the Pentagon is taking notice and writing this stuff down means that there is a slight change we can actually learn from our mistakes instead of repeating them. Only time will tell.
Moving on to the home front, there's a recent report that the Army is raising its standards for recruits. During the peak war years, ol' Uncle Sam gave out bonuses and often looked the other way when 'substandard' volunteers signed up. It's not something we spent a lot of time on here at AAV, but there were some troubling trends with overweight or otherwise physically unfit volunteers, and more troubling, those with abusive or criminal backgrounds.
With Iraq over, and Afghanistan winding down....the Army isn't doing that anymore, and that's probably a good thing.
In sharp contrast to the peak years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Army last year took in no recruits with misconduct convictions or drug or alcohol issues, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. And soldiers already serving on active duty now must meet tougher standards to stay on for further tours in uniform.
The Army is also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars less in bonuses to attract recruits or entice soldiers to remain.
It's all part of an effort to slash the size of the active duty Army from about 570,000 at the height of the Iraq war to 490,000 by 2017. The cutbacks began last year, and as of the end of March the Army was down to less than 558,000 troops.
For a time during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army lowered its recruiting standards, raising the number of recruits who entered the Army with moral, medical and criminal — including felony — waivers.
Recruits with misdemeanors, which could range from petty theft and writing bad checks to assault, were allowed into the Army, as well as those with some medical problems or low aptitude scores that might otherwise have disqualified them.
A very small fraction of recruits had waivers for felonies, which included convictions for manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery and a handful of sex crimes. The sex crimes often involved consensual sex when one of the individuals was under 18.
In 2006, about 20 percent of new Army recruits came in under some type of waiver, and by the next year it had grown to nearly three in 10. After the Defense Department issued new guidelines, the percentage needing waivers started to come down in 2009.
Now, as the Army moves to reduce its force, some soldiers will have to leave.
Officials say they hope to make cuts largely through voluntary attrition. But Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, has warned that as much as 35 percent of the cuts will be "involuntary" ones that force soldiers to abandon what they had hoped would be long military careers.
"This is going to be hard," said Gen. David Rodriguez, head of U.S. Army Forces Command. "This is tough business. As we increase things like re-enlistment standards, some of the people who were able to re-enlist three years ago won't be able to re-enlist again."
The Army, in an internal slide presentation, is blunt: "Re-enlistment is a privilege, not a right; some 'fully qualified' soldiers will be denied re-enlistment due to force realignment requirements and reductions in end strength."
Finally this morning....in Iraq, there were multiple incidents of soldiers being electrocuted in their barracks or other 'safe' places because of the shoddy work of KBR and Halliburton. It was never satisfactorily addressed, and with our troops home from Iraq, the danger seems to have passed. A handful of Marines in Afghanistan have met an unfortunate end, but at least this time they appear to be combat-related. Electricity is nothing to mess around with
, whether it's on the base or out on patrol.
At least four Marines have been electrocuted in Afghanistan since November, highlighting another hazard for ground forces fighting in Helmand province.
Cpls. Adam Buyes, Connor Lowry and Jon-Luke Bateman and Lance Cpl. Kenneth Cochran were killed in three separate incidents. Buyes died Nov. 26, Bateman and Cochran on Jan. 15, and Lowry on March 1.
Buyes was a radio operator with 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Okinawa, Japan. He died in Sangin district after leaving a patrol base on foot with his unit, according to documents outlining a command investigation into his death. His three-foot radio antenna hit a power line hanging about eight feet high, causing “sparks/fire” beneath his feet.
The documents were released to Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“Initially, Cpl. Buyes was groaning, taking approximately one breath every five seconds, and had a weak pulse,” the documents say. “Shortly thereafter, Cpl. Buyes stopped groaning and his breathing and pulse diminished quickly, until the corpsman could not detect any pulse or breathing.”
Lowry was an ammunition technician with Golf Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. He died after a radio antenna touched a low-hanging power line in Kajaki district, Marines in his unit told Marine Corps Times during an April embed with their unit. His family, speaking with media in Lowry’s hometown, acknowledged electrocution caused his death.
Bateman and Cochran died in Musa Qala district in an accident involving an electric generator, according to a report in the Pahrump Valley Times, a newspaper in Bateman’s hometown area. Bateman was an infantryman with Camp Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, and Cochran was a water support technician with 9th Engineer Support Battalion, out of Okinawa, Japan.
A March 12 incident involving Marines and power lines in Helmand also killed an Afghan civilian, according to the Naval Safety Center, out of Norfolk, Va. An antenna on a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle hit a power line, causing an electrical surge that resulted in a tire rim hurtling toward an unidentified person on the side of the road, military officials said.
I'll leave you with an observation; go back up and look at the casualty figures. We've gone over 2,000 this past week, and unlike when milestones like that were hit in Iraq, nobody seemed to notice.