In addition to the good comments my McChrystal post generated yesterday, some smart friends with military experience had valuable insights as well. So here’s a post, reprinted with permission, from a friend I’ll call Reader C, who puzzled over Gen. McChrystal’s decision to keep open some combat outposts in eastern Afghanistan against the recommendations of local commanders and at the behest of the Nuristan governor. I print this in the spirit of humility and debate. Hopefully this won’t be the last such guestpost on the subject…
In devil’s advocate mode here. I concur that the higher-ups need to be investigated and held accountable — where appropriate. I think the continued emphasis on finding low-level scapegoats (from PFC Lynndie England to LTC Brown) is a bad pro-forma and breeds risk-averse behavior.
Nevertheless, I have to assume there is lots more information we aren’t getting here. And then I have to wonder, isn’t that what our battalion commanders get paid to do? Sure, sometimes you get shitty missions; sometimes you complain to higher about those shitty missions; sometimes they tell you to get it done anyway. Life ain’t fair and combat is even less so. The job of that chain of command is to figure out the way to be successful in their mission and keep their joes alive (in that order — the former usually infers the latter). I can’t help but think of Pointe du Hoc. You know that commander had to say “You want me to do what?”
McChrystal is well within his rights to make individual exceptions to his overarching ruling of giving up the countryside to protect the population centers — and it seems pretty dumb to give up a known avenue of approach like this rat line, especially when the governor is requesting protection.
Now I’ll contradict myself and say: I think in the end what sucks about this is the continued pervasiveness of the investigation Army. Everything has to be investigated to the gnat’s ass — if not to determine the facts at the time simply to record it for posterity so somewhere down the line someone doesn’t question your motives. The joes don’t understand that the 15-6 [Army investigations] is a tool to protect them as much as it is to harm them. This cover-your-ass shit is out of control at every level. But it is what happens when every Mom and Pop or Congresscritter out there want to know exactly why their little Joe died. Sometimes it is egregious, like Pat Tillman; but other times it is just war. In the scheme of Combat Outpost Keating, Wanat, etc. there is clear signs that we didn’t do enough to protect the troops — including culpability by the troops themselves. As long as we are relying on overwhelming firepower (close air support, field artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles) we are doing something wrong.
I don’t know where the middle ground is on this one. It sucks, but that is war. How do we measure these commanders — can you make a mistake and it not cost your career anymore? Having learned from a mistake, don’t you become better? Sometimes? As a former commander, I know that no reprimand will ever outweigh the blood on your hands — but it has to sting a little more, especially if your higher is just as culpable. I think everyone needs to take a deep breath, do a legitimate after-action report and fix the problems — rather than placing blame and signing reprimands. But Spidey senses usually tell you when a guy truly fucked up and didn’t do what he was supposed to do.
Yes, I am talking out both sides of my mouth. I know it. Just can’t reconcile the conflicting feelings.