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Guest Column: Deeply concerned about Afghanistan

November 4, 2009

By Thomas A. Middleton

We must never again squander the blood of patriots with a half-hearted attempt at war.

It is dangerous, counter-productive and immoral to fight a war with just enough troops to agitate our foes without a sufficient commitment to ensure victory. We must soundly defeat those who attack us while simultaneously establishing basic security and economic stability for the civilian population. Ignoring the civilian suffering only creates hatred among a long-suffering people caught up in the throes of war. Civilians who hate us become enemies who fight us. It is the surest route to a bloody and debilitating defeat.

Despite all of the odds stacked against us in Iraq, we have achieved success in Iraq, especially in Ramadi and the rest of Al Anbar Province. We have done so by a multi-faceted approach. First, we have conducted decisive military action and thoroughly defeated the enemy in battle. Second, we have worked with, rather than against, the Iraqi people’s own natural leaders in re-establishing basic security and some degree of economic stability. It is imperative to follow up tactical victories by removing the conditions that motivate future attacks.

We have learned a lot in Iraq, and we cannot ignore these lessons in Afghanistan. Our troops have fought hard and sacrificed much in an uphill battle to defeat an enemy defined not by geographic borders, but by its ideological commitment to the destruction of our nation. We have learned that we cannot remain isolated on our bases while the civilians around us suffer at the hands of terrorists. We must establish a protective, cooperative presence among the people.

The challenge in establishing basic security is to do so in a way that respects and supports the people’s natural leadership and fosters self-reliance. The efforts of our military must eventually be carried on by the Afghans themselves.

If we instead remain aloof and isolated, relying solely on aerial strikes with unmanned drones, the civilians will see only bloodshed and never the compassionate face of an American soldier standing with them to improve life in their remote villages. While well-placed aerial strikes are a vital part of our overall strategy, they are only one part of it.

During the Vietnam War, we saw the results of allowing partisan politics to define our battlefield strategies. The time and place for deciding whether to fight a war rests with our civilian political leadership. Once they decide to fight, victory is our goal. Defeat is not an option. We must collectively stand behind our soldiers and support their efforts, not micromanage them into a defeat.

General Stanley McChrystal is our battlefield commander in Afghanistan. He is in the best position to assess our efforts and refine our strategy and define the resources he needs to accomplish the mission set before him. As unpleasant as it is to send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, we must win this fight.

Our nation was attacked on September 11th, not by a geographically-defined nation, but rather by a radical ideology that runs counter to everything we hold dear. We must defeat our attackers every time, and on every level. Not only must we stop those who attack America, we must remove the motivation of those who contemplate future attacks. Victory in Afghanistan will go far to prevent future attacks on our own soil. Defeat will embolden our enemies and fuel further attacks on our nation.

May God bless America.

Thomas A. Middleton is a combat veteran and former medic with the Vermont Army National Guard, who was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. A 16-year career firefighter and emergency medical technician, he is now the assistant fire marshal in Burlington, Vt. He is author of the book Sabers Edge: A Combat Medic in Ramadi, Iraq (UPNE, 2009). His Web site is www.sabersedgebook.com.

From the November 4-10, 2009 issue

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