Amazing piece of reporting on Afghanistan in The New York Times this morning by C.J. Chivers.
In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.
Chivers is surprisingly — refreshingly — blunt about the state of Afghan Army skills, leadership, and morale. He provides detailed anecdotes. (The Red Bull tale near the end is jaw-dropping.)
Not all is negative. Chivers says of the Afghan Army, “At the squad level it has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight.”
In multiple firefights in which Times journalists were present, many Afghan soldiers did not aim — they pointed their American-issued M-16 rifles in the rough direction of the incoming small-arms fire and pulled their triggers without putting rifle sights to their eyes. Their rifle muzzles were often elevated several degrees high.
Just in case “elevated several degrees high” sounds like an outsider trying to talk the military talk, check out Chivers’ resume after he graduated from Cornell in 1988 with an English degree:
From 1988 until 1994, Mr. Chivers was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps, serving in the Persian Gulf War and performing peacekeeping duties as an infantry company commander during the Los Angeles riots. He was honorably discharged as a captain in 1994.
He has also covered war zones in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Israel, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and studied the Russian language to prepare for his post. From 1999 until 2001 he was a Metro reporter covering crime and law enforcement in New York City, working in a three-reporter bureau inside the police headquarters in lower Manhattan. While in this bureau, he covered the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
He was the 1995 valedictorian of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also graduated from several military schools, including the U.S. Army’s Ranger Course.
In short, this is a battlefield report from a journalist well-qualified to see and understand what’s going on. Thank heavens.
As Chivers politely puts it, the situation “raises questions about President Obama‘s declared goal of beginning to withdraw American forces in July 2011 and turning over security to the Afghan military and the even more troubled police forces.”
Indeed. We ignore this kind of brilliantly honest reporting at our own peril.