The firing of Major General Peter Fuller underscores growing U.S. military disillusion with its counterinsurgency — nation-building — efforts in Afghanistan.
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They were told that we would leave Iraq stable, independent and an ally. That didn’t happen. They were told the same thing about Afghanistan and — looking around themselves — they know that won’t happen either.
Our troops aren’t stupid: they’re better, smarter and better-trained than ever before. What Fuller said must be a genuine reflection of the beliefs of the men he worked for, worked with and commanded. I remember a young army colonel telling me, six years ago in Baghdad, “If you want to break this army, break your promises to it.” And that’s the problem: too many promises, too many inconsistencies, and too little for the troops to look at and say, “We accomplished that.”
Which brings us back to Fuller’s words to the Afghan generals. He’s obviously frustrated by their lack of understanding of and apparent unconcern with America’s standpoint. He spoke as the man in charge of training their forces and seeing to it that those forces will be able to operate effectively and independently when we leave. Which they are, perforce, not going to be. And as clearly as Fuller saw it from his perch atop the training pyramid, we have to understand that — in the grunt’s eye view — things can only be worse.
There are only two cures for COIN fatigue: victory, or a long period of recovery after a retreat. As Petraeus said, we’re not going to defeat the Taliban.
The only historical comparison to Iraq/Afghanistan is Vietnam. Our forces had fought a counterinsurgency and a part-time war with the North though we never tried to topple the Hanoi regime. They felt the same sort of COIN fatigue that Fuller’s words exclaim.
It took thirty years for our military to recover from its Vietnam fatigue. But in those years we fought a Cold War, not a major hot one. This one won’t be close to over when we leave Afghanistan. How long will it take to recover this time?
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