The Horror of War

copyright © 2008. Jerry Northington.  campaign website or on the campaign blog.

Today’s New York Times magazine section has a firsthand story about the horror of fighting in Afghanistan.  Entitled “Battle Company is Out There” the author, Elizabeth Rubin, relates the tale of Capt. Dan Kearney and his troops as the effort is made to occupy and pacify a bit of the Korengal Valley.  Many previous stories tell of the dangers inherent in the valley and in surrounding territory.  This account offers a personal and stirring account of one platoon and their adventures in a very short period of time.

The Korengal Outpost, nicknamed the KOP, was built in April 2006 on the site of a former timber mill and motel.

Relating some of Capt. Kearney’s thoughts the story goes on.

But as hard as Iraq was, he said, nothing was as tough as the Korengal.  Unlike in Iraq, where the captains and lieutenants could let down their guard in a relatively safe, fortified operating base, swapping stories and ideas, here they had no one to talk to and were almost as vulnerable to enemy fire inside the wire as out.  Last summer, insurgents stormed one of the bases in a nearby valley and wounded 16.

The danger of a place like the Korengal Valley is increased by the presence of civilian populations.

As Kearney put it to me one day at the KOP, the Korengal is like a tough Los Angeles neighborhood, “and we’re the L.A.P.D. kicking in the door, arresting guys, demanding information about the gangs, and slowly the people say, ‘No, we don’t know anything, because that guy in the gang, he’s with my sister, and that other guy, he’s my uncle’s cousin.’  Now we’ve angered them for so many years that they’ve decided: ‘I’m gonna stick with the A.C.M.’ ” – anticoalition militants – ” ‘who are my brothers and I’m not gonna rat them out.’ “

How can soldiers be expected to make peace of any sort in a situation like this?  

Years of American and NATO bombing and killing of civilians have led to an ingrained resistance which leads many tribes to seek revenge.

Whom do you want to side with: your brothers in God’s world or the infidel thieves?

The troops are pushed to the limits of human endurance.

The soldiers were on a 15-month tour that included just 18 days off. Many of them were “stop-lossed,” meaning their contracts were extended because the army is stretched so thin. You are not allowed to refuse these extensions.

One mission of the group called Rock Avalanche was typical of the missions the troops undertook.  The goal was the securing of a village, Yaka China, to slow or stop the flow of insurgents across the Pakistan border.  In early fighting decisions had to be made about the use of air power.

The tally was bad – 5 killed and 11 wounded, all of them women, girls and boys.

Meetings the next day with tribal and village leaders were marked by the usual

miscommunication and deception

on both sides that made those interactions more of a performance than a real discussion.  A day after the meeting the tribal leaders had apparently decided the time had come to fight rather than to cooperate.  The story continues with reports of an attack on a hill held by American troops.  The continuing death and destruction is described in vivid detail.

I followed Piosa through the brush toward the ridge. We came upon Rice and Specialist Carl Vandenberge behind some trees. Vandenberge was drenched in blood. The shot to his arm had hit an artery. Rice was shot in the stomach. A soldier was using the heating chemicals from a Meal Ready to Eat to warm Vandenberge and keep him from going into shock.

Kearney lost seven of his men in the Valley up to the end of the reporter’s time.

But the dialogue with the Korengalis was pretty much the same as it had been. Only the winter snows have brought some minor respite to the valley.

The misery that war brings to both sides is beyond the ability of words to convey in adequate terms.  Yet stories like this one bring some measures of reality to the outside world.  How much longer will we stay in Afghanistan?  Can we win against a resistance built on local and family ties?  What will our nation need to look for other alternatives to replace military efforts to instill “peace”?

Until and unless we as a nation and as a global society come to recognize the futility of war we are in trouble as a species.  We must come to recognize the greater good comes from peaceful coexistence and cooperation with one another.  We are all in this together as human beings.  We will stand together or we will fall apart.

Peace.