The Wrong War

Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan

by Bing West

The Wrong War

Paperback, 315 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $17 | purchase

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Title
The Wrong War
Subtitle
Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan
Author
Bing West

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Book Summary

Takes a look the war that has dominated America's military attention nearly ten years after the September 11 attacks and offers a plan for withdrawing troops.

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Marine veteran and Atlantic correspondent Bing West also served as assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. In The Wrong War, he charges that after a decade of war, the U.S. military failed its assigned missions of protecting village populations and nation-building, based on his trips to Afghanistan during the Obama administration's counterinsurgency strategy. Even with continued training for Afghan forces, he predicts, the military situation will remain

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Excerpt: The Wrong War

The Wrong War

Chapter 1. Sisyphus: Pacifying the Capillary Valleys
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According to Greek mythology, the gods punished prideful King Sisyphus by forcing him to endlessly push a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back each time. When the American Army encountered the towering mountains of northeast Afghanistan, they came to appreciate the Sisyphean task. When American soldiers trekked up the mountains, the insurgents fled, returning after the Americans left. Like ocean waves, the Americans rolled in, and out, and in again.
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The Korengal Valley became the symbol of that frustration, if not the metaphor for the war. Although abandoned in mid-2010, the American outpost in the Korengal was not a memorial to a clueless military. Far from it â€" and far more sobering â€" the Korengal was key to a diligent, thoughtful strategy. The notion that “true counterinsurgency” began with President Obama’s surge strategy in 2010 was incorrect. Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan began four years earlier, with decidedly mixed results.
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The Terrain
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From the capital of Kabul, a wide valley stretches 30 miles eastward to the Khyber Pass, the main crossing point into Pakistan. North of the Khyber, the high mountain passes are snowbound during winter. The four provinces northeast of Kabul are of little commercial value, inhabited by insular tribes resentful of outsiders. Beginning in 2002, Special Forces teams and Army and Marine battalions pursued the terrorist bands hiding in Nuristan, Nangarhar, Konar and Laghman, or N2KL.
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Konar consists of bundles of forested mountains sliced by capillary valleys and riverbeds. In the center of the province, the Konar River runs from the snow-capped crags of the Hindu Kush to the north through a wide farming valley and onto the plain extending to the Khyber Pass to the south. (Pic 1)The Durand Line, a ridge that marked the Pakistan border, ran along the east side of the Konar; on the west side of the river plain lay the Pech River and a thick tangle of mountains and tiny valleys, including the Korengal. (Map 2.)

In 2005, the Safi tribe in the flat, flourishing farmlands along the major rivers was friendly and curious about the Americans.
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“With hundreds of isolated villages,” LtCol Chip Bierman, the battalion commander at that time, said, “there was no way my sixteen platoons could provide real security. The Taliban crossed from Pakistan and popped up around the Korengal whenever they pleased. It wasn’t heavy fighting. The average Marine saw only three or four enemy in his entire tour.”
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The more impoverished tribes in the mountains exhibited mixed sentiments. Some were friendly and others standoffish. Within minutes, a sharp interpreter could gauge the loyalties of a village consisting of twenty to a hundred stone and wood square houses. Â
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Konar Province leapt into the American consciousness in April of 2005 when a four-man SEAL commando team was ambushed high on a mountain overlooking the Korengal Valley by a small enemy band, including “six to twelve well-trained foreign fighters with experience.”[i] Other Special Operations troops leaped into a rescue helicopter that tried to land without covering fire and was shot down. Nineteen of America’s best-trained troops were killed, the highest loss in a single battle in the war.
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The victorious Taliban posted a vivid video of the fight and of American bodies on YouTube, and the enemy commander, Ahmed Shah, gave an interview to CBS Television. The ambush and killing of 19 Special Operations Forces provided a powerful morale lift to the Taliban. Suddenly the Americans were not ten feet tall; they could be beaten.
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Marine battalion 1-3 was assigned to Konar Province, and spent a year launching raids from three bases spread across 70 miles. Through sources and radio intercepts, the Marines had fair knowledge of when groups of fighters had pass

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