Tags: Combat | Author: | Troops | Frustrated | but | Determined

Combat Author: Troops Frustrated but Determined

Wednesday, 06 October 2004 12:00 AM

Andrew Exum, the Army Ranger combat veteran and author of the widely praised “This Man's Army: A Soldier's Story from the Front Lines of the War on Terrorism" (Gotham Books), served in Afghanistan with the Army Rangers and saw combat there.

Today, young Exum is currently in Beirut, Lebanon, studying Arabic and the Middle East. NewsMax caught up with him there via e-mail to chat about his book and how his war experiences as a platoon commander in Afghanistan have charted a new course for his life.

“Keep posting the Letterman and Leno monologues on NewsMax.com,” Exum begins in our cyber chat. “I loved reading them when I was on active duty stationed overseas, and I suspect I will again here in Beirut!”

Anyone who has read my book will be glad to know that I hear from 'Uncle Jesse' and 'Flash' every few days by e-mail, and they send me updates on how the war is going in their little section of the country. Thankfully, no one has been too seriously wounded yet, but I worry about them and pray every day for their safety.

My old radio operator, as a matter of fact, was supposed to be out of the army two months ago but is being held in for at least another year due to the needs of the war effort. Also, keep in mind that while it may be possible to see change for the good in Iraq given a wider perspective, the “field of vision” for the guys on the ground is pretty narrow. So what they see on a day-to-day basis is what looks to be a stalemate or quagmire from their eyes.

I made two trips there in my time in the Army, and the one thing that hasn't changed in that country is the terrain. So helicopters continue to be vital to the effort there, and because of the altitude, the load those helicopters can carry fluctuates depending on the time of year, temperature of the air, etc.

The one difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that there doesn't seem to be any real “Indian country” anymore. I certainly don't think we or Karzai's army controls all the real estate there – not by a long shot – but I also don't think there are any true enemy-controlled areas like there were in, say, Vietnam in 1967.

I just finished Neil Sheehan's “A Bright Shining Lie,” and what struck me about the American experience in Vietnam were the differences between our experience there and in Afghanistan and – unfortunately – the similarities between Vietnam and Iraq.

But a lot of Republican senators whom I trust have said we need more troops in Iraq in order for elections to take place, and I tend to agree even though I was just a lowly platoon leader there.

As far as Afghanistan is concerned, it looks as if we are doing a good job, but I think for sure we could have used more troops over the past few years. But then, that's part of a larger debate, and if it were up to me, I probably would have waited to commit so many resources in Iraq until Afghanistan had been taken care of.

I think it's obvious we don't have the resources in our volunteer military to handle both Afghanistan

Now, the U.S. military is very tired to say the least, and no one thought we were going to be in Iraq this long in this great a force. So guys who pulled a year-long tour in Iraq are turning around twelve months later and doing it all over again.

Just look at the poor guys in the 3rd Infantry Division. Needless to say, that's a huge strain put on families and the soldiers themselves.

I would respect President Bush a lot more if he would be honest with the American people about the long-term effects of this war on our future, especially from a financial perspective but also with regard to the readiness of our armed services.

But you know, Senator Kerry, until recently, has not had much to say about it either. So I think both political parties in an election year are basically gutless and feel they can't afford to level with the American people or ask anything of the American public without losing some votes.

I found myself in both Afghanistan and Iraq most often concerned with just two things: accomplishing the mission and bringing everyone back home alive. I wonder now if I should have considered the second- and third-order effects of our actions more, especially in Iraq, which is as much a public relations war with the native populace as anything.

This isn't a Democrat versus Republican thing, either. The best and brightest Democrats – the Bundy brothers, MacNamara, Rusk – under Kennedy and Johnson made the same mistakes in the 1960s that the best and brightest Republicans – Wolfowitz, Feith, Perle – made in the run-up to the war in Iraq: They only saw what they wanted to see and didn't have the time or inclination to listen to the critics.

Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress duped our policy-makers in the same way that the Diem regime did 40 years earlier in South Vietnam. We found ourselves a champion for U.S. interests that no one else in their native country saw as legitimate.

I don't see why we threw out a great doctrine developed in the Reagan White House by Colin Powell and Caspar Weinberger (the so-called 'Weinberger-Powell Doctrine') after 9/11. If we had not, this never would have happened, because that doctrine was forged out of the mistakes of Vietnam by the men who fought that war.

Someone once said that there was a wall “one mile thick and three miles high” between those in the Reagan White House who had served in Vietnam and those who had not. And as James Mann notes in his book “Rise of the Vulcans,” the same seems to be true in this Bush administration.

I think the reason I get so upset by this is that I can see us making the same mistakes again 40 years from now. Given the small size of our military in Iraq, the odds are likely that whoever is in change in 40 years – George P. Bush, anyone? – will not have learned the lessons we soldiers did.

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Andrew Exum, the Army Ranger combat veteran and author of the widely praised "This Man's Army: A Soldier's Story from the Front Lines of the War on Terrorism" (Gotham Books), served in Afghanistan with the Army Rangers and saw combat there. Today, young Exum is...
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