Tags

, , , , ,

With only 365.25 days in a year, weighty events will naturally tend to stack up on particular ones, but the ways in which they do so can be strange.

On October 3rd, 1993, the Battle of Mogadishu–more commonly known even within the military as Black Hawk Down (after the book and film)–began with what was supposed to be a quick raid to capture lieutenants of a local warlord. By the end of the 4th, the United States had lost 2 helicopters, 18 service members, and our will to win. The president ordered cessation of all but defensive actions two days later, and we had entirely ceded the field of battle within six months.

(One can make a fair argument that the campaign was actually lost back in July when, at the behest of the UN, U.S. attack helicopters attacked a compound hosting a meeting of clan elders. Mark Bowden argues convincingly that this was the turning point of the populace against the peacekeeping mission.)

On October 3rd, 2009, an overwhelming force of talibs attacked a fairly remote coalition outpost in the Nuristan region of Afghanistan. COP Keating, poorly situated on low ground and 40 minutes from air support, was already scheduled to be abandoned when an enemy force of between 175 and 300 attacked it and its supporting observation point simultaneously in pre-dawn hours. The local elements (Afghan National Army and security forces) fled, and the COP was overrun–but not defeated. By the end of the day, the United States had lost 8 soldiers (while inflicting an estimated enemy 100 casualties); the will to win was already gone.

Both are the sort of stories that warriors like to tell–not because of casualties or bloodshed, but because they are exemplary of the triumph of training, skill, and fighting spirit over superior numbers. At Keating, the enemy actually got inside the outpost fairly early in the game; at one point according to some reports, every building but one (wherein were the wounded) was on fire. Not only were they not defeated, but the defenders actually retook most of the COP before the “quick reaction force” arrived (13 hours after the attack began).

(When you tack on the enlisted man’s love of victory despite getting screwed over by the officer/political class, this stuff is pure gold.  The Battle of Kamdesh should absolutely be a movie by now.)

There’s an unfortunate contrast to be seen here, even so. The big difference between these two epics, to my lowly E6 mind, is that in the first case, we recognized that (right or wrong) we no longer willed to battle, and we pulled our people out. In the second case, we doubled down on failure, pretending that we still intended to win (by whatever mercurial definition we used for winning) while telegraphing our intention to give up by 2014 regardless of progress or lack thereof.

Wars are won in the will. If you don’t will it, don’t war. Meanwhile, people wearing my uniform are fighting a delaying action for people who don’t want them there, alongside people who hate them, on behalf of an apathetic nation. You’re welcome.

Advertisements