By Paul Szoldra, College Veteran

When I deployed to Afghanistan as an infantry squad leader in 2004, I
had the utmost confidence in my superiors, our mission to restore order
to Afghanistan, and to help the Afghan people.

“We are fighting, but the Marines keep coming!” said a frantic
Fallujah insurgent to other fighters in an intercepted radio
communication. “We are shooting, but the Marines won’t stop!”


At the time of my deployment, we had clear rules of engagement (ROE):
if you ever feel that your life is threatened, you can respond with
force to include deadly force.

Beyond this, we also patrolled our area of operations with the
knowledge that if we ever radioed "troops in contact," our requests for
air or artillery support would be approved.

Thankfully, I never had to make that radio call. During my
seven-month tour with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines in Khost Province,
combat was light. We encountered many more weapons caches than we did
enemy attacks. I never once fired my weapon. The hotspot at the time was
Iraq. Our war, it seemed, was won.

When I returned and transitioned to a role as an infantry instructor
in 2006, my peers—who only had deployed to Iraq—quipped that I was part
of the “forgotten war.”

And where are we today?

Six years after hearing those jokes, the war is forgotten by everyone
except the men and women who continue to fight it. My mostly quiet
wartime memory of 2005 has exploded into a battlefield of heavy combat
with the casualties to go along with it.

And yet all the blood, destruction—all the efforts of our
military—cannot change the unfortunate and highly probable outcome that
our 2014 exit from Afghanistan will be marked as a failure.

I don’t want to believe it, but we are losing this war.

Each day our soldiers and Marines leave the wire, only to face
increasing attacks from a determined enemy. An insurgency that continues
to enjoy support—even from inside a corrupt government in Kabul as well
as Islamabad.

And they don’t just face Taliban AK-47s and improvised explosives.
They also continue to face the guns of their supposed allies, Afghan
National Army and Police forces, who have killed over 30 U.S. military
personnel just this year alone.

As we try to win hearts and minds, the Taliban uses fear—and in a culture of tribalism and tradition, it is fear that works.

Instead of being afraid of the might of U.S. firepower, enemy
fighters use our rules of engagement and restrictions on air support
against us. When faced with a split-second decision of whether to shoot,
soldiers many times must hesitate—or be investigated. Or, as in the case of the 2009 Battle of Ganjgal, excessive restrictions on air and artillery assets unfortunately meant excessive American deaths.

“We are willing to restrict ourselves to the point of helplessness to
avoid even a possibility of civilian casualties,” said one military
officer who I’ll refer to as Evan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I have personally watched the same man arm and disarm 12 improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) over a week, with no strikes allowed due to
collateral concerns.”

The failure of the war does not rest at the hands of the brave troops
who patrol every day. It lies with top military leadership and
politicians, who have effectively choked our troops so badly that their
mission has become impossible.

“I cannot emphasize just how badly the pullout date has ruined our
efforts over here,” said Evan. “Down to the lowest soldier, there is a
very palpable sense that everything we’ve done is too little, too late.”

As many leaders and politicians continue to plead with a public weary
to continue their support for the war, they say, as they said similarly
during the war in Vietnam, that “the deaths of our soldiers should not
be in vain.”

I disagree. The death of a brother in arms, while tragic and equally
heartbreaking, should not be used as a political tool. The fallen heroes
of this war are lost forever and will never see a battlefield again.
They should not be used to further justify its expansion.

There is an economic theory that supports my reasoning: It’s called a
sunk cost dilemma. The theory presents a problem of having to choose
between ending an activity immediately or choosing to continue with an
uncertain outcome that already involves considerable investment. The
investment, whether it be time, money, or in the case of the Afghan war,
lives, can never be recovered, and is called a sunk cost.

I believe that we should allow our soldiers to be able to fight this
war. As Lt Col. Christian Cabaniss tells his Marines in the documentary
Obama’s War, “Make no mistake, we are experts in the application of

Despite being experts at warfare, the military, much like a
professional boxer, will never win a fight when their hands are tied
behind their back. Unfortunately, it is our own Generals and politicians
that have done the tying.

“We’ve embraced the counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine without
remembering to maintain the true power of the US military, which is an
unstoppable killing machine,” Evan told me. “Now the buzz words are
‘development’ [and] ‘partnership’. These things brief well, but they
must be used hand in hand with a tolerant and permissive ROE that allows
us to flex our full potential when we need to.”

As we look forward to 2014 and our strategy of withdrawal that
President Obama has announced, I can tell you some of what the future
holds. As the example of the sunk cost dilemma states, we are choosing
to continue with an uncertain outcome. This is not entirely true.

If we do not allow our military to carry out their mission—to locate,
close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, as is the
infantry’s goal, and support them with the assets they need, then the
next two years will be marked with more American deaths, many more
wounded, continued training failure and eventual stall in recruitment of
Afghan security forces, and a country left in ruins.

Make no mistake: our enemy is resilient. But they are not impossible
to defeat. When our Marines and soldiers were unleashed—with tanks,
artillery, air support, and rules of engagement that favored the U.S.
instead of the insurgency during the second Battle of Fallujah in
2004—the fighters soon realized how tough our military was.

“We are fighting, but the Marines keep coming!” said a frantic
Fallujah insurgent to other fighters in an intercepted radio
communication. “We are shooting, but the Marines won’t stop!”

We need to stop lying to ourselves.

Let our troops do the job that we, united as Americans, know they can
do, or withdraw them immediately and save us a predictable and tragic
two more years of war.


  1. this is heartbreaking and a disgrace….praying for our troops, and that this America-hating admin would have an immediate change of policy, or be removed and replaced by those who appreciate America’s finest citizens. Those that fight to give us the freedom we all enjoy, our warriors.
    May God bless, protect, and cause them success.

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