by JASON REICH
The sticky sweat on a stifling August night made it possible to periodically wipe mosquitoes from my face while crouching behind a bush.
Behind me sat a full infantry battalion. We lay in wait, listening to the sounds of a battle raging less than a mile away. A small team of enemy soldiers, probably no more than five men, had ambushed one of our convoys just up the road, but we were told to wait and not engage.
The problem was simple, if frustrating: There were too many different units in the area, and higher command was having trouble controlling them all. All we could do was sit and listen on the radio as the convoy duked it out with the enemy and screamed for the reinforcements that weren’t coming.
If this doesn’t sound much like the current war Afghanistan, that’s because it wasn’t. The Salouki Valley is in southern Lebanon and this incident took place in 2006, back when I was a soldier (pictured) instead of a freelance writer.
Israel had just sent 30,000 ground troops into southern Lebanon, an area about one-fiftieth the size of Afghanistan, to disarm the Iranian and Syrian-backed Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, and stop the group’s rocket fire on northern Israeli settlements. Despite massive Israeli firepower, neither objective was achieved. More than 100 Israeli soldiers and hundreds of Lebanese were killed.
This August, I was in Afghanistan as an embedded journalist working for U.S. and Israeli media. I found myself witnessing an equally frustrating military dilemma.
The parallels, and differences, between the Lebanon and Afghanistan wars reveal some potentially serious flaws in U.S. strategy.
On Aug. 20, election day, the Taliban were attacking polling stations in the Nerkh district of Wardak Province west of Kabul. The province is patrolled by elements of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. The Afghan soldiers manning the polling stations had called for reinforcements, but the American troops I was with were powerless to help. There just weren’t enough soldiers.
(Photo: Jason Reich)
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