Afghanistan

"There's something really wrong with what's happening in Afghanistan now"; How Do You Ask Someone to be the Last Person to Die For a Mistake?

Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton wrote to his congressman about the futility of the war in Afghanistan shortly before being killed by an IED while patrolling a dirt road

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sitton

The Tampa Bay Times had an in-depth profile this weekend of a local soldier killed in Afghanistan.  Staff Sergeant Matthew Sitton had actually written a letter to his congressman about the war in which he'd been fighting since 2007, which bookends the profile:

On June 4, Sitton had written a letter to U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. In it, he explained to the Republican legislator that for weeks his platoon had been mandated to patrol empty fields and compounds strewn with explosives. The missions, he wrote, served no purpose. Soldiers were losing arms and legs every day. He had objected, but no one had listened…

Earlier this month in Washington, one of Congressman Young's staffers read aloud Sitton's letter in a congressional hearing where Young announced that after a decade of war, he thought it was time for America to leave Afghanistan.

Since then, Young said, four Republican congressmen also publicly announced they want the United States to pull out. He said more than 25 others have privately told him the same.

The ultimate impact of Sitton's death on the war and this nation's politics is still unknown. Congress is on break until mid November, but Young is convinced that Sitton's story will resonate for months to come.

"There's something really wrong," he said, "with what's happening in Afghanistan now."

Matthew Sitton was the 2,056th American soldier killed there. In the two months since, 50 more have died.

Eleven years into the war in Afghanistan, the issue seems nary a blip on the campaign trail.

Along the way the Tampa Bay Times reveals a dismal mood among American service personnel in Afghanistan, caused by institutional problems that help explain why America is losing in Afghanistan:

In the war's early years, the people of Afghanistan had embraced American troops. But that warmth had tilted toward resentment.

"Everybody could see it," said Brandon Southern, 29, who served with Sitton. "Everybody knew most of the populace didn't care that we were there."

It became harder to talk to the locals because they feared the Taliban, he said. The now-infamous insider killings, in which Afghan trainees shot their American trainers, had begun.

Once-defined objectives — find the enemy, defeat them — had grown muddled.

"It was a lot of senselessness," Southern said. "Just walking around. What are we doing this for?"

Sitton didn't waver.

"Matt still believed in the big picture," Southern said. "Free the oppressed."

One night near the end of that deployment, Sitton's base was attacked. A nearby explosion threw him from his bed. He scrambled to his weapon and helped the other soldiers fight back the ambush. No Americans were killed.

By that time, the Army had begun to transfer duties to the Afghan troops. Among those was tower guard.

That night, Sitton later told his mother, not one bullet was fired from those towers.

After their return in late 2010, Southern left the military.

"I didn't believe in what we were doing," he said. "I lost faith."

…Afghanistan in 2012 was far different than the place Sitton had left two years earlier.

Politics, Sitton thought, had overtaken common sense. His platoon worked for weeks on four hours sleep a night, he told his wife and friends. Their missions were aimless. Twice each day for two to four hours, he and his men were mandated to walk through what he described as a "mine field."

"Seriously, there is no rhyme or reason for our patrols other than to meet a time criteria," he wrote to Southern. "So now we are being punished because we as a platoon are saying all this is garbage and we won't go out into freakin' hell and back for no reason."

Sitton and his men, he wrote over and over, felt alone. In prior years, they often received air support during heavy firefights. Because the command staff was so concerned about harming Afghan civilians, that option had all but disappeared.

He told his wife and Southern that the infuriating orders had come from brigade commander Col. Brian Mennes. The Army did not return several calls for comment.

Mennes, Sitton told his wife, had blamed his own troops for the high rate of IED injuries and deaths because experts had determined improvised explosive devices should be avoidable.

"We are serving no purpose. We are leaving and still the command is putting the lives of Afghans over the lives of Americans," he wrote to her. "Col. Mennes said he would rather risk losing a paratrooper than killing an innocent civilian over here."

Sitton still believed in the mission, the greater good, but he seldom mentioned it. He told his wife he didn't know who would make it home. He stopped saying that God wasn't done with him.

Sitton was killed by an IED patrolling a dirt road in Arghandab Valley on August 2nd. The whole profile is worth the read.

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  1. In the war’s early years, the people of Afghanistan had embraced American troops. But that warmth had tilted toward resentment.

    “Everybody could see it,” said Brandon Southern, 29, who served with Sitton. “Everybody knew most of the populace didn’t care that we were there.”

    How long are we going to sacrifice our soldiers, sailors, and airmen for resentful populations in Asia and Africa?

    That we haven’t had a military coup speaks volumes as to the character of the average American military man and woman.

  2. “Col. Mennes said he would rather risk losing a paratrooper than killing an innocent civilian over here.”

    This is why we need to cut the military budget by $300 billion.

    1. One has nothing to do with the other.

      It is why Mennes and all like should be a civilian. I guarantee he is universally loathed by the men he is supposed to lead.

      1. If his men want to kill innocent civilians to save their own asses, they should have stayed civilians too.

        1. Damn, you should go over there and point out which ones are the innocent civilians and which are Taliban fighters.

  3. Sitton still believed in the mission, the greater good,…

    There’s your problem.

  4. Why would the administration remind us of this war? They want the people to forget about it when they start rolling into Iran

  5. The war in Afghhanistan wasn’t a “mistake”. We just finished what we set out to do there. We beat the crap out of Al Qaeda. We drove Bin Laden into Pakistan and eventually kill him there. And we punished the Taliban for having harbored him.

    We’re done.
    If we see that Al Qaeda is regrouping at some future point, we can probably take care of it with drone strikes, since we’re able to do that in Pakistan effectively enough without occupying the place.

    1. We finished the war in Afghanistan many years ago.

      1. Yes. Damn near a decade ago.

    2. Unfortunately, if we had withdrawn from AFG immediately after deposing the Taliban from power and killing a bunch of their fighters and higher ups, destroying their camps and military bases… and the Taliban moved back in…which, to be honest, would have been likely… Bush would have been raked over the coals for not staying. Even though it would have been the right decision.

      We have a political-media class that’s more interested in scoring short-term points against their opponents than doing the right thing for the country in the long-term, and a populace too apathetic and dull to call them on it. So expect a lot of very stupid and destructive things to arise from this unholy mixture.

      1. I don’t know if the populace is too apathetic and dull, or just as motivated by scoring short term points on behalf of their team to do the right thing for their country.
        That certainly seems to have been the case for qaround 90% of the anti-war movement, considering their total reversal with respect to Iraq , Afghanistan, and Guantanamo the second Obama took office.

  6. Picking nits (The Times, not Krayewski)

    One night near the end of that deployment, Sitton’s base was attacked. A nearby explosion threw him from his bed. He scrambled to his weapon and helped the other soldiers fight back the ambush. No Americans were killed.

    am?bush noun \?am-?bu?sh\
    : a trap in which concealed persons lie in wait to attack by surprise

    Assault on a fixed position ? ambush

    1. It’s not nitpicking. There’s a big rhetorical difference between a surprise attack and an ambush. Ambush carries a connotation of unfair play.

      1. There’s a difference between the connotation that a word carries and its “military doctrinal definition.” Unless we’re talking 18th Century Warfare, there’s no connotation of unfair play in an ambush, and Mensan is right that the attack on the base was not an ambush.

        1. I’m agreeing with Mensan on the terminology.

          But among the general population, an ambush is seen as a dishonorable thing (unless those being ambushed are Nazis or equivalent).

          1. I’m amazed that anyone would see it that way. I’ve never been in the service, and think of an ambush as a mark of intelligent command. Personally I think frontal attacks in broad daylight are kind of dishonorable.

            1. Most of us also see firing an unproductive worker as a mark of competent management too. We’re in the minority there too.

            2. I was in the Infantry. Ambush is how small units fight in open country. There is no good or bad to it. If you step off on patrol, you expect to be ambushed and prepare to deal with it. We even studied maps and a tried to guess where the likely ambush spots were. If we spot the enemy first, we figure out how to ambush them.

              Mensan is correct, assaulting a base is a whole different thing.

              1. Seriously, people. Don’t have a cow over a connotation. As I stated, Mensan is correct in saying that the NYT’s use of the word was wrong. I’m merely proposing a reason why they would use it wrongly.

                Sneaky and lurking behavior is frowned upon in society. Obviously in war it’s a whole different story. But if you hear the word in common speech it’s almost always used in a negative manner. “They ambushed me at the employee meeting”, etc.

    2. If I blow up your front door and then shoot you in the face when you come out to see what the fuck just happened, I would have both assaulted a fixed position and ambushed you.

  7. “We are serving no purpose. We are leaving and still the command is putting the lives of Afghans over the lives of Americans,” he wrote to her. “Col. Mennes said he would rather risk losing a paratrooper than killing an innocent civilian over here.”

    Oh come on. I don’t see anything wrong with the colonel’s attitude. An American paratrooper volunteered to be sent anywhere the country needed him and die if necessary; the innocent Afghan civilian was just minding his own business trying to live his life at home. You bet I’d rather risk the former than the latter.

    Military guys get a lot of glory and respect for their decision to volunteer, so it’s damned bad form for them to be bitching about not using the AF to save their hides at the risk of people who didn’t volunteer for us to invade their country.

    1. I agree. The whole point of the military is to risk their lives to protect civilians. That’s what you have a goddamn army for. So they can do die instead of your women and children.

      Considering we’re in someone else’s country, fighting a civil war on behalf of what is ostensibly “the peoples” side, it makes absolutely perfect sense that that would apply to Afghan civilians as well.

      If our attitude is going to be that it’s better to let a few women and children die than sacrifice one US soldier’s life, then we’ve lost the entire fucking point of the war, and the Afghans are quite justified in wanting us to leave.

    2. Civilian guys enjoy a lot of freedoms and privileges that military guys forfeit while fighting to defend those same freedoms and privileges. It’s very bad form for civilians to be calloused toward military guys who want to return home to their families with their comrades. We are fighting a very complex war to preserve the freedoms of civilians who are, in my personal experience thus far in Afghanistan, often better described as neutral, or even complicit in the insurgency, than innocent. I certainly recognize the hazards of my chosen profession, and I entered it of my own free will. Because you clearly do not understand the operational environment in which we are working, I advise milder judgment when we share our perspectives on what we are being asked to do, and are continuing to do with all due diligence despite the sacrifice that it requires.

      1. Read HazelMeade’s post. If we’re fighting to preserve the freedoms of civilians over there, and then at the same time are willing to value their lives less then our soldiers then it’s not surprising that they would be “neutral” towards the insurgency. These are a people that have a culturally innate opposition to foreign occupation. Most don’t even know why we’re there, as evident by the polls that show that most haven’t heard of 9/11. Add all this stuff up, and it becomes obvious that the correct course of action, for us and them, is to withdraw and take our soldiers out of harm’s way

      2. I’m unclear on how someone who is merely neutral with respect to a military presence is therefore no longer an innocent civilian anymore. They didn’t ask for you to come to their country. If they don’t want our troops there fighting for their freedom (assuming the effect of US troops is actually to help their freedom, which is debatable to say the least) maybe the troops shouldn’t be there.

        I know that the rank and file of the military does not get to make the decision of whether to pull out, and I sympathize with the feeling of helplessness that produces; what I do not sympathize with is the callous attitude toward Afghan civilian deaths.

    3. What’s wrong with the Colonel’s attitude is that the patrols and missions they are bing tasked with are pointless, but they are costing lives. I bet you’re pretty adamant about political leaders being responsible with the way in which they spend our money, aren’t you? Then why would you be so callous about how the military leaders are spending Americans’ lives? It’s quite noble of you to value the lives of the Afghan citizens, but no less noble to recongnize that Col. Mennes’s position is dangerous and short-sighted.

  8. This account sounds worse than I ene figured it was. We need to be out of Afghanistan five or six years ago, min.

  9. Back in the late part of 2001, we had every right to go into Afghanistan and level that fucking hell-hole. In fact, only the uncivilized would NOT have gone in.

    However, we should have stayed no longer than 6 months.

    I believe it was/is Colin Powel that said “If you break it, you own it.” And it is THAT notion that is keeping us there still.

    No, Colin, we did not “break” Afghanistan?or Iraq for that matter. Those places were broken long before we ever got there. We need to immediately get out of there and allow those people to get back to the miserable existence they enjoyed before we visited.

    And if they, again, harbor people that blow us up here, then we should, again, go there?for no more than 6 months?and create a huge pile of debris and dead bodies.

    1. Powell said that in the context of the runup to the Iraq invasion as a way of discouraging the Iraq hawks in the administration from invading without a strong reason.

      And your tiresome belief that anyplace that doesn’t measure up to American standards of wealth and liberty is “broken” and therefore subject to summary invasion and bombing by Great White Father when he gets a bug in his ear is sickening.

      And if they, again, harbor people that blow us up here, then we should, again, go there?for no more than 6 months?and create a huge pile of debris and dead bodies.

      You seem totally unconcerned whether the debris and bodies in question belonged to innocents or those responsible for or aligned with the terrorism.

      1. And your tiresome belief that anyplace that doesn’t measure up to American standards of wealth and liberty is “broken” and therefore subject to summary invasion and bombing by Great White Father when he gets a bug in his ear is sickening.

        Um no.

        Afghanistan was ‘broken’ because it had a dysfunctional government that harbored terrorist who attacked us.

        Destroying that government and killing as many of those terrorists was the appropriate policy follow the 911 attacks. “Fixing” Afghanistan was not.

        And good lord 911 was Great White Father when he gets a bug in his ear – WTF dude.
        WTF

      2. Afghanistan was broken in that they had a dysfunctional government that harbored terrorist organizations that attacked us on 911.

        Destroying that government and those terrorists was the appropriate response to those attacks. “Fixing” Afghanistan never was.

      3. Afghanistan was broken in that they had a dysfunctional government that harbored terrorist organizations that attacked us on 911.

        Destroying that government and those terrorists was the appropriate response to those attacks. “Fixing” Afghanistan never was.

      4. Yeah, I really don’t get the attitude of people on here who think we should respond to terror attacks by leveling whatever country the attack was planned in or wherever the attackers where from. Random people over there aren’t responsible for terrorism just cause the guys who did it were the same nationality or of the same religion. And by that logic, those people would have every right to retaliate by killing as many Americans as they could. A much more sensible policy would be to find out who’s responsible, send in special forces to capture/kill them (if we can trust the local government work with them to get them arrested) and if the government was complicit, do some sort of punitive raid against military/government targets (like we did in Afghanistan at first). Carpet bombing civilian populations serves no purpose and is hypocritical

        1. Really, I don’t see how someone who thinks killing civilian countrymen of those who attack us can find any fault whatsoever with the 9/11 hijackers. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Indeed, the Americans killed on 9/11 bore more responsibility for American mischief in the Middle East than the average Afghan civilian bears for the sins of AQ and the Taliban, since Americans at least have the ability to vote for their leaders.

          IMHO killing innocent civilians is bad no matter who’s doing it. So I can easily condemn the 9/11 attackers. Not how you guys can justify it.

        2. Not to mention, terrorists don’t give a shit if you respond to their attacks by killing innocent people. It doesn’t deter them and creates more pissed off people to target for recruitment

        3. Well, the thinking is that if you build the samadh high enough, the next time someone decides to attack the Americans, their daddy slaps them upside the head and tells them not to be an idiot. Especially with the Arabs, family is everything. If we’d have grabbed the families of the 9/11 hijackers and killed all the men, and left the women and children with only their eyes to weep with, that would have made it very clear what happens to people who murder American citizens, and then people would have policed themselves.

          Instead we invaded one country that had nothing to do with 9/11, because the Saudis are our friends and allies, of course, and we cannot question this. Oh and instead of cleanly killing a few hundred people, we’ve seen thousands of American soldiers and god knows how many Iraqis and Afghani civilians killed.

          1. Yeah that’s sound policy. Maybe we should just do that with everyone who commits a crime from now on – your brother is a low-life scumbag? Too bad, you have to die for it. Please tell me that wasn’t a serious proposal

            1. It’s immoral, but it might be effective.

              You can’t punish the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks. They died with their victims. So the question is, how do you make sure it doesn’t happen again? Because there isn’t a moral response to what happened on 9/11. No action we could possibly have taken would have been moral. There are always innocents killed, always property destroyed. But doing nothing emboldens more to follow in their footsteps. So what is the answer?

              1. Reinforce the cockpit doors and make sure passengers will never cooperate with hijackers again. Done and done, doesn’t require any dead or bereaved innocents.

              2. And, of course, beat the shit out of the govt that harbored AQ, that being the Taliban. Also done.

              3. And if you dump your moral principles once they become inconvenient or burdensome, you don’t have any moral principles, just delusions. If you want to go full blown act-utilitarian that’s fine, but be clear with yourself and everyone else that that’s who you are.

              4. Trying to prevent ALL terrorist attacks/attempts is a futile idiotic venture (not that the government doesn’t love to engage in futile idiotic ventures). They’re going to happen as long as someone has a cause they’re willing to kill and/or die for. You can do things to make them less likely such as 1) don’t unnecessarily piss people off (which our government has done over the years) 2) Use intelligence to try and uncover plots, while still respecting the rights of the people. At the end of the day, the government is a far greater danger to the lives and liberty of the people than terrorists ever could be. 3) Bring the perpetrators and their leaders to justice. Yes, the 9/11 hijackers were dead, but not all terror attacks are suicides, and in that case we had bin Laden and Al Qaeda to go after. If it’s a lone nutjob, and he dies in the attack, there’s not really anything we can do at that point. Again, if you resort to killing the families of terrorists (and does this apply to domestic terrorists to? Or just foreigners?), then terror groups are going to target the children, relatives, and friends left behind, who have no one left, but do have a legitimate beef with the US government. Where does it end?

              5. And again, why not apply this logic to everyday murder? More people die every few months from random murders than who died on 9/11. I know it’s not PC to say, but people freak out way too much about terrorism. There are countless everyday, even seemingly benign things that you’re far more likely to die from than terror attacks

                1. If it’s done “properly” that’s exactly the reaction that terrorism is supposed to provoke. In this case, I think the choice of targets was stupid beyond belief for their purposes. Too obvious, too well-defended, and the plan had too many moving parts; they were extremely “lucky” that as much of it “succeeded”. (I’m scare quoting here because I don’t want people to think I’m on their side)

                  IMHO, the Beltway sniper (in the news again today) was a much more effective terrorist than AQ. As were the various Palestinian suicide-bomb terror cells back in the early 2000s. The key is to keep the population in a constant state of dread, which a one-off attack with huge casualties doesn’t do. But the impression I get from the stories of the AQ guys who get caught is that they are Romantics at heart. No one writes poetry about the random guy who blew himself up at a bistro, so they all go for the glorious attacks rather than the more tactical ones.

        4. Well, the thinking is that if you build the samadh high enough, the next time someone decides to attack the Americans, their daddy slaps them upside the head and tells them not to be an idiot. Especially with the Arabs, family is everything. If we’d have grabbed the families of the 9/11 hijackers and killed all the men, and left the women and children with only their eyes to weep with, that would have made it very clear what happens to people who murder American citizens, and then people would have policed themselves.

          Instead we invaded one country that had nothing to do with 9/11, because the Saudis are our friends and allies, of course, and we cannot question this. Oh and instead of cleanly killing a few hundred people, we’ve seen thousands of American soldiers and god knows how many Iraqis and Afghani civilians killed.

          1. The fact that barbarism is easier than civilization does not mean we should revert to barbarism.

            1. Nothing barbaric about it. If a country is too apathetic to be bothered about who commits acts of war within its borders, then it shouldn’t complain when the aggrieved country goes in to seek the terrorists out.

              1. Absolutely. But that’s not what Virginian was talking about. He was talking about massacring innocent people as an example.

                1. and murdering families for the actions of their relative(s)

  10. I attended the funeral of a KIA soldier this weekend. Dead for no reason, and a child on the way that he’ll never see. What a senseless loss.

  11. No tears shed here. To hell with them. They volunteered to fight an immoral and illegal war. One cannot shirk individual responsibility merely by saying: I was just taking orders.

    1. They volunteered to fight and die if necessary for America. It’s not their fault the civilian leadership chose a stupid war.

      That said, they have to sleep in the bed they volunteered for and not insist on endangering Afghan civilians who also didn’t choose to be the object of US warmaking.

  12. Everything I read on this page convinces me: It is literally a matter of life and death, that we get Gary Johnson into the Presidential debates, to ask the hard questions and propose a swift end to our middle eastern military adventures, which, if they were ever worthwhile, long ago outlived their usefulness. After debates including Johnson, the wars will no longer be “nary a blip” in the campaign.

  13. I am not going to say what I think of the things said here with regards to the value of our soldiers lives vs. the lives of afghanis.

    Instead I will propose that some justice would be served by hanging every fucking congressman, senator, and administration official who actively supports this war, and amputating the legs of any who arent actively calling for it’s end.

    1. Add to your list every jerk that decided to turn Afghanistan into a “nation building” event, and I’ll drink to that.

      Only an idiot walks into a place like that, or Iraq, knocks the (rotten) existing government out, and then tells the populace “here, you go build a nice little democracy now”. They no f’ing clue how to do it, just for starters.

      1. No one has a clue how to build a free democracy. It happens on its own or it doesn’t happen.

        It’s particularly hard for American govt apparatchiks to do, when back at home they’re doing their damnedest to destroy the sickly old free democracy we have here.

  14. Funny. Sad.

    All that fulminating, and not one of you even came close to getting it right…

    o 9/11: Committed by *Saudi Arabians*, with just a few others.

    o 9/11: Funded by *Saudi Arabians*

    o 9/11: An act of radical Islam: which operates out of *Saudi Arabia*

    …from these FACTS, you all conclude the invasion of Iraq was senseless (right, 33 points for you), but think we should have gone into Afghanistan (0 points) and mutter about AQ (0 points.) Overall score: 33. You fail.

    Blaming AQ is like blaming the british war college for random acts of people who were educated there.

    The fuckery here is radical Islam, top-down. Not a bunch of goat herders in Afghanistan.

    Either you address radical Islam — and by all means, discuss how, I have my own ideas, but I’m sure they’d horrify the lot of you — or you have done nothing but pump the military industrial complex, which, btw, was probably the *actual* point of invading both countries.

    You can’t fucking fix this if you have no idea what is going on, which is clearly the state of affairs here.

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