• The Worst Day of the Afghan War

    September 11, 2021

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Iraq, Military


    The Kabul airport suicide bombing was the largest single-day loss of life for Americans in the Afghan War since 2011. It was a terrible day, but begs the question: what was the worst day of the Afghan war?

    It is hard not to consider the Kabul airport suicide bombing the worst day; 13 Americans and maybe a hundred Afghans dead. How old were the Americans? How many hadn’t even gotten out of diapers when the war started 20 years ago? Did any have parents who also served in Afghanistan? Who were the Afghans?

    All of the dead were so close to safety after who knows what journey to that moment together, a hundred yards across the tarmac and into an airplane out. Good people only die at the last minute in bad movies and sometimes real life. But was it the worst day?

    Shall we count the dead? The worst day for American casualties in Afghanistan was August 6, 2011, when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down over eastern Afghanistan. Thirty Americans, including 22 SEALs, died.

    There were a lot of other worst days.  On June 28, 2005, 19 Special Operations troops were killed during Operation Red Wings. Three service members died in an ambush and 16 others lost their lives when their helicopter went down in an effort to help.

    — On July 13, 2008 nine Americans and 27 others were wounded in an attack on an American observation post in the Battle of Wanat.

    — On October 3, 2009 eight Americans and four Afghans were killed at Combat Outpost Keating when 200 Taliban fighters attacked the base in eastern Afghanistan.

    — On December 30, 2009 a Jordanian double-agent lured seven CIA operatives to their deaths in a suicide attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman.

    — On September 21, 2010 a Black Hawk helicopter went down in Qalat, killing five soldiers of the 101st Airborne, three Navy SEALs, and one support technician.

    — On April 27, 2011 eight U.S. airmen and one contractor were killed at the Kabul airport. A U.S.-trained ally Afghan Air Corps pilot became angry during an argument and began shooting.

    — The worst day might have been one out of the other hundreds of green-on-blue killings, incidents when an Afghan soldier purposely killed an American ally, the worst kind of proof we had lost and refused to believe that until belief was forced upon us.

    — Or maybe the symbolically worst day was February 8, 2020 when two American soldiers were killed fighting in eastern Afghanistan, the last “combat” deaths. In between those deaths and the deaths by the suicide bomber at Kabul airport, five other Americans died in “non-hostiles,” suicides and accidents. Those were bad days, too.

    — The worst day might have been have been the death of Pat Tilman, the NFL star/poster boy who ceremoniously joined the Army post-9/11 only to die in a volley of friendly fire and Pentagon lies.

     

    — Or maybe it was after a Taliban IED tore apart State Department officer Anne Smedinghoff while on a propaganda mission. Would either have been proud to give their lives those ways, knowing what we know now?

    Maybe the worst day was when some soldier back home, thinking his war was over, realized he had been conned, it was all a lie, that he never fought to defend America or help the Afghans, and neither did his buddy who died among the poppies outside a village without a name. Maybe it was when he realized his dad had told him the same thing about Vietnam. Or maybe it was when he heard President Biden, mentally stuck in 2006, claim those killed at the Kabul airport were actually “lives given in the service of liberty.”

    Or the worst day might be tonight, when some American veteran tells his wife after a couple too many he is going out to clean his gun in the garage. An average of 20 vets take their own lives each day. On August 16, the day after Kabul fell, the Veterans Administration Crisis Line saw a 12 percent increase in calls.

    Of course the Afghans had some worst days too, though no one really keeps track of those. The Kabul airport suicide attack must rank high. Or it could have been when the U.S. bombed an Afghan hospital. Or maybe when a U.S. drone, our national bird, attacked a wedding party. The Haska Meyna wedding party airstrike killed 47. Another airstrike against a wedding party killed 40 civilians. The Wech Baghtu wedding party attack took 37 lives. An airstrike on the village of Azizabad killed as many as 92 civilians. A U.S. drone strike that destroyed 32 pine nut farmers.

    Because the big days for Afghans were often covered up instead of mourned, no one knows which was the worst day. We hide behind an Orwellian term too macabre for Orwell, collateral damage, to mean violence sudden, sharp, complete, unnecessary, and anonymous. For most Afghans, it defined our war against them.

    Or perhaps judging the worst day for the Afghan side via a simple body count is wrong, there were just so many. But if pain is the metric, then the worst day for Afghans clearly took place inside one of the black sites, where the United States as a national policy tortured people to death.

    We only know one name out of many. Gul Rahman died almost naked, wearing only socks and a diaper, shackled to the floor, in a CIA black site, for freedom, although no one can really explain the connection anymore. He’d been subjected to 48 hours of sleep deprivation, rough treatment, and cold showers, interrogated 18 hours a day. There were 20 other cells nearby for other Afghans. A CIA board recommended disciplinary action for the man held responsible for the death but was overruled.

    Those worst days highlight, if that word is even morally permissible here, the long series of atrocities committed in Afghanistan (and Iraq, and Vietnam, and…) instances where our killing of civilians, whether accidental or purposeful or something smeared in-between, ruined any chance the U.S. could capture those hearts and minds and build a stable society in our image. We could hold ground with tanks but only achieve our broader national security goals via memory. That’s why we lost.

     

    Because it is so very hard to understand 20 years of tragedy, we focus on something small and symbolically fetishize that, turn it into a token, a symbol of the greater failure that is easier to grasp, easier to acknowledge. Few Americans know much about the horrors inflicted across the decades of war in Vietnam but if they know anything they know My Lai. As documented in Nick Turse’s diligent Kill Anything That Moves, My Lai was indeed a real horror show, but simply best-known because it was the one where lots of photos were taken, not the worst. And that’s before we zoom out to see Vietnam’s CIA assassination program, Phoenix, was just a low-tech version of today’s drone killings.

    So it may be with the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport. Maybe they deserve their place in the coda of the war, a way to summarize things. The pieces are all there: tactical fumbling by Washington, Americans out of place, civilians just trying to escape taking the worst of the violence, an enemy no one saw or knows well disrupting carefully planned out global policy goals, sigh, again.

    There’s also the hero element, the Americans were innocents, killed while trying to help the Afghans (albeit help the Afghans out of a mess created earlier by other Americans.) And of course, following the bombing, a revenge airstrike against ISIS-K leaders, or a random goat farmer or an empty field (we’ll never know and it doesn’t really matter) followed by another which killed ten civilians using a “ginsu knives” bomb which shreds human flesh via six large blades. They may claim a bit of history by being the last Afghan civilians killed by the United States. Have we finally stopped holding that devil’s hand?

     

    The Kabul airport suicide bombing may be so jarring, so perfectly timed to illuminate 20 years of failure, that it will even be investigated. A blue ribbon committee might tear into what happened, the intelligence failure, some bad decision by a first lieutenant on where to deploy his men. Unlikely, but maybe even a low-level scapegoat will be named and punished. The committee certainly won’t look too far into reports the U.S. knew the attack was coming and let the troops die to appease Britain’s needs.

     

    We miss the point again. The issue is to ask: why have we not assigned blame and demanded punishment for the leaders who put those 20-year-old soldiers into the impossible situations they faced? Before we throw away the life of another kid or another dozen Afghans, why don’t we demand justice for those in the highest seats of power for creating wars that create such fertile ground for atrocity?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      Do you really expect the American people, the majority supported these illegal wars, will hold anyone responsible when they wont admit in seeking blood for 9-11 have blood on their hands?

      What is the worst day? Easy: the next day you allow continued atrocities to occur and you do nothing.

      Woke? Wake up.

      09/12/21 8:52 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      2

      For my money the worst day of the war was 16 December 2001; that’s the day most commonly thought to be when Osama bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora into Pakistan thanks to the poor judgment of SecDef Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks.

      To put the above into perspective keep in mind that (unless you’re heavily into conspiracy theories) Al Qaeda really did kill almost 3,000 people in the U.S. on 9/11/01, to include 372 non-U.S. citizens from over 90 different countries. So while you can say what you will about why Al Qaeda staged this attack, it’s pretty clear (unless you condone murdering innocent people) that us retaliating against AQ and bin Laden was both reasonable and just. But we unfortunately screwed up that retaliation big time, which allowed bin Laden to escape and opened up the door for our “Forever Wars” and bungled nation building in the region.

      Now don’t get me wrong, bringing bin Laden’s head home in ’01 wouldn’t have *guaranteed* anything – I’m sure the MICC would have tried their best to keep the cash and promotions flowing even after that. But killing our “Most Wanted Man in the World” *then* instead of ten years later arguably could have wrapped up this military (mis)adventure a whole lot sooner and vastly reduced the waste of lives and money. As it said in the 2009 Senate FRC report on this failure (which was requested by John Kerry): “Removing the Al Qaeda leader from the battlefield eight years ago would not have eliminated the worldwide extremist threat. But the decisions that opened the door for his escape to Pakistan allowed bin Laden to emerge as a potent symbolic figure who continues to attract a steady flow of money and inspire fanatics worldwide.” Then it went on to (correctly IMO) blame this failure for “laying the foundation for today’s protracted Afghan insurgency and inflaming the internal strife now endangering Pakistan.” Source:
      https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/29/world/asia/29torabora.html

      Sometimes going to war is the right thing to do, because you’ve run out of options and/or the “bad guys” really are that bad. But if you’re going to go to war do it right, win as fast as you can and then get out of there; that’s Strategy 101. Getting bin Laden in Tora Bora on 12/16/01 might have helped us do just that but we blew it, chiefly because of incompetent leadership from the very top of the chain of command; some things never change. So that’s my vote for worst day of the Afghan War.

      09/13/21 9:00 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      The more words it takes to make a case the less that case exists.

      Here’s the case: Go to war if you are attacked. Not the war you CHOOSE. See Russia Afghanistan, US Vietnam, US Iraq, US Afghanistan.

      Saudis attacked US, remember???

      09/14/21 8:18 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      4

      Worst decision not worst day: to kill bin Laden and dump his body at sea instead of capturing him alive and putting him on trial here in the USA. Political expediency won over a chance for historical enlightenment and justice.

      09/14/21 9:19 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      5

      @John Poole – The raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan in 2011 was theoretically a capture/kill mission. That said, only the folks at the very top then or those on the ground that night will ever really know how sincerely anyone wanted to capture bin Laden.

      @Rich Bauer – Do you have a point? Are you trying to equate the 9/11 attacks with the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” or all that “slam dunk” intel on WMD’s in Iraq? Or perhaps you’re saying that after 9/11 we should have left bin Laden, AQ and the Taliban alone and bombed Saudi Arabia instead? Take a deep breath, make sure you’ve popped your meds for the day and try to use your *words* to make a coherent argument for a change. Don’t worry if you use more than 144 characters or words with more than two syllables, I’ll do my best to keep up. I have faith in you Rich, you can do this!

      09/14/21 5:56 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      What Afghan War?

      The media has already lost interest in Afghanistan. No money in stressing over spilled milk. The ratings are on the war on the Homefront. The Repug Lunatic Fringe is freaking out on the lost battle of California. What will their savior do now? Even Hitler lost a few battles before he made it back on top.

      Yes, I know comparing Trump to Hitler is, of course, wrong as the Orange Clown is a coward, while Hitler actually served in battle. Trump is a conman. Hitler was a true believer, insane from the mustard gas in the trenches, but actually believed the shit he said. However, there is a comparison to be made of the disaffected paranoid white people who wanted to believe the conman and the disaffected paranoid white people who wanted to believe the Little lunatic: FEAR. Scared people in the US support Trump because they lost self esteem and couldn’t accept a black man actually got in their White House, and the scared Germans lost self esteem when the Depression made them poor and who believed the Jews would take away their houses. Don’t worry about the Reichstag-Capitol scenario. The country is on fire and it ain’t just the West.

      09/15/21 11:40 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      7

      Joe: A trial would have exposed too many American crimes against hapless “ragheads”. I doubt those actually doing the operation had any choice but to follow the set plan-dead-not alive.

      09/15/21 11:44 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe (Biden) said...

      8

      @Rich Bauer – Beautiful job Rocco! Someone asked you a few pointed questions about the incoherent nonsense that comes out of your mouth, so you changed the subject – just like me and all the other Party hacks here in DC! And bonus points for changing the subject to Trump! Sure he’s been out of office for nine months now, but we (meaning the Party and the MSM) plan on trying to keep him in the spotlight for as long as possible, so folks don’t actually look into what *we’ve* really been up to (wink, wink.) You’re truly a credit to the DNC my friend, keep up the great work on our behalf!

      09/15/21 8:34 PM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      9

      John: Oh you bet. Kind of reminds me of how the SAS ended the Iranian Embassy siege in London back in 1980. Margaret Thatcher allegedly told the SAS she didn’t want “an ongoing problem” after the hostage rescue, which they took to mean she wanted all the terrorist hostage takers killed. According to some of the rescued hostages the SAS killed two of the terrorists *after* they’d surrendered, and a third (who was trying to escape among the rescued hostages before he was identified) was probably being dragged back into the Embassy to be executed when the SAS realized there were news cameras outside the Embassy and they were being filmed – so that last guy did survive and was tried and sentenced to life in prison. (Though he was eventually paroled.) Just goes to show that despite all the niceties of human civilization, when you mess *directly* with any nation-state the gloves do tend to come off. (For an even better example, just consider what Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbor eventually did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

      09/15/21 9:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      Why don’t we hold the American people to account for allowing the fat pigs to create these wars without endgames? Sheeple get fleeced, but pigs get slaughtered.

      Speaking of fat, America, look in the mirror. You are being fed to slaughter. Stress is the No. 1 cause we see for a shift in weight. The states with obesity rates of 35% or more are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia…TRUMP COUNTRY.

      09/16/21 9:53 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      11

      Joe: gloves came off and so did a lot of skin from hapless souls in Hiroshima and later Nagasaki). Some say the surprise attack by Japan was militarily justified as preemptive. Thousands of Japanese citizens who had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor were targeted to be vaporized to send a message that the gloves had come off. Not much changes.

      09/16/21 11:43 AM | Comment Link

    • Joe said...

      12

      John – Funny how we were talking about America’s nuclear history in Asia, just when our peace loving President announces a deal that prominently features us helping Australia build nuclear submarines to deal with “the threat from China.” (Though we’re still not supposed to talk about how COVID might have originated in a Chinese lab doing research that we were funding.) But since we’re done with Afghanistan I guess it’s time to start feeding the MICC somewhere else, and cold war nuke type stuff is where the *really* big money is – cha ching! Some things never change indeed.

      09/17/21 1:51 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      13

      Joe- if you’ve watched ON THE BEACH with a realistic acceptance that such a scenario can indeed happen (there will be no Christian God to miraculously drop down to save homo sapiens from self extinguishment) today’s headlines of nuclear sub agreements- with of course nukes on board- should steer you right to the tequila bottle. I should be an alcoholic or addict. That I’m not worries me at times.

      09/18/21 6:47 PM | Comment Link

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