The Military Might? An Exclusive Post For RWN By Embed Matt Sanchez

The “forgotten war” or the one that should have been remembered, Afghanistan is a place that looks suspiciously like Palm Springs except the women wear Burkas instead of bathing suits. Logically, this is the “good war”, the legal and justified war, but like the sibling to the prodigal son, the son who did everything right, Afghanistan is both neglected and misunderstood.

Stepping off the plane, at Bagram Airbase, the first difference I noticed between Iraq and Afghanistan was how many nationalities are represented. Unlike the Iraqi WMD claim, there was little doubt the 9/11 attacks were launched from Afghanistan. So, an eager international community boldly raised its collective hand to take part in the mission of reconstructing the Taliban stronghold. But like the disparate versions of camouflage soldiers wear to blend in to the same environment, the interpretation of the mission is what makes so many countries stand out.

With all the criticism of “going it alone” and “unilateralism” Afghanistan is supposed to be a model of what free nations can do when they pitch in together for a common task, but when it comes to mission accomplishment, not all miliataries are equal. Of course, this will disturb those who refuse to see any differences between nations, peoples, religions. The “We are the World Crowd” will insist everyone is in a war zone and taking a similar risk–like a sappy soft-drink commercial, no one wants to break the mood of unity, but when you take a look at the casualties, the numbers speak a universal language.

The British do a fine job, with over 6,000 troops; Her Majesty’s military displays formidable martial might. The Brits are disciplined, trained and professional, which is in direct contrast to the Egyptian Army whose soldier’s main activity is to walk around with their uniform in disarray and see how many cold sodas they can hoard from the DFAC, (Dining Facility) refrigerator. I was surprised to learn the former subjects of pharaohs run a medical unit at Bagram.

The English have been aggressive in pursuing the Taliban and confronting the enemy. In other words, they will fight. I spoke to an English officer at the Bagram Airbase who noted some of the differences between the United States and the United Kingdom. “We don’t have all that ‘We Support the Troops’ stuff like you Yanks do,” he concluded. Let’s hope some British social customs are not as contagious as Madonna found their accent to be.

Of the 31,000 + non-Afghan troops stationed in Afghanistan, far more than half are American as are over 80% of the casualties. The problem is not that Americans make easier targets, it’s that each represented country has a different mission in Afghanistan. Just because you’re in a war zone doesn’t mean you have to actually be in the war, in fact, you can pretend you’re on a peacekeeping mission and never leave the garrison.

I met a Frenchman on base who boasted “I get along very well with Americans,” but what was there not to get along with? The American military provide him with a place to stay, free health care, guards to protect, as much food as you can eat and air transportation from one base to the next. With so many benefits for so little effort, life in Afghanistan, for many Europeans nationals, is the socialist paradise their governments could never deliver.

With about 1,000 French soldiers in country and nine deaths over five years, the probability is higher a French warrior will die from drinking Afghan black market wine, than there is of him “falling in the line of duty” — unless, of course, he slips in the chow hall.

According to critics in the media and the politicians pretending to care for the welfare of the troops, support for the Afghan Mission is failing around the globe. Canada has lost 66 soldiers in five years and they’re already crying uncle. Jean Chretien, the former Prime Minister, initially refused to leave the urban stronghold of Kabul, where International forces have set up a beer garden and a nice wooden replica of the Roman Coliseum. Chretien probably wanted to resort to that time-proven French Canadian tactic of surrendering without a fight and then insurging against the enemy using the deadly tactic of endless provincial referendums. The recent loss of five soldiers in a single attack sent the Canadian, especially Quebec public into white-flag therapy. Three centuries and some people just can’t kick the surrendering habit.

Other nationalities really do change, having starred in two world Wars, today’s Germany gets nose-bleeds around violent video games. Like the French, and many others, the Germans will not engage the enemy in Afghanistan. Their “prudence” in the North has earned them little public favor back home — where support for troops in Afghanistan is even lower than church attendance. Over the past five years, Germany has lost 21 men, which is roughly the same number of Germans who admit they actually knew about the Holocaust and confess to caring enough to do anything about it.

South Koreans are EXCELLENT warriors, unfortunately their government is about as gullible as their missionary travel agent. Negotiating with the Taliban makes as much sense as a telethon charitable fundraiser for a Louisiana casino.

I don’t want to give the impression that all of the world militaries are as conflicted as a Libyan delegate leading the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The plucky Polish are everywhere and have a youthful vibrancy that their former German occupiers lack. I saw Polish soldiers pile into the Chinook helicopter that was taking me to PRT Gardez. They were alive, armed and ready to roll. Their cleaned, oiled and modified AK 47’s seem to ask “Who do you want me to shoot?

The media is already forecasting the “downturn in Afghanistan” and they’re quick to point out the upturn in opium production. This unilateral blame America first will not take into account the multi-lateral support as evidenced by the rainbow village in Afghanistan. The ISAF (International Security Afghanistan Force and umbrella organization for Coalition forces) does not mandate a pro-active role in the eradication of the illegal (and rising) Opium trade. With so many chiefs and too few brave Indians it stands to reason that, in Afghanistan “legal” will never quite equal “logical”.

Matt Sanchez is the recipient of the Jeane Kirkpatrick Award for Academic Freedom and is currently embedded in Iraq after spending time embedded in Afghanistan. You can follow his experiences at

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