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Cultural Darwinism of the Afghan War

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New Afghan commandos at a graduation ceremony in Kabul, May 2017. (Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
New Afghan commandos at a graduation ceremony in Kabul, May 2017. (Photo: Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Cultural Darwinism of the Afghan war is forcing an evolution within Afghan society, but it also draws a spotlight on the rudimentary failings of modern Western capabilities. The following article is part of a four-part series featuring conversations with military veterans who served in Afghanistan to explore what went wrong and what comes next.

In part three of our series, Clarion’s national correspondent Shireen Qudosi speaks with Army veteran Greg Hutchinson, private first class, who served as a machine gunner (M240L) and Stryker operator.

 

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Clarion: What do you think the Afghan War should look like from our perspective? How should we shape our strategies?

Hutchinson: America is using conventional Western tactics against an asymmetric guerilla force. Ideally, we should be using more Special Forces to train indigenous forces to root out and combat the Taliban in turf that is off limits to the U.S., such as mosques and schools.

Clarion: How do you bring guerrilla warfare to mosques and schools?

Hutchinson: A community knows who belongs there and who doesn’t. One of our interpreters told us that when they heard the Americans had invaded, they rounded up the Taliban and dragged them through the streets until they died. Now imagine the blowback of Americans going into a mosque and removing a radical cleric like that. Only natives can do something like that.

Clarion: It hasn’t been that long since you’ve been back home in the States. Has your time in one part of the world shaped another?

Hutchinson: Seeing some of the far leftist gun movements in America taking off actually reminds me of the Afghan army and how little they understand the role and use of firearms in combat.

Clarion: Without getting too political about the far left, from a basic military perspective, it looks like you’re worried about how we’re debilitating ourselves as a nation in moving away from basic survival skills needed in combative environments?

Hutchinson: For civilians? Yeah. America was built on the backs of hard men — early settlers, frontiersmen or your traditional self-sufficient family unit that had nobody to rely on for protection but themselves. Our forefathers killed goats and chickens for food in their backyard. Now, people have meltdowns over gendered words. 

We have a society so advanced, any sort of discomfort shatters people’s worlds. Compare this to Afghanistan. People, kids, don’t treat animals as some sort of family member. They focus on surviving. They need to eat. Westerners have created this illusion of reality where violence is outsourced. I feel like “primitive” societies retain more of what makes us human. Abrahamic religions base their theology on the fact that we need sacrifice to please G-d, and we live in a society unwilling to sacrifice anything.

Clarion: This is really poignant. What led you to reflect so deeply on these issues in such a personal way?

Hutchinson: I’ve started giving a lot of thought to these kinds of questions recently since I became a Catholic. We have the dichotomy of being responsible for upholding the dignity of the human being, but in doing so, have the duty to defend the weak and innocent.

I don’t know America’s end goal. I find it interesting how convoluted American intervention has become that the Taliban and ISIS are fighting in Afghanistan since we basically created both, and how ISIS and Al-Qaeda are fighting in the Levant, since we’re backing both sides. I just know that so far, the actions taken have been pretty ineffective. One that wasn’t was the MOAB [Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb] strike which I believe killed 100s of ISIS fighters with no collateral damage.

Clarion: MOAB was more about showing strength to Korea and less about Afghanistan.

Hutchinson: It was. Can’t argue with dead ISIS fighters though.

Clarion: True. Among these extremists groups present in Afghanistan, the Taliban has been almost immovable. What do you think makes the Taliban capable of being so successful against the Afghan army?

Hutchinson: The Taliban have generally always been successful against the Afghan army. It’s mostly the same way the cartels are so effective against the Mexican government. Bush, Obama and now Trump — nothing much has changed with the Afghan army itself. The soldiers are poorly trained, have low morale and are under-equipped. Honestly speaking, it’s a hopeless war to fight conventionally.

The Afghan Army seems to have binged on 80’s action flicks as part of their training. They dressed up and acted like Rambo. In combat, they wore belts of ammo like ones you would see in a cheesy Vietnam or Stallone movie. They fired full auto without aiming, and they had little care for where they were shooting, as long as they fired everything they had.

Clarion: Why do you think morale is so low among the Afghan army?

Hutchinson: Mostly because they’re poorly trained and can’t make serious inroads against the Taliban. Now, they’re not poorly trained because America just doesn’t care, but because you have to reshape their entire worldview in order to train them, and that much time and dedication doesn’t exist. You can look up on YouTube something like “Americans train Afghans” and watch some abysmal attempts by Iraqis and Afghans to conform to Western training standards.

For a few Afghan commandos, who are selected and trained specifically to assist American Special Forces, morale is high, and they are well trained. We had some work with the Special Forces team that shared our outpost, and I was impressed with how good they were. They had good equipment, they had a serious look in their eyes that told me they meant business, and they had discipline which reflected their level of training.

Clarion: Across the board I hear impressive reviews of Afghan commandos, with mixed reviews of the Afghan army. Can you help us understand the gap between these two Afghan military units?

Hutchinson: The commandos are typically pulled from Northern tribes (who have always seen the Taliban as an enemy). This is key, if I’m correct: Since the Taliban is a Pashtun organization, radical opposition gives the drive and cohesion needed to staunchly oppose them. It’s the same tactic that was used to bring down the Aztec empire — find who hates them and wants them gone, then train them to fight.

Afghan commandos also receive better training. Proper training is critical. It’s important to remember the U.S. military was born of two very regimented military traditions: the British and the Prussians. Our first generals were educated at British war colleges and served in the British army. They prided themselves on their discipline, uniformity and efficiency.

Also, while there are stark differences in worldview and training, what Americans forget is that we are fighting fellow humans who have the same capacity to learn as us, which is why the war is dragging out so long. They are adapting, because we are essentially forcing a sort of Darwinistic order upon them.

Clarion: I’m going to go back to something you said earlier: “You have to reshape their entire worldview in order to train them.” Can you explain it better for people who might not understand what their worldview is now and what needs change? What would it take to reshape that wordview?

Hutchinson: My limited understanding of Afghan and Islamic culture as a whole is that everything is as God wills. Western thought tends to reject this notion and takes action upon ourselves. To us, Afghans appear complacent and lazy and unwilling to do what is necessary to take back their nation. Reshaping this view would require Western-style education to see things in a less metaphysical and supernatural way. While Christians also hold that God has a plan, they also tend to believe they are active participants in their own fate. This may be an unrealistic goal because of accusations of colonialism or some or some sort of Crusade revivalism to convert Muslims.

See Part 1: Will American Join the Graveyard of Empires?
See Part 2: Can Peace Be Made With Taliban Butchers?

 

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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.