Small Wars Journal

Commander Wants Coalition Forces in Afghanistan to Know Why They Fight

Commander Wants Coalition Forces in Afghanistan to Know Why They Fight

Jim Garamone – DoD News

WARSAW, Poland - “Why are we here?” is a basic question that coalition troops in Afghanistan have to answer.

The simple question evinces a lot of different answers, said Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, the new commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

“Each nation has its own objectives, and then there are NATO objectives,” Miller said prior to the NATO Military Committee meeting here. “So you get a lot of different answers when you speak to the troops. But it all comes down to protecting the citizens at home.”

This is easy enough to forget. The events that precipitated military actions in Afghanistan occurred 17 years ago. To put this in perspective, some of the coalition soldiers assigned to Afghanistan were a year old when al-Qaida terrorists killed 3,000 people in America.

They have no direct memories of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center in New York, or an aircraft slamming into the Pentagon, or Americans fighting back and forcing a plane commandeered by terrorists to crash in a field in Pennsylvania. They know about Sept. 11, 2001, because they studied it, but they don’t have the visceral emotions that those who watched the Twin Towers fall or counted the number of friends dead in the rubble of the Pentagon.

Al-Qaida had safe haven in Afghanistan. The Taliban leaders of the nation protected Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants as they planned the attack against the United States.

NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that created the alliance for – so far – the only time in its history, as the nations of the alliance came to the aid of America in the aftermath of the horrific attack. Article 5 states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.

In the more than 17 years since the attack, more than 1,100 NATO and coalition troops have lost their lives combating terrorism in Afghanistan. And this is not just an American conflict or problem. Terrorists have struck London, Madrid, Paris, Nice, Bali, the Philippines, Mumbai and many other cities and countries.

Ungoverned or loosely governed areas attract terror groups. They use monies raised from taxing areas they occupy or – like the Taliban and others – money from illegal activities such as the drug trade to finance their attacks. They use these safe havens to train new terrorists and indoctrinate new recruits into the hateful ideologies they espouse.

Making Their Own Countries Safer

Miller, who has been commander of the NATO mission only since Sept. 2, reminds coalition troops that what they are doing in Afghanistan makes their own countries safer. They are protecting their fellow citizens.

The “train, advise, assist” mission allows Afghan security forces to take the fight to the enemy. They are working to give the Afghan government the security needed to provide stability. That makes the nation untenable for terrorists who want to make it a safe haven again.

The answer in Afghanistan is reconciliation between the government and the Taliban. The war has continued for 17 years. NATO and coalition forces are in for the long haul, and the Taliban cannot hope to wait out the coalition. The smart option is to reconcile and rebuild Afghanistan together, the general said.

Terror groups such as ISIS-Khorasan, al-Qaida and others have no role in a new Afghanistan. Afghan security forces and coalition operators target those groups to crush them to erase their ideology.

There are many challenges ahead for Miller and the coalition. There are Afghan elections next month and presidential elections set for next year. The coalition needs to provide more training for more units in the Afghan army and police. The Afghan air force needs to continue to grow and develop to provide support to those on the ground. Neighboring nations need to do more.

And the coalition troops in the country need to remember why they are there, Miller said: to protect their own citizens and families.



Addendum to my comment immediately below:

Note that my suggest alternative answer to the question of "why we are here" (indeed, wherever in the world that might be?),  

This such alternative answer might better answer this question for all of our -- various -- coalition(s)'  personnel; not just those in Afghanistan?

From our article above:


"Why are we here?” is a basic question that coalition troops in Afghanistan have to answer.

The simple question evinces a lot of different answers, said Army Gen. Austin S. Miller, the new commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.

“Each nation has its own objectives, and then there are NATO objectives,” Miller said prior to the NATO Military Committee meeting here. “So you get a lot of different answers when you speak to the troops. But it all comes down to protecting the citizens at home.”


As we all know, U.S./Western military forces operate, throughout much of the world today, to support friendly local governments; this, for example, with their efforts to (a) promote democracy and (b) establish viable market economies. (And, indeed, to protect same.)

Example from the AFRICOM website:


Why the U.S. Military is in Somalia:

The U.S. response to the challenges in Somalia has been to work with the Federal Government and the Federal Member state administrations, in coordination with the African Union, the United Nations, and other partners working toward a common goal: to support Somali-led efforts to stabilize and rebuild their country along democratic and federal lines.


Example from Trump NSS re: Africa:


ECONOMIC: We will expand trade and commercial ties to create jobs and build wealth for Americans and Africans. We will work with reform-oriented governments to help establish conditions that can transform them into trading partners and improve their business environment. We will support economic integration among African states. We will work with nations that seek to move beyond assistance to partnerships that promote prosperity. We will offer American goods and services, both because it is profitable for us and because it serves as an alternative to China’s often extractive economic footprint on the continent.

END QUOTE… (See Pages 52 and 53.)

What we must come to understand, however, is that these such initiatives -- in general  -- seem to (a) predate 9/11 (September 11, 2001) and seem to (b) have more to do with 11/9 (November 1989) and the end of the Old Cold War; as the following two items seem to verify:

Example from then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lakes' 1993 introduction of the Clinton "Engagement and Enlargement" NSS:


The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement -- enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies.

During the Cold War, even children understood America's security mission; as they looked at those maps on their schoolroom walls, they knew we were trying to contain the creeping expansion of that big, red blob.

Today, at great risk of oversimplification, we might visualize our security mission as promoting the enlargement of the "blue areas" of market democracies.


Example from a 2016 RAND study on Defense Institution Building:


Defense Institution Building’s Origins:

... The concept behind DIB, however, is much older than the term. The idea of promoting capable, transparent, and accountable defense institutions has been particularly widespread since the 1990s, when Western governments started engaging the Central Asian and Eastern European countries that had just emerged from communist rule on improving their civil-military relations. It was during that decade that it “became increasingly accepted that democratic governance of the security sector is essential to security.” Security sector governance (SSG) is one term that predates DIB but encompasses most of its definition. SSG involves improving management of security bodies (including, but not limited to, defense), enhancing accountability, and improving professionalism. On its “Security Sector Governance” web page, for instance, the U.S. Institute of Peace says that it “helps to build professional, sustainable, and locally supported security institutions that promote democracy and the rule of law.” ...


Thus, as to the question:  "Why we are here?"  Might a better answer be to:

a.  Advance market-democracy throughout the world and to:

b.  Take down -- and/or to adequately deal with -- those individuals and groups ("lone wolfs," AQ, ISIS, etc.?) -- and those states and societies (Russia, China, Iran?) -- who might stand in our way?