It appears our strategy is nation-building, with fighting and dismantling of the Taliban a secondary consideration. Thus, the number of enemy killed will not be counted, let alone used as a metric. This non-kinetic theory of counterinsurgency has persuaded the liberal community in America to support or at least not to vociferously oppose the war. But we have to maintain a balance between messages that gain domestic support and messages that direct battlefield operations.
We must understand what our riflemen do in Afghanistan every day. The answer is they conduct combat patrols. That underlies all their other activities. They go out with rifles to engage and kill the enemy. That is how they protect the population. For our generals to stress that the war is 80% non-kinetic discounts the basic activity of our soldiers. Although crime isn't eradicated by locking up criminals, we expect our police to make arrests to keep the streets safe. Similarly, our riflemen are trained to engage the enemy. That's how they protect the population. If we're not out in the countryside night and day -- and we're not -- then the Taliban can move around as they please and intimidate or persuade the population.
I'm not arguing that we Americans can ever dominate the Taliban gangs. There's a level of understanding and accommodation among Afghans in the countryside that culturally surpasses our understanding. During the May poppy harvest, the shooting stops on both sides and men from far and wide head to the fields to participate in the harvest. That's an Afghan thing. Only the Afghans can figure out what sort of society and leaders they want.
That said, we should strive to do a better job of what we are doing for as long as we are there. I condensed several hours of firefights I filmed during various patrols into the 30-second clip I posted here on 10 August (Not a Tactical Hurdle). The purpose is to illustrate a tactical problem that is strategic in its dimensions. Simply put, our ground forces are not inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. However, the annual bill for the US military in Afghanistan exceeds $70 billion, with another four to six billion for development. We've already spent $38 billion on Afghan reconstruction. Congress may eventually balk at spending such sums year after year. The problem is we're liable to be gradually pulled out while the Taliban is intact. Nation-building alone is not sufficient; the Taliban must be disrupted.
Our soldiers only get a small number of chances to engage the enemy. Our battalions average one arrest every two months, and one platoon-sized patrol per day per company that infrequently makes solid contact. On average, a US rifleman will glimpse a Taliban once a month. The Taliban initiate the fights because they know they can escape. Our patrols have firepower but lack mobility. Our soldiers are carrying 70 pounds; a Taliban is carrying ten pounds. The Taliban have the distinct edge in mobility. Because the Taliban are well-concealed and scoot away, our superior firepower does not yield precision aim points to do severe damage.
More senior-level attention must be paid to inflicting severe enemy losses in firefights and to arresting the Taliban, so that their morale and networks are broken. A recent directive forbids applying indirect fires against compounds where civilians might be hiding. That directive upholds human decency and may reduce enemy propaganda. But indirect fires -- helicopter gunships and jets -- used to be called "precision fires" and gave the US its enormous advantage in combat. Now that such fires are restricted, what provides our advantage when the enemy sensibly fights from compounds? Don't expect Afghan soldiers to do it for us. We have equipped and trained the Afghans in our image. They are as heavy and slow-moving on the ground as we are, and rely upon our advisors to call in the firepower.
This is my third war. It has the highest level of military scholars. Those scholars who emphasized the concepts of non-kinetic counterinsurgency need also to design concepts that bring more lethality to the ground battlefield. We're pumping billions into UAVs. Surely we can find technologies and techniques for the grunt.