SecDef Carter would rather we not talk so much about 400 “over the horizon” troops supporting the Afghan mission.

The White House and the Pentagon buried the lead deeper than Jenny McCarthy’s autism credentials. It’s a bait-and-switch worthy of a three ring circus mashed up with a Carrot Top routine. Because while we were all worried about how many troops Obama was leaving in Afghanistan, SecDef Carter (whose debut album “Tha Carter: Return of the SecDef” is on sale now wherever finer cassettes are sold) let slip that 400 of those? Aren’t even in the country.

McCain Charts 1

Bowing to pressure from military commanders, Congress, and the looming threat of an Iraq Redux, President “Mic Drop” Obama last week announced that 8,400 troops would be left in Afghanistan. That’s down from the 9,800 already here, a number Senator John “Of Course We Should Expand the War” McCain liked a lot. But it’s nowhere near the 5,500 that the US planned to leave in the graveyard of military planning.

And 400 of the remaining troops, in Carter’s words, will be “over the horizon,” just outside of Afghanistan supporting the mission. They’re able to redeploy rapidly, so there’s no need to worry too much about them. They’re probably just more of an auxiliary force anyway. Totes.

Where this gets problematic is in accounting for how many troops are supporting the fight in the country. As in how many boots there really are on the ground. Because to get around those tricky numbers, the Obama administration has turned to contractors in order to punt the political football that is deploying troops to a place where we all though the war was over.

As of December 2015, there were nearly 40,000 contractors supporting Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan. Once upon a time, some of those were doing more direct action for people like the CIA. I’m sure that still happens.

But that’s nowhere near the majority. That’s how many people it takes to support military personnel in a country the US doesn’t want to commit itself to anymore. And that’s not because of war fatigue, it’s just a fiscal reality: unless the Americans can see some return on their sizeable investment, why keep throwing super expensive airplanes and personnel at the problem?

Carter’s admission underscores the reality of modern warfare, and that is even though someone may not be on the ground, they’re still part of the war. All those drone operators at Creech in Nevada? Yeah, they’re fighting the war in Afghanistan. Because war has changed.

Which means we need to do two things:

  1. Stop worrying so much about boots on the ground
  2. Start worrying a whole lot more about why they’re there at all

That’s not just the happy hippy that’s just dying to get out of me talking. That’s a pragmatic asshole who’s wondering what the actual fuck we’re trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. Because we’re not doing it, whatever it is.

The country is still:

  • Wracked by violence
  • Unable to support itself
  • Run by an inert government

So whatever our plan was, those 8,400? Not sure they’re going to make a difference. And whatever that spare 400 are up to? They’re not going to change much either. 


Also published on Medium.