Lessons Learned by the United States Military in Iraq and Afghanistan from a soldier’s perspectiveThe United States Armed Forces is duty bound to defend the Constitution and to protect America from attack by enemy forces. After the September 11, 2001 (9/11) terrorist attacks on the mainland, the United States of America has been on the offensive in hunting down the terrorists responsible for the crime. The 9/11 tragedy united America in grief and in a common determination to root out al-Qaeda. President Bush responded to the terrorist attacks with striking boldness, based on his conviction, formed within hours of the attacks, that America was engaged in a “war on terror”. America would make no distinction between terrorists and the people who harbored them. It would remain on the offensive, working with friends if possible and alone if necessary.

According to the General Tommy Franks, Commander in Chief of the United States Central Command, the Taliban in Afghanistan is financed by Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, in return for a safe harbor (Franks). Consequently, on October 7, 2001, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, toppling the Taliban regime and ushering in the longest period of sustained peace in Afghanistan. The U.S. invasion also brought about the latest attempt to stabilize and build a strong state in Afghanistan, following repeated attempts from both internal and external actors throughout the twentieth century.

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  The strategy of assertiveness abroad worked well and the liberation of Afghanistan was a triumph. Less than 18 months later the American army took Baghdad in a mere three weeks based on the accusation that Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the 2002 mid- term elections the Republican Party increased its majority in the House and captured the Senate. Two years later Mr. Bush won re-election with more votes than any previous presidential candidate.After the 9/11 attacks, the United States has viewed failed states and war-torn societies as a threat to its national security interests.  No better example than Afghanistan and Iraq exist to show that ungoverned territory has proved dangerous to the people and interests of the industrialized world.

Afghanistan is not new to the idea of war and its hostilities.  Having survived the Soviets, Kabul was shelled by Afghan militias wherein 63,000 houses were destroyed (World Bank 1). Looting, abduction, murder, rape, and bombing campaigns became common (Human Rights Watch).  Under the Taliban, justice was summary and unpredictable. In a statement in October 1999, the United Nations Security Council expressed “grave concern at the seriously deteriorating humanitarian situation and deplored the worsening human rights situation—including forced displacements of civilian populations, summary executions, abuse and arbitrary detention of civilians, violence against women and girls, and indiscriminate bombing.” The regime lost what scant international recognition it had through a mixture of human rights violations, its oppressive treatment of women, and its destruction of two ancient Buddhist statues in 2001.In the past decade, Afghanistan was classified one of the most corrupt and poorest countries in the world with a 40 percent jobless rate.

In fact, The Economist classifies Afghanistan as an aid hot spot where more than a third of the people do not get as much food as is needed, food aid was running at historically low levels and hunger is on the rise.Iraq, on the other hand, shares with Afghanistan a poor human rights record under the rule of Saddam Hussein. During the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein with the Iraqi Armed Forces threatened the stability of the Middle East by invading Kuwait, accusing it of stealing Iraq’s oil through slant drilling. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops was met with immediate economic sanctions against Iraq by some members of the UN Security Council (CNN).Before the war on terror, Iraq was a brutal dictatorship known for such things as “rape rooms”. Saddam Hussein’s regime was an enduring, relatively modern tyranny with modern military forces that has survived eight years of war with Iran and more than a decade of sanctions. He also has largely succeeded in transferring the blame for the hardships caused by war and sanctions to the West and the US.

I am not a soldier but after listening and reading to their stories, I can’t help but notice that I share with most of them the same sentiments regarding the war on terror.  One thing we need to understand is that most of the soldiers do not join the Army because they want to go to war. In addition to wanting to defend the country, there are benefits and incentives for joining the military like getting a college education afterwards through the state-sponsored GI Bill.  However, being an American soldier in a foreign land like Afghanistan or Iraq is not a walk in the park.  Their stay is tough and it takes a lot of courage and self-sacrifice. According to Sergeant Zachary Scott-Singley stating his experiences in Iraq,You go to bed to the sound of .50 caliber machine gun fire and wake up to 120       degree Fahrenheit (or hotter) temperatures. You get bombed and shot at and you carry a            gun and body armor…I learned that you can cry until tears won’t come anymore and I   learned what poverty really is.

I learned what true desperation is. These lessons and   more I learned in Iraq (1).After defeating the Taliban and the Iraqi Forces, the mission of the U.S. Armed Forces is not yet finished.  They continued to help the Afghan and Iraqi people to clean out the brutal, violent elements that threaten the population hoping to ensure lasting peace and prosperity.  And as the vanguards of democracy, they will do everything to ensure democracy to the Afghan and Iraqi people. The efforts and the sacrifices of the American soldiers have shown notable positive effects especially in Afghanistan and to some extent also in Iraq.

Although Afghanistan remains a tough, unpredictable nation that is just beginning its transition out of war and humanitarian disaster, it has just completed its best three years in decades. Broad-scale fighting has stopped, a new constitution and popularly elected president are in place, millions of Afghans have returned home, and the country has rejoined the world.Iraq on the other hand is on the right track into democracy. With the help of US soldiers, the Iraqi’s are rebuilding their war-torn country. Although Iraq is still beset by terrorism and insurgency, the “surge” of extra American troops last year made things better than they were.Countries in transition like Afghanistan and Iraq survive in too volatile an environment to follow a linear path of progress. But experience in scores of post-conflict states shows that unless international efforts are making headway with both meeting short-term needs and building long-term capacity, trouble is imminent.  It is good to know that most Afghans trust international forces and see them as a long-term necessity (Courtney, 93).

International help in Afghanistan is gaining momentum as responsibility begins to be transferred from the dominant presence of 18,000 American soldiers to a growing pool of 8,000 NATO troops. NATO has been steadily increasing its role beyond Kabul, moving across the North to the West, and aims to take over responsibility for the South and East in 2006.What have we learned from the Afghanistan and Iraq War?Quick, tough, and surprising U.S. -led military initiatives have dulled the threat of insurgency or anti-government forces. However, the solution does not solely depend on the use of force.

First we must develop the security, public safety and order, and rule of law. To facilitate the recovery, more resources need to be put towards the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, that means greater involvement of multilateral and international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations and the European Union.  The United States and other international coalitions must continue to help the central government of Afghanistan and Iraq in its development and render assistance in initiating economic and social activities that reach Afghans and the Iraqi’s directly. To keep moving ahead, every effort should be made to engage the Afghan and the Iraqi people. America’s ultimate strategy must be to give Iraqis the capabilities to govern and secure their own country.The other important question is: What then happens if we leave Afghanistan and Iraq now?Well, the next natural thing that will happen if we leave is another bloodier power struggle between religious and ethnic extremists followed by a massive crackdown on all dissent.

Sharing most of the US soldiers’ sentiments, I agree with Senator McCain, a war veteran and a strong advocate in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, when he argued that withdrawing from Iraq would inevitably spell disaster for the Middle East and humiliation for America. He reckons that America needs to stay in Iraq and believes that a greater military commitment now is necessary if we are to achieve long- term success in Iraq. Ultimately, Iraq’s future lies in the hands of its people, government, and armed forces, and strengthening them is an essential requirement for bringing U.

S. troops home from Iraq. Until Iraqi forces are ready, however, a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would condemn Iraq to civil war and intervention by its neighbors and energize al Qaeda and other terrorists across the globe (McCain).I also share the sentiments of retired Army General Jack Keane that there are simply not enough American forces in Iraq. More troops are necessary to clear and hold insurgent strongholds, to provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies, to halt sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias, to dismantle al Qaeda, to train the Iraqi Army and to embed American personnel in Iraqi police units.

In fact, Iraq was relatively peaceful the past few months due to the increase in the deployment of American and other troops.The U.S. presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq is predicated on the ability to play a catalytic role in the countries’ journeys toward peace, democracy, and a functioning economy. Success in Afghanistan—just as in Iraq—must therefore be based on helping Afghans reach the point where they have a meaningful chance to sustain the progress that has been made over the past three years, with minimal international involvement (Courtney, 5).America’s military men and women serve as national role models for their selfless sacrifice.  They spend more than a year (at least) in the front lines combating terrorists, insurgents and help liberating foreign lands from the tyranny. Soldiers help rebuild war torn nations through much needed infrastructure and by introducing democracy.

The patience and vigilance of America’s military men and women have preserved peace, stability and helped fulfill the nation’s destiny.  Let us not waste the efforts of our heroes and those who have offered lives for the sake of peace and democracy I the world we live today. We must embark to a new journey of giving the Afghan and Iraqi people a taste of true democracy; living in a society that is free and respects their human rights.Afghanistan and Iraq has made progress, and its people are desirous of the next step. And that next step is to continue to help these countries fight the insurgents and those who threaten to destabilize the state. When they are ready to defend themselves, attain security and law and order as well as induce economic development and prosperity, then we can leave them on their own.

  Only then can we say with heads up high and proud of what we have done, “Mission accomplished, Sir.”Works CitedCourtney, Morgan L.  (2006) “In the Balance: Measuring progress in Afghanistan” Center for    Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Report Washington D.C.: The CSIS Press.Human Rights Watch.

“Blood-Stained Hands: Past Atrocities in Kabul and Afghanistan’s         Legacy of Impunity,” Human Rights Watch. July 2005.  24 Apr 2008         ;http://hrw.org/reports/2005/afghanistan0605/;.McCain, John. “Strategy for Victory in Iraq” John McCain for President.  24 April         2008 ;http://www.johnmccain.

com/Informing/Issues/fdeb03a7-30b0-4ece-8e34           4c7ea83f11d8.htm;.McIntyre, Jamie “Tenth anniversary of the Gulf War: A look back”    CNN.com In-depth specials – Gulf War. 16 Jan 2001. 24 April 2008. ;http://archives.cnn.

com/2001/US/01/16/gulf.anniversary/index.html;.

Singley, Zachary Scott. “Lessons Learned” A soldier’s thought 13 August 2005. 26 April           2008.  ;http://misoldierthoughts.

blogspot.com/2005/08/lessons-learned.html; .;The Economist. “Food for thought” The Economist. 27 Mar. 2008.  24 April 2008.

         ;http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=10925518;;United Nations Security Council. “Afghan and UN: A Historical Perspective” United Nations   Security Council.

Oct. 1999. 24 April 2008;http://www.

unamaafg.org/about/info.htm;.World Bank. “Poverty, Vulnerability and Social Protection: An Initial Assessment, Sector         Report” World Bank 1 (2005).