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Your View: 'Afghanistan Papers' editorial was spot on

Your Dec. 13 editorial was spot on in its treatment of the “Afghanistan Papers.” My perspective is from an intelligence collection background; Feb. 1962 to August 1969. This includes involvement in the Cuban Crisis, Vietnam tour and working in Pacific Theatre in a war support and planning role.

One factor is that senior officers/leaders will often discount factional reports and the supporting data from the field. There are various reasons.

First, it is the human condition to discount facts that run counter to what they believe. Second, there is a “survival” mode that takes over for most career professionals. The person that forwards bad news will often be committing career suicide. So “sweeten” the information.

A third factor is, as the time draws closer to rotation from a war zone, the temptation to sit on bad news and leave that “bucket of guano” to your replacement becomes very attractive. No action equals no bad outcome.

A separate issue is rooted in the official mandate that all intelligence collected is to be forwarded up the chain of command as is. Altering the reports is, again in theory, not allowed. In actual practice each echelon adds or subtracts from the information to shine a better light on the “facts.” For example, in Vietnam a platoon might report two enemy killed in action (KIA). A senior officer up the line reasons that the enemy tries to carry off their dead and/or in jungle territory bodies are lost. So two becomes four and so on until the daily briefing at some upper level. There two KIA’s have morphed into 13 enemy KIA and multiple wounded (WIA).

The current issues are even more tenuous because in Vietnam and Afghanistan there were/are no well-defined strategic objectives and concrete measurements of victory for evaluation. Unlike World War I and World War II, there are no defined lines on a map of territory gained or lost.

Example: “Winning the hearts and minds of the people.” Difficult to do when you are using tactics that kill and wound the people and destroy the land and property of those that you are attempting to win over. Or, we are in a “war on terror.” Terror is a tactic used by our enemy, not something concrete that can be attacked and results measured.

One major difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan is the draft. The draft was a reason for almost every young male and their loved ones to care. Our leaders correctly decided that no draft equals apathy from the 98% that have no skin in the game. I am not aware of any college protests about our failures in Afghanistan.

Finally there are the business reasons. War builds economic growth and most people vote, at least in part, on the economy. A war generates tremendous opportunities for profit at multiple levels. Even the losing sides businesses profit and prosper. Mitsubishi built war planes to fight us in World War II and converted to selling us autos post-war.

Graft — another day, another column.

Larry Slessler lives in Medford

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