Should Biden Keep American Ground Troops in Afghanistan?

Should Biden Keep American Ground Troops in Afghanistan?

Retired Navy admiral and former NATO commander James Stavridis said the President-elect should keep at least 10,000 troops in the war-torn country to help ensure lasting peace.

In an interview, Adm. Stavridis said the military presence would probably continue “for the indefinite future.” He also pointed out that ongoing peace negotiations only involve the Taliban. Other groups, like al-Qeada and ISIS, have “any interest in a peace agreement.”

Although he predicted sporadic fighting would continue, the Admiral remarked “I don’t think the future is bright for the Taliban.”

Roots of the Afghanistan War

Both the current instability in Afghanistan and the high anti-American fervor date back to the late Cold War. The first part of this story is fairly well-known. The second part, although just as critical, is widely unknown.

This clip from 2007’s Charlie Wilson’s War, which featured the venerable Tom Hanks and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, sums up the first part. Victory over the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan in 1991 also meant chaos in the country, as different warlords struggled for supremacy. One of those groups, the ultra-conservative Taliban, wound up on top. The Taliban offered aid and comfort to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, and well, you probably know how this part of the story ends.

There is another part of the story. During the war, the American CIA funnelled money and weapons to the mujahedin, including the Taliban, through a third party, predominantly Israel. During the late Cold War, the Americans could not openly sponsor the Afghan rebels in their fight against the Soviets. As a result, many Muslim resistance fighters never knew what a large role the Americans played. Then, when the Americans invaded about 10 years later, there was no gratitude. Instead, the Americans were just like the Soviets and the British and all other foreign invaders.

Now, after almost 20 years of conflict, the face-off between the Americans and the Taliban is clearly a stalemate. Both sides desire a truce, but neither side trusts the other one enough to compromise. So, a long term peace deal remains elusive.

During his tenure, outgoing President Donald Trump has withdrawn almost all American ground troops from Afghanistan. So, contractors have assumed a lead role there, as opposed to a supporting role, in both combat and non-combat operations.

Contractors in Wartime

For their entire history, which dates back to the Revolutionary War, combat contractors have played support roles. They maintain equipment, keep morale high, escort supply convoys, and verify IDs at checkpoints. In Afghanistan, they do these things and more.

As combat operations wind down, Taliban insurgents often look for soft targets. Contractors help ensure that there are no soft targets. Their mere presence discourages militant activity.

Furthermore, in theaters like Afghanistan, there is no front line and rear area. Air bases are just as vulnerable to militant attack as combat patrols. Insurgents can appear in any place at any time and disappear just as quickly. Therefore, activities like the aforementioned ID verification are not just busywork. They could be the difference between life and death.

Finally, private military contractors gather vital intelligence. Many contractors are former law enforcement officers. So, they are adept at forging relationships with locals and tapping into those relationships when they need information. Many regular servicemembers dislike such duties, but private military contractors embrace them. For the most part, such assignments are in their DNA.

Contractors in “Peacetime”

Critics often label conflicts like Afghanistan as “forever wars.” That is not too far from the truth. A conflict like this one essentially has a half life. Nuclear waste never becomes inert. But it goes from 100% to 50% to 25% and on down the line until eventually, it becomes non threatening. Likewise, terrorist attacks will never stop in Afghanistan, just like they never stop in Israel and many other parts of the world. Very soon, they will become extremely rare.

Because of the simmering conflict, contractors usually stay behind long after the regular army has departed.

The need for security might go down, but it never goes away. Once again, because many of them are former law enforcement officers, contractors know how to provide this type of security. They can be effective yet unobtrusive. That level of protection gives insurgents pause, makes civilians feel safer, and also makes politicians on both sides of the Atlantic feel better.

“Peacetime” contractors are not just showpieces. They also do the dirty work of reconstruction. Frequently, contractors manage construction projects, so refugees have something to come home to. Contractors also provide armed security at these worksites. Stateside vandals and thieves are rather easy to deter. Insurgents are much more determined.

Injury Compensation Available

All these activities carry the risk of serious injury. When regular servicemembers are injured, the VA usually provides medical services. When contractors get hurt, the Defense Base Act usually takes care of their medical bills. Furthermore, unlike the VA, the DBA also replaces lost wages while these victims recover.

Many contractors sustain trauma injuries, whether they carry hammers or machine guns. Training accidents, combat injuries, and workplace accidents spring immediately to mind. Additionally, the DBA usually provides compensation for indirect injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes abroad, even if they are not directly related to the victim’s deployment and happen during off-work hours.

Combat and non-combat contractors alike also risk occupational diseases. During combat, toxic exposure and hearing loss are the biggest risks. Burn pit smoke contains a number of very harmful particulate matter products, such as heavy metal particles. Exposure to the noise of gunfire, even during training, often results in hearing loss.

If a defective product, like a defective 3M earplug, caused the trauma injury or occupational disease, additional compensation might be available.

Construction workers are also at risk for hearing loss. Other occupational diseases include joint pain and breathing problems due to dust inhalation. Generally, as the victim recovers, the DBA pays two-thirds of the injured worker’s average weekly wage, as well as all reasonably necessary medical expenses.

For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.