August 17, 2021

AFA Leaders: Afghanistan Offers Lessons for the Ages

AFA President, Lt Gen (Ret) Bruce Wright, who was directly involved in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, said the true test of our nation lies ahead. “How we reflect on what has passed, and what we learn from it, will say more about our future than it will about what got us to this point,” Wright said. “Most important, we must never forget, and forever honor, the courage and ultimate selfless sacrifice of America’s war fighters and their families.” 

Lt Gen (Ret) Dave Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and the original commander of the air and space operations center for the war in Afghanistan, compared the long ground war to the rapid and early success in the campaign.

“Afghanistan will be long remembered as an unsuccessful ground war, in the aftermath of a highly successful aerospace power campaign,” he said. By the end of 2001, just three months after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. critical security interests in Afghanistan had been achieved. “Neutering Al Qaeda and eliminating Afghanistan as Al Qaeda’s sanctuary were critical U.S. security objectives; trying to turn Afghanistan into a democracy was not. This was the critical error of U.S. strategy perpetuated by four presidents and 20 years of U.S. Army leadership. Now it is aerospace power that is closing out U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and if properly understood, should be the force of choice for U.S. national security leadership in the coming weeks, months, and years.” 

Deptula reviewed the history of U.S engagement. "The measured application of aerospace power, in conjunction with a light footprint of special operations personnel, partnering with the Afghan Northern Alliance, achieved U.S. objectives in three short months; and today air power and a small contingent of security forces are holding the airport in Kabul, helping evacuate friends and allies amid an unfolding disaster. So, the trillion-dollar question is: why did the U.S. pour hundreds of thousands of ground forces into Afghanistan over 20 years after U.S. vital security objectives were realized? This is not simply a question of historical interest. The answer illustrates the importance of clearly defining U.S. security objectives and acting rapidly and effectively with the right amount and the right kind of force to achieve them.”

Maj Gen (Ret) Doug Raaberg, AFA executive vice president echoed many military leaders in reflecting on decades of Middle East combat air forces experience. “We do know this, America’s Air and Space Forces are the most lethal arm of a more lethal joint force; they will be there when America’s vital interests are at risk and civilian authorities need them most. Ask any Airman and Guardian—they are ready.”

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