War is a meat grinder for service members and their families. It grinds people up without mercy, killing them and inflicting the worst kinds of wounds imaginable, physical and psychological. The Pentagon is trying to cope with the surge in suicides, but it is holding a bad hand: the desperate shortage of troops has forced military officials to lower the bar for enlistment, thus letting in people whose drug and alcohol abuse or other behavioral problems would previously have kept them out. And the multiple deployments (four, five and six tours in the war zones) have jacked up stress levels to the point where many just can’t take it.
The G.I.’s have fought valiantly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands have died and many, many more have suffered. But the wars have been conducted as if their leaders had been reading from a lunatic’s manual. This is not Germany or Japan or the old Soviet Union that we’re fighting. But after nearly a decade, neither war has been won and there is no prospect of winning.
The tragedy is probably that the new COIN theory is likely a fair weather theory. It works if the population is willing to allow it to work. It's nothing that you can enforce.
The proper time for the new COIN theory's application in Iraq was probably 2003 and for its application in Afghanistan was probably 2002-2004. The populations were probably ready to cooperate as envisaged by the COIN theory at that time.
War sows much hate and mistrust. The environment got tainted too much and COIN was obviously unable to deliver convincing results under such conditions.
Given the current trend of things in Afghanistan, if President Obama and SecDef Gates is really serious about reclaiming "efficiencies" in defense spending, maybe they ought to think a little harder about the billions spent every month in that country, not to mention the wisdom of retaining 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Sven appropriately quotes Winston Churchill: "The Americans will always do the right thing ... after they've exhausted all the alternatives."