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Why We Lost in Iraq and Afghanistan


I am a United States Army general, and I lost the “global war on terror.” It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.

I was never the overall commander in either Afghanistan or Iraq. You’d find me lower down the food chain, but high enough. I commanded a one-star advisory team in Iraq in 2005–06, an Army division (about 20,000 soldiers) in Baghdad in 2009–10, and a three-star advisory organization in Afghanistan in 2011–13. I was present when key decisions were made, delayed, or avoided. I made, delayed, and avoided a few myself. I was on the ground a lot with small units as we patrolled and raided. Sometimes I was communicating with strategic headquarters in the morning and then grubbing through a village with a rifle platoon by sunset. Now and then, Iraqi and Afghan insurgents tried to kill me. By the enemy’s hand, abetted by my ignorance, my arrogance, and the inexorable fortunes of war, I have lost eighty men and women under my charge, with more than three times that number wounded. Those deaths are, as Robert E. Lee said at Gettysburg, all my fault.

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, a retired lieutenant general, commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. His book Why We Lost will be published in November by Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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