Learning what went wrong

When U.S. forces, aided by those from several other countries, invaded Iraq a decade ago last week, most Americans believed a just, necessary conflict was under way and would be concluded swiftly.

Now we understand we were wrong – concerning just about everything.

U.S. and other coalition forces already had driven Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorists and their Taliban enablers from power in Afghanistan.

Having crippled those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the decision then was made to go after Iraq, classed as a rogue state.

It was at that point that things began to go wrong. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did not possess the weapons of mass destruction we thought were in his hands. Our armed forces, trained for years to confront the Soviet army, did a marvelous job of destroying Iraq’s conventional forces.

Then, in a situation something like that which confronted Americans in Vietnam, fighting shifted to something different, for which U.S. forces were not well-prepared. For years, American soldiers and Marines found themselves fighting guerrillas who used tactics and weapons, such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that were very effective against a conventional force.

And yes, like Vietnam, Americans frequently were assured victory was just around the corner.

It was not. Even though the official U.S. combat role in Iraq is over, hundreds of armed “contractors” remain there to protect our diplomats. And terrorist bombings continue.

In Afghanistan, the current strategy also seems to be to get our forces out as quickly as possible, and leave it to the Afghans to craft what we hope will be some sort of peace.

One thing about Iraq and Afghanistan is not the same as Vietnam – thank heaven. Too often, U.S. service men and women coming home from Southeast Asia were spat upon, both figuratively and literally, by the very Americans they served.

That was wrong. It was not then and is not now the fault of the brave men and women we send to war that their leaders, both military and political, were lacking.

Now, we honor those who serve us in uniform.

And we mourn the the 6,676 American service men and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We owe them and those who will serve in the future our respect. More important, we owe it to them to learn what went wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan – to avoid making similar mistakes in the future.