It was not until the beginning of that Britain belatedly acknowledged the strength of American grievances. Parliament had just revoked the Orders in Council when the news arrived that President Madison had signed the Declaration of War on June London was convinced that the administration would rescind the declaration once it heard that the stated cause—the Orders in Council—had been dropped.
But when Madison then changed the cause to impressment of American sailors which now numbered about 10, , it dawned on the ministry that war was unavoidable. Britain decided its only course of action was to concentrate on Europe and treat the American conflict as a side issue. Just two battalions and nine frigates were sent across the Atlantic. Command of the North American naval station was given to Adm. Sir John Borlase Warren, whose orders were to explore all reasonable avenues for negotiation. The first six months of the war produced a mixed bag of successes and failures for both sides.
The larger U. But the British took heart from the land war, which seemed to be going their way with very little effort expended. With the help of Shawnee war chief Tecumseh and the Indian Confederation he built up, the Michigan Territory actually fell back into British possession. In late November an American attempt to invade Upper Canada ended in fiasco. The holding pattern was enough to allow Henry, 3rd Earl of Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, to feel justified in having concentrated on Napoleon.
Yet the early signs in suggested that Earl Bathurst might still come to regret starving Canada of reinforcements. York the future Toronto , the provincial capital of Upper Canada, was captured and burned by U. Fortunately, in Europe, it was Napoleon who was on the defensive—bled dry by his abortive Russian campaign and proven vulnerable in Spain and Germany.
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Economic Costs | Costs of War
Ask Smithsonian. Photos Submit to Our Contest. Photo of the Day. Some of the soldiers were calling certain patrols suicide missions; one griped to him about taking what he considered unnecessary risks. Cox was incredulous. It is our job! Soto moved with Third Squad to Observation Post Dallas, a small position above the valley, where soldiers took turns on radio watch and behind machine guns, defending their peers below.
The place was primitive to an extreme, a set of sandbagged fighting holes cut into stone and sunbaked earth. Soldiers slept in folding cots on uneven ground, camping near a barrel of their own waste. The bunkers were infested with fleas, and the air was swarmed by flies, which moved between excrement and everything else. But some of the soldiers liked their days there. At Dallas they were unhassled by the rules and routines of the larger outpost, alone atop a ridge where bird song filled the air each dawn. Cox, on an earlier rotation, had seemed especially pleased.
Soto listened to their progress while on radio watch at Dallas. He heard gunfire chatter, then a rocket-propelled grenade boom and echo. The patrol radioed that it had crossed through the most dangerous stretch. An explosion rocked the valley. Soto guessed what it meant. A Humvee had been hit by a bomb. He waited anxiously, monitoring the back-and-forth transmissions between outpost and patrol. Multiple voices came on the radio.
Other soldiers reached the crater and described what they saw. The I. Two soldiers had been wounded. Two more were dead. The gunner, Pvt. Joseph F. Gonzales, had been killed instantly. So had Sergeant Cox. Knight had only just been killed, and now Cox and Gonzales were gone, too. Soto was no longer the teenager who enlisted to protect his city. Soto usually sat directly behind Cox in the truck. If Wright had not sent him to Dallas, if Soto had won his argument over being reassigned, he would have been in his seat with his first-aid bag when the blast blew the truck apart.
In December, the Army sent Soto home on leave when his half sister died. The trip out was jarring. Soto flew to Jalalabad, then Bagram, absorbing sights and shaken by contrasts: dining halls heaped with food, military retail stores stocked with sundries, soldiers in lines at beverage shops but not at abundant showers.
These dudes throw away food , he thought. In New York he felt even more out of place. He stayed with his grandmother, who cooked for him and doted on him but avoided asking questions, almost as if she did not want to know. He could not connect his life at the outpost to preventing a terrorist attack here. Barack Obama was the president-elect. The Afghan war was soon to be new again.
But political wheels turned slowly, and whatever changes were in store for the war would be unlikely to happen soon enough to matter to his platoon, which was still engaged in pitched firefights. Sitting at home, looked after by his grandmother, Soto felt guilty for being away. He was relieved when it was time to return to the valley. He landed to more bad news. Three more soldiers in his platoon were shot while he was gone, and a helicopter was hit by a missile or rocket and crashed. Most of those inside scrambled out, but a sergeant was killed. The downing exposed another weakness in American plans for Afghanistan: the reluctance of the Afghan forces.
After the helicopter slammed into the earth, Marines mentoring Afghan soldiers tried to rally them to the aid of passengers and crew. The Afghans refused. The patrol, they said, was not on their schedule. American soldiers were not going to win over Korengalis with counterinsurgency sweet talk or development projects, and they were not going to defeat militants by hanging around the outpost and trying to visit villages by day. In the news he read about the war, senior officers said what they needed to say — about Americans coaching Afghan forces, about winning over the Afghan population, about the Taliban losing ground.
When a colonel visited the outpost for a short patrol, the company assembled soldiers to take him out for his tour. Soto heard he waited to leave until after attack helicopters arrived. He had become the type of grunt long wars make. His goal now was simple: to keep his friends alive. The light dimmed. A deepening blue gave way to black. Soto lowered his monocular night-vision device from his helmet so it rested in front of his shooting eye and turned on his aiming laser. Stars appeared. Lieutenant Smith, the platoon leader, was new to the valley, freshly minted and straight from Ranger School.
He emanated fitness, enthusiasm and a grasp of tactics. He was a former staff sergeant, the same rank held by Cox, which lent him a degree of credibility new lieutenants did not usually get. But he had not previously served in the infantry, and his platoon was not inclined to give him a pass. They departed in single file. Soto figured a night of boredom was ahead. Near the center of the patrol base, the radio operator sat with the handset, monitoring transmissions. He had spread a poncho liner and opened an M. Smith rushed toward him, whispering fast. The radio operator asked if the scouts were coming back.
Soto heard movement behind him. Smith crouched between him and Specialist Molano, practically hissing. Scouts had just reported gunmen walking this way, he said, 10 or 15 people in all. Soto entered a peculiar mind-set that can settle over a combatant in the seconds before battle, a feeling of absolute, intoxicating clarity. Roles in the valley had been reversed. This time someone else was heading into a trap. His world shrank to what rehearsals had drilled him for: peering into his sector, ready to kill.
His job now was to wait. Smith alone was to decide whether the people approaching were combatants. If he decided they were, then he decided when to begin shooting. Only he could initiate fire. His heart thumped in his ears. Into the dim green glow of his eyepiece stepped the shape of a man. He was carrying a rifle. Another man emerged behind him. He carried a rifle, too. Two more men stepped into view. They were about 35 yards away.
The first man paused. He pointed a flashlight at the ground, switched it on and quickly switched it off. Soto felt vindicated. The Taliban fighters were ghosts no more. He had been right all along when he saw flashlights and suspected the Taliban moved openly at night. Calm settled over Soto. The approaching men were about to die. A fifth man stepped into view. Another balanced a machine gun across his shoulders.
Many of the fighters walked casually, side by side. They had grown too confident. Soto had never seen the Taliban so closely, at least not with their weapons. They did not look like the mujahedeen of legend. Emotions rushed through him: anger blended with disgust. Lasers had already settled on the first two men. A green line stopped on the forehead of the first; another traced a figure-eight pattern on his chest. The second man was similarly marked. Soto moved his weapon toward the man with the machine gun and rested his aiming laser between straps on his tactical harness.
The gunmen drew inside of 15 yards, then inside of More fighters filled in behind them. Soto thought. Do it. The machine-gunner was less than 15 feet away. The lead Taliban fighter stopped. Fighters behind him paused. Trembling green lasers rested on faces and chests. Soto wanted to scream.
Smith pressed the switch on the claymore. An explosion shook the forest. Steel balls slammed into the Taliban patrol. His voice sounded in the dark. Soto fired several times into the chest of the man carrying the machine gun. The man dropped to his knees. Soto kept shooting as the man crumpled to the ground. He scanned a pandemonium made visible through his night-vision monocular.
A few Taliban fighters had fallen in place. Others staggered and scattered. Tracers skipped off rocks, spinning over the ridge in hot arcs. Soto fired at the fleeing men. The man Soto shot first rose. He was upright. Soto fired again. The man dove into brush. A grenade shook the forest. Soto heard familiar voices. The shooting stopped. A voice called out. Sergeants moved through the patrol base, checking their soldiers. Someone said none of the Americans had been hurt.
A sergeant led Soto and two other soldiers into the kill zone to search the dead. Soto found the body of the machine-gunner he had killed. Up close, under a flashlight, he looked 16 years old. More bodies were spread through the woods. Second Platoon had killed more than 10 Taliban fighters. Now it had to get back to avoid suffering casualties of its own. The platoon filed downhill with scouts in the lead. Gunfire broke out again. Soto was farther back; he and the soldiers near him slid downhill, grabbing brush to break their falls. They found the scouts standing over three more Taliban bodies.
The platoon shuffled on. Inside the column, Soto let his mind wander. He felt proud. He and his friends had killed men who had been killing them. Vengeance was satisfying, in a primal way. And this night, he thought, might have brought more than revenge. The waiting soldiers were cheering. Soto heard people say that what his platoon did was monumental. Cooks prepared a hot meal, and the soldiers, back within the relative safety to their base, talked hurriedly, loudly, surging with what they had done. Soto drifted away. His legs quivered with cramps. He had been working in gore, searching the warm, bloodied bodies of Taliban fighters ripped apart by bullets and claymore mines.
He washed himself by standing naked and dumping bottles of drinking water over his head. His adrenaline had ebbed, allowing him to reconsider what had happened. He realized he had been wrong about one thing. Smith was legit. The valley did not work that way.
Soto woke to spectacle. Residents of the villages were walking to the ridge. Some carried makeshift litters, including one that looked like a bed. The Korengalis were retrieving their dead. The Americans watched with spotting scopes and binoculars. As hours passed, the Afghans descended slowly, bearing bodies wrapped in sheets. Jimmy Howell. In ordinary circumstances, their long faces might command others to hush. But the outpost was ebullient. Soldiers grinned. An awkward meeting followed. Howell took a seat among his visitors, who said the Americans had made a mistake.
A child had gone missing while gathering food on the mountain, they said, and villagers sent a search party to find her. These were the men, they said, that Viper killed. Howell waited until the last elder had spoken. Then he replied. Getting there involved multiple risks.
The soldiers would walk along the western side of the river, which the Taliban often raked with gunfire, and where Knight was killed. Then they would pick their way downslope to a river fork. The path was narrow, and the river was swollen with snowmelt and rain. There the soldiers would cross on wooden footbridges. The first was perhaps two feet wide. The second was a timberlike plank. First Lt. The platoon departed in drizzle. Sheets of mist drifted across the valley. The mud was slick like grease. The valley dropped before the soldiers like a gorge.
On the way down, the soldiers met an elder, Zarin, coming up. Rodriguez knew him. The two men chatted in the rain. Zarin said the path would be safe. After crossing the bridge over the western fork, the soldiers moved in single file to the plank. Laneyal loomed overhead as Soto crossed. An explosion detonated before him, heaving a cone of dirt in the air, blowing him to the ground. In the moment after, all was still. Bullets snapped down, part of a crescendo of fire. Soto pushed himself to his feet and dashed downstream, leaping over boulders.
He saw a pile of logs ahead and headed there, his radio antenna swinging from his back. He reached the logs, knelt, aimed his M4 upward and fired. Rushing water and gunfire drowned out other sound. He thought Smith needed the radio. He ran down the bank and jumped into the cold water, feeling the weight of his pack and radio as his feet struck bottom. A stone building stood across the river, about feet away. Gunfire tore through the air. Soto pushed himself across the stream, struggling to stay upright. He cleared the water, scrambled upright and ran to the soldiers at the building.
An Air Force bomb whooshed in and exploded, sending a mushroom cloud rising where another building had been. Smith told the soldiers under Laneyal to be ready to withdraw. Now was their chance. The soldiers threw smoke grenades and retraced their steps, contracting into Aliabad, where they clustered in alleys and went through the ritual of a head count. Squad and team leaders tallied ammunition. The mood lightened. They had survived another ambush and were exhilarated to be alive.
Nausea swept over Soto. He radioed to the outpost, in case Dewater had walked back. Dewater was not there. Nightfall was near. The soldiers moved across the bridges. The platoon spread through wheat fields to the blast hole. Soto spun around. A sergeant was there. Dewater was not. His helmet was on. He was missing a leg. Another sergeant climbed the tree and pushed Dewater free. The soldiers placed him on a litter.
The War Goes On
Slowly they made their way across the river, panting, struggling to carry their friend. On the staircase, Afghan soldiers watched. One raised a camera. Something in Soto snapped. He stepped before the lens. Put that camera down. The Afghan soldiers parted. The processional reached the road and turned north, walking in darkness and cold rain. Late the next month, a new crop of soldiers, from the Fourth Infantry Division, arrived at the outpost to replace Viper Company. They were neatly shaved and visibly fit, wore clean uniforms and carried new rucksacks and water bladders.
They looked charged with an energy Viper Company faintly remembered about itself. We all want them to succeed , Soto thought. But there was so much to tell them and not enough time, and some of them, self-conscious about filling in behind a seasoned unit, bristled at instruction. The Korengal Outpost was changing hands again, even as the Army was reassessing the merits of being in the valley at all. Unknown to most of the younger soldiers, officers in Viper Company and their battalion commander were advocating a different approach.
One linchpin of American strategy had been to fight away from population centers, from outposts the military sometimes called blocking positions. The troops understood the assumptions in this thinking were weak. On May 1, Taliban fighters overwhelmed a mountaintop outpost overlooking the Kunar River, killing three Americans, two Latvians and three Afghan soldiers, and taking other Afghan soldiers prisoner. In the aftermath, Lieutenant Rodriguez talked with an intelligence sergeant who had concluded, as did others who were tracking the violence, that many Korengali fighters were fighting elsewhere, at least for now, including in the Kunar Valley.
This challenged American thinking about blocking positions. Taliban fighters were not blocked. They had little trouble leaving the valley at will. A letter came back, saying perhaps the parties could work out a deal if the Americans would convert to Islam. Until then, Nasrullah said, New York and London would have to burn. Soto felt anxious in his last weeks in the valley.
Word rushed through his circles in the city. In her apartment in Morris Avenue in the Bronx, his grandmother stared at the photo and cried. Friends wrote him on Facebook and email, urging him to keep safe. The attention was jarring. Expecting to be killed had made his job easier. Now he felt pressure not to die. By mid-June, all that was left was a helicopter ride to Bagram by darkness. He and a small group of troops sat on the landing zone, on gravel and dust, backs pressed against stuffed rucksacks.
His tour was minutes from being over. The first sergeant appeared. Dust swirled as the aircraft descended.
Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?
He grabbed Soto and shouted. Soto cherished the words. Respect was worth more than medals. It was authentic, unlike many medals he had seen.
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He belted himself into his seat in the aircraft and switched on his iPod. He was jittery — this is where they shoot , he thought — but the helicopter cleared the danger area quickly and settled into even flight. It put to paper what Soto knew firsthand — without the roll call of lost lives. The new commanders proposed shifting forces downstream, closer to cities where more Afghans lived. The fate of the outpost was decided. It would be closed. Back at Fort Hood, Soto was unaware of the deliberation. Two years remained on his enlistment, and he struggled to adjust to the slower life of a grunt on a stateside post.
He asked for a return to action, via a transfer to the 82nd Airborne Division, which early in sent him to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for earthquake-relief duty. That April he was helping to issue food to survivors when he heard about the Korengal withdrawal. On one level he understood. On another he was crushed.
Why did it take years to acknowledge mistakes? But he was still in the Army, with supervisors watching and duties to perform. He followed the pattern he learned at age 18 when his friends and sergeants began to die. He blocked. In , his unit was sent to Iraq to help with another American withdrawal. Now he was a sergeant and team leader on a third deployment.
He had gained muscle and experience, skepticism and tattoos.
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He and his team were part of a perimeter security force that guarded airfields as planes carried away whatever the Pentagon wanted to keep. The insurgents appeared to have decided to let them go. Soto saw no direct action; he spent more time in the gym than on patrol. But he had learned to doubt official military narratives. When he flew to Kuwait late that year, among the last Americans to leave before the collapse of Iraqi forces in the face of an Islamic State offensive would draw the Pentagon back , he did not feel as if peace had been assured.
The violent contest for Iraq was not over. An influx of money, equipment and advisers had swelled Afghan Army and police numbers and distributed fresh forces over the ground. The latest plan was for the Americans to secure the country, usher in government services and then hand over the countryside to Afghan troops.
But ministries and armies are not remade in a few years, and many American units were dispatched into lightly populated areas and the same sort of hard-to-maintain positions that previous commanders decided were ineffective, risky and not worth their cost. It was as if one cycle of senior officers had not learned from the previous round. Moreover, several regions were also engines of opium-poppy production, where a foreign military presence threatened an established local economy and provoked armed interests with no intention of losing it.
At the lower ranks, Marines and soldiers were fighting small, brutal and frustrating actions, protected from being overrun by air power while losing lives and legs on ground, like the Korengal Valley, that the Pentagon did not intend to keep and had few viable proxies to pass off to. The Taliban showed no sign of folding. Its bombs grew more sophisticated, even as its spokesmen taunted the Americans and their proxies on Twitter.
Many American soldiers and lower-level officers saw that the Afghan surge was not succeeding, and that the Taliban would wait for the drawdown. A list including the wounded showed that the cost was larger; after a Marine who worked with them committed suicide and a postwar motorcycle accident claimed a forward observer, some of them wondered if it was larger still.
Robert Soto left the Army with an honorable discharge in , driving home to New York in a U-haul truck towing a red Camaro he kept almost as clean as the rifle he left behind. War had come to his city when he was a child.