Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Recording war up close

Retired Army sergeant is now historian at air base

By Jeffrey Smith
Leader staff writer

Chris Rumley has seen the war on terror up close as a soldier in hot spots like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, and most recently as a close observer in the Middle East.

Rumley, a civilian historian for the 314th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base, shared his views on Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and on the Taliban during last Thursday’s war stories lecture at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History.

He understands the challenges facing U.S. forces overseas, where the enemy is ubiquitous and secretive.

“The Taliban are living amongst the population. They have free movement. It is difficult to tell them apart from the others without their weapons.

“They are ghosts firing from the mountaintops, shouting and then disappearing.” Rumley said.

Rumley recently returned from a four-month tour as an Air Force historian in Afghanistan. Rumley collected documents and wrote about the events there involving the Air Expeditionary Wing and its role in the war on terror.

The wing Rumley worked with supported the ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with 24-hour bombing support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, airlift air refueling and air medical evacuation.

Rumley began working as a civilian for the 314th Airlift Wing in January 2008.

Before working for the Air Force, Rumley was an Army staff sergeant with the 10th Mountain Division until he left the service in December 2007. Rumley was deployed for nine months in 2003 and had a second deployment in 2006 of 15 months. He was stationed at Forward Operating Base Tillman in eastern Afghanistan near the border of Pakistan.

Rumley was a signal-intercept operator whose duty was to monitor the enemy’s radio transmissions. He provided “real-time” intelligence to ground force commanders.

Rumley said, “It was our job to try and find the enemy before they could take care of us.

“Insurgents often fired rockets from the mountains in the distance and, because they were in Pakistani territory, we were unable to fire back,” he said.

“The Taliban is being attacked by Pakistani forces, but it is not in their best interest to defeat the Taliban and have a strong Afghanistan,” Rumley said.

He described the Taliban as elusive. When U.S. soldiers asked the locals where the Taliban were, they pointed to the mountains and said they were with them two days ago.

He said Afghanistan lacks adequate housing, electricity, clean water, medical care and security. The country is poor and dependent on foreign aid. The illiteracy rate is high. Most of the population lives in rural areas, where the government has little power.

“The terrain is inhospitable, isolating and rugged,” Rumley said.

He said the U.S. can win the war with the proper resources and enough time, but time is not on America’s side. The Taliban are comfortable with waiting us out, he said.

“We are running out of time in Afghanistan. Eight years of under-resourcing due to the war in Iraq has nearly ruined our plans for Afghanistan. Our forces are weary of deployment after deployment, and the American people are losing patience. Rapid gains will need to be achieved in the next two years,” Rumley explained.

More troops are needed to protect the area, he said. Rumley said there are 68,000 U.S. troops, along with some 40,000 NATO forces. But to protect the civilians from the insurgency, a total of 560,000 troops, including 400,000 Afghan forces, are needed, a ratio of 20 soldiers per 1,000 people.

Most of the troops would come from building up the Afghanistan National Army and the Afghanistan National Police into a well-trained force. The Afghans must defeat the insurgents, he said.

“We have two years to make great strides. The Afghanistan National Army and Afghanistan National Police must lead the way,” Rumley said.

“The people of Afghanistan will assign legitimacy to the group capable of providing security, justice and basic needs. In many places the Taliban shadow governments are doing this better than the Afghan government,” Rumley said.

He continued, “(Afghan Presi-dent) Hamid Karzai’s reputation is severely damaged. (He) must act quickly to establish national unity and rid the administration of corruption.”

He sees Gen. Stanley Mc-Chrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, as a by-the-book-kind of general, who has requested an additional 40,000 troops.

So far, every decision he has made has lined up perfectly with the Army counter-insurgency manual’s strategy and tactics to defeat an insurgency, Rumley said.

After serving in Afghanistan for two years, Rumley said he could not point out a person and say with certainty he didn’t belong to the Taliban.

“When the sun goes down and U.S. forces retreat to the security of their bases, the people are left in the dark with the Taliban. No villager wants to be pointed out as having cooperated with the Americans when the Taliban come knocking on the door,” Rumley said.