Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How We Lost the War in Afghanistan (Too Long)

Years ago in a land far away...The Taliban were helping hide Osama bin Laden. The president (ours, not theirs) gave them an ultimatum which given the then recent attacks of 9/11 seemed reasonable - Give us Osama, dead or alive, in handcuffs or in a set of shoeboxes. They stood by their man and as far as we could we blasted them to crap.

At the time, I thought this was going to be a good war to fight (as far as wars can be good). Osama needed punishing, the taliban seemed happy to suffer alongside him and, apart from their desire to help our enemy, we had all heard for years that the taliban were heartless bastards willing to execute citizens for showing their ankles, etc.

Then we screwed up the whole "Catch Osama" thing. From what I understand it was mostly because Rummy and Cheney didn't want the glory of the kill going to the CIA. Simple as that. "We could catch him, but we'd rather not. Not today. Perhaps in a week or two. Call us then."

Still, we put Osama on his heels and shook the reins of power out of Taliban hands. If we pursued them in the mountains, cut them off, kept them quiet, the (what passes for) democratic government of Afghanistan could get its bearings, grow its own army become independent. The Taliban might limp away and be confined to the mountains or even die off altogether.

Nope. So sorry. That would require a huge influx of manpower - a couple of divisions more than we had to spare.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, W. promised that only the word of his generals on the ground would guide his military approach to things overseas. Unless, of course, they happen to be generals in Afghanistan and they ask for more troops, which we don't have.

So since the beginning when we routed Taliban forces, the U.S. Army has been slowly losing control of what they fought hard to win. There aren't enough troops to do the job well, so they've done the job poorly - no knock on the soldiers, mind you, but, as a for instance, they can't pacify the locals enough to stop them from growing opium to fund the Taliban. When soldiers have to walk through poppy fields without disturbing them out of fear of local reaction, it's hard to say they control the place.

In the past year or two, in fact, they haven't been able to do the job at all in some sections. The Taliban comes down out of the mountains, recruits fighters, recoups supplies, even run some towns just like they used complete with beheadings.

Could we not simply push the Taliban back into hiding? Reclaim those villages, make nice with the locals and get them on our side? Actually, no. We can't. There isn't the political will in our country (starting at the White House). Even if the next president is able to pull ALL the troops out of Iraq, it would be difficult to send any large portion (and I'd say they need half to do the job well) to Afghanistan. We're tired of war, and the next president inherits that exhaustion.

Since war is not really an option anymore (after all, plenty of people in the country couldn't tell you why we ever went to Afghanistan) then you get what General Petraeus is calling for - let's sit with the Taliban and negotiate... something. Because, as Petraeus and others will tell you, not every member of the Taliban is all that bad though, yes, each one of them would say girls should go uneducated and flashing ankle should get you beheaded, and other "world-is-flat" nonsense like gangrape is a viable punishment for a girl who talks to the wrong guy. But let's sit down with these guys (not face to face, the White House says as though that were the crucial thing) and give them back their country. Which would mean the U.S. Army has been holding the country in trust for... the Taliban. Disturbing. American soldiers fighting and dying so we can give the Taliban the reins of power...

That sounds like abject failure and loss to me.

And again, 1 - we certainly don't have the political will to expand the war. 2- the current efforts are only losing in slow motion. So the only option is, 3- negotiating with the enemy with a view towards our leaving them in power pretty much as they were on September 10, 2001.

Of course, I'm no political maven. Didn't take Poli Sci in college (I took an extra history class instead). I'd be very happy if I can be shown how we will win this war.

Tomorrow: How We Lost the War in Iraq in 2003.


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