What’s up with the war in Afghanistan?

By Kevin Gallagher

Part 1 of a 2  part series

It seems that the time when American leaders could arrogantly boast “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” has passed. Despite the commitment of additional troops in the past year, the war in Afghanistan appears all but lost for the United States/International Security Assistance Force to everyone except a few who must be so delusional that they’ve lost all reason.

Naturally, this would expectedly include some U.S. congressmen, five-star generals, and other nameless losers. Even though President Obama declared an end to combat operations in Iraq (the notion is a farce), and he promised to get troops out of Afghanistan as well, the wheels of war are still turning in some places. This demands a sharp assessment of the whole picture.

In August 2009, after being appointed U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal admitted that the Taliban was winning. He was retired within a year, supposedly because of an undermining Rolling Stone magazine interview. However, a month later, NBC reported on a “classified assessment” he authored, which estimated that a “successful counterinsurgency strategy would require 500,000 troops over five years.” This figure is far beyond current capabilities. Before his sudden retirement, McChrystal warned the administration about our impending and inevitable failure in Afghanistan.

It wasn’t a total surprise, because Defense Secretary Robert Gates already stated in October 2008 that, in Afghanistan, there had to be, “reconciliation as part of a political outcome.” His statement was political gibberish, but basically indicated that we would have to lie down and make peace with the Taliban. The endgame has been clear for some time. Peace efforts have been ongoing. The incompetent Afghan President, Hamid Karzai has reached out to the leaders of the Taliban. Karzai was once criticized by the U.S. and its allies for cooperating with the Taliban and Pakistan, but it turns out that he was on to something.

On the subject of peace and reconciliation efforts, it appears that our fortunes are really worse than some thought. When Karzai tried to hold talks earlier this year, the Taliban declined to participate, saying they would not negotiate so long as there were foreign troops on Afghanistan’s soil. The George W. Bush administration’s cowboy hubris and childish warmongering after the attacks of Sept. 11 proved to be ill-advised. They put this country in a pathetic geo-strategic position vis-à-vis the Middle East and Central Asia. The whole debacle added up to a matter of some $355 billion, which was picked up by the American taxpayers against an ailing economy and exploding deficit. Any West Point dropout could tell that the U.S. armed forces were understaffed, under-supplied and spread too thin from the very beginning. Many of our allies eventually saw fit to throw up the white flag and walk away. The best wisdom circulating post-9/11 among the anti-war left and true conservatives notes the prospect of a war of occupation against a powerful insurgency to be seriously undesirable – despite the exaggerated threat of al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism. Once again, the representatives of the American people failed to listen. They gave Bush and his gang license to romp around the world for seven years, and leave this country in a sorry state in the aftermath. In some political circles, his administration is accused of war crimes. We succeeded only in making the Islamic world angrier at us, which is not a smart move considering America’s insatiable lust for oil.

Some observers, myself included, are forced to wonder whether we ever had a strategy to win at all. The real people who took down the World Trade Center in New York City were mostly from Saudi Arabia. It is suspected that their leader operated from caves and safe houses deep in the unruly Waziristan border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although Osama Bin Laden hadn’t been seen or heard from for years, we targeted his al-Qaeda underlings and Taliban protectors with cowardly unmanned aerial drone attacks that were supported by only a fraction of the local population. These attacks often resulted in “collateral damage.”

Furthermore, the generals embarrassingly failed to take into account the Afghanis’ religion in determining their attitude toward death. Tired of unauthorized incursions over its borders, Pakistan’s leaders announced that any U.S. forces on its soil would be shot, while members of its own Inter-Services Intelligence were documented collaborating with Taliban and Haqqani network insurgents behind our backs. The WikiLeaks stuff was ugly, and it showed conclusively how ordinary Afghan people were suffering in numerous ways under the weight of our misguided occupation and counter-insurgency.

Conditions on the ground are said to be hopeless. While U.S. television networks show hopeful videos of the training of Afghan soldiers, the real Afghan National Army deals with an absurd turnover rate, blanket illiteracy and rampant corruption and bribery. Civilians often want nothing to do with U.S. troops, and rarely want to be seen speaking to them – probably for fear of their lives. There is no more hope of a U.S.-friendly client state. In addition, opium production exceeds previous years’ yields, which is the most important factor in Afghanistan’s economy. Inside the country, soldiers are reportedly afraid to leave their bases in Helmand Province.

Kevin Gallagher is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].