The Shame and Folly of Obama's Afghan War

Recently by David Lindorff: Epicenter of Mendacity: Obama’sIllegal War AgainstAfghanistan

There are so many things wrong with Obama’s “New and Improved” Afghanistan War that it’s hard to know where to begin, but I guess the place to start is with his premise.

If America needs to be fighting in Afghanistan because Al Qaeda planned and launched the 9-11 attacks from there back in 2001, as the president claimed in his lackluster address to the cadets at West Point last week, then we would have to assume either that Al Qaeda is still there, or that if we were not there fighting, that Al Qaeda would be back to plan more attacks.

Well, we know Al Qaeda is not there, because US intelligence reports that there are “fewer than 100” Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan at most at this point, and probably a good deal fewer. Maybe even zero. Al Qaeda has long since moved on to Pakistan and thence to other countries far removed from Afghanistan (even Defense Secretary Robert Gates, after speculating that Osama bin Laden “might be” hopping back and forth across the border with Pakistan like a kid doing a double-dare game, concedes that in truth no one in the US has any idea where bin Laden is, or whether he is even in South Asia). But would Al Qaeda come back if the Taliban, ousted back in 2001 by US Special Forces, were to return to power in Kabul? Not likely. As the New York Times reported in last Sunday’s paper, the Afghan Taliban have convincingly broken with Al Qaeda, because of the latter organization’s targeting of the Pakistani government, which has long had a supportive relationship with the Afghan Taliban. Besides, the Taliban in Afghanistan have a clear goal of ruling Afghanistan, and the US has already demonstrated both that it can live and work with a Taliban government, as it was doing before the 9-11 attacks, and that it will punish the Taliban if they allow Al Qaeda a free hand inside their country. So the odds of a re-established Taliban regime in Afghanistan inviting Al Qaeda to move back in and set up shop are somewhere around zero.

Ergo, whatever he may say, the current Christmas ramp-up in the war announced by Obama has nothing to do with 9-11, nothing to do with combating terrorism, and nothing to do with protecting American security.

What about the bogie-man of a so-called “failed state”? Obama said a failed state in Afghanistan could mean a return of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.

The problem with this second argument is that Afghanistan already is a failed state, if the definition of a failed state is one in which there is no effective central government. For that matter, Afghanistan has been a failed state since the overthrow of Mohammed Najibullah, the Communist leader who had the country largely unified and who was instituting reforms like protecting the rights of women, building roads, etc. (the very things the US says it wants to do), until he was driven out of power and ultimately hung by forces, including the Taliban, organized and armed by the CIA. Actually, the truth is that Afghanistan has always been something less than a real nation, with different ethic groups occupying different regions of the country largely operating like autonomous little countries. To expect such a situation to somehow coalesce into something resembling a European nation-state is simply ludicrous. In fact, the only commonality uniting the various ethnic groups within Afghanistan actually is religion – they’re nearly all Islamic – which suggests that the Taliban, for all their medieval fundamentalism, may have a significant edge in the nation-building game.

Moving on to strategy, Obama talks about effectively doubling the number of US and NATO forces fighting in the country (the term “fighting” is used loosely because many of the European forces are barred by their governments from actually engaging in combat), with the goal being, reportedly, to protect the cities from Taliban attacks (and good luck with that!) and giving the current government in Kabul time to build up a 400,000-man army that supposedly would take over the job of security.

Hmmmm. If you protect the cities, by definition you leave the countryside around the cities unprotected, right? But you cannot do that in a country that is largely rural, so the US will inevitably resort to search-and-destroy run-outs into the countryside, and of course air attacks by bombers and remote-controlled drones, in a doomed effort to keep the Taliban at bay. But such actions, as America leaned when it tried the same policy in Vietnam, inevitably mean massive and disproportionate civilian casualties – the so-called “collateral damage” of war. And civilian casualties are not the way an army wins “hearts and minds.” In fact, a high rate of civilian casualties means the destroying of hearts, minds, limbs, families, houses, etc., and the concomitant creation of blood enemies. So we start out by making more enemies outside the city gates.

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December 8, 2009

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