Af-Pak (Afghanistan and Pakistan) news and observations – 2010 “Quagmire”

Afghanistan and Pakistan news and observations – 2010

(for review and  investigative purposes – with qualified disclaimers, of course)


Hmmmm,,,,, Ethnic complexities in region

Click map to enlarge









Afghanistan War: Why Are We Doing It? (5+ / 0-)

“I think it was November of 1952, when I was about 6 years old, that Charles Schultz and his Peanuts comic strip came out with the annual saga where, every year, Charlie Brown comes up to the football, and Lucy tells Charlie Brown year after year, “Just one more time, we’ll let you kick ball.” And each year, she pulled the football out, only to find Charlie Brown on his rear end.I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker and Members of the House, in this somewhat stretched analogy, that a series of Commanders-in-Chief are Lucy, and we’re Charlie Brown, and the football is the illusive promise of a goal that we simply cannot reach. We cannot force a culture to accept our values, and we cannot impose Western democracy on a people who don’t understand or accept it and whose leadership is corrupt and antidemocratic beyond repair. And we cannot continue to spend the billions and, arguably, trillions of dollars of the hardworking men and women in this country in a venture that has no objective, no end game, and no proximate connection to the well-being of our Nation.In conclusion, Mr. Speaker and Members of the House, we cannot afford economically, we cannot afford militarily, and we cannot afford as a people to pass this bill. This President who, frankly, won an election based on his strong antiwar message, like many of his predecessors, asked us one more time to spend a few more billion dollars — in this case $38 billion — and a few thousand more men and women in an effort to kick the football just one more time. It simply isn’t doable.”
Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois 

by Latins for Peace on Sat Jul 03, 2010 at 06:26:30 AM PDT,-the-More-Things-Remain-the-Same


Hmm,,, more complexities….

Question:  Why is the Pakistani establishment scared of India?

Answer: For many reason: their threat and intimidation; nuclear prowess; regional arrogance and dominance;  two wars plus about Kashmere; Raw agency bombings; training and financing rebel groups, etc etc; and also the fact that the Indian establishment calls all Pakistanis “terrorists” over and over again, in all official and semi official forums, for instance like this

“Bharat Rakshak”

Consortium of Indian Defence Websites

Terrorist Islamic Republic of Pakistan (TSP): July 07, 2010


Op-Ed Columnist

The Afghan Quagmire

Published: January 5, 2009

The economy is obviously issue No. 1 as Barack Obama prepares to take over the presidency. He’s charged with no less a task than pulling the country out of a brutal recession. If the worst-case scenarios materialize, his job will be to stave off a depression.

// That’s enough to keep any president pretty well occupied. What Mr. Obama doesn’t need, and what the U.S. cannot under any circumstances afford, is any more unnecessary warfare. And yet, while we haven’t even figured out how to extricate ourselves from the disaster in Iraq, Mr. Obama is planning to commit thousands of additional American troops to the war in Afghanistan, which is already more than seven years old and which long ago turned into a quagmire.

Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who is now a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, wrote an important piece for Newsweek warning against the proposed buildup. “Afghanistan will be a sinkhole,” he said, “consuming resources neither the U.S. military nor the U.S. government can afford to waste.”

In an analysis in The Times last month, Michael Gordon noted that “Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.”

The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair. Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.

The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That time has passed.

With no personal military background and a reputation as a liberal, President-elect Obama may feel he has to demonstrate his toughness, and that Afghanistan is the place to do it. What would really show toughness would be an assertion by Mr. Obama as commander in chief that the era of mindless military misadventures is over.

“I hate war,” said Dwight Eisenhower, “as only a soldier who has lived it can, as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

What’s the upside to the U.S., a nation in dire economic distress, of an escalation in Afghanistan? If we send 20,000, or 30,000, or however many thousand more troops in there, what will their mission be?

In his article for Newsweek, Mr. Bacevich said: “The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.

“No country poses a greater potential threat to U.S. national security — today and for the foreseeable future — than Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.”

Our interest in Afghanistan is to prevent it from becoming a haven for terrorists bent on attacking us. That does not require the scale of military operations that the incoming administration is contemplating. It does not require a wholesale occupation. It does not require the endless funneling of human treasure and countless billions of taxpayer dollars to the Afghan government at the expense of rebuilding the United States, which is falling apart before our very eyes.

The government we are supporting in Afghanistan is a fetid hothouse of corruption, a government of gangsters and weasels whose customary salute is the upturned palm. Listen to this devastating assessment by Dexter Filkins of The Times:

“Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.”

Think about putting your life on the line for that gang.

If Mr. Obama does send more troops to Afghanistan, he should go on television and tell the American people, in the clearest possible language, what he is trying to achieve. He should spell out the mission’s goals, and lay out an exit strategy.

He will owe that to the public because he will own the conflict at that point. It will be Barack Obama’s war.


Ralph Nader: ‘The Afghan Quagmire’

December 3rd, 2009 · 13 Comments

By Ralph Nader

Misusing professional cadets at West Point as a political prop, President Barack Obama delivered his speech on the Afghanistan war forcefully but with fearful undertones. He chose to escalate this undeclared war with at least 30,000 more soldiers plus an even larger number of corporate contractors.

He chose the path the military-industrial complex wanted. The “military” planners, whatever their earlier doubts about the quagmire, once in, want to prevail. The “industrial” barons because their sales and profits rise with larger military budgets.

A majority of Americans are opposed or skeptical about getting deeper into a bloody, costly fight in the mountains of central Asia while facing recession, unemployment, foreclosures, debt and deficits at home. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), after hearing Mr. Obama’s speech said, “Why is it that war is a priority but the basic needs of people in this country are not?”

Let’s say needs like waking up to do something about 60,000 fatalities a year in our country related to workplace diseases and trauma. Or 250 fatalities a day due to hospital induced infections, or 100,000 fatalities a year due to hospital malpractice, or 45,000 fatalities a year due to the absence of health insurance to pay for treatment, or, or, or, even before we get into the economic poverty and deprivation. Any Obama national speeches on these casualties?

Back to the West Point teleprompter speech. If this is the product of a robust internal Administration debate, the result was the same cookie-cutter, Vietnam approach of throwing more soldiers at a poorly analyzed situation. In September, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen told an American Legion Convention, “I’ve seen the public opinion polls saying that a majority of Americans don’t support the effort at all. I say, good. Let’s have the debate, let’s have that discussion.”

Where? Not in Congress. There were only rubberstamps and grumbles; certainly nothing like the Fulbright Senate hearings on the Vietnam War.

Where else? Not in the influential commercial media. Forget jingoistic television and radio other than the satire of Jon Stewart plus an occasional non-commercial Bill Moyers show or rare public radio commentary. Not in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and the Washington Post.

A FAIR study published in the organization’s monthly newsletter EXTRA reports that of all opinion columns in The New York Times and the Washington Post over the first 10 months of 2009, thirty-six out of forty-three columns on the Afghanistan War in the Times supported the war while sixty-one of the sixty-seven Post columns supported a continued war.

So what would a rigorous public and internal administration debate have highlighted? First, the more occupation forces there are, the more they fuel the insurgency against the occupation, especially since so many more civilians than fighters lose their lives. Witness the wedding parties, villagers, and innocent bystanders blown up by the U.S. military’s superior weaponry.

Second, there was a remarkable absence in Obama’s speech about the tribal conflicts and the diversity of motivations of those he lumped under the name of “Taliban.” Some are protecting their valleys, others are in the drug trade, others want to drive out the occupiers, others are struggling for supremacy between the Pashtuns on one side and the Tajiks and Uzbeks on the other (roughly the south against the north). The latter has been the substance of a continuing civil war for many years.

Third, how can Obama’s plan begin to work, requiring a stable, functioning Afghan government—which now is largely a collection of illicit businesses milking the graft, which grows larger in proportion to what the American taxpayers have to spend there—and the disorganized, untrained Afghan army—mainly composed of Tajiks and Uzbeks loathed by the Pashtuns.

Fourth, destroying or capturing al Qaeda attackers in Afghanistan ignores Obama’s own intelligence estimates. Many observers believe al Qaeda has gone to Pakistan or elsewhere. The New York Times reports that “quietly, Mr. Obama has authorized an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well—if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms.”

Hello! Congress did not authorize a war in Pakistan, so does Obama, like Bush, just decree what the Constitution requires to be authorized by the legislative branch? Can we expect another speech at the Air Force Academy on the Pakistan war?

Fifth, as is known, al Qaeda is a transnational movement. Highly mobile, when it is squeezed. As Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former CIA officer operating in Pakistan, said: “There is no direct impact on stopping terrorists around the world because we are or are not in Afghanistan.” He argues that safe havens can be moved to different countries, as has indeed happened since 9/11.

Sixth, the audacity of hope in Obama’s speech was illustrated by his unconvincing date of mid-2011 for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan. The tendered exit strategy, tied to unspecified conditions, was a bone he tossed to his shaky liberal base.

The White House recently said it costs $1 million a year to keep each single soldier in Afghanistan. Take one fifth of that sum and connect with the tribal chiefs to build public facilities in transportation, agriculture, schools, clinics, public health, and safe drinking water.

Thus strengthened, these tribal leaders know how to establish order. This is partly what Ashraf Ghani, the former respected Afghan finance minister and former American anthropology professor, called concrete “justice” as the way to undermine insurgency.

Withdraw the occupation, which now is pouring gasoline on the fire. Bring back the saved four-fifths of that million dollars per soldier to America and provide these and other soldiers with tuition for their education and training.

The principal authority in Afghanistan is tribal. Provide the assistance, based on stage-by-stage performance, and the tribal leaders obtain a stake in stability. Blown apart by so many foreign invaders—British, Soviet, American—and internally riven, the people in the countryside look to tribal security as the best hope for a nation that has not known unity for decades.

Lifting the fog of war allows other wiser policies urged by experienced people to be considered for peace and security.

Rather than expanding a boomeranging war, this alternative has some probability of modest success unlike the sure, mounting loss of American and Afghani lives and resources.


Obama Escalates Afghanistan Quagmire | Print | E-mail

Written by Patrick Krey
Monday, 20 July 2009 13:30
// It could be argued that the single biggest contributor to President Barack Obama’s election victory was voter dissatisfaction with former President Bush’s neoconservative warmongering foreign policy (which was embraced by Republican presidential candidate John McCain). Ironically, since taking office, Obama has turned out to be eerily similar in the warmongering department.One of Obama’s first foreign policy decisions as the commander-in-chief was to copy Bush’s Iraq troop “surge” with a surge of his own in Afghanistan. The U.S. troop presence has drastically increased from 32,000 at the start of 2009 to about 57,000 presently with an anticipated cap around the 68,000 mark (which would more than double the U.S. commitment to the region). Like the salesman on a late-night infomercial typically proclaims, “But wait — there’s more!” Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that the number of boots on the ground could climb even beyond the 68,000 number. In a question and answer session at Fort Drum, Gates said that what U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who was recently appointed as the new commander of NATO, reports back to him could influence the decision to send even more troops to war. McChrystal is preparing a classified report for the Defense Secretary on Afghanistan according to CNN.McChrystal is expected to complete a classified report for Gates by the end of this month, assessing where the war stands, and what needs to be done. He will tell Gates whether he needs more U.S. troops to fight the escalating conflict, according to a senior U.S. military official.… The review is also expected to recommend that the number of Afghan troops be increased beyond the goal of 134,000, other military sources said. 

McChrystal is already seeking to increase troop levels there by pleading with the British to send more troops. McChrystal also stated that the conflict shows no sign of coming to a near halt. “It will go on until we achieve the progress we want to achieve…. It won’t be short.” The British casualties in Afghanistan recently just climbed above the number of those who died in the Iraq conflict. Things continue to deteriorate in the region where attacks are up 70 percent over last year. Unlike in America where the marital woes of the stars of Jon & Kate Plus Eight dominate the headlines, in the U.K., the rising death toll and grim analysis of prospects for success have generated controversy and debate over British participation in the war. Such a dialogue has alarmed the Obama administration, which fears the same might happen in the United States, according to the Financial Times.

Britain’s increasingly heated debate about its role in Afghanistan has sparked concern in Washington about the sustainability of the military strategy and the US public’s own willingness to commit troops for the long term, senior officials and analysts say.… A senior US official told the Financial Times that there was “some level of anxiety” within Barack Obama’s administration about the UK debate. “It’s hard to see our most capable partner struggling in this debate…. If we are going to have to backfill European countries that decide to leave, could we sustain that with US public opinion? That’s an open question.”

Unfortunately for our brave men and women in the U.S. armed forces, the current administration seems more concerned with public opinion polls than preventing U.S. casualties in an unnecessary and unconstitutional nation building project. The Associated Press reports that Obama’s surge is already proving very deadly.

July is shaping up as the deadliest month of the Afghan war for U.S.-led international forces, with the number killed already matching the highest full-month toll of the nearly eight-year conflict…. As of Wednesday, at least 46 international troops, including 24 Americans, had been killed in Afghanistan this month…. That matches the tolls for the two previous deadliest months — June and August of 2008. The rate of deaths in July — about three a day — is approaching some of the highest levels of the Iraq war. [Emphasis added.]

One has to wonder how long it will take the American public to wake up from their mainstream media-induced slumber to recognize that the man sold to them as a peace candidate is turning out to be just as bad of a warmonger, if not worse, than his much-maligned predecessor.

Photo: AP Images


Friday, June 18, 2010

The Afghanistan Quagmire

By Alan CarubaThe war in Afghanistan has been going on for more than eight years as of this writing. Over that period of time I have been against it, for it, against it, for it, and now I return to what my instincts and experience told me all along. It’s over. 

That war is lost. Once the Taliban acquired surface-to-air missiles, the primarily advantage our military had was removed. In the past month, the Taliban have shot down two of our helicopters. Any low-flying aircraft will be vulnerable along with all our front-line forces.

This is a repeat of how the Soviets lost their war in Afghanistan. The Stinger missles the CIA began to provide the Afghan insurgents and the many Arabs that joined the battle—including Osama bin Laden—the war was over. Not many years later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

You cannot win a counterinsurgency with local forces if (1) you don’t have a significant portion of the population on your side and (2) those forces do not want to fight.

Afghans don’t like anyone who is not an Afghan and, in many cases, they do not like other Afghans from other tribes. They didn’t even like the Arabs that joined them in the fight against the Soviets. They want to be left alone to raise poppies and make money the only way they can, via the drug trade.

The other factor that is a key to the situation is our “ally”, Pakistan. The U.S. has poured billions into Pakistan and they have been supporting the Taliban the whole time; more specifically, the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Agency.

Let it be said that George W. Bush was right to chase al Qaeda out of Afghanistan after 9/11. Failure to take military action would have been seen as weakness and made the U.S. vulnerable to more attacks on the homeland. For eight years while he was in the White House, there were no further attacks.

Then Barack Hussein Obama got elected. He did so in part by claiming that Afghanistan was the “real” war to be won and that our war in Iraq was a mistake. Then, when he had to decide what to do there, he spent three months making up his mind, agreed to send 40,000 more troops, and announced the date when we would leave. You don’t win wars by telling the enemy when you’re going to leave.

While he’s been in office there have been two unsuccessful attacks, the Christmas underwear bomber and the Times Square bomber. The Fort Hood murders were swept under the rug after Obama took three days to think of something to say about them. He said we should not “jump to conclusions” about Major Hassan who shouted “Allahu akbar” while murdering his fellow soldiers.

Debka File, an Israeli news agency is saying what the U.S. press is disinclined to say. “America’s longest war is about to end.” Drawing on its military and intelligence sources, it said the US-led NATO forces will have no victory and must settle “at best in a draw or at worst in a win for the Taliban, al Qaeda’s extremist partner.”

An article in the UK’s Times was picked up by the Washington Post on June 14. The Times article was headlined “Pakistan puppet masters guide the Taliban killers.” It reported that “Pakistan’s own intelligence agency, the ISI, is said to be represented on the Taliban’s war council, the Quetta shura. Up to seven of the 15-man shura are believed to be ISA agents.”

The former head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, Amrullah Salah, recently resigned. He concluded that Afghan forces of the government under Hamid Karzai, the US hand-picked president of Afghanistan, would not and could not prevail. Afghanistan has never been a nation by any standard definition. It has always been a nation of tribes.

The Afghanistan conflict has cost the West billions and hundreds of lives. NATO, an institution put together during the long Cold War with the then-Soviet Union, has never had much support among its European members, none of whom have had much heart for a fight following World War Two.

The United Kingdom has been our most steadfast partner in NATO and in our two invasions of Iraq, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and in wake of the widespread belief he had weapons of mass destruction. Almost from the day he first stepped into the Oval Office, President Obama has engaged in every way possible to offend the British and his latest fulminations about the BP oil spill have only worsened relations.

When word leaked about Obama’s “rules of engagement” in Afghanistan that essentially put every one of our soldiers and marines at risk, the die was cast.

The combined US-UK force failed to loosen the Taliban’s grip on Marjah, the most recent military engagement. The Afghan forces refused to fight much of the time. The Taliban continue to control the whole of southern Afghanistan.

The Kandahar offensive has been postponed. It was to be waged by American, British, Canadian, and Afghan forces. If that doesn’t tell you that the war in Afghanistan is over, nothing will.

If there is no will to wage war vigorously to bring about victory, nothing can be done for now. This is not to say we will not have to return at some time, but as long as President Obama is in office, that is not an option.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


The Afghan quagmire

By Moeed Yusuf
Monday, 19 Apr, 2010

THE much-hyped Pak-US strategic dialogue has received a lukewarm reception in Pakistan. Commentators have argued that it has not delivered anything tangible in terms of commitments to making the relationship broader and enduring.

That much is true. But what seems to have gone unnoticed in Pakistan is that on the security front the subtext is positive.

Narrow and intangible the achievement might be but the discussion on Afghanistan has proceeded in the right direction. The dialogue has brought the two sides closer on what was the single most critical missing link in the equation, i.e. an understanding, even if broad and notional, on the end-state in Afghanistan that both sides are willing to live with.

The US has signalled that it ultimately wants to get out of Afghanistan but not before it has ensured that the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus will not revive. Keeping in mind that all actors agree that the final solution has to be political and not just military, the implication is that Washington wants a consensus government in Afghanistan that does not allow the Taliban a free hand in any future configuration.

Pakistan’s own thinking has also evolved. The idea of a broad-based government not antithetical to Pakistan’s interests has begun resonating with the establishment. Working out the details of what Pakistan can do or how it must proceed is also crucial given the bluntness with which Gen Ashfaq Kayani spoke about the central role Pakistan ought to have in any reconciliation process.

The message has been even clearer on Pakistan’s concerns vis-à-vis India in general and its presence in Afghanistan in particular. In what marks a change from the past, the US has agreed to lend a sympathetic ear on both counts. The realisation seems to have dawned in Washington that an amicable exit requires Pakistan to be fully on board and that these are non-negotiable prerequisites from Pakistan’s side. This broad convergence is a major step forward. Until now both sides had been constantly undercutting each other’s strategic goals even as they remained tactical partners.

All along, the US had operated on the erroneous premise that Pakistan’s strategic paradigm could be shifted by a combination of monetary incentives and arm-twisting. This forced Pakistan to attempt to raise the costs for the US who it believed was seeking to achieve its aims without paying heed to its core demands. Resultantly, for the better part of the last eight years, Islamabad never found the space to conceive and operationalise a strategy to achieve an end-state acceptable to the US.Granted, the convergence I have highlighted is nothing more than a signalling exercise at this stage. And of course, the devil is in the detail; there is no denying the severity of challenges in moving from here to the desired end-state. But what this new direction will do is allow the two sides to open up the details and at the very least begin to debate their positions on various bottlenecks.

In moving forward, however, both sides need to have realistic expectations. It may be time for a reality check on the trust aspect of the relationship. Building trust is a noble exercise but it is not realistic in the time frame we are looking at. As unfortunate as it is, both sides should be resigned to working together despite the mistrust and devise policies while taking this into account.

A number of concrete issues are also certain to test the two sides’ resolve.

To begin with, what precise role will the Taliban have in the consensus government? The specifics need to be worked out as best as they can be at this stage.

The timing of reconciliation talks also needs to be negotiated. There are virtually no takers in Pakistan for the US argument that the troop surge will allow it to impose a political solution. The overwhelming majority believes that optimism regarding the surge is dangerously misplaced. Islamabad would like a serious, well-directed reconciliation effort to start as soon as possible. How much is the US willing to concede on this count needs clarity.

Perhaps one reality that can bring the two sides closer is a much-needed realisation in Washington that Nato’s patience with the American policy in Afghanistan is waning; the longer the saga drags on, the more isolated the US is likely to become.

The commitment question is also looming. Notwithstanding official signals that the US will stay in Afghanistan till needed, Pakistanis are not convinced. Lack of certainty implies that Islamabad’s propensity to keep hedging even as it moves towards the agreed end-state will remain high. At least on the track-I level the US needs to go beyond promises and lay out its various possible withdrawal plans.

Strategically, the US must not go back to attempting a shift in Pakistan’s paradigm. The India question will have to be addressed by sidelining any Indian role in the Afghan reconciliation effort and by increasing public and private efforts to bring India back to the negotiating table. At least rhetorically, the US has to show that it has shifted its policy from indifference to active prodding.

Pakistan on its part must move beyond ‘security concerns’ and spell out what exactly it expects Washington to achieve in terms of the Pakistan-India equation. In doing so, it must take into account that the US does not have the leverage to do more than prod India constantly on key issues. Moreover, it is impossible for anyone to ask India to leave Afghanistan. Presence on the security front may be reduced but development assistance, and thus, civilian presence, shall remain courtesy of the domestic support for Indian social-sector spending among Afghans.

Realism should also dictate the extent to which Pakistan chooses to be involved in the reconciliation effort. For one, any attempt to force a solution on the Afghans will not work. The best Pakistan can do — this will serve everyone’s interest — is to convince all major political players in Afghanistan to come together and reach an internal settlement. No matter what the decision, as long as it is consensual and brings together the Afghan factions Pakistan’s geographical location, its ethnic ties and the economic dependence of the Afghans east of the Durand Line will ensure that Kabul is friendly towards Islamabad.

Finally, Pakistan ought not to exaggerate its leverage over any Afghan faction or the situation in Afghanistan. Neither can Islamabad continue to test the international community’s patience by acting as a spoiler beyond a point. Equally, Pakistan should not stick its neck out to provide any guarantees for Kabul’s future conduct. The world should be allowed to keep its direct channels open to negotiate the future with the new Afghan government.

Pakistan will have to learn to live with an internationally engaged Afghanistan as long as it is friendly towards Islamabad.


A Military Quagmire Remembered: Afghanistan as Vietnam

By R. W. APPLE Jr.

The New York Times

October 31, 2001, Wednesday

Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the ominous word “quagmire” has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad.

Could Afghanistan become another Vietnam? Is the United States facing another stalemate on the other side of the world? Premature the questions may be, three weeks after the fighting began. Unreasonable they are not, given the scars scoured into the national psyche by defeat in Southeast Asia. For all the differences between the two conflicts, and there are many, echoes of Vietnam are unavoidable. Today, for example, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld disclosed for the first time that American military forces are operating in northern Afghanistan, providing liaison to “a limited number of the various opposition elements.”

Their role sounds suspiciously like that of the advisers sent to Vietnam in the early 1960’s, although Mr. Rumsfeld took pains to say of the anti-Taliban forces that “you’re not going to send a few people in and tell them they should turn right, turn left, go slower, go fast.” The Vietnam advisers, of course, were initially described in much the same terms, and the government of the day vigorously denied that they were a prelude to American combat troops.

In the most famous such denial, Lyndon B. Johnson vowed that he would not send American boys in to fight the war for Vietnamese boys.

Despite the insistence of President Bush and members of his cabinet that all is well, the war in Afghanistan has gone less smoothly than many had hoped. Not that anyone expected a lightning campaign without setbacks; indeed, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld have often said the effort would be long and hard.

But signs of progress are sparse. A week ago, the Pentagon said the military capacity of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan had been “eviscerated” by allied bombing raids; now ranking officials describe those leaders as “tough characters” who remain full of fight. The sole known commando sortie into enemy territory produced minimal results and ample evidence that American intelligence about the Taliban is thin.

The Northern Alliance, whose generals bragged for weeks that it was about to capture the pivotal city of Mazar-i-Sharif, has failed to do so. Nor have its tanks made any progress toward Kabul, the capital. Abdul Haq, the Afghan soldier to whom many had looked to unify anti-Taliban factions, was captured and killed by his enemies almost as soon as he returned to the country.

So influential voices have begun to call for something more than bombing, special forces raids and covert action. Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican whose views on military matters carry unusual weight with his peers because of his service as a naval pilot in Vietnam and his years as a prisoner of war, called on Sunday for the deployment of American ground troops “in force” in Afghanistan.

Air power alone, Senator McCain and some colleagues in both parties argue, will never force Osama bin Laden into the open. They believe that only ground troops, operating from a secure base within Afghanistan, will do the trick. That might well involve tens of thousands of troops, hundreds of casualties and many months of effort, they concede, but they see no viable option.

Conservative columnists like Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol have criticized the administration, in Mr. Kristol’s words, for trying to fight a war “with half-measures.”

The administration has been careful not to rule out the prospect of ground troops, mindful, no doubt, of the leverage that the Clinton administration lost by doing so in the Balkans. Asked about the idea over the weekend, Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff, responded, “let’s not go there yet.” But it is not known whether it is under serious, active consideration.

Clearly, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, with the horrific loss of American lives they entailed, would give any United States decision to dispatch ground forces a kind of moral imperative that American involvement in Vietnam lacked, even if fighting a land war in Afghanistan would weaken the broad coalition that has been assembled to fight terrorism.

At least at first, American public opinion would present no problem. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that a majority of Americans are prepared to accept the deaths of several thousand American troops there, although there were the first suggestions that many Americans think that the war is not going too well.

Strategically, the United States could benefit in Afghanistan from the Taliban’s unpopularity with many Afghans, but American bombs falling on civilian targets will not win Afghan “hearts and minds.”

The terrain in Afghanistan might in some ways be more favorable to the United States than in Vietnam. Tanks could play a much larger role, for example. But the Soviet Union, with good tanks in great numbers, was nonetheless stalemated and eventually defeated by Afghan rebel forces.

Finally, in Afghanistan as in South Vietnam, there is a huge question about who would rule if the United States vanquished its foe. Washington never solved that issue satisfactorily after the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, and solving it in Afghanistan, a country long prone to chaotic competition among many tribes and factions, will probably not be much easier.

Lexis-Nexus Academic Universe

LOAD-DATE: October 31, 2001


Avoiding a Quagmire in Afghanistan

By Robert Baer Wednesday, Apr. 01, 2009

Members of the U.S. Army 1-6 Field Artillery division speak with a village elder on the needs of the community February 26, 2009 in Pigal, Afghanistan.

Spencer Platt / Getty

As the saw goes, never get into a war with a people who live in a half-hour time zone. The reference is usually to Afghanistan, a country no one has ever been able to subdue, for long at least. And it’s even more true for the Pashtun, the country’s largest ethnic group, who don’t seem to live in any time zone at all. Last week the Obama Administration didn’t propose going to war with the Pashtun. But a larger American presence in Afghanistan, and the Obama Administration’s focus on the Taliban and al-Qaeda elements in the tribal border regions, runs that very risk.

The Administration’s instincts are right to work toward some sort of endgame in Afghanistan — train the Afghan army and police, boost economic aid, do something about the corruption and talk to certain elements of the Taliban, making sure they understand we’ll be back if al-Qaeda comes back. But it has to happen very quickly. (See pictures of the battle against the Taliban.)

What the Administration must absolutely resist is the temptation of more ambitious goals in Afghanistan, like rooting out the entire Taliban or fostering Western-style democracy. We must never forget that it was al-Qaeda who attacked us and not the Taliban, which is not an international terrorist group. If we make the all-too-common mistake of reducing the Taliban to al-Qaeda, it becomes an open-ended and endless war.

The Obama Administration also needs to put away the dream of sealing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where the Pashtun live. It would take half a million troops, not to mention the assistance of many of the Pashtun. Trying halfheartedly to seal the border will only make things worse, quite possibly inciting a larger war with the Pashtun. (View pictures of Pakistan’s vulnerable northwest passage.)

The Pashtun are a big, sprawling, insulated tribal people. There are some 40 million of them, but no one knows for sure because the central governments in Kabul and Islamabad have never felt safe enough to take a proper census. The Taliban are overwhelmingly Pashtun. The Pashtun have never had their own country, but they share a common language and identity.

And most importantly, they’re willing to shed their blood for each other. The Pashtun have a long history of uniting to face a common, external threat. They held up Alexander the Great for years — if for no other reason than pure belligerence. Something like that seems to be happening today. In February, the Taliban organizations in Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to put aside their differences, and combine forces to fight NATO in Afghanistan. What incited the alliance was the Obama Administration’s plans to send an additional 17,000 troops. (Read “The Truth About Talibanistan.”)

What’s alarming about a war with the Pashtun is that we know so little about these people. A common complaint among NATO soldiers these days in Afghanistan is the reliance on Tajik translators and intelligence sources. The Tajiks more often than not pass on bogus information that has led to attacks on innocent civilians — often Pahstun whom the Tajiks have little sympathy for.

There’s a similar problem with Pakistan. Islamabad is virtually our sole source of American intelligence on the Pashtun in Pakistan. Do we really know whether American Predators are hitting the right targets? Or are they killing Islamabad’s enemies rather than America’s? Dumping billions of dollars more into Pakistan is not going to improve Pakistani intelligence nor induce Pakistan to become more honest or forthcoming. The best we can hope for is that it helps slow the country’s slide into economic chaos.

There’s little doubt that if the British had had Cobra helicopters in 1842 it would not have lost its army in Afghanistan. But this shouldn’t be cause to throw the history books on the bonfire. After three wars the British never managed to pacify Afghanistan — largely because the Pashtun wouldn’t allow them to.

The Obama Administration’s surge in Afghanistan needs to be short and sweet and avoid stepping on Pashtun toes. It absolutely must not be the first stage of creating an Afghanistan of our dreams, or else it will most certainly become the one of our nightmares.

Baer, a former CIA field officer assigned to the Middle East, is’s intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and, most recently, The Devil We Know
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US Steps Deeper Into Afghan Quagmire
By Joel Skousen
Editor – World Affairs Brief

Begin ExcerptWith the ongoing attack on Marjah, the US military began its first major assault on a Taliban controlled town in Afghanistan and simultaneously entered a new and expanded phase of the war. The resulting military victory was predictable but the side effects of civilian casualties and property destruction won’t allow the coalition forces to win any local “hearts and minds,” nor increase the acceptability of the Karzai regime. ” 

Gareth Porter writes about the political motives behind the choice of target. “The primary goal of the offensive, they write, is to ‘convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year long war…’ U.S. military officials in Afghanistan ‘hope a large and loud victory in Marjah will convince the American public that they deserve more time to demonstrate that extra troops and new tactics can yield better results on the battlefield.’ Some advisers to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, told him last June that Kandahar City is far more important strategically than Marjah,” But that city would be far too difficult to tackle. ”

Astute scholar and commentator Juan Cole poses four important questions about this latest Afghan Surge; “Gen. David Petraeus admitted on Meet the Press Sunday that the Afghanistan War will take years and incur high casualties… The Marjah Campaign, the centerpiece of the new counter-insurgency strategy, is over a week old, and some assessment of this new, visible push by the US military in violent Helmand Province is in order. The questions are:”

“1. Can the stategy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, of taking, clearing, holding and building be extended deep into the Pashtun regions? Marjah is only a stepping stone to the key southern city of Qandahar, which has a population of a million, more the size of Detroit. This outcome has yet to be seen. But for rural Pashtuns to come to love foreign occupiers is an unlikely proposition. Even the WSJ admits that in Marjah, the Marines are not exactly feeling the love from the civilians they have supposedly just liberated. Since the Taliban are typically not as corrupt as the warlords, in fact, to any extent that the US and NATO re-install corrupt warlord types in power, they may alienate the locals. And keeping civilian casualties low so as to win hearts and minds is key here [and failing rapidly]. That task will become more difficult as the US inserts itself more deeply into Pashtun territory, since insurgent villages will have to be defeated. A campaign in Qandahar could easily displace half a million people, and they might mind. Meanwhile, on Monday, the governor of Dai Kundi asserted that a US airstrike killed 27 persons, mostly civilians. There is also the question, raised by Tom Englehardt, of whether the US is capable of good governance in Afghanistan when it is not in Washington, DC.”

“2. Can the demonstration of vitality and of a sense of progress mollify NATO publics long enough to fight a prolonged war and do intensive training of troops and police over several years? No. Over the weekend, the center-right government of the Netherlands fell over whether to keep Dutch troops in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan war is universally unpopular in continental Europe, and governments have troops there mostly in the teeth of popular opposition, because NATO invoked article 5 of its charter, ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’ with regard to the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001, attacks [which was totally falsified by US intelligence]. Australia is already refusing to take up the Dutch slack, and its government is under public pressure to get out, itself. While it is entirely possible that scandal-plagued rightwing billionaire Silvio Berlusconi will survive the next elections in Italy, it is also possible that he will not, and his successor may well want out of the unpopular Afghanistan quagmire. ”

“3. Can an Afghan army be stood up in short order that has the capacity to patrol independently and keep order after the US and NATO troops withdraw? Unlikely. The answer to the question about Afghan military preparedness– after nearly a decade of training and an investment of $1 billion that Afghan troops are not ready for prime time. In the Marjah campaign, they showed no initiative, no ability to fight independently. They are poorly served by their junior field officers, and they are 90% illiterate. There is often bad blood between Tajiks and Pashtuns, the group that predominates in Marjah. The same skill set of the ANA most prized by the US Marines during the assault– the ability to sniff out which households are Taliban– may be a liability in the holding and building phase, since it stems from a decade and a half of Tajik Northern Alliance battles against the Taliban.”

“4. Can the Afghan public, which includes many groups (Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks) deeply harmed by Taliban rule, accept reconciliation, as well? Unlikely. Former Northern Alliance leader popular among Tajiks, Abdullah Abdullah, warned Karzai against reconciling with the Taliban this weekend. Abdullah dropped out of last fall’s presidential contest in protest against alleged ballot fraud in Karzai’s favor. There is general hostility toward reconciliation with the Taliban among the parties representing northern, non-Pashtun ethnic groups. [Karzai has damaged his credibility further by taking personal control of the electoral watchdog council that overseas election fairness] ”

Next it is important to consider how crucial are US and Pakistani successes in capturing and killing major Taliban leaders. Bill Roggio gives a summary of the latest apprehensions: “The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that four additional members of the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shura have been captured. And one of them may be none other than Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, the former Guantanamo Bay detainee who serves as the leader of one of the four regional military shuras. According to the Monitor.” This brings up the question of why did the US let Zakir go while holding others that are not much threat at all?”

The capture of Taliban leaders has had one predictable effect which may further success more difficult. “Top US defense officials briefed Congress about the move of the Afghan Taliban’s top council, the Quetta Shura, from Quetta to Karachi. ‘Elements of the Afghan Taliban high command are beginning to relocate from Quetta to Karachi, due in large part to drone attacks,’ said Lt. Gen. John Paxton, director for operations at the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.” This obviously makes it more difficult to target other senior Taliban leaders. Karachi is a very large city of some 3 million inhabitants, mostly Pashtuns.”

The capturing of terrorist leaders goes both ways. This latest one will prove embarrassing to the US and its covert operations inside Iran working to overthrow the existing government. Asia Times M K Bhadrakumar has the story: “It was the morning after the dramatic capture of the 31-year-old leader of the dreaded Pakistan-based terrorist group Jundallah, Abdulmalik Rigi, in a stunning operation by Iranian intelligence. In turn, that would have implications for the United States-Iran standoff. But that is only one aspect. The fact is that Tehran has put Washington on the back foot at a critical juncture. Rigi is bound to spill the beans – he may already have begun – and much is going to surface about the covert activities by the US forces based in Afghanistan to subvert Iran by hobnobbing with Jundallah, which, incidentally, is also known to have links with al-Qaeda. Rigi apparently had a meeting with his US mentors in an American base just a day before his journey to the UAE. It seems he was traveling with a fake Afghan passport provided by the Americans. A lot of highly embarrassing details are trickling in already that will be eagerly lapped up by the so-called ‘Arab street’ and which will make the entire American position on the situation around Iran look rather weak.” –Unless the story never gets much press in America, which is rather certain.”

End Excerpt

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Copyright Joel Skousen. Partial quotations with attribution permitted.

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The Afghanistan Quagmire 

Don’t think you are being “loyal” to Obama by keeping your mouth shut while he escalates the war in Afghanistan. It’s a mistake that will hurt him and the U.S. terribly.

The Massive Trap that Awaits the U.S. in Afghanistan
by Michael Payne
America, since its successes in defeating the twin threats of  Germany and Japan in WWII, appears to have suffered a historical mental lapse. We waged an unjustified war, not of necessity but of choice, in Vietnam and lost. We duplicated that debacle by invading and occupying Iraq and now, plans are being made to escalate our military actions in Afghanistan, a move that I fear will lead us into a massive trap and disaster. After two monumental failures that never should have even been initiated, you would think that we would have learned from history but, from all appearances,we have learned nothing.

The U.S., teetering on the edge of national insolvency, is now on the verge of upping the ante in Afghanistan with increases in troop deployment. The intent is to wind down in Iraq and transfer military forces to fight in a nation where every invader in history has failed to achieve their objectives.

The  U.S. and its NATO allies have now been in Afghanistan for seven years. The Taliban, who  initially were dealt massive blows by our military and appeared to be on the ropes, have now been reinvigorated — grown greatly in strength and are now controlling the majority of Afghanistan, along with various tribal factions.The many incidences of bombing of innocents, called unfortunate collateral damage by U.S. war hawks, have infuriated Afghanis to the point that we are now considered the hated invader that must be expelled.

How many more wedding parties must be obliterated, how many more innocent children, mothers and fathers who got in our way will have to die before we realize that there is no definitive reason for our presence in that nation?

// I defy anyone to come up with a rational, moral reason for U.S. troops and NATO to continue warfare in this sovereign nation. War hawks can pontificate, but there is no reason whatsoever. This is simply one more misguided war of choice, not necessity.

A trap awaits  the U.S. and its NATO allies and they apparently cannot see what the future holds. To get a picture of what the future may well hold for us in that desolate, mountainous nation filled with numerous tribal factions, let’s review history and see what we can learn from it.

The Soviets sent troops into Afghanistan in 1979 for a number of reasons. First, they wished to expand their influence in Asia. They also wanted to preserve the Communist government that had been established in the 1970s, and was collapsing because of its lack of support other than in the military. Third, the Soviets wanted to protect their interests in Afghanistan from Iran and western nations.The problem with their invasion of Afghanistan was that it was doomed to fail right from the start.

Here is the lesson from history that the Russians should have heeded but did not. The first historically documented invasion of the region that is now called Afghanistan was made by Alexander the Great in 330 BC as part of his string of  conquests. Thereafter, it was invaded by Arab Muslims,ethnic groups from the Middle East and North Africa (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait,Algeria and others). Later, it was invaded by the Mongols (Genghis Khan) and in the nineteenth century twice by British India.

Knowing these facts that over this span of history every one of these invaders were eventually driven out of that nation, the Soviets invaded anyway–a big mistake–and fell into a deadly trap. The U.S. government was instrumental insetting this trap beginning in the 1980’s, when it trained, financed and armed the Mujahideen Islamic Guerrillas to fight the Soviet invasion.President Jimmy Carter adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski is known to have played a fundamental role in crafting U.S. policy, which, unbeknownst even to the Mujahideen, was part of a larger strategy “to induce a Soviet military intervention.” In a 1998 interview, Brzezinski recalled: “We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would. That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap. The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.”

Since 330 BC, five powerful invaders, including the USSR, made the fatal mistake of waging war on Afghanistan and all were defeated.And now, the U.S. is not only mired down in a war in that nation, but is making plans to escalate our involvement. We now know that in the 1 980’s the U.S. was funding the Mujahideen and setting up a trap for Russia. Now the roles may be completely reversed because someone is funding the Taliban to a great degree as evidenced by its increasing ability to control a large part of Afghanistan. Apparently, the Taliban and any number of supporting factions are now choking off the supply routes from the Pakistani port of Karachi via the Khyber Pass to Kabul that NATO and the U.S. has been using. The
problem now posed is to find new supply routes through some combination of routes involving Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan into Afghanistan.

By all current indications, it appears that the Obama administration is poised to continue the current U.S. policy in Afghanistan and escalate it by transferring thousands more troops from Iraq. Will this administration explain to the American people what exactly we are doing in Afghanistan? What is the mission, what is the goal? If it is to wipe out Al-Qaeda hiding in the mountains of Pakistan, then we need to initiate intensive, on-going diplomatic discussions with the Pakistani government, not wasted time, energy, lives and the spending of billions more dollars in Afghanistan at a time when the American financial system and the economy are bleeding. Gary Leupp in his December 27, 2008 article “The Coming Surge Into Afghanistan: Obama and the Graveyard of Empires” wrote, “Obama seems to believe that the U.S.can defeat those resisting the foreign presence and its local allies, stabilize the thoroughly corrupt Northern Alliance warlord regime with Hamid Karzai as its symbolic head, and stem the flow of Taliban back and forth across the Pakistan border. Most importantly, it can finally get that oil pipeline done–the one that’s to run from the Caspian Sea through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan,Pakistan and India to the Indian Ocean bypassing Russia and unfriendly Iran. Thedeal was signed in December 2002 but construction has been stymied by the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. That pipeline is, I believe, the big prize.”

This writer is definitely right on with his conclusion that the pipeline is a big prize. The building of this pipeline has been known for years but we Americans have short memories and short attention spans; and we have a certain naivety that makes us highly susceptible to listening and believing in phony, fraudulent justifications for waging foreign wars. We listened, believed and got fooled with the Vietnam  War, then with the Iraq War, and now we are on the verge of being fooled yet once, more. Will we ever learn?

We don’t really know but it is highly possible that Pakistan, Russia, Iran and any number of other nations are funding the Taliban and other insurgents(repeating exactly what the U.S. did in the 1980’s to defeat the Russians) and setting a massive trap for America. Those ambitious plans for that pipeline through Afghanistan are not at all acceptable to many of these surrounding nations and you can bet that a lot is going on behind the scenes to make certain that it will not materialize.Well, it won’t be too long before we find out because, unless things change, President Obama and his Bush-trained military advisers seem to be hell bent on escalation. The U.S. is poised to become the latest nation that made the mistake of invading Afghanistan and was thereafter defeated.The problem is America cannot afford it in either monetary or moral terms.

Will we ever, ever learn?


bama’s War

Fearing Another Quagmire in Afghanistan

Published: January 24, 2009

headline”:”Fearing Another Quagmire in Afghanistan”,”description”:”Can President Obama succeed in a place that has crushed foreign occupiers for more than 2,000 years?”,”keywords”:”Afghanistan War (2001- ),United States Armament and Defense,United States International Relations,United States Politics and Government,Obama Barack,Holbrooke Richard C,Karzai Hamid,Taliban,Afghanistan,Pakistan”,


Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ENEMIES Opium income feeds the Taliban.

Bob Strong/Reuters

FOG Sending more troops to Afghanistan may not be enough.

WASHINGTON — Can President Obama succeed in that long-lamented “graveyard of empires” — a place that has crushed foreign occupiers for more than 2,000 years?

Ever since the Bush administration diverted its attention — and resources — to the war in Iraq from the war in Afghanistan, military planners and foreign policy experts have bemoaned the dearth of troops to keep that country from sliding back into Taliban control. And in that time, the insurgency blossomed, as Taliban militants took advantage of huge swaths of territory, particularly in the south, that NATO troops weren’t able to fill.

Enter Mr. Obama. During the campaign he promised to send two additional brigades — 7,000 troops — to Afghanistan. During the transition, military planners started talking about adding as many as 30,000 troops. And within days of taking office, Mr. Obama announced the appointment of Richard Holbrooke, architect of the Balkan peace accords, to execute a new Afghanistan policy.

But even as Mr. Obama’s military planners prepare for the first wave of the new Afghanistan “surge,” there is growing debate, including among those who agree with the plan to send more troops, about whether — or how — the troops can accomplish their mission, and just what the mission is.

Afghanistan has, after all, stymied would-be conquerors since Alexander the Great. It’s always the same story; the invaders — British, Soviets — control the cities, but not the countryside. And eventually, the invaders don’t even control the cities, and are sent packing.

Think Iraq was hard? Afghanistan, former Secretary of State Colin Powell argues, will be “much, much harder.”

“Iraq had a middle class,” Mr. Powell pointed out on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” a couple of hours before Mr. Obama was sworn in last Tuesday. “It was a fairly advanced country before Saddam Hussein drove it in the ground.” Afghanistan, on the other hand, “is still basically a tribal society, a lot of corruption; drugs are going to destroy that country if something isn’t done about it.”

For Mr. Obama, Afghanistan is the signal foreign policy crisis that he must address quickly. Some 34,000 American troops are already fighting an insurgency that grows stronger by the month, making this a dynamically deteriorating situation in a region fraught with consequence for American security aims. Coupled with nuclear-armed Pakistan, with which it shares a border zone that has become a haven for Al Qaeda, Afghanistan could quickly come to define the Obama presidency.

Mr. Obama’s extra troops will largely be battling a Taliban insurgency fed by an opium trade estimated at $300 million a year. And that insurgency is dispersed among a largely rural population living in villages scattered across 78,000 square miles of southern Afghanistan.

One question for Mr. Obama is whether 30,000 more troops are enough. “I think that this is more of a psychological surge than a practical surge,” said Karin von Hippel, an Afghanistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said she favored the troop increase, but only as a precursor to getting the Europeans to contribute more, and to changing America’s policy so it focuses more on the countryside, as opposed to the capital.

“In Afghanistan, the number of troops, if you combine NATO, American and Afghan troops, is 200,000 forces versus 600,000 in Iraq,” Ms. von Hippel said. “Those numbers are so low that an extra 30,000 isn’t going to get you to where you need to be. It’s more of a stop-gap measure.”

“But something,” she said, “is better than nothing.”

That last assertion, however, is also open to debate. Some foreign policy experts argue that Mr. Obama’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan is simply an extension of Bush administration policy in the region, with the difference being that Mr. Obama could be putting more American lives at risk to pursue a failed policy.

While more American troops can help to stabilize southern Afghanistan, that argument goes, they cannot turn the situation around in the country unless there are major changes in overall policy. Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, the darling of the Bush administration, has begun to lose his luster; American and European officials now express private frustration over his refusal to arrest drug lords who have been running the opium trade.

Mr. Karzai has also been widely criticized for not cracking down enough on corruption. And diplomats say his distaste for venturing far beyond his fortified presidential palace in Kabul reinforces the divide between Afghanistan’s central government and its largely rural population, giving the Taliban free rein in the countryside.

Before sending in more American troops, argues Andrew Bacevich, an international relations professor at Boston University, Mr. Obama should figure out if he is going to change an underlying American policy that has shrunk from putting pressure on Mr. Karzai.

“It seems there’s a rush to send in more reinforcements absent the careful analysis that’s most needed here,” said Mr. Bacevich, author of “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.”

“There’s clearly a consensus that things are heading in the wrong direction,” Mr. Bacevich said. “What’s not clear to me is why sending 30,000 more troops is the essential step to changing that. My understanding of the larger objective of the allied enterprise in Afghanistan is to bring into existence something that looks like a modern cohesive Afghan state. Well, it could be that that’s an unrealistic objective. It could be that sending 30,000 more troops is throwing money and lives down a rat hole.”

Putting aside the question of whether a modern cohesive Afghan state is a realistic objective, United States policy makers would like, at the very least, to get to a point in Afghanistan where the country is no longer a launching pad for terrorist attacks like what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Beating back the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, and rooting out Qaeda training camps on the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan with the goal of finding Osama bin Laden, are all central parts of American policy, even absent a modern cohesive Afghan state.

Can 30,000 more troops help with that objective?

J. Alexander Their, an Afghanistan expert at the United States Institute of Peace, argues that additional troops can form a basis for stability, but that their presence will be for naught unless there is also government reform. “The Afghan population, particularly in the rural areas, have a strong degree of ambivalence toward the government,” he said. “People expect very little from government, or expect bad things. Yet we’ve ignored government reform and rule of law as part of our strategy.”

The appointment of Mr. Holbrooke as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan may signal the direction that the Obama administration will take there. In the past, Mr. Holbrooke has written — as he did in a column in The Washington Post last spring — that in Afghanistan, “massive, officially sanctioned corruption and the drug trade are the most serious problems the country faces, and they offer the Taliban its only exploitable opportunity to gain support.”

And during her confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Afghanistan a “narco-state” with a government “plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption.” So an Obama administration may, indeed, look for ways to press Mr. Karzai to crack down on corruption and drug trafficking.

But Mr. Their, of the peace institute, says that for a troop increase to produce anything but the limited securing of a few areas, Mr. Obama and NATO may have to go further. “There has to be increasing recognition that what is most important is some form of accountable government,” he said. “If they’re willing to contemplate a world without Karzai, they’ll be more open to a fair process and more open to the idea that there may be others out there.”

A version of this article appeared in print on January 25, 2009, on page WK1 of the New York edition


Carroll: Stuck in an Afghan quagmire

By Vincent Carroll

Posted: 06/10/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT

If more than 7½ years of fighting in Afghanistan doesn’t qualify as a quagmire, you have to wonder what would. In Iraq (five years of war and counting), it’s at least possible to imagine an endgame that doesn’t include wholesale factional slaughter or victory by extremists, but what is the endgame in Afghanistan?

“People are willing to stay in the fight, I believe, if they think we’re making headway,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last month. “If they think we’re stalemated and having our young men and women get killed, then patience is going to run out pretty fast.”

And yet as Gates himself acknowledged in the same interview with The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is stalemated — or even worse, losing ground again to the Taliban — which is why he believes a “perceptible shift in momentum” is essential within a year to salvage public support.

Count me among those who’ll need more than a “shift in momentum” to be convinced the slog in Afghanistan is heading toward a decent resolution. President Bush made the right call in 2001 to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda’s enclaves, but it’s not clear why that decision should commit this country to a neverending exercise in Third World nation-building.

Still, a new president should get his chance to pursue the strategy he promised during the campaign — in President Obama’s case, one of boosting troop strength in Afghanistan and giving the war there greater attention. And Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, for one, is a fan of that approach after a recent trip to the region.

“I’m optimistic because we haven’t had a strategy as broad based as this one,” Udall, a Democrat, told me. “And because Afghanistan has been an afterthought to the war in Iraq.”

Udall, who voted to invade Afghanistan but opposed the Iraq war, says a straightforward military victory is “not possible.” But he believes the counterinsurgency strategy that the U.S. is adopting, based on seizing territory from insurgents in order to “hold it and build a civil society” while focusing on development, has a greater chance at success than anything tried so far.

Yet the effort will require patience, he warns — and then recommends that I read David Kilcullen’s book, “The Accidental Guerrilla,” for perspective.

Kilcullen, who advised Gen. David Petraeus during the Iraqi surge, has written that in many insurgencies, “the enemy rides a social wave comprising genuine popular grievances and an ability to manipulate them, and that dealing with this broader social and political dynamic, while gaining time for targeted reforms to work by applying a series of tailored, full-spectrum security measures, is the most promising path to ultimately resolve the problem.”

Maybe so, but what would “full-spectrum” security look like across a nation as vast and physically daunting as Afghanistan? U.S. forces will soon have doubled in size from the end of last year, with 21,000 additional combat troops and trainers approved by Obama and others authorized by Bush at the end of his term. But are they enough?

Udall concedes still more troops might be needed. Another member of Colorado’s delegation who also returned recently from a trip to Afghanistan, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, is much more emphatic. In a June 2 letter to Gates, Coffman declared, “It is obvious that there are not sufficient resources dedicated to winning the war in Afghanistan.” That nation “is physically larger than Iraq,” Coffman notes, and has a larger population that is just as diverse as Iraq’s. And yet far more troops were deployed for the Iraqi surge than the number expected to do the job in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Coffman’s letter contains an arresting statement that seems to cut the other way: “Afghanistan has no history of effective governance.”

So we’re counting on a lightning strike, is that it?

Either that, it would seem, or on staying there for a very long time.

E-mail Vincent Carroll at


Chest deep in Afghan quagmire

Published On Wed Sep 23 2009

By Thomas Walkom National Affairs Columnist

The Afghan war was a mistake from the beginning. Its justification was flawed, its intent confused, its implementation half-hearted.

That’s why the bleak picture painted by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man in charge of NATO forces in Afghanistan should come as no surprise.

In a report made public this week, McChrystal articulated the obvious: Things are getting worse; the war is going nowhere.

Without a profound change in strategy and the deployment of a large but unspecified number of extra troops in the near future, he said, NATO risks losing.

But if ramping up NATO’s commitment is a prerequisite, then the war is indeed lost. Public opinion in Europe has swung against the conflict. In Canada, there is no appetite for keeping troops in Afghanistan after Parliament’s self-imposed 2011 deadline.

Even the U.S., which initially welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama’s pledge to prosecute the so-called “good war,” is tiring of Afghanistan – to such an extent that the president appears reluctant to give his hand-picked general the extra troops he wants.

But then this was always an ill-starred conflict.

Portrayed initially as an act of self-defence against the 9/11 terrorists (none of whom were Afghan) it has succeeded only in exporting terror to Pakistan.

The original war aim was to capture Al Qaeda chieftain Osama bin Laden. Nothing less would do.

When in the weeks leading up to the 2001 invasion, Afghanistan’s governing Taliban suggested that they would expel him to Pakistan in exchange for peace, their offer was peremptorily rejected.

Now, eight years and hundreds of deaths later, Bin Laden remains at large – apparently (and ironically) in Pakistan.

In the early days of the war, few questioned its need. Those who did, like former New Democratic Party leader Alexa McDonough, were roundly criticized as naive.

When McDonough’s successor, Jack Layton, suggested talking to the insurgents in order to win a negotiated peace, he was slammed as a Taliban toady.

How the world changes. Now Senate defence committee chair Colin Kenney, a longtime hawk, is calling not only for substantive negotiations with the Taliban but for Canada to disengage from a war that he says NATO can’t win.

“What we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan has proved to be impossible,” he wrote in the Ottawa Citizen recently. “We are hurtling toward a Vietnam ending.”

Kenny has been slammed as defeatist. But strangely enough, the more damning critique is McChrystal’s.

Ostensibly, the U.S. general is more upbeat in that he suggests how the war could be won. But the conditions he lists as indispensable – including an end to Afghan government corruption – are almost impossible to meet.

In particular, he envisions NATO countries committing their troops to a long-term counter-insurgency struggle, where soldiers eschew the protection of body armour and fortified bases in order to live in and patrol isolated Afghan villages.

“(The NATO-led mission) cannot succeed if it is unwilling to share risk, at least equally, with the people,” he writes.

He’s right that this kind of Maoist approach is the only counter-insurgency strategy with a chance of success. But as Canadian Forces Capt. Trevor Greene found in 2006 when he took off his helmet in order to parley with the locals (an Afghan brained him with an axe), for the soldiers involved, it’s also far riskier.

Which, for Western governments, means politically impossible.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday and Saturday.


Afghan Quagmire

Arnaud de Borchgrave | July 01, 2010

An Afghan farmer responds while being questioned about Taliban presence

“The Endless Game” cartoon in the Financial Times showed U.S. President Barack Obama and a Taliban insurgent batting back and forth a coffin-shaped projectile over the smoking ruin of a building.

Another in the International Herald Tribune has U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal boarding a U.S. transport as an Afghan soldier waves goodbye. Atop a nearby mountain, one Taliban fighter says to another, “THE PULLOUT HAS BEGUN!”

The two newspapers are the world’s most read English-language dailies by government leaders, business executives and media throughout the world.

Perception is all too often reality. Add to the Afghan debacle syndrome that 31 out of 50 U.S. states are seen as insolvent. Some local governments are readying bankruptcy proceedings. State governments can only default; California is on the verge of taking up the option. State and local governments have unfunded retirement obligations of at least $2 trillion. But the United States still spends more on defense (Iraq and Afghanistan included) than the rest of the world put together.

Nobel Prize winner in economics Paul Krugman writes, “We are now, I fear, in the early stages of a third depression. It will probably look more like the Long Depression than the much more severe Great Depression. But the cost — to the world economy and, above all, to the millions of lives blighted by the absence of jobs — will nonetheless be immense.”

Clearly, Obama has to show the country light at the end of the Afghan tunnel before November’s mid-term elections. Public opinion support has already dropped to less than 50 percent.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen flew off to Afghanistan for the nth time to reassure Afghan President Hamid Karzai that nothing had changed and that four-star Gen. David Petraeus, the hero of the Iraqi surge, would soon be working his military magic against the ragtag Taliban ragamuffins.

At the same time, Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and intelligence chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha flew in ostensibly to brief Karzai on their campaign to wipe out Taliban’s privileged sanctuaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. More important was the information they could now convey on the chances of a negotiated settlement with Taliban’s main force.

Pakistan’s decision-makers know that FATA cannot be flushed clean of Taliban sanctuaries. Insurgency groups suddenly vanish to pop back up where exhausted Pakistani troops have moved on. And Pakistani intelligence agents are in touch with some of the guerrilla formations that are allied with Taliban chief Mullah Omar, but not under his orders.

No amount of war plans for Afghanistan can work as long as both Karzai and Pakistani leaders believe that negotiations with Taliban — or certain guerrilla factions — are unavoidable.

The McChrystal war plan, endorsed by Petraeus in 2009, isn’t working. McChrystal’s last classified assessment of the war, was given to Petraeus in early June. The reality is that a “mission accomplished” report from Petraeus to Obama could take anywhere from five to 10 more years. But no one is prepared to stick around that long.

The 3,500-strong Dutch contingent, one of only four NATO members, besides the United States, authorized to engage in kinetic operations (Canada, Britain, France are the other three), is going home Aug. 15. Growing Dutch opposition toppled the government and a new one could only be cobbled on a platform of withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Canadian Parliament ordered its Afghan contingent home by 2011.

The future of NATO is at stake in the Afghan conflict. A perceived U.S. defeat in Afghanistan would make the 28-nation mutual defense treaty irrelevant. It may become irrelevant anyway. Defense budgets are being squeezed from year to year, but 20 NATO members responded to an impassioned appeal for more troops from its Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister. About 5,000 more were pledged — but for non-kinetic duties.

Petraeus has an encyclopedic knowledge of insurgencies throughout the ages. He is particularly knowledgeable about the French Indochina war, the French Algerian war and the U.S. Vietnam war. He sees many similarities among the three. In each case, the home front collapsed. The U.S. Congress betrayed America’s South Vietnamese allies, by pulling the rug of military aid right from under them, which handed South Vietnam to North Vietnam.

As the victor of the so far successful surge in Iraq, Petraeus knows the Afghan conditions are totally different. And that the July 2011 time frame for the beginning of a U.S. troop withdrawal, as pledged by Obama, is unrealistic. This, in turn, revives fears the U.S. home front support will collapse a la Vietnam as we talk-fight-talk-fight with Taliban.

In a war where insurgents and farmers are often interchangeable, progress is hard to measure. Last February, in a highly publicized assault on Marja in bitterly contested Helmand province, U.S. and Afghan troops “liberated” a town of 80,000. Many Taliban fighters feigned to withdraw by hiding weapons and resurfacing as innocent civilians. Locals were afraid to turn them in to newly arrived Afghan authorities who, in turn, weren’t willing to risk Taliban reprisals.

Marja became what McChrystal called “a bleeding ulcer.” Thus, a much larger operation against Kandahar, a city of about 1 million that was the Taliban’s religious capital before 9/11, was postponed.

Today’s Afghan bottom line question is whether Taliban’s leaders would be willing to guarantee that Osama bin Laden and his Taliban cohorts would never be allowed back. And that any breach would automatically unleash U.S. aerial reprisals. The alternative is to fight on and persevere until Taliban concede defeat and Afghanistan is turned in to a viable, self-sustaining (minerals) democratic state. And that would take us through to 2020.

Now in its ninth year, there is neither stomach nor stamina in the Western alliance for another five years, let alone 10.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a member of the Atlantic Council, is a senior fellow at CSIS and  Editor-at-Large at UPI. This article was syndicated by UPI. Photo credit: Getty Images.


The Afghan quagmire just even got deeper

Evening Standard comment

Today’s massive leak of US military records relating to the war in Afghanistan is a significant embarrassment to the Pentagon. It gives a new level of detail in understanding the difficulties faced by Allied forces. But the real casualty of the 90,000 leaked logs is more likely to be political: it must cast serious doubt on David Cameron‘s assertion that the war can be won in time to start a British withdrawal in 2014.

The files show that there have been many more civilian casualties than previously admitted. Thousands of military reports demonstrate the Taliban to be both more broadly based and more formidable than is often assumed. The US has resorted to using special forces teams to capture or kill Taliban leaders, while the Taliban have access to heat-seeking missiles. The leaks also show the firm conviction among US military intelligence that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service is helping to arm, train and finance the Taliban.

All of this might contradict the official US line — but most of it was already assumed by many commentators. What is new is the far greater detail than before, showing just how intractable are the challenges that Allied forces face. The reports go up to December last year, but while the White House may claim that the strategy has changed since then, the fundamental problems of the Taliban’s resilience and its outside help remain unchanged. That makes the recent shift in British policy — with the Prime Minister claiming that some forces could even be withdrawn from next year, prior to a pull-out in 2014 — look like wishful thinking indeed.


Object lessons from the Afghan quagmire James Carroll

By James Carroll

SO TOMORROW night, we hear from the president at last. Reports have it that he will lay out his plan for Afghanistan – how to “finish the job,’’ as he put it last week. The judiciousness with which he has gathered information is impressive, and the slow pace of his decision-making suggests a welcome level of prudence. That stands in marked contrast to the carelessness with which his predecessor flung American troops and treasure into the hole out of which President Obama is trying to climb.

Some of us wish to hear tomorrow that American forces in Afghanistan will join those in Iraq in a phased, but steady journey home; that soon our nation’s servicemen and women will be out of harm’s way; and that the United States will protect its interests in the Middle East and South Asia more through diplomacy and development than through military power.

Reports also have it, however, that President Obama will more likely lay out a different plan, arguing that the best way out of the war is through it. No one can know for certain what the speech will say until it is said, but these reports play the tune of a White House orchestrating expectations with the music of leaks. Undercutting the terrorism threat, shoring up Pakistan, and bringing a minimal security to the people of Afghanistan – one hears the president’s familiar rhythms – all require, like it or not, a further American military effort.

To respond, as some of us do, to the given predicaments of US entanglement abroad with the cry of “peace’’ can have clarity and moral force, but a crossroads moment like this one suggests that the cry of peace is not enough. Critical analysis of the pro-war pressures from the so-called military-industrial complex, or of the political realities that force even a dovish president like Obama into a military corner, are not enough either.

Nor do contradictory assessments of conditions on the ground – Pashtuns and warlords, Hamid Karzai’s corrupt government, his brother’s CIA links, the Taliban’s misunderstood character, the actual absence of al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan – add up to an inevitable conclusion, one way or the other. To ramp up our forces and pacify the country, or to draw down our forces and use robot-drones to take out nests of enemies (and wedding parties) – these do not seem like promising alternatives. When did drones become peacemakers?

In truth, for all the talk of peace by the critics of war, this columnist included, it seems clear that the simple rejection of violence, once violence has been unleashed, is proving once again to be, well, simple. If the peace movement can be said to have a starting point, it was probably the 1955 manifesto issued by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein: “We have to learn to think in a new way,’’ they declared. “We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: What steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?’’

It may seem useless today to wish that George W. Bush had asked that question years ago, before embarking on his set of military contests that has indeed proved disastrous to all parties, but that Bush decision must be emphasized more than ever. The present dilemma, in which the language of peace and withdrawal is proving irrelevant, is its consequence, and makes the Russell-Einstein point all the more powerfully. The time when “new thinking’’ is most needed is before war starts.

The Afghanistan decision will be but prelude to further decisions, as tensions flare in other contexts, and as the war impulse inevitably surfaces again (Iran anyone?). The president, aiming to “finish the job’’ in Afghanistan, must simultaneously put in place the structures of new thought that will prevent its repetition. The nation must insist that in saying yes to the Pentagon this time – if that is what he does – Obama must prepare to say no next time. America, in other words, is more in need of a vital peace movement than ever, and the trap of Afghanistan shows that.

James Carroll’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.


The Afghan Quagmire Beckons
or How Not to Intervene in Afghanistan
by Chris Deliso
October 17, 2001


Perhaps the full weight and consequences of a massive and overt military strike did not register in Washington, a few weeks back, when America still had the unquestioned moral high ground. Now, well into the second week of bombings and suffering from some bad PR over Afghani civilian deaths, the US is staring into the morass of potential disaster. The American people themselves are too terrified of the increasing terrorist threat of anthrax, hijackings and bombs to take much heart in the destruction of empty Taliban bases (and a few apartment buildings).

Underestimated was the wholehearted opposition of Muslims throughout the Middle East and Asia, and also underestimated was the incredible pressure this would have on the stability of “allied” regimes, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Even Yasser Arafat is in danger from his own people. His security forces shot three Palestinian protesters, ironically thereby increasing the risk of a Palestinian civil war – just as Western leaders are starting to float the idea of a Palestinian state.

But the biggest potential oversight, the most dangerous potential chaos, has been the lack of a consistent plan for post-Taliban Afghanistan. Whether the US leadership didn’t comprehend all the delicately interconnected interests at work, or whether it just hoped to sort them out later, it’s obvious that it does not have a coherent vision as of yet. All indications, however, are that the new century’s first war will be fought, politically speaking, with the armament of bygone centuries – that is, the shortsighted tactic of playing sides, positioning usurpers, cheerily accepting allies, and then having it come back to haunt them. After all, didn’t bin Laden start off as a US… ally?

This dynamic, what I call old-school interventionism, never went away, though the means of fighting wars have changed. New times call for new measures, not the application of outdated tactics to modern problems.


The confusion in US thinking is most apparent in the changing relationship with the Northern Alliance. Once thought to be the Taliban’s political replacement, this predominantly Uzbek and Tajik minority force is now being held at arm’s length. The US is desperately stalling on letting them take Kabul. Why? Well, for one, under their late leader, General Massood, the Northern Alliance supported India in regards to Kashmir. Since India is Pakistan’s archenemy, and the Taliban is basically a nightmare dreamt up by the Pakistani secret service, it is no surprise that any anti-Taliban force would ally with India. The second reason why Washington is putting on the kid gloves with the NA is because the more they see of them, the less they trust them. The opinion has been voiced by journalists and even by Afghani women (who should know) that the NA is just as thuggish and brutal as the Taliban.


Scarcely two weeks ago, the initial US enthusiasm for the Northern Alliance was getting great coverage from an obedient press. In fact, for a short time it was in danger of becoming a made-for-TV epic – Afghanistan: the Fight for Freedom. Since it’s always more entertaining and less confusing to relate events within a prepackaged storyline, the narrative was set to unfold in its usual, simplistic way. For whereas the Northern Alliance had lost a hero in the assassinated General Massood, they (and we the spectators) then gained a potential hero – in his wily, monolingual replacement, the great Afghani underdog, Abdul Qassim Fahim.

This is clearly someone to watch out for as the saga unfolds, implied AFP. Just consider how Fahim (a veteran guerrilla warrior, remember) was described: he is said to be a “shy” general, who prefers to stay “out of the limelight.” In replacing Masood, who had always “overshadowed” him, he would have “a lot to live up to.”


The article then goes on to give a modest biography of this dependable, loyal monoglot who has apparently never traveled outside of Afghanistan, but headed up significant military and intelligence operations for Massood since the early 1980’s. Despite Fahim’s reluctance to take the lead and his lack of eloquence, AFP promised that he’s flanked by a “crack team of reemerging military and diplomatic heavyweights.” Among these notables are the brother of the late General Massood, and the spokesman for the Alliance, the man with a name like a teen pop idol, Abdullah Abdullah. Besides these heavy-hitters, Fahim could count on Yunus Qanooni and Masood Khalili, both dubbed “seasoned Afghan players.” With the addition of Burhanuddin Rabbani (still recognized by the UN as Afghanistan’s president), this means that Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance is controlled by six ethnic Tajiks.


The Taliban claims to speak for Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. The Pashtuns are most widespread in the south and center of the country, whereas their various enemies (the Uzbek and Tajik minorities) dwell in the north, on the borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – hence the words, “northern,” and “alliance.” Since the majority of the leadership of both rivals is composed of their respective ethnic group, the whole Afghani civil war can be dismissed as ethnic infighting, with a long series of grudges, utterly incomprehensible to Westerners. Yet occasionally the AFP reporter stumbled upon incongruous, even “ironic” little tidbits:

“Also on Fahim’s team is the former governor of the eastern province of Nangahar, Abdul Haji Qadir – one of the few ethnic Pashtun members of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Ironically it was Qadir who first gave Osama bin Laden safe haven in Afghanistan in 1996, but the governor is seen as a popular figure likely to attempt to regain control of his province if the Taliban are removed from power.”


Shouldn’t this little “irony” show just how volatile and utterly mercurial these “allies” are whom we now embrace? If the bit about bin Laden wasn’t disturbing enough, just think about the potential fallout of the AFP’s cheery prognosis: Qadir is “likely to attempt to regain control of his province.” In other words, once the Taliban is gone, it’s going to turn into one giant mess – and very likely the result will be a fractured, multi-state Afghanistan, a free-for-all where hated warlords like Gulbutten Hekmatyar will try to reassert their bloody hold. The clock is ticking; the Northern Alliance now fears that the US will sell them out to keep from losing the support of Pakistan. After all, the NA says, why isn’t the US helping them by taking out the Taliban’s front line positions, if they are really on their side?


Even before the Taliban came to power, the situation was the same. Russia and Britain had fought over Afghanistan, uselessly, in the previous centuries. Nowadays various Arab states and groups vie for control of this vast, forbidding pile of rocks. A National Geographic special on Afghanistan way back in October, 1993, quoted the security advisor to Massood, then the Defense Minister of the Afghan government. Reflecting on their previous “liberation” campaign, he said, “since the day we took Kabul, we have had mujahidin groups backed by Pakistan fighting groups backed by Saudi Arabia and God Almighty knows who else. If the foreigners would just leave us alone, I promise you we would be a lot better off!”


To his credit, the returning ex-king, Zahir Shah, also believes that the Afghanis should do it for themselves, without outside meddling. Like an aging prizefighter, Zahir Shah has come out of retirement at the age of 86 for one last fight, to lead his country into – er, transition. With no guarantee that it will actually work, the king has presented plans for an egalitarian – dare I say it, enlightened – post-Taliban government. He has been advocating a reversion to the traditional Afghan ruling structure, last used in the 18th century – the tribal council. Now that he has the support of Pakistan, and the apparent loyalty of some Taliban moderates, it looks like we might see them try it. A miracle of multiethnicity, the tribal council seeks to bring together representatives of each of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups, from all parts of the country. It’s so righteous, it could almost win America’s heart. It’s so beautiful, it could almost be a European coalition government. In other words – it will never work.


As American bombs exploded over Afghanistan last week, news stories reported mass defections of Taliban troops, and even officers, to the Northern Alliance. This should seem to be great news for the “allies” of the west; clearly, morale is sinking fast in the ranks of the oppressors, and the Taliban will soon be bereft of the bulk of its fighting force.

Yet there is a more worrying correlative of the turncoat phenomenon: since the Taliban soldiers are going over to the other side as a means of saving their own hides, it follows that either they were never as ideologically committed to the cause as is portrayed (and, therefore, the offensive ideology lay in the domain of the few) or, that we will end up backing the same individuals in different uniforms – in other words, the Taliban by a different name. (Hell, we’re already feeding the Taliban – they have the guns and thus keep the airdropped foodstuffs from the starving Afghani civilians). Either way, the policy of blindly backing one side simply because it is the enemy of your current enemy is both foolhardy and dangerous – yet unfortunately, it is also time-tested and US-government approved. The classic knee-jerk, old-school interventionist method is rearing its ugly head, just when it is becoming most dangerously outdated.


The beauty of localized squabbles, regional animosities, and shrill, lilliputian arguments, is that they are indeed local and contained. Now, of course, this is nothing wonderful to wish for; but given the choice between a world war and a regional war, I’ll go with the latter. Yes, for some reason small-scale conventional warfare, fought on clearly delineated territory, seems more appetizing to me than biological attacks and unexpected terrorism, coming from out of nowhere, leaving no chance for honor, valor or self-defense.

The prevalence of old-school interventionism, however, transforms little, regional wars into world wars in two ways, one of which we have seen before, and one of which is brand new. First, the intrigue-laden realpolitik governments of the past centuries have, through building alliance based on the “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” premise, exacerbated regional wars through their proxies, often at a great distance from the major “sponsoring” country, into huge and complex wars.

Second – and this is a phenomenon more unique to the current status of the US as lone superpower, and of the rise of technology and communications – with the same tactics of old-school realpolitik intervention, the US has been able to build up regional allies (and enemies) across a far greater geographical distance. This, however, has exposed the US to attack from an equally vast area. With the modern technologies that have made the wide, wide world seem very small indeed, the attackers enjoy invisibility and anonymity – the conditions that terrorism thrives on.

The classic term for describing America’s situation is “overextended.” Yet it is not overextended in the way that, say, the later Roman Empire was; for the mortal sickness of Rome was weakness on its flanks, on its borders, on specific frontiers where the barbarians could penetrate. They did not have the modern transportation and communications abilities that would allow them, like the US, to take part in regional squabbles far from their borders. Thus, the Romans did not have to worry about Japanese or sub-Saharan attackers. The US, on the other hand, is overextended, in that it does not possess the resources to stave off every threat that might materialize, as repercussions of myriad failed interventions in regional squabbles. For playing this dangerous interventionist game only ensures that you will win a few friends – and many more enemies.


The important thing to remember is that we have choice. We can choose whether or not we want to get involved; we can choose whether we even need to back any particular side. It is not necessary that we be forced into supporting or denouncing a cause or group just because it is in another country’s interest. Since it is looking more and more like none of the rival factions are “worthy” (according to American political idealism) of US support, why not just let the Afghanis get on with it themselves? Why not let the king sort them out? After all, it seems that whether we destroy the Taliban, support the Northern Alliance, or do anything at all, in fact, it will only foster new resentment from new enemies. When you add this to the old resentments coming from the old enemies, it seems pretty clear that crippling exhaustion will soon set in. That’s what happens when empire is overextended. Whether or not the US perfects a new type of intervention, one thing is clear – in using the kind of old-school, knee-jerk intervention that has brought us this far, there lies nothing but disaster and ruin.

Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire – the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master’s degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.

Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on 

The Afghan Quagmire Beckons

Suddenly, Terrorists Are Everywhere

Turkey’s Eclipse:
Earthquakes, Armenians, and the Loss of Cyprus


Chechnya Comes Home To America

A Quiet Battle in the Caucasus: Georgia Between Russia & NATO

Central Asia: The Cauldron Boils Over

Bin Laden, Iran, and the KLA

The Meaning of Belarus

The Macedonian Phrase-Book: Writing NATO’s Dictionary of Control

Barbarism and the Erasure of Culture

Macedonian Endgame: The Sinister Transformation of the Status Quo by Christopher Deliso

Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire – the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master’s degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.

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Caution! Quagmire Ahead!

The United States can’t win in Afghanistan

unless its new president makes major reforms,

and quickly.

By Fred KaplanPosted Thursday, Aug. 27, 2009, at 5:39 PM ET

Afghan women learn how to vote. Click image to expand.

The ballots haven’t all yet been counted in Afghanistan’s election, but the interim reports—of intimidation, low turnout, continued violence, and widespread fraud—bode poorly for the country and our war there.

The strategic goal of a counterinsurgency war is to build support for the central government. Our forces provide security to the people. As a result, the regime can supply basic services. As a result, the insurgents lose their base of popular support.

But if the people regard the central government as illegitimate, then a counterinsurgency campaign has little to go on, no matter how brilliant the commanders or clever their strategy.

Not to overdraw the parallels, but the basic problem with the war in Vietnam was always the lack of public support for the Saigon regime. (Long after the war, Col. Harry Summers, one of the U.S. commanders, told North Vietnamese Army Col. Nguyen Don Tu,* “You know, you never won a single battle,” to which Tu replied, “That may be so, but it’s also irrelevant.”)

Doom in Afghanistan is not yet inevitable. As one Obama administration official told me, “At a local level, average Afghans didn’t expect a fair and free election. But they do expect that, whichever crook wins, he does a better job of providing services.”

In order to do that, the Afghan president—whether it’s a re-elected Hamid Karzai or one of his challengers—will need enormous amounts of aid from foreign governments, since he lacks the money and the specialists to do it on his own. However, it’s clear that no governments are going to open their own thinned-out wallets unless they’re sure the aid won’t go to waste. This means Karzai or his successor will have to crack down on corruption and appoint a set of new (and technically competent) ministers and governors.

And if the election turns out to be as close—and contested—as the early returns suggest, the new president will probably also have to offer a very high position to the runner-up, perhaps even form a unity government with him. If Karzai wins, the runner-up is likely to be the former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah. There is another way to express this: If Karzai the Pashtun wins, the runner-up is likely to be Abdullah the Tajik. (Abdullah is half-Tajik but is considered the Tajik candidate.) In other words, if Karzai doesn’t give Abdullah something big (or, should Abdullah win, if he doesn’t give Karzai something big), the election could trigger an ethno-geographic conflict (Pashtuns live mainly in the south, Tajiks in the north), on top of the many layers of conflict that already keep Afghanistan from functioning as a coherent nation-state. This is one danger of holding a national election in a state that lacks a national consciousness or a civil society: The vote tends merely to politicize, and thus harden, longstanding social divisions. This is what happened in Iraq’s first post-Saddam election.

All of these conditions—sharing power, cleaning out corruption, etc.—are difficult to meet. Karzai has formed coalitions with regional warlords and drug-traffickers because Afghanistan is a concatenation of regions and tribes run by warlords and drug-traffickers, and it’s easier to manipulate the existing power bases than to push through drastic and perhaps-futile reforms. But if these conditions are not met, the foreign aid won’t pour forth, and thus the essential foundation of a successful counterinsurgency campaign—a central government that the people have some reason to support—won’t be in place.

The good news is that President Barack Obama seems to understand this. Last March, when he announced his decision to deploy 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, he emphasized, “We will not blindly stay the course” and, “We will not, and cannot, provide a blank check.” He also said that he and his advisers would formulate “benchmarks” and “metrics” by which success or failure would be gauged and on which continued U.S. commitment or withdrawal would depend.

In another intriguing, and encouraging, note, Peter Baker recently reported in the New York Times that Obama met privately in June with a group of historians, including Robert Caro, Lyndon Johnson’s critical biographer, to discuss the parallels between Afghanistan and earlier military ventures. Baker quoted participants as saying that Obama clearly understood the risk of the quagmire and the toll it could take on the remainder of his presidency.

Then again, understanding a situation doesn’t necessarily lead to making wise choices or even knowing for certain just what the wise choices are. The administration has still not decided what those “benchmarks” of success and failure should be. In an especially troubling moment, Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was asked by a reporter to define success and replied, “We’ll know it when we see it.”

Those 17,000 extra troops that Obama approved in the spring represented a middle course between his advisers’ conflicting options. All of these advisers agreed that some reinforcements were needed, if just to shore up Afghan security before and during the August election; and 17,000 was the number of troops available, given the start of the drawdown from Iraq. Once the election is decided, Obama will face another decision over what to do next.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has reportedly concluded that, in the face of growing Taliban resistance, still more troops are needed as quickly as possible. Yet Obama’s first round of reinforcements have just barely settled, and an additional 4,000 troops—the 4th Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, which were sent not to fight the Taliban directly but simply to train the Afghan army—aren’t scheduled to arrive until next month.

Gen. James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, warned a group of his fellow generals in a meeting last June—around the same time that Obama himself was meeting with Caro and the other historians—not to push the president into escalation. He’d given them all the troops they wanted in the first round of decision-making: If the generals came back with a request for more, they might face, as Jones put it, a “whiskey-tango-foxtrot” situation. (That is, Obama might react by thinking, to employ another euphemism, “WTF?!” and to view the recommendation, and all subsequent advice from the military, as suspect.)

Obama has committed the United States to some form of involvement in Afghanistan—he’s called it a “necessary war,” after all—he hasn’t quite yet boxed himself in to drastic or rapid escalation. His next move will, and should, depend on what the next Afghan president does.

Correction, Aug. 28, 2009: The article originally stated that Col. Harry Summers talked with North Vietnamese Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. (Return to the corrected sentence.)


Simon Toner: Obama Dashes into an Afghanistan Quagmire

Posted by Scott Lucas in Afghanistan

Simon Toner from Dublin is very worried that, days before his inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama is creating his first foreign-policy nightmare: Afghanistan.

Many supporters of Barack Obama were disheartened by his endorsement, toward the end of his presidential campaign, of an Iraq-like surge for Afghanistan. Some of those people might have gained solace from the news that, according to yesterday’s Washington Post, the incoming administration has now acknowledged that the surge is unlikely to significantly change the state of play in Afghanistan.

It’s a false consolation. Far from making the obvious conclusion that it might be best not to pursue a surge which will fail, the Obama administration still intends to send 30,000 additional troops, doubling the US presence in the country. The reason? Not because it will work, but in to buy time for the US and its NATO allies to develop a successful strategy.

“We have no strategic plan. We never had one,” a “senior US military commander” says. This is a significant admission and a disturbing one. According to the article, the Pentagon and military are not even certain if the correct strategy to follow is conventional war or “the population security strategy”, pursued since early 2007 in Iraq.

Certainly the latter approach would be more effective but even this will have little impact on the fostering of properly functioning institutions that can meet the needs of the Afghan people or address the other important issues that Obama acknowledges. Thus the US is getting deeper into the Afghan quagmire, doubling the number of troops but admitting that it has no strategy for success.

Yes, there are echoes of Vietnam here. From 1961-65 Presidents Kennedy and Johnson continued to commit more troops to South Vietnam, simply to stave off defeat and prop up the failing Saigon regime rather than to pursue a coherent strategy. Unfortunately, in the coming months we may have a repeat. We could end up with more than 60,000 US troops in Afghanistan and still no strategy; not to mention an exit strategy.

As Vietnam and Iraq taught us, it is far easier to get into a war than to get out of one.



Mile by mile, Afghan quagmire is expanding

By Abid Ullah Jan
Al-Jazeerah, November 1, 2006
Pakistan’s military carried out yet another strike on a religious school (madrassa) allegedly used by al-Qaeda. According to Reuters, the school was being used as a militant training camp.[1] Eighty people died in the pre-dawn assault.
According to Pakistan military, “”We received confirmed intelligence reports that 70 to 80 militants were hiding in a madrassa [school] used as a terrorist-training facility, which was destroyed by an army strike, led by helicopters.”[2]
Based on the available facts we come to three conclusions: 1. This was a terrorist military attack; 2. Afghanistan is expanding mile by mile into Pakistan, and 3) pakistan military is digging a deeper grave for itself with each tactic that it copies from American and Israeli occupation forces. In other words, Pakistani army, acting like an occupation force, is alienating its own population and turning Pakistan into anther Afghanistan region by region.
To establish that this was a terrorist attack, we have to look at these facts: a) The attack was carried out without any attempt being made to capture the alleged “terrorists” and “militants.” b) The “terrorists” and “militants” were not engaged in a fire fighting, rather a decision was made to blow-up the school building regardless of the fact that it will definitely have many children as students and some innocent people with the “evil terrorists” as well. c) The area was not inaccessible for the Pakistan military. d) The area was not outside the jurisdiction of Pakistan and military could easily reach and surround the area and the school building. e) The brave military could use the same helicopters to drop its elite commando forces to capture or kill those who may have decided to fight. f) The government could use many different options to arrest and bring the alleged “terrorist” before the public to prove its allegations. g) Even if all the “terrorist” had fled away, the government could prove its point by showing how the school was a not a school but a training camp. At the very least, in case of some arrests, it could trade the captured “terrorists” for a few million more dollars from the United States.
Without resorting to any of the above steps, the military followed foot-steps of the American and Israeli forces, as if they were attacking a territory outside Pakistan borders, and raised the madrassa to the ground while its inhabitants were asleep. According to al-Jazeera report, the military spokesman, Mr. sultan said there was no collateral damage, but “Chingai’s residents were seen collecting bodies of children from the rubble.”
A local reporter told the Reuters news agency: “The bodies are beyond recognition. They are badly mutilated. Limbs were being collected by local people in cloth sheets.”
The same local people held a rally a few days back to condemn policies of the military dictator in Pakistan. With this kind of terrorist attack the feelings of isolation and alienation grow. People feel like they are suffering military occupation at home, where the local military resorts to American and Israeli tactics to please their masters in Washington and London.
Regardless of what we are told by the dictatorial regime in Islamabad, local people know the truth. The innocents who died in this attack belong to them. Even two days before such the latest terrorist strike, 3,000 locals held a rally near Khar, raising slogans against the military regime and U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Imagine their feelings after this callous and cowardly assault.
The military regime in Islamabad cannot claim that local residents will have any sympathy or respect left for Pakistan armed forces of even Pakistan. It has effectively lost this region and loyalty of its residents to the government of Pakistan. That’s how inch by inch Pakistan is losing its writ, alienating its people and losing control.
That’s how mile by mile Pakistan is turning into another Afghanistan. That’s how Afghanistan is expanding with the war of terrorism in which Pakistan military cannot pretend to be innocent bystander. It is doing exactly what the U.S. and Israeli forces are doing in the areas under their occupation. Worst still is the fact that Pakistani forces are not operating in occupied land against other people. Furthermore, it is Pakistani government that has been sending innocent people, its own people, to the torture camps in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. These are the people, most of whom even the US authorities found to be innocent and subsequently released. That’s how Pakistan army and the military regimes has surpassed Israelis and Americans in their crimes against humanity.
No matter how sour this fact may be to swallow, but the military authorities can hardly deny the writing on the wall. When the expanded Afghanistan become a quagmire for the occupiers, Pakistan army will face the same fate as the terrorist warriors from abroad.
Abid Ullah Jan is the author of Afghanistan: the Genesis of the final Crusade.
[1] Anwarullah Khan, “Pakistan army kills up to 80 at Qaeda-linked school, Reuters, October 30, 2006.
[2] “Scores killed in Pakistani military assault,”, October 30, 2006. URL:


Hmmm,,, blowback,

All typos are original so have patience to read

Documents Homepage > CIA Documents > Documents released in period: 11/20/1987-6/5/1987





Created: 9/20/1987

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible



Moscow’s Afghan Quagmire: No End tn Sight After Eight Tears*

5 jiwma ry

During the eight years of the Afghan war, the Soviets have repackaged their political and diplomatic Initiatives, restructured their eilltary force, and refined their approach to coanter1asurgancy–wlth little to show for their efforts. Moscow Is clearly probingay totable governaeat la Kabul and to bring Soviets troops home. Just as clearly,as aot decided te do so at the price of accepting lessarxist-dominated regime. ”

In tha wake of an unsatisfactory conbat season and the conspicuous domestic failure of national reconciliation. Moscow has recently appeared tohiftarder line in Kabul that reaffirms the primacy ef the Karalst People’s Democratic Party ef Afghanistan (PDPA). At the same time, intensified Soviet efforts to earavel tht Internetlemal coelltioe supporting the rtslstatct suggest that Moscow views this as the arena showing the most proalst at the aement. The Soviets aay even hope that, if they are patient, the coalition of forces ranged against than will unravel ot its own.



‘ ombat schedule’at least as’demanding asrevious year, the Soviets have not achieved comparable results In ltl7. They spent much of their time rescuing Afghan government waits that not only could not felflll thair missions but were tfrlowsly threatened. The Soviets failed this summer Im ae attempt te overran an insurgent base camp at All Khal on the Pakistan border. The Insurgents’ successful defense there masarked contrast to an offensive in tha springhen Afghanh extensive Soviet fire suaport–wtre able to take an Insurgent stronghold at lawar Milt.

esult, the Soviet’s assessment of this year’s combat probably has lad them to conclude that “Afghanliatlon” of the war Is Increasingly remote and that they may have to expend even greater effort next year Just to maintain the current military stalemate.

4. For their part, the Insurgents probably are satisfied with their performance this year:

Insurgent activity has become more widespread and

uccessful because of the Introduction of new weapons and tactics and an Improved supply situation. Successes with the Stinger have improved insurgent morale and confidence. There are Indications some areas, particularly In Hangarhar Province, ara being resettled and farmed as refugees return to areas under Insurgent control.

The Insurgents also have demonstrated the ability to plan and carry oet some large-scale operations, and cooperation among groups has improved. Careful planning and better Intelligence have permitted the commanders to attack lamer taroetsreater decree of success.

The Insurgents’ ability to sustain combat for relatively long periods in several areas suggests their supply levels are adequate. Infusions of cash and new transportation assets have overcome last years’ shortages andntermeasuras have lessened the interdiction threat.

0 6 15


‘ Nonetheless, sose significant problems (feaal nV ‘, >l*

* Factional squabbling continues, and bas hindered military operations, particularly In the north.

The Insurgents have not been able toustained and effective urban warfare campaign In Kabul as they had hoped to do.

Weak Client In Kabul

5. Moscow’s endorsement of the tough line adopted by General Secretary NaJIbullah st the POPA coaference In October and at the Bolshevik devolution celebretlonsovember probably reflects the Soviets’ recognition that yet another’ phase Is their efforts toommunist regis* In Kabul has faded. The national reconciliation Initiativeear ago, which the Soviets and the regime portrayedharp departure from the past, offered oppositionthe seven party alliancened participationoalition, government. Moscow apparently hoped to neutralise regime opponents and sow dissension within the retlstaace and between Pakistan and th* alliance, but subsequent elaboration of the proposal made It clear that national reconciliationirect–althoughiMous–descendant of earlier policies. Moscow’s goat had shifted only aargtnally–froaurely Marxist regime toimited form of power-scaring In which the PDPA would retain the key levers of power.

6. tn addition to ratling to convert any significant segments of the resistance, national reconciliation dangerously incrtassd factional!sa within th* POPA. onsequence, even vaguely defined avenues of participation have been closed off. Mejibullah’s new constitution places virtually absolute power in the handsh* pr*sldent–th* post he assumed at th* end of September. Whether th* Soviets directed his power playet, they hav* *ndorted it and have quoted his statements that the PDPA will retain control of the presidency and the armed forces So long at there Is any requirement for Soviet troops on Afghan soil. Soviet media have also repeated his declaration that the Afghan Army is too weak to stand alone, thus pushing ‘he withdrawal of Soviet forces further into the future.

InternationalImage of Flexibility

7. During the first two years of the war, Moscow was on the diplomatic defensive, trying to remedy the damage the invasion had done to Its relations with China, the West, and th* nations of the Third World. Under the pressure of condemnation by the United nationseries of Third World organllatlons, Moscow

Dn nonirtterfereneer guarantees

noved to Inprov* Its iMfle rtluctintly t 1 Kj :uarticipation In thf UN-sponsored proximity talks In Geneva. Koscow stalled Its way through several years of negotiations, using the Geneve forun to test Pakistani resolve while exploiting the propaganda value of appearing to negotiate seriously. This tack continuedith Kabul’s Insistence that direct talks precede further discussion of the relationship between

troop withdrawal and agreements andeturn of the refugees.

8< Inoscow began to put out signalsariety of Inform channels of serious Interest ineal on Afghanistan, Public gestures followed. Including Gorbachev’s Party Congress speech early6 in which he referred to Afghanistanbleedinghe shan withdrawal of tlx Sotlet reglaentt In tht fall that year, and aovement In the Geneva sessions on the Issue of settingwithdrawal tlMtabla. These signals and gestures appear to have seen primarily propaganda tools designed to put Islamabad and Washington on the defensive In the hope of securing “reciprocal” concessions.

Intensified PI pionatlc Activity. Early this year, the Soviet! expanded their efforts to signal their desire to get out jf Afghanistan and to persuade Islamabad to deal, but there was io meaningful change In the substance of Moscow’s policy. ual tract campaign, Soviet and Afghan military pressure on Pakistan Increased sharply, shifting fro* cross-border raids to terrorist bombings that raised the spectre of Increased unrest Inside Pakistan, while Moscownational reconciliation as the saslsampaign to display Soviet “reasonableness1 and to tecure International recognition of the Afghan regime. After Jangling the prospect of an Interim coalition government under former Afghan kinghah, however, the Soviets avoided discussions of the compositionoalition with Islamabad. And after raising expectationsignificant move on the timetable for Soviet troop withdrawal would be irade at the Geneva lessloneptember, Koscow failed to deliver. The Soviets srobebly determined that the regime vas toe weak to sustain eves in agreement Im principlehort withdrawal timeframe and that more attention bad to be paid to POM coherence. To givepresston that movement In negotiations nonetheless :ont1nues, the Soviets have more recently tried to shift the Jtploeatlc focus to the compositionuture governmentabul, soliciting Ideasoalition and angling to have Pakistan and the UN tate the Initiative In setting up talks between the resistance and the regime, f

10. The free rein recently given to NaJIbullah to consolidate his power, however, risks undermining Hoscow

lAterMtloneil promotion of tho regime’s fltiHif Mffincerity. Together with the letdown at Geneva In September.ctivities in Kabul may have Influenced the outcoiM of the UK General Assembly’s vote on Pakistan’s resolution on Afghanistan In mid-November. Intense Soviet lobbying to reduce support for the resolution or to water It down with amendments was defeated, and tht original resolution passedlightly greater margin than last year*.

In the wake of tha un setback, the Soviets have floated hintsfionth withdrawal timeframe might be offered at next *US-Sovietove that they probably hope will regain the public relations Initiative and put pressure on the other side to offer concessions. Concern over Kabul’s stabilityonce again fcaan tharom following through on these


Hhlther Sovlat PollcyT

11. Hoscow Is clearly probingay totable government In Kabul and bring home Soviet troops, but just as clearly bas not decided to do so at the price of accepting lessOPA-domlnsted regime. The Soviets are teeplng their options open by continuing to build up their military and political Infrastructure in Afghanistan. The costs of thisIncreasing popular dissatisfaction within the USSft, continuing Internationalnd the greater llfflculty of maintaining the military stalemete–do not appear to have forced them to revise their strategy fundamentally. Despite the bleak prospects forlient In Kabul that can stand on Its own, they probably hope that* If they are patient, the coalition of forces ranged aoainst the* will jnravel, making revision unnecessary.

12. Adjustments on the Ground. The Soviets could reasonably Judge that the continuing decline of the Afghan Army and Improvements In Insurgent weapons, tactics, and morale will require Soviet troops to carry an even greater burden next year. Routine operations, such as road clearing and convoy protection, may be more difficult. Offensive operations may call for more resources than have been allocatedhe past, nonetheless, wo believe that the Soviets have shown that they are prepared to support the tied of expanded commitment on the ground that might be necessary next year. They appear no more willing to let the Kabul regime be defeated In combat than they are to legotlate Its demise, and they probably believe that they can rontinute to exploit some Insurgent weaknesses!

* The Soviets have no reason to believe that the Insurgents canuccessful defensive operationubstantial offensive threat. The bulk

major combat continues to be al tines, and place’s of Sov1 et .choost ng, and the Soviets probably judge that the Insurgents in most regions are less well prepared and have less plentiful supplies than at All Khel.


Tne Soviets are continuing to iaprove their infrastructure, conduct routine combat operations, and implement urban securitysigns of continued Soviet comnitment. They have withdrawn from two small Isolated garrisons and nay plan consolldatibn of other units that are inactive or difficult to resupply,

been persuaded that without extensive augmentation of the’lrombattep wt think they are not now likely towill not be able to eliminate the Insurgency or reduce Ithreat with which the Afghan government can cope so long as outside support continues. Consequently, we believe the Soviets will focus increasingly on efforts to disrupt the International coalition supporting the resistance. Vigorous coabat operations inside Afghanistan serve this strategy In several ways. They maintain tha threat of breaking the resistance on the ground; they counter any perception within the resistance or among Its supporters that the Soviets have lost the initiative In Afghanistan; and they support at least the bare vinlmum of any viable negotiatingn–the continued existence of the Kabul regime and Its Armed forces. As as result, the pace of combat activity Inside Afghanistan Is likely to remain stable or even Increase next year. Military pressure against Islamabad in the form of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan probably will continue as well, although the Soviets may noteturn to the level of cross-border boablto seen earlier this year In order or avoid negative

me soviet* may take other step* to offset the negative developments Identified during this year’s combat. These could Include modest Increases in troops–partleularly Spet$nai–and equipment, allocating more resources for individual offensives, planningew longer campaigns than ve nave seen this year, or reinforcing areas that have been particularly hard-pressed, such



is Oandaher, The Soviets may lookramatic target among the Insurgent depots lo the border region sad novo against It in greater force. Poscow might choose several of these options both for their concreteImpact and their potential effect an the morale of the resistance and tha political will of Its supporters.

15. Continued Reg,ma Consolidation and negotiation* Moscownlikely to alter Us current political tactici significantly during the next few months es it waits to assess several expected o* possible developments:

A ‘grand council” convened by Kabul before the end of the yeir toew

Impact ofoves to purge party dissidents,

” isit to Islamabad by First Deputy Foreign Minister Yorontaov,

The US-Soviet summit.

A possible US-Pakistani showdown over the nuclear proliferation controversy.

for Vorontsev to go discuss such plans.

16. During this period, the Soviets will probably continue to suggest an Interest In discussing an Afghan coalition, but they are unlikely to engageetailed discussion themselves or to agreeormat for the Afghan parties to negotiate It, For this reason. It Is possible that they will continue to postponeate

17, Once current trends have played thenselves out more fully. It may become clearer to the Soviets how well the regime can withstand the Inevitable strains that any serious negotiations would bring and how strong the resistance and Its supporters are likely to remain. EvenaJIbullah’s recent measures produce an apparently uore docile party, thay will not put the lid on resistance to his policy or end rank-and-file apprehension thatreconciliation” is the preludeoviet sell-out. Unless the situation deteriorates markedly, however, Moscow Is unlikely to replace Rajlbulleh in the near future. Heotential bargaining chip In negotiations with Pakistan and the resistance, and the Soviets probably do not view any of the possible successors as significant Improvements,

18. Although greater unity In Kabul would enable then to proceed with more confidence, the Soviets are unlikely to give up

the dlploBlt.clnltletlvttly ( as it 1 central to their effortsH th* various forces aligned against thee on Afghanistan. Be’ore the andhe Soviets vlll probably:

Have the Afghansmor.ih withdrawal timetable at Geneva ar propose It themselves during high-level talks with Pakistan or the United States. Th* Soviets will continue to Insist that Implenentatlon of an/ timetable Is contingent on the end of ‘outside Interference” and agreement on Interim arrangenentsoalition government In Kabul, They are unlikely to commit to specific dates or mechanics for the withdrawal.

* Agree* to some sort of forum under UM auspices for

discussionoalition. Hoscow alightuch as an International conference–thmt wauld give the Afghan regime greater standing than tha proposals so farby the Ult negotiator and the Pakistanis.

Resume “national reconcl Hat loa” offers to the resistance. Increasing the number of posts open to Insvrgeats and exlles.

# Develop new propaganda gambits, possibly Including another token withdrawal. f

19. rest With Past Policy?. There have been hintsthe longer teTm’Hostdw nay be “considering entering Intoof solutions that do not provide for the dominancePDPA, UN negotiator Cordovez’s plan for setting up talks ongovernment, which he claims has the Soviets’ go-ahead,Kabul’s representatives to attend la their PDPA rathergovernment capacities. Hoscow may even be preparingdomestically and Internationally for sue* andomestic media have recently given promlnmnce tothe presoclallst stage of Afghanistan’s development andfor compromises. [

20, ecision to accept less In Afghanistan, however, wouldajor risk for Gorbachev, who has already ipent considerable political capital to push through domestic and economic reforms In the face of opposition from conservatives In the party and, presumably, the military. His political vulnerability was underlined by the recent demotion of his ally, Hoscow party chief Yel’tsln. Gorbachev’s opponents would cite the “loss” of Afghanistanlew to Soviet prestigehreat to Sovfet security, and might atteept to use the issue toetreat


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Extensive research into the causes of suicide terrorism proves Islam isn’t to blame — the root of the problem is foreign military occupations.


Although no one wants to talk about it, 9/11 is still hurting America. That terrible day inflicted a wound of public fear that easily reopens with the smallest provocation, and it continues to bleed the United States of money, lives, and goodwill around the world. Indeed, America’s response to its fear has, in turn, made Americans less safe and has inspired more threats and attacks.

In the decade since 9/11, the United States has conquered and occupied two large Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), compelled a huge Muslim army to root out a terrorist sanctuary (Pakistan), deployed thousands of Special Forces troops to numerous Muslim countries (Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, etc.), imprisoned hundreds of Muslims without recourse, and waged a massive war of ideas involving Muslim clerics to denounce violence and new institutions to bring Western norms to Muslim countries. Yet Americans still seem strangely mystified as to why some Muslims might be angry about this situation.

In a narrow sense, America is safer today than on 9/11. There has not been another attack on the same scale. U.S. defenses regarding immigration controls, airport security, and the disruption of potentially devastating domestic plots have all improved.

But in a broader sense, America has become perilously unsafe. Each month, there are more suicide terrorists trying to kill Americans and their allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other Muslim countries than in all the years before 2001 combined. From 1980 to 2003, there were 343 suicide attacks around the world, and at most 10 percent were anti-American inspired. Since 2004, there have been more than 2,000, over 91 percent against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries.

Yes, these attacks are overseas and mostly focused on military and diplomatic targets. So too, however, were the anti-American suicide attacks before 2001. It is important to remember that the 1995 and 1996 bombings of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen were the crucial dots that showed the threat was rising prior to 9/11. Today, such dots are occurring by the dozens every month. So why is nobody connecting them?

U.S. military policies have not stopped the rising wave of extremism in the Muslim world. The reason has not been lack of effort, or lack of bipartisan support for aggressive military policies, or lack of funding, or lack of genuine patriotism.

No. Something else is creating the mismatch between America’s effort and the results.

For nearly a decade, Americans have been waging a long war against terrorism without much serious public debate about what is truly motivating terrorists to kill them. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this was perfectly explicable — the need to destroy al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan was too urgent to await sober analyses of root causes.

But, the absence of public debate did not stop the great need to know or, perhaps better to say, to “understand” the events of that terrible day. In the years before 9/11, few Americans gave much thought to what drives terrorism — a subject long relegated to the fringes of the media, government, and universities. And few were willing to wait for new studies, the collection of facts, and the dispassionate assessment of alternative causes. Terrorism produces fear and anger, and these emotions are not patient.

A simple narrative was readily available, and a powerful conventional wisdom began to exert its grip. Because the 9/11 hijackers were all Muslims, it was easy to presume that Islamic fundamentalism was the central motivating force driving the 19 hijackers to kill themselves in order to kill Americans. Within weeks after the 9/11 attacks, surveys of American attitudes show that this presumption was fast congealing into a hard reality in the public mind. Americans immediately wondered, “Why do they hate us?” and almost as immediately came to the conclusion that it was because of “who we are, not what we do.” As President George W. Bush said in his first address to Congress after the 9/11 attacks: “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

Thus was unleashed the “war on terror.”

The narrative of Islamic fundamentalism did more than explain why America was attacked and encourage war against Iraq. It also pointed toward a simple, grand solution. If Islamic fundamentalism was driving the threat and if its roots grew from the culture of the Arab world, then America had a clear mission: To transform Arab societies — with Western political institutions and social norms as the ultimate antidote to the virus of Islamic extremism.

This narrative had a powerful effect on support for the invasion of Iraq. Opinion polls show that for years before the invasion, more than 90 percent of the U.S. public believed that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But this belief alone was not enough to push significant numbers to support war.

What really changed after 9/11 was the fear that anti-American Muslims desperately wanted to kill Americans and so any risk that such extremists would get weapons of mass destruction suddenly seemed too great. Although few Americans feared Islam before 9/11, by the spring of 2003, a near majority — 49 percent — strongly perceived that half or more of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims were deeply anti-American, and a similar fraction also believed that Islam itself promoted violence. No wonder there was little demand by congressional committees or the public at large for a detailed review of intelligence on Iraq’s WMD prior to the invasion.

The goal of transforming Arab societies into true Western democracies had powerful effects on U.S. commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Constitutions had to be written; elections held; national armies built; entire economies restructured. Traditional barriers against women had to be torn down. Most important, all these changes also required domestic security, which meant maintaining approximately 150,000 U.S. and coalition ground troops in Iraq for many years and increasing the number of U.S. and Western troops in Afghanistan each year from 2003 on.

Put differently, adopting the goal of transforming Muslim countries is what created the long-term military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the United States would almost surely have sought to create a stable order after toppling the regimes in these countries in any case. However, in both, America’s plans quickly went far beyond merely changing leaders or ruling parties; only by creating Western-style democracies in the Muslim world could Americans defeat terrorism once and for all.

There’s just one problem: We now know that this narrative is not true.

New research provides strong evidence that suicide terrorism such as that of 9/11 is particularly sensitive to foreign military occupation, and not Islamic fundamentalism or any ideology independent of this crucial circumstance. Although this pattern began to emerge in the 1980s and 1990s, a wealth of new data presents a powerful picture.

More than 95 percent of all suicide attacks are in response to foreign occupation, according to extensive research that we conducted at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism, where we examined every one of the over 2,200 suicide attacks across the world from 1980 to the present day. As the United States has occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, which have a combined population of about 60 million, total suicide attacks worldwide have risen dramatically — from about 300 from 1980 to 2003, to 1,800 from 2004 to 2009. Further, over 90 percent of suicide attacks worldwide are now anti-American. The vast majority of suicide terrorists hail from the local region threatened by foreign troops, which is why 90 percent of suicide attackers in Afghanistan are Afghans.

Israelis have their own narrative about terrorism, which holds that Arab fanatics seek to destroy the Jewish state because of what it is, not what it does. But since Israel withdrew its army from Lebanon in May 2000, there has not been a single Lebanese suicide attack. Similarly, since Israel withdrew from Gaza and large parts of the West Bank, Palestinian suicide attacks are down over 90 percent.

Some have disputed the causal link between foreign occupation and suicide terrorism, pointing out that some occupations by foreign powers have not resulted in suicide bombings — for example, critics often cite post-World War II Japan and Germany. Our research provides sufficient evidence to address these criticisms by outlining the two factors that determine the likelihood of suicide terrorism being employed against an occupying force.

The first factor is social distance between the occupier and occupied. The wider the social distance, the more the occupied community may fear losing its way of life. Although other differences may matter, research shows that resistance to occupations is especially likely to escalate to suicide terrorism when there is a difference between the predominant religion of the occupier and the predominant religion of the occupied.

Religious difference matters not because some religions are predisposed to suicide attacks. Indeed, there are religious differences even in purely secular suicide attack campaigns, such as the LTTE (Hindu) against the Sinhalese (Buddhists).

Rather, religious difference matters because it enables terrorist leaders to claim that the occupier is motivated by a religious agenda that can scare both secular and religious members of a local community — this is why Osama bin Laden never misses an opportunity to describe U.S. occupiers as “crusaders” motivated by a Christian agenda to convert Muslims, steal their resources, and change the local population’s way of life.

The second factor is prior rebellion. Suicide terrorism is typically a strategy of last resort, often used by weak actors when other, non-suicidal methods of resistance to occupation fail. This is why we see suicide attack campaigns so often evolve from ordinary terrorist or guerrilla campaigns, as in the cases of Israel and Palestine, the Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, or the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

One of the most important findings from our research is that empowering local groups can reduce suicide terrorism. In Iraq, the surge’s success was not the result of increased U.S. military control of Anbar province, but the empowerment of Sunni tribes, commonly called the Anbar Awakening, which enabled Iraqis to provide for their own security. On the other hand, taking power away from local groups can escalate suicide terrorism. In Afghanistan, U.S. and Western forces began to exert more control over the country’s Pashtun regions starting in early 2006, and suicide attacks dramatically escalated from this point on.

The research suggests that U.S. interests would be better served through a policy of offshore balancing. Some scholars have taken issue with this approach, arguing that keeping boots on the ground in South Asia is essential for U.S. national security. Proponents of this strategy fail to realize how U.S. ground forces often inadvertently produce more anti-American terrorists than they kill. In 2000, before the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 20 suicide attacks around the world, and only one (against the USS Cole) was directed against Americans. In the last 12 months, by comparison, 300 suicide attacks have occurred, and over 270 were anti-American. We simply must face the reality that, no matter how well-intentioned, the current war on terror is not serving U.S. interests.

The United States has been great in large part because it respects understanding and discussion of important ideas and concepts, and because it is free to change course. Intelligent decisions require putting all the facts before us and considering new approaches. The first step is recognizing that occupations in the Muslim world don’t make Americans any safer — in fact, they are at the heart of the problem.

Eric J. Tilford/U.S. Navy/Getty Images

Robert A. Pape teaches at the University of Chicago and is co-author, with James K. Feldman, of Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It.













3 Responses to Af-Pak (Afghanistan and Pakistan) news and observations – 2010 “Quagmire”

  1. wayne dalton says:

    Thanks for your insight for the great written piece. I am glad I have taken the time to read this.

  2. Slama says:

    At first I was kind of sceptically but little did I know that by the end of reading this entry I will shift my perspective 180 degrees.

  3. Hockessin says:

    This is one awesome blog post.Thanks Again. Really Cool.

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