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NATO war in Afghanistan "Doomed to Fail"
October 21, 2008 1:36 PM   Subscribe

With election season in the US, it's probably hard to get a less than Gung-ho picture of the war in Afghanistan, but this Spiegel Online article paints a dark picture. "Pessimism about the situation has never been so high." High level NATO commanders are using phrases like "Doomed to Fail," "We are trapped," "repeating the same mistakes as the Soviets", military victory "neither feasible nor supportable," "downward spiral." For some it is so dark the only beacon of light would be peace talks with the Taliban.
The United States is determined to stop the downward spiral. Washington plans to send another 20,000 troops to the country by 2011, hoping to repeat the surge strategy that has seen some success in Iraq, where the addition of 30,000 troops has helped bring relative stability to the situation.

The British, on the other hand, fear that additional US soldiers could be more likely to heat up the conflict. "We don't need more GIs, but more reconciliation, more reconstruction and more offers for those who want to get out of the conflict," says an English advisor who has been working in Afghanistan for almost two decades. The West, he says, seems to be repeating the same mistakes the Soviets made. Despite an Afghan army of 100,000 men and 120,000 of their own soldiers, Moscow's military campaign in Afghanistan was ultimately a failure -- not least because support for the war back home dried up.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, spoke of a poor outlook when he predicted that the situation would become even worse next year.
posted by stbalbach (35 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The Economist regularly covers news from Afghanistan and from what they say, things are not going well. The most recent article, No time to go wobbly, takes as a given that the situation is bad and getting worse and argues for more troops, cautious discussion with the Taliban, and "getting serious" about "the chronic corruption and ineffectiveness of Mr Karzai’s administration". Don't miss the map of how the southern half of the country poses a high security threat to Western aide workers.
posted by Nelson at 1:50 PM on October 21, 2008


We don't need more GIs, but more reconciliation, more reconstruction and more offers for those who want to get out of the conflict...

That's what the British tried in Basrah, and the result was that the extremists took over the town, and made it a no-go zone for British troops. It remained that way until Iraqi forces (with American help) invaded and kicked the extremists out last Spring.

What I think has been the most illuminating aspect of the conflict in Afghanistan is how useless -- and gunshy -- the NATO forces have been. It seriously calls into question the entire existence of the NATO alliance. Just what is it for, anyway? And what's the point of it if no one except the Americans (and the Poles, ironically enough) have troops that are willing and able to fight?
posted by Class Goat at 2:16 PM on October 21, 2008


With election season in the US, it's probably hard to get a less than Gung-ho picture of the war in Afghanistan...

I'm living in the US, and I somehow have a less than gung-ho picture of the war in Afghanistan, arrived at by consuming mostly US media. How do you account for this?

I think posts sound a lot less like they belong on digg or reddit without the "...and the Corporate Media will never report this!!!1!" hyperbole. (Aside: It's unfortunate that "Corporate Media" doesn't have an "s" in it, because I really wanted to change one into a dollar sign.)
posted by The Tensor at 2:21 PM on October 21, 2008


Try this: Corporat€ M€dia
posted by DreamerFi at 2:30 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha...
posted by swift at 2:40 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Class Goat writes "It seriously calls into question the entire existence of the NATO alliance. Just what is it for, anyway?"

To assist in the transfer of capital from western governments to weapons manufacturers. Or do you mean the official reason?
posted by mullingitover at 2:46 PM on October 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Despite an Afghan army of 100,000 men and 120,000 of their own soldiers, Moscow's military campaign in Afghanistan was ultimately a failure -- not least because support for the war back home dried up.

That's way back, when the Taliban were our buds, right?
posted by fixedgear at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


And what's the point of it if no one except the Americans (and the Poles, ironically enough) have troops that are willing and able to fight?

Canada and Britain would disagree.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 3:53 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Personally, I say we just get out of there and get the neighboring countries to lock down their borders. If we don't go there and we don't let them come here, we should be safe - terrorists don't have long-ranged weapons.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:34 PM on October 21, 2008


The one piece of good news I have heard is that rising wheat prices have finally convinced a lot of Afghan farmers to give up growing poppies. A lack of drug trade will erode the Taliban's power via their control of the drug trade.
posted by GuyZero at 4:48 PM on October 21, 2008


Class Goat: so, would it make you feel better if they just started having round the clock B-52 sorties so they could carpet bomb all those ragheads back to hell where they belong? That's really the subtext of your comment there.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:03 PM on October 21, 2008


Burhanistan: so, would it make you feel better if NATO just withdrew and allowed the Taliban to resume control of the country, so that all those afghan whores who've started going out in public get what they deserve? That's really the subtext of your comment there.

(in other words, pls don't strawman)
posted by magic curl at 5:38 PM on October 21, 2008


just to add on to Clandestine Outlawry's point -- if you adjust for the country's population, the UK has suffered a roughly equal proportion of casualties to the Americans in Afghanistan. Canada's casualty rate is 50% higher.

And on the point of 'useless, gunshy NATO allies' I imagine that your United States Marine Corps will disagree and would like the sniper record titles back.
posted by bl1nk at 5:43 PM on October 21, 2008


how useless -- and gunshy -- the NATO forces have been. It seriously calls into question the entire existence of the NATO alliance. Just what is it for, anyway? And what's the point of it if no one except the Americans (and the Poles, ironically enough) have troops that are willing and able to fight?

The point of NATO these days, as far as I can tell, is primarily security for Poland in the form of a (dubious) defensive alliance with the US. And an excuse for western leaders to catch up every so often, I guess.

Its ability to project military power east depends on Germany, and Germany has shown no signs of being willing to wear the cost and the risk of rebuilding that power. Or of risking a confrontation with Russia by expanding NATO membership to the baltic states.
posted by magic curl at 5:57 PM on October 21, 2008


NATO commanders are using phrases like "Doomed to Fail"

I'm glad to hear it.

The US had no right to occupy Afghanistan and force a puppet government on it. Well, okay, that's not fair. It's a not a puppet government. In order to be considered a government, it would have to first govern something. There's little evidence that it meets this criteria. So it's actually just a puppet.

But yeah, the occupation of Afghanistan is basically the same as the one in Iraq; the US goes in and takes over, crushing any hope of democracy, killing innocent people, torturing anyone it feels like, allying itself with thugs and fanatics, etc. It's part of this new long term strategy in which we take over the entire world through direct conquest. So the sooner it ends, the better. If this pessimism can hasten its demise, then I'm all for it.

You know, when the Taliban first rose to power, it was actually welcomed by many Afghans because the country was such a chaotic wreck after the Russians and the US backed fighters got through using it as a shooting gallery that any type of order and stability seemed like an improvement. Our current crimes in Afghanistan could have a similar result. So once we withdraw, the Taliban may return to power or some other group of psychos may take their place. We can, of course, help prevent this by paying reparations to Afghanistan and backing UN actions (assuming they're supported by the Afghans) directed at rebuilding the country.
posted by Clay201 at 6:33 PM on October 21, 2008


so, would it make you feel better if NATO just withdrew and allowed the Taliban to resume control of the country

If we're serious about this sentiment (and it would be wonderful if we were), then the correct course of action is not to inflict on Afghanistan a sort of de-facto government in the form of the US military and affiliated drug lords. That would be like freeing Tibet from Chinese control by letting the Russian army occupy it.

The correct course of action is to see that the Afghans the freedom to choose their own government. Which, incidentally, neither Obama or McCain would ever tolerate. The whole point of all our post 9-11 military activity in the middle east is to get it back under US control, the way it has (mostly) been for the past 30 years or so. Democrats are critical of the manner in which Bush has pursued this objective, but they share the objective itself.

That's because, if the Afghans were truly free and elected a government that followed the will of the people, it probably wouldn't do many of the things Washington wanted it to do. It wouldn't co-operate in the so called "war on terror," wouldn't allow US troops to use it as a staging area for expeditions into Pakistan, wouldn't give US companies control of the gas pipeline, etc.

There could possibly be some cooperation on the curtailing of opium production; it would depend on a number of factors. But the bottom line is that Washington isn't going to take that chance. They're going to make sure Afghanistan is obedient by crushing anything that might lead to democracy.

So if we want freedom for the Afghans, we have to fight the US government for it.
posted by Clay201 at 6:57 PM on October 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


The Tensor: "I'm living in the US, and I somehow have a less than gung-ho picture of the war in Afghanistan, arrived at by consuming mostly US media.

How do you account for this?
"

You kick ass?
posted by stbalbach at 9:10 PM on October 21, 2008


and "getting serious" about "the chronic corruption and ineffectiveness of Mr Karzai’s administration".

That's typical Economist reporting right there, at once sober and serious and totally, insanely impractical.

Personally, I say we just get out of there and get the neighboring countries to lock down their borders. If we don't go there and we don't let them come here, we should be safe - terrorists don't have long-ranged weapons.

Geography cat is watching you make an unrealistic suggestion!

Burhanistan: so, would it make you feel better if NATO just withdrew and allowed the Taliban to resume control of the country, so that all those afghan whores who've started going out in public get what they deserve? That's really the subtext of your comment there.

I think you need to realise the limits of military power in general and American military power in particular.

Day-to-day control of Afghan villages is still in the hands of the local elders, where it was in the days of the king, in the days of the Soviets and in the time of the Taliban. To re-engineer Afghan society and give women equal rights would require disassembling the power structure form top to bottom, changing the attitudes of hundreds of thousands of Afghan men and then piecing together a Brand New Order. There simply isn't any way to do this.

By the way, when the Islamic Court movement took control of Somalia recently and restored order to a lawless city they were welcomed with open arms. The alternative there was not a secular social democratic utopia, but a vicious feudal state where warlords rule. American backed forces pushed them out, restoring the rule of the warlords because there were alleged (and probably accurately) ties to the Taliban which was a very similar movement.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, what we have now is rule by warlord. All those "governors" are brutal autocratic warlords who allied themselves with the United States.

I'd love to make Afghanistan into a wonderland of enlightenment, but we need to stop pretending that this is a realistic outcome.
posted by atrazine at 9:38 PM on October 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


You kick ass?

Well, yes. But maybe, on top of that, it's not at all hard during this election season to learn about the difficulties in Afghanistan because they've been widely reported and discussed. For example, during the first presidential debate, Obama said, "We have seen Afghanistan worsen, deteriorate. We need more troops there. We need more resources there." During the second debate, Tom Brokaw said, "The senior British military commander, who is now leading there for a second tour, and their senior diplomatic presence there, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is well known as an expert in the area, both have said that we're failing in Afghanistan. The commander said we cannot win there."

Sorry if I oversnarked. I don't mean to poop too much on your post (note, for comparison, my inglorious posting history), it's just that I just see a lot of complaining online that some subject isn't widely known or being covered in the media when my experience is that I hear about that subject all the time.
posted by The Tensor at 9:47 PM on October 21, 2008


To re-engineer Afghan society and give women equal rights would require disassembling the power structure form top to bottom, changing the attitudes of hundreds of thousands of Afghan men and then piecing together a Brand New Order. There simply isn't any way to do this.

- Smithers, bring me the enlightenment device.
- You mean the revolver, sir?

(sorry)
posted by magic curl at 10:29 PM on October 21, 2008


Recent Afghanistan Thread: Lots of good links there.

Nir Rosen speaks to Clay201's assertion that Democrats are not really going to pursue different goals there, even if Obama may secretly like to:

Obama, of course, one of his major platforms is to withdraw from Iraq. That’s the bad war; he needs the good war. So Afghanistan now is the good war. He needs to prove, as a Democrat, that he too can kill brown people. I think that’s what it comes down to, that we’re not weak; we can kill foreigners, too.
posted by BinGregory at 11:32 PM on October 21, 2008




better if NATO just withdrew and allowed the Taliban to resume control of the country

This is precisely what is going to happen. The only question is when and how.
posted by BinGregory at 11:36 PM on October 21, 2008


Also, how utterly wretchedly has NATO bungled in Afghanistan when Saudi Arabia is able to emerge as the progressive peace-broker in the region? We're being upstaged by the global patron of Islamic extremism itself? Revolted at the thought? Our man Karzai is begging SA to do it! That is how badly we've botched it. Why not just get OBL to mediate a settlement?
...possible "peace talks" between the radical Islamist Taliban and the Karzai government in Mecca. Saudi Arabian King Abdullah had invited envoys from Kabul and the Taliban...
posted by BinGregory at 11:58 PM on October 21, 2008


Despite an Afghan army of 100,000 men and 120,000 of their own soldiers, Moscow's military campaign in Afghanistan was ultimately a failure -- not least because support for the war back home dried up.

That's way back, when the Taliban were our buds, right?


Seriously, no. The Taliban came into existence after Moscow withdrew, and as an Afghan government failed to coalesce and a civil war dragged on year after year, the West lost any interest in Afghanistan. That's when the Taliban swept over the border from Pakistan and created a functioning, if theocratic and illiberal, government. This actually created some stability for a while and the Clinton policy was to cautiously support the Taliban.

But they let bin Laden and al Qaeda operate freely. That was the basic problem we had with them even then, and not their religious nutjobbery.

We'll probably have to come to some sort of pragmatic conclusion here where we allow them into power as long as they do approximately as effective a job of controlling al Qaeda as Pakistan has (which is a fairly low standard, alas). This is probably in its own right a recipe for international blackmail of the commonest sort where human-rights principles are flushed down the toilet in the interest of stability, but we've swallowed that swill numerous times before.

For all his gunslinging "decisiveness" Bush could never grasp this and sold the war on a false ideal of promoting democracy. The war only made sense if it were fought according to Realistic principles, that is, in the national interest instead of the quondam political interest. The end state that they described is probably realistically unwinnable, dooming us to unending quagmire.

I don't know what the strategy for turning Afghanistan into Western Europe with minarets is, but what we're doing isn't working. Many armies have been humbled by this terrain, it isn't shameful to pack it in.
posted by dhartung at 12:27 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The west's inglorious history in Afghanistan goes back a lot further than most Americans realize. (And this trail of history tends to colour local attitudes to intruders.)
posted by cstross at 2:19 AM on October 22, 2008


A harsh winter is in store for the people of Afghanistan where many are affected by poverty and drought. As a result the Race Begins to Deliver Afghan Food Aid Before Winter. Class Goats reasoning on hearts and minds seems to be the normal neocon mindset of "Bomb them back to the stone age". Please note that in Basra it was Iraqi troops resolving an Iraqi problem. History shows that Afghanistan seems to be an unwinnable war especially when the President's brother is probably a Drug Lord.
From The Times “If you ask people, they don’t want Taliban; but if it’s a choice between them and corrupt, predatory government, they prefer Taliban.”
posted by adamvasco at 3:08 AM on October 22, 2008


the Clinton policy was to cautiously support the Taliban

It was the Bush policy, too. The Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million in May 2001 because they'd banned opium cultivation.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:21 AM on October 22, 2008


The west's inglorious history in Afghanistan goes back a lot further than most Americans realize.

Dr. Watson, of Sherlock Holmes fame, had been injured in the Afghan War. So... yeah.
posted by GuyZero at 8:17 AM on October 22, 2008




Guyzero: Dr. Watson, of Sherlock Holmes fame, had been injured in the Afghan War. So... yeah.

Which one?

The British empire invaded Afghanistan no less than three times during the 19th century (the second and third time with some limited success, but they had learned better than to try to occupy the place).

"Afghanistan" is kind of blurry on the map -- there's an official border with Pakistan, but the difference between Afghanistani territory and the Pakistani "tribal areas" is highly debatable: folks who live there don't pay much attention to maps, or borders.

(The point I'm trying to make is that Afghanistan has some of the most hostile territory on earth, and some of the most ornery natives, and superpowers -- the British Empire, the Soviets, now the Americans -- have been breaking their teeth on it for centuries, if not longer. Only Alexander the Great hit Afghanistan with a winning strategy: he married the king's daughter then beat a strategic retreat.)
posted by cstross at 9:39 AM on October 22, 2008


Many armies have been humbled by this terrain, it isn't shameful to pack it in.

Yes, it is. The whole thing is deeply, deeply shameful, and anyone who supported the invasion for even an instant should be mortified, ashamed, humiliated at this outcome. Throwing up one's hands and saying it's ok to cut and run after seven years of steadily making things worse in what was already the most wretched country on earth, because hey, other armies have been beaten here too, as though the only mistake here was choosing a battleground with too many mountains, strips away any wisdom that could be gained from the disaster.
posted by BinGregory at 8:23 PM on October 22, 2008








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