History repeats
June 29, 2010 1:52 PM   Subscribe

The Karzai government is crumbling before our eyes, and if we delude ourselves that this is not the case, we could yet face a replay of 1842. Why the Taliban is winning in Afghanistan - William Dalrymple. (1)
A long in- depth article with historical overtones, which leads to the question: Why Are We in Afghanistan? (2006);(2008); (2010)
posted by adamvasco (83 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You know, I just read Flashman for the first time and spent a good portion of the book gaping wide-eyed at what was, for all intents and purposes, a retelling of our current situation.
posted by griphus at 1:56 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Something tells me it's like when his advisors asked Johnson why he didn't pull out of Vietnam, and he pulled his junk out in front of everyone and said, "This is why we don't pull out."

Alpha-male politics. Fighting man and woman be damned.
posted by John of Michigan at 1:59 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

...he pulled his junk out in front of everyone...

Pics or it didn't happen [citation needed]
posted by griphus at 2:01 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Something tells me it's like when his advisors asked Johnson why he didn't pull out of Vietnam, and he pulled his junk out in front of everyone and said, "This is why we don't pull out."

Alpha-male politics. Fighting man and woman be damned.

I'm not a Johnson apologist, but I think it was more like "Because I can't get away with civil rights and back off the Cold War. Also, screw Commies."
posted by spaltavian at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you excuse the pulling out of one's junk then you sir are a johnson apologist.

posted by Babblesort at 2:19 PM on June 29, 2010 [11 favorites]

The fact that it can be referred to as the Karzai government points out one of the big problems to my mind. If a government's tenure is equatable with a particular individual it is only a theater set of flats; a facade of an actual institution. If you scratch the surface you see that the institutional shell is only an inch thick.
posted by Babblesort at 2:25 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The fact that it can be referred to as the Karzai government points out one of the big problems to my mind. If a government's tenure is equatable with a particular individual it is only a theater set of flats;

It's a parliamentary system over there, people talk about the "Labour government" in the U.K or the "Bush Administration" in the U.S all the time.
posted by delmoi at 2:37 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Soviets spent ten years on that country ... famous throughout history for repelling invaders ... so we in all our macho hubris decided we'd show them.

And here we are in what's now the longest war in US history. And our somewhat tarnished shinyNewPrez assures us he'll -start- to remove troops in a year.

And the US Katamari Damacy of disaster just keeps on a-rollin.
posted by Twang at 2:47 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Aren't we just pushing the rubble around until we can claim that it sort of looks like political infrastructure?
posted by gallois at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is an excellently detailed article, well-written, and Dalrymple is clearly well-versed in the complex historical and cultural contexts. Thanks for posting.
posted by hydatius at 3:10 PM on June 29, 2010

The EFF reports that last Thursday the Afghan Ministry of Communications mandated that ISPs block websites categorized as Alcohol, Dating/Social Networking, Gambling, or Pornography, including Facebook, Gmail, YouTube, and Twitter.
posted by finite at 3:16 PM on June 29, 2010

Time to Rethink Afghanistan.

There is no "win" there. There is no victory parade leaving behind a friendly Jeffersonian democracy in the "Graveyard of Empires".

There's only blood and treasure being poured down the hold until we go home. Sooner = less blood & treasure down the hole. Later = more of both. And a lot of that treasure is going to the local Warlords who are just as oppressive (and hated) as the Taliban.

Lawrence Wilkerson has come to the conclusion that it's time to lower our expectations significantly, get out, and let Karzai make his own peace with the Taliban (who are going to stay longer than us no matter what). I think he's right.

Some people think that leaving "in defeat" will demoralize and depress the country like after Vietnam. I think that's quite possible, if not likely.

But if we start an orderly withdrawal, maybe we could look a little more like the last Soviet tanks over the bridge in 1989 rather than the last helicopter off the Saigon Embassy roof.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:23 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Some people think that leaving "in defeat" will demoralize and depress the country like after Vietnam."

Wait ... I thought the 70's were happy times, nothing but disco and cocaine and smiley faces. MTV lied!


I tend to think that there is a direct correlation between the mood here at home - with all this darkness and anger, and resurgence of bigotry and hate - and these endless wars. I would hope that morale might improve once we pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
posted by kanewai at 3:39 PM on June 29, 2010

I've always been conflicted over the Afghan War (unlike the Iraqi war - which was stupid from the get go). On the one hand, the Taliban provided support to the perpetrators of 9/11 and their regime was probably among the least friendly to women, gays, or anyone outside of their view of a Muslim society in the world.

But on the other hand - the question remains, now what? It's easy for us joke around that this war is somehow about macho penis waving - but the fact remains that there are people on the ground in Afghanistan that are going to be in for some very very difficult times if/when the Taliban return to rule. I care less about how we look retreating then the vacuum that is going to be left behind and the crushing effects of that on Afghani's
posted by helmutdog at 3:42 PM on June 29, 2010

Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 3:47 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Some people think that leaving "in defeat" will demoralize and depress the country like after Vietnam.

The only people demoralized when we left Vietnam were the generals and political conservatives who had a big hardon for killing commies and waving big American flags. Otherwise, the rest of the country breathed a collective "thank god that's over."

But, if they're truly worried that we'll all get down in the dumps, they could actually do what we originally set-out to do by being there. And then drive out of the country with Bin Laden's head on the bumper of a Humvee.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:52 PM on June 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would hope that morale might improve once we pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Americans like to think of ourselves in the "We don't start a fight, but dammit we're gonna finish it!"

A) Not actually reflected in the facts and the history of our military interventions.
B) The country is broke, our military as basically spent, the maimed and crippled are piling up in the halls of our VA hospitals while getting shafted by the government. And all those soldiers are coming home right at the dawn of the econopocalypse. All for what? What did all their effort and wounds and their friends deaths achieve? What did all the families who stayed home without their mothers and fathers and lovers get out of it. What was it all for?

America likes to win, and we wanna spike the football and do a dance afterward. And there will be nothing that remotely looks, smells, or feels emotionally like a "win" coming out of all blood and treasure poured on Afghanistan. There will be no end-zone dance when the troops come home.

I don't see a nationally uplifted mood in the wake of that. I'm not rooting for this, but I'm not seeing anything that points in a different direction that isn't fueled mostly by a "No, we can do this! NEVER SAY DIE!" attitude.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:59 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bah. If we'd just focused our resources on Afghanistan instead of dropping billions and over a hundred thousand soldiers into Iraq, I think we could have established something a bit more solid with a public far more supporter and positive. That ship has passed though, one more brilliant strategic maneuver on the Bush Administration's part.

And I'm rather sick of these comparisons to the British in 1842. The main force of the British were hit hard because of the complete incompetence of the British commander, which pretty much involved laying out a doormat that said, "Come kick our butts by surprise!" What the article neither mentions is that the British returned shortly afterward and promptly whipped the Afghans they encountered, before returning to India. Then, thirty years later, the British again went into Afghanistan, suffered a bloody nose, but ultimately defeated all major opponents and made the country swear over its conduct of their own foreign affairs (something they did not get back until a post-World War 1 exhausted British Empire gave it back).

The graveyard of empires bit is not really correct and tired. It's questionable whether the Afghans would have succeeded in forcing the Soviets out were it not for the outside support they received (kind of like how the Taliban et all is receiving at least passive support from one of our wonderful allied countries).
posted by Atreides at 4:04 PM on June 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

The graveyard of empires bit is not really correct and tired

This. It's always struck me as having a hint of the "noble, unconquered savage" trope about it.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:27 PM on June 29, 2010

The graveyard of empires bit is not really correct and tired

This. It's always struck me as having a hint of the "noble, unconquered savage" trope about it.

Fair enough.

But the fact of the matter is according to quotes from the Rolling Stone article, COIN is a fraud and we are neither winning or changing tactics.

Whatever we call it, we're not going to call it victory.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2010

Whatever we call it, we're not going to call it victory.

Oh, but we must call whatever it is victory.

Even if it's only as much victory as was achieved with the SURGE in Iraq.

Even if it's much less than that.

So, peaceniks, put aside your pride and trumpet the slaying of every Al Qaeda Number Three, every freshly painted girls' school, every poppy field dug into an industrial mineral mine.

Otherwise, we don't get to leave.
posted by notyou at 5:02 PM on June 29, 2010

I'm for staying. Thousands of Afghanis are going to die no matter what we do. The suffering that would be put on the innocent by the return of the Taliban is 100 times more than the deaths that happen from our staying and our corrupt allies.
posted by humanfont at 6:11 PM on June 29, 2010

Oh, but we must call whatever it is victory.

Yep, shake Karzai's hand, tell him it was an honor to stand in victory with him, good luck, we'll send you a billion or two a year and we'll keep a base or two nearby and then get the fuck out. America simply doesn't have the will, time or money to be messing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:52 PM on June 29, 2010

I'm for staying. Thousands of Afghanis are going to die no matter what we do. The suffering that would be put on the innocent by the return of the Taliban is 100 times more than the deaths that happen from our staying and our corrupt allies.

Let's take that as the truth for the sake of debate.

A) Is that our* (meaning America's) problem? Not to be a cold-hearted sonofabitch, because I do care. But there are bad men abusing, killing, and repressing people (particularly women) the globe over. Is it our mandate to stop all of that horrible abuse with the military? Not that there's all that much evidence that we've made life better for Afghan women as it is

B) Assuming (FTSOD) that it is our problem, do you think that the American public will accept "Saving Afghans from their fellow Afghans" as a compelling argument for why their sons and daughters should go all the way around the world to die and get blown up while killing and blowing up people and things over there? Will Americans support the idea that it's enough of our problem (given that the argument that the war in Afghanistan makes us safer is manifestly bullshit)?

C) Assuming (FTSOD) A and B, for how long can we afford it? We're in the middle of an econopocalypse that could fundamentally rewrite the narrative of our society. We're literally running BOTH wars (and our entire economy) on IOUs and credit cards. How much can we afford to pour into it and for how long?

Whatever answer comes back, I'm 99% sure that the Taliban will be there longer.

What then has staying bought us with all the associated costs in blood & treasure?
*I'm an American and these questions are most directly relevant to Americans as it's our war.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:24 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

This is an in-depth look at the fight in Kandahar I read recently. Depressingly detailed, but well worth the read.
posted by atchafalaya at 8:35 PM on June 29, 2010

Bush screwed the pooch in Afghanistan. He had the entire world behind him. The European newspapers said "We Are All Americans." For the first time, NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty ("an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all"). European nations had a vested interest in stabilizing Afghanistan. If anything positive was going to happen in Afghanistan, it was going to happen in 2001-2002. Instead, Bush took his eye off the ball and invaded Iraq.
OBAMA: "I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?"

PETRAEUS: "Sir, I'm confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame."

OBAMA: "If you can't do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?"

PETRAEUS: "Yes, sir, in agreement."

MULLEN: "Yes, sir."
Those military fuckers all agreed that they could hand over Afghanistan to the local government and start withdrawing American troops by July 2011 and they've been trying to undermine President Obama by working the press ever since. (Which is one of the reasons that McChrystal was fired.) Getting them on the record committing to the deadline was one of the savviest moves of Obama's presidency to date.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:46 PM on June 29, 2010

The suffering that would be put on the innocent by the return of the Taliban is 100 times more than the deaths that happen from our staying and our corrupt allies.

The "return" of the Taliban? When did they leave?

The Taliban are pretty appalling. The United States did a terrible thing when they brought them into prominence to harass the old USSR, and should apologize to the world for that act (though it probably isn't even in the top 10 terrible things the US has done in my lifetime).

However, it's been almost a decade since the war started. There has been little if any progress. The Taliban still controls vast areas of the country. There's been a huge death toll, it's hard to imagine that the Taliban would really have killed more people than the Americans.

We're making no progress. When are we going to leave? Are we just going to stay there forever?

And there are countries under much worse rule than the Taliban - Turkmenistan, North Korea immediately spring to mind. Should we then declare war on them?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:57 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

How noble. What Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey said, do you think this noble adventure comes for free? Every Sunday we read the names of the people killed in both wars. The lists are long, and each of those names is a suffering family. I hope we get out of this noble fucking death trap before one of those names is my brother in law.

184 people who happened to be working in my neighborhood got killed on 9-11, they were neighbors, relatives of friends and few of them were just school kids on their way to LA. We tried ignoring the trouble over there for 12 years after the soviets left. We tried to engage with the Taliban in a constructive fashion. They still collaborated with Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden to launch an attack against us. The leaders of the Taliban see this as a blood feud and apocalyptic war of civilizations. We continue to have attacks like Ft. Hood and the bombing in Times Square.

There is no alternative to seeing this through. This is like cancer; you can't ignore it, there is very little you can do about it and eventually it may kill you anyway and the bills are enormous.
posted by humanfont at 10:15 PM on June 29, 2010

184 people who happened to be working in my neighborhood got killed on 9-11
What does this have to do with Afghanistan or the Taliban?

9/11 was done by Al Qaeda, a Saudi Arabian organization, run by Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi, put into action by 19 people, most of whom were Saudi and not one of whom was an Afghani.

Let me repeat this - not one Afghani, Taliban or not, was involved in the planning or commission of 9/11.

The worst you can say is that the Taliban allowed Bin Laden to stay in Afghanistan before 9/11. No one - not the CIA, not the FBI, not the Republicans - claimed that the Taliban had the slightest idea that 9/11 was going to happen in advance. After 9/11, the Taliban repeatedly and publicly offered to give up Bin Laden - Bush didn't even bother to talk to them.
This is like cancer; you can't ignore it,
You are so wrong it hurts. The endless wars in foreign countries, killing people who have offered us no harm, does not prevent further attacks; it causes further attacks. Simply look at the words of any of the terrorists who have attacked us over the last decade for proof!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

> We tried to engage with the Taliban in a constructive fashion. They still collaborated with Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden to launch an attack against us.

Look, N number of people in various countries hate the US for any number of reasons.

Bluntly, we can't stop every single terrorist attack.

And we shouldn't rearrange radically rearrange our lives, wreck our budgets, and forego our civil liberties just because persons known and unknown want to kill us in spectacular fashion.

The fact is, horrible as it may seem-- particularly so, when one knows the victims-- terrorist attacks don't kill that many people. Terrorism is a manageable threat with acceptable losses; it should be treated like other forms of mass homicide. The fact that it's somewhat organized makes it somewhat more preventable, and should be prevented, to the extent possible without radical societal rearrangement; but trying to forestall every murder by killing every murderer before he or she murders just doesn't work very well... except on the level of feel-good political theatre.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:38 PM on June 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

They still collaborated with Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden to launch an attack against us. The leaders of the Taliban see this as a blood feud and apocalyptic war of civilizations. We continue to have attacks like Ft. Hood and the bombing in Times Square.

No. Wrong. Incorrect. At odds with the facts.

You are conflating al Qaeda, which is an international jihadist movement, with the Taliban, who are a bunch of repressive thugs who DO NOT HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL AGENDA. THEY WANT TO CONTROL AFGHANISTAN, NOT WAGE HOLY WAR AGAINST THE WEST.

Watch the video. Several former CIA officials (and others) explain why your line of reasoning is based on false pretenses, a misunderstanding of actors and their motivations, and is making the problem worse.

This is not a personal dig.

But you're wrong, and the manner in which you (and a fair number of my fellow Americans) are wrong is a massive part of the problem.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:40 PM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

> 9/11 was done by Al Qaeda, a Saudi Arabian organization, run by Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi, put into action by 19 people, most of whom were Saudi and not one of whom was an Afghani.

This is an excellent point. Really, it does look as if Saudi factions were the main movers, and the money, behind 9/11.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:42 PM on June 29, 2010

I'm for staying. Thousands of Afghanis are going to die no matter what we do. The suffering that would be put on the innocent by the return of the Taliban is 100 times more than the deaths that happen from our staying and our corrupt allies.

Are you serious? The civilian death toll from the war is at least 10,000 so far by conservative estimates. So the return of the Taliban would mean 1 million+ deaths? Even if you don't mean that "100 times" figure literally, it's hard to see how it would be much worse. As far as gay rights etc goes, homosexuality is still illegal in Afghanistan and still carries the death penalty in certain circumstances, so it's hard to see the big win there. And the groups in Afghanistan like RAWA that fight for the rights of women were against the war.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:43 PM on June 29, 2010

Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey ^ hits the nail on the head. The interested parties ( the military Industrial Complex ) and their spokespeople (lackeys) the mainstream media do not want the Public to understand the matter. Amply shown by Lara Logan's attempt to belittle Michael Hastings.
Here are the related war costs in billions. The 2010 estimates $1,080 Billion. Lot of Healthcare and Schools there, but that might help educate and care for people who disagree with the status quo.
posted by adamvasco at 12:14 AM on June 30, 2010

You are conflating al Qaeda, which is an international jihadist movement, with the Taliban, who are a bunch of repressive thugs who DO NOT HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL AGENDA. THEY WANT TO CONTROL AFGHANISTAN, NOT WAGE HOLY WAR AGAINST THE WEST.

Here's a quote from Mullah Omar leader of the Taliban, "Our position is clear: we will kill all those who will register themselves as voters or cast votes in the forthcoming election. We will kill all those who support the US and its allies in any manner. America is the greatest evil on earth. It is the enemy of Islam. Whoever is the US friend is the enemy of Islam. Killing the enemies of Islam is jihad.."

So the return of the Taliban would mean 1 million+ deaths?

The Cambodians, Rawandans and Ugandans did it, so I don't see what would have stopped these guys. Human Rights Watch determined that the Taliban engaged in genocide against the Hazaras killing 8000 of them after taking control of Mazar-i Sharif in a single month. There are about 7 million Hazaras mostly in central Afghanistan. They are Shi'a muslims while the Taliban are Sunis. A prominent Taliban Commander, Maulawi Mohammed Hanif said the following, "The policy of the Taliban is to exterminate the Hazaras"

Let me repeat this - not one Afghani, Taliban or not, was involved in the planning or commission of 9/11

So it was totally co-incidental that the Taliban assassinated the leader of the northern alliance just days before the 9-11 attacks took place? The 9-11 commission report discussed the financial sources of Al-Qaeda and determined that one of their largest financial backers was the government of the Taliban. The taliban operated a vast intelligence network and were not the type to blindly trust anyone. They most certainly knew that Bin Laden had a major attack against the US planned. Previously he had attacked the US Cole and Embassies in Africa. Your assertion that NOT one was involved is simply not believable. The two organizations were intimately connected though a number of ties including marriages, financial interests, etc.
posted by humanfont at 12:14 AM on June 30, 2010

humanfont, here's where you can sign up to help. [us army]
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:33 AM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

humanfront please go and read about the Taliban before repeating Fox news.
Taliban is an indigenous Afghan movement made up of mostly ethnic Pashtuns, midwifed by Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency to put an end to a civil war and fill a vacuum left by the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan. Mullah Omar consolidated his power with the title of Amir-ul-Mumineen (Supreme Commander of the Faithful) in the "Islamic Emirate" of Afghanistan, a medieval theocratic dictatorship and pitiless inquisition.
Bin Laden, expelled from Sudan in 1996 by combined U.S., European and Saudi pressure, opted to return to his old stomping grounds in Afghanistan while Omar was still consolidating his civil war victory.
As was pointed out above the Taliban Agreed To Extradite Osama Bin Laden To Another Country.
According to the Telegraph, the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, was notified in advance of the mission to meet Mullah Omar. A US official has been quoted as saying that 'casting the objectives too narrowly would risk a premature collapse of the international effort if by some lucky chance Mr bin Laden were captured'. (FT, 20 Sept., p. 7) Perhaps a US veto killed the deal.
posted by adamvasco at 3:09 AM on June 30, 2010

@adamvasco the US and Taliban held talks in UBL beginning in the late 90s following the African Embasy incidents and USS Cole. We profferred a number of 3rd party extradition scenarios. The Taliban elements that indicated we would have an agreement never delivered. The Taliban are not a monolithic group, they have factions and differing points view.
I do not think the good faith existed between the us and Taliban for those discussions to have been anywhere near the signed agreement you describe.
posted by humanfont at 6:55 AM on June 30, 2010

Please stop with the @ crap.
May 2001 The Covert - US Taliban Alliance . I think you do not see the man behind the curtain.
posted by adamvasco at 8:03 AM on June 30, 2010

griphus, I read Flashman on recommendations from this AskMe and had a very similar reaction. You may enjoy (for certain values of enjoy) some of the other recommendations. (Actually, I was glad I read Flashman before The Great Game or Tournament of Shadows.)
posted by epersonae at 5:24 PM on June 30, 2010

"This is an excellently detailed article . . ."

... with a firm knowledge of history, granted. Why? Because Dalrymple is a historian... one promoting an upcoming book on, in his words, "the First Anglo-Afghan War and the parallels with the present". One would almost think that Dalrymple made the judgment that linking a past historic failure with modern-day fears regarding the Afghanistan conflict could help him gain attention and sell some books.

Too bad Dalrymple is consistently in error regarding the actual facts on the ground, though.

"(The US/NATO occupation, like the British in the past, will) terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow."

False. The facts are that the US and NATO now have far more troops in field, along with an increased level of contractor assistance and a vastly larger Afghan National Army and police presence.

"One year ago the Afghan National Army was failing," said USN Capt. Mark R. Hagerott, an advisor to the NATO Training Mission in Kabul. But now, "the Taliban are on their back heels in the Southern part of Afghanistan.. . . while they fight US forces, they can’t attack the army and police training sites."

In the past 6 months there has only been one major attack on a NATO training facility, while NATO forces are on track to meet their recruiting and training goals with another 15,000 Afghani troops to be ready by October, up to a total of 134K. That, in itself, is about half the size of the US troop level increase occurring over the next year.

"the once-hated Taliban, far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal's surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai's western-installed puppet government."

Except, of course, that Karzai has a much stronger, better armed, trained, and paid army and police force than he has ever had, while the Taliban are having more of a problem actually fielding an army than they did in the past, to the point that they now are relying more on terrorist attacks, which threaten to alienate their civilian support. The Taliban now have to worry about -- and even fight -- warlord factions that are willing to split off from the resistance and make peace with the government. Meanwhile, the leadership for the Taliban are being captured or killed by effective use of special forces troops, combined with surprisingly good intel -- 130 in the last four months.

Oh... and Karzai also has NATO backing him up, and actually bringing the fight to the Taliban, too.

"The Taliban have now advanced out of their borderland safe havens to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital."

Which is something they've done pretty much every year of this conflict so far, with their spring/summer offensives. This year, they've relied far more on small suicide teams for their worst damage, rather than on large military attacks.

"The Taliban already control more than 70 per cent of the country"
False. In a report to Parliament earlier this month, the acting interior minister, Munir Mangal, said that while only 8 districts are under Taliban control, another 114 are “high threat” districts. That is about 30 percent of the country... not all of which is under full Taliban control.. . Perhaps Dalrymple shouldn't cite 19 month-old reports from the Bush era written by a former Chief Researcher/speech writer for Britain's Liberal Democrats? I mean, I support the bulk of LibDem's political philosophy, but do they -- like the Conservatives and the Labour Party -- have their people and their think tanks who shape the data to their advantage? Yes, they do.

Do you know the criteria for what this group calls "Taliban control"? It is this... "provinces that average one (or more) insurgent attack (lethal and non-lethal) per week."

Even if you ignore the fact that NATO is intentionally bringing the fight to the enemy and actually *WANTS* them to attack in order to get rid of the threat, rather than just chase it off... as a way of estimating actual control over a region, this is an absolutely absurd metric.

These are BIG provinces with irregular borders. Control over a region that could be hundreds of miles across, based on attacks elsewhere is nuts. By their definition, if NATO goes into a region and manages to flush out and kill a bunch of Taliban, the very act of them doing this would make it a "Taliban-controlled" region. In fact, their metric is so monumentally wrong that according to their own metrics, Kabul is already controlled by the Taliban... and, according to Dalrymple's logic, capable of being taxed and growing opium for the Taliban en masse.

"it appears that the Taliban have regained control of the opium-growing centre of Marjah"

False. Resistance in and around the region has been determined, but the NATO presence and operations continue there, with an increasing sphere of secured territory, as the Taliban are forced into more remote regions of a very large area. The military also cites that because the Taliban has been tied down near Marjah and cannot safely use it as a base to launch attacks from, attacks in the nearby Garmsir and Nawa districts have fallen by more than half in the past year.

"Afghanistan is going down."

It seems bizarre to acknowledge the fact that many of the troops for the US military buildup have only recently arrived in country. It's hard to point to the failure of a plan that has only started to unfold, and that was only announced on Dec. 1st.

The simple fact is this:

If the current plan were working, we would expect US/NATO forces to send their troops into the Taliban territory, at which point, casualties for both sides would increase.

If, however, the Taliban were on the verge of toppling Kabul, we would expect the Taliban to send their troops into the city on raids, be shelling it, etc. We'd expect NATO forces to be driven back, and casualties for both sides to increase.

...and if that's the case, I sure would like to know where the Taliban's ground forces are. You can't overthrow a government with pipebombs, but without organized ground troops.

All the doom-and-gloom assessments I have seen about Afghanistan lately tell me one main thing... our troops are out there engaging the enemy on their territory, fighting more, killing more, and dying more, while training up a ton of Afghan army troops, who, hopefully, will be capable of fighting when our troops finally pull out. Frankly, that last element of the plan is arguably the most important and least certain, but if it happens, it will likely be the least bad alternative for the Afghan people, and should save thousands of lives. Hopefully, it will work. It's almost certainly worth a shot.

"Let's take that as the truth for the sake of debate. . . Is that our* (meaning America's) problem?"

If the Taliban create a safe haven for anti-US, anti-Pakistani, anti-Indian, and anti-Russian terrorist groups? Yes, it probably is / will become our problem

If the US backs out in a way that unnecessarily endangers the civilian population or leaves Afghanistan without a legitimate government? That, too, can be viewed as "our problem" according to international law.

This is part of the reason why you had people like Colin Powell saying that if we broke Iraq with our invasion, we would own it... which is a huge burden he wisely warned against.

"Assuming . . .. that it is our problem, do you think that the American public will accept "Saving Afghans from their fellow Afghans" as a compelling argument for why their sons and daughters should go all the way around the world to die . ..?"

They already have for damn near a decade. The problem being that we never had any kind of realistic, rational plan for winning that conflict until this point.

According to the basics of counterinsurgency, you're supposed to have a certain amount of troops to counter a certain amount of insurgents. The US and its allies have *NEVER* had that. Even now, we might still be undermanned. That's where the NATO assistance, contractors, and extensive training of Afghan troops comes in. Hopefully it will work. From a counterinsurgency perspective, it makes a whole lot more sense than what we were seeing beforehand.

"Assuming . . . A and B, for how long can we afford it?"

Given than we're drawing down troops beginning next year, apparently... it might not be a huge issue. Afghanistan is not a huge, insurmountable part of the military budget. Certainly not in comparison to how vast the military budget in itself is. If we can't afford Afghanistan after it starts becoming a smaller part of our total expenditures, then the fact is, there is a ton of other things that will have gotten us to that point first.

Public opinion being what it is, it is very unlikely he would take a significant political hit by gradually drawing down US force strength in Afghanistan, as promised. Indeed, he has very little choice, in that other nations will certainly begin doing so, and US forces are unable to take their place.

The thing is, I was against going into both Iraq *AND* Afghanistan. Both were strategically unwise decisions, given a wide range of better options. However, the fact remains that US forces will be there for awhile, and that the drawdown won't be until next year at the earliest. I honestly expect it to happen, despite the cynicism expressed by others.

But given the options... losing a couple hundred more US troops and having a fairly good chance of a stable government vs. another decade of civil war for Afghanistan, followed by decades of radical Islamic leadership that harbors terrorist movements, well... let's just say that I can wait at least another six months or so, to see whether progress is actually being made.

Just because I don't like a war doesn't mean I'm ridiculous/stupid/partisan enough to ignore all rational arguments to the contrary and assume that there is no way of exiting the conflict with a stable government in place.
posted by markkraft at 6:26 PM on June 30, 2010

In conversation with Christopher Lydon, “The war has lost all semblance of shape or form.”
posted by unliteral at 7:57 PM on June 30, 2010

markkraft, I dispute your"facts" given above with your links from sources with vested interests.
The Afghan Army has many ongoing issues including endemic corruption, 25% disertion rate and heavy loss of equipment. It has also been suggested that the Tajik Grip on the Afghan Army signals the possibility of a new ethnic war as the butcher warlord Dostum makes another power bid. It is interesting that he did not attend the recent Peace Jirga, considering as he is the Chief of Staff.
On Taliban controlled Afghanistan I suggest looking at this map from International Council on Security and Development (ICOS). The area with 80% control seems to my eye to be about 75% of the country.
However it could all be coming full circle if the US's intent to declare victory and leave requires someone to be the 'keeper', as it were, of Afghanistan. The ISI has volunteered itself for this role.
(The book Dalrymple is pushing is his latest publication Nine Lives)
posted by adamvasco at 12:18 AM on July 1, 2010

From that article you cited, unliteral:

"I’ll be amazed if the Taliban aren’t in Kabul by the end of the year."

I'll be amazed if anyone... any single person here on MeFi... would think it wise to take that bet. My $100 against your $50. Will accept up to $50K total in bets.

William Dalrymple's sense of reality has lost all semblance of shape or form. Meanwhile, there are *maybe* 2000 dedicated, fighting Taliban in the entirety of Afghanistan at any one time.

This is hardly Yorktown for them, with the enemy surrounded and cut off. It's more like Valley Forge, where they're freezing and down to a handful of dedicated fighters at the core. The difference being, they don't have Washington, Thomas Paine, etc. They have Tweedledee -- as opposed to Karzai's Tweedledum -- and they increasingly rely on indiscriminate terrorist attacks that kill civilians, because they increasingly can't afford massed attacks with ground forces.

That, to me, seems like the big difference. They're being pushed back from those regions that could help to support them, both financially and otherwise, and increasingly cut off from help from Pakistan, but all they have as a way of countering this is bombs, death threats against their own people, and a likely-to-be unsustainable effort to keep up visible signs of resistance.

Indeed, they have to keep up futile, costly attacks against a well-defended enemy, because they know that things won't start going their way unless the Americans and NATO start pulling out... so they need to keep up the appearance that they still have teeth until that point, because ultimately their only chance of winning is to convince Afghans that the US cannot win, and that they can't afford to support them.

I think people labor under the notion that there are a lot of Taliban out there, even though the facts don't support that conclusion.

If I were the Taliban, I would be very, very concerned about all those new Afghan troops that are being trained up... and the fact that those troops just did a really convincing job defending a military base and helping ambush a bunch of Taliban near the mountain passes to Pakistan. I would also be concerned as to how low my numbers would be getting as winter approaches, and where, exactly, will be a safe haven this winter. Fighting typically dies down over winter, but crossing over to Pakistan will likely be far less safe than it used to be on both sides of the border, and the US will likely have thousands of extra troops capable of taking the fight to them even in the dead of winter, which is a pretty new thing.

Really, for Dalrymple to say in his interview that Kabul and some other parts of Afghanistan are no longer safe for foreigners to walk around unescorted completely misses the point... especially since he hasn't been anywhere near where the troops are conducting their missions. It's not safe for foreigners to walk through Baghdad either, but that hardly means that the government is going to fall the moment the US leaves.

Ultimately, the Karzai government doesn't have to be perfect. It just needs to be better than the alternative.
posted by markkraft at 12:39 AM on July 1, 2010

...and they don't seem to have too many problems with financing.
posted by adamvasco at 12:52 AM on July 1, 2010

"I dispute your"facts" given above with your links from sources with vested interests."

Which vested interests are you referring to? The New York Times? Wikipedia? The Financial Times -- a paper which endorsed Barack Obama and has been accused of being anti-Israel? Or the citation I made which pointed out that Dalrymple's statement about how much of Afghanistan the Taliban control is complete ridiculous bollocks, by linking to the exact source he cited?

Perhaps you're referring to my citation of crimesofwar.org, which, admittedly, is a very anti-war site, albeit one that neatly summarized some of the legal obligations of occupation. But given that you cited an article from anti-war.com , written by the guy who cited Khmer Rouge press releases in order to justify their actions, while subsequently denying the massacres of Pol Pot and the killings and brutalities inflicted on the South Vietnamese, which several of my Vietnamese friends and co-workers fled from, facing the possibility of starvation at sea rather than the near certainty of being victimized, well... let's just say I don't like your sources either.

You mention corruption, which I certainly don't dispute, but the issue is, "corruption compared to what?" To getting bombed, hung, or tortured to death by the drug-smuggling Taliban? There are no angels there.

"25% disertion (sic) rate"

That is based on data that doesn't necessarily reflect the current situation, before salary increases and increased security for troop training. (Surprisingly, fewer fresh recruits bug out when they are paid well and the training facilities aren't getting routinely attacked.)

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told ABC's "This Week" program that the July 2011 drawdown date was "firm," adding that Washington was seeing signs that the Afghan government was making headway on security.

"for the first time in eight years, nine years, they're actually meeting their police recruitment requirements as well as their army recruitment requirements."
- Rahm Emmanuel, last Sunday on ABC

"iOn Taliban controlled Afghanistan I suggest looking at this map from International Council on Security and Development (ICOS)."

You mean I should look at another map from the organization that, as I pointed out, is run by a rather leftist British political operative, and, as I also pointed out, bases its estimate of Taliban-controlled territory on "provinces that average one (or more) insurgent attack (lethal and non-lethal) per week", which is an incredibly, obviously flawed methodology?

You did read my original post, right? You're not just repeating something ridiculous because you have a chart in front of your face?

Hey adam... my pie chart says the government controls 75% of something-or-other! Who could deny that "logic"?!
posted by markkraft at 1:39 AM on July 1, 2010

(In fact, Adam, I have it on good authority that it's actually over 9000!)

It's telling that this organization doesn't actually hint to their methodology on their maps anymore... specifically, the sea of insurgent and civilian fatalities that only hurt the Taliban's ability to wage the war and win over the Afghan people. I have more faith in this poll, frankly... even though I still get the feeling that it's overly rosy, and would not be the least surprised if poll numbers had gone down somewhat, due to the offensives. Lots of conflict isn't popular, usually, but that doesn't mean that it's necessarily futile, especially if it is bundled with increased reconstruction.

Really, anyone who thought that increasing troop levels and advancing the conflict into the enemy's territory wouldn't increase casualties in the short-to-medium term is simply not being realistic about the nature of war. It's still far from a certain thing as to what will happen. That said, even if the US can't shift the ground position so that Karzai can negotiate from a position of strength and form a ruling coalition after the US leaves, the fact will remain that he will likely be the strongest, best-armed, most financially supported faction in Afghanistan, while a lot of the recruitment ability/rationale of the Taliban will almost certainly recede once the US aren't around.

Even if Karzai & Co. don't become a national government, they will still, essentially, be the Northern Alliance, and will still maintain control over the capital. Given their strength, it's entirely possible that they could ink a defacto truce, in exchange for granting significant tribal autonomy over Pashtun regions of Afghanistan. If there isn't a national government, eventually, there almost certainly will be some form of a Mexican standoff. Even before the war, the Northern Alliance, though outarmed and outgunned, was holding onto most of its heartland. Dalrymple's notion of rapid, complete collapse just doesn't make any military or strategic sense whatsoever, and it's based, fundamentally, on several flawed premises.
posted by markkraft at 2:11 AM on July 1, 2010

"...and they don't seem to have too many problems with financing."

Admittedly, this wasn't great news when it broke about a week ago. That said, it wasn't necessarily the worst, either, especially if you read the source material for this story.

Money for the enemy?

Money for the enemy regional warlords and tribal leaders not to attack convoys and the like, occasionally?
Well, that was pretty much the strategy that helped pacify the Sunni region in Iraq, wasn't it? Hell... it probably bought more for less.

The paper suggests that warlords were the primary recipient of that protection money. That said, not all warlords are Taliban... especially along the main supply routes running north from Kabul.

Even if leaders affiliated with the Taliban got a piece of this money, that is far from necessarily meaning that it will be spent on attacking the US. Everyone is out to make money in that kind of environment, and there are plenty of corrupt Taliban leaders too, because that's just the nature of business.

While it's good that this has been made public so that something can be done about it, the amount of protection $$ being paid out was far from an exceptional amount considering just how much money there is in the opium trade. Controlling that aspect of Taliban funding will make a much more pronounced difference, really.
posted by markkraft at 2:46 AM on July 1, 2010

I think we are about done here.
Which vested interests are you referring to?
The US government ruling power clique and their backers would not want the alternate version of what is happening in the region to be trumpeted by MSM. It would hasten the controlled "draw down" previously know as a retreat, into a rout.
Afghanistan is a loose conglomeration of tribes; and they will all fight (and definitely not aid) the foreign incursor. The peasant doesn't count. The internal strife will continue over control of resources, opium, pipelines , minerals. The outsider will not be able to conquer feudalism by blowing up their weddings.
It might do better by saying we will do business with you if you start letting some schools and medical centres exist and start reincluding women in your society; but global business has never had much morality.
We now have the "Its going to get worse before it gets better" statements being made by Obama and the military but hey the're going home next year and not before time.
As Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey indicates we are now at the beginning of the end. The rest is posturing political bullshit. Bush ignored Afghanistan and Obama is trying to keep the cojones to get out of the mess. I hope he succeeds. The country across the Atlantic from Europe has so much become the evil empire over the past decade that it is going to be a hell of a task to regain credibility. As I postulated in the FPP "Why are we in Afghanistan" I have yet to see a point by point explication as to why US, UK and NATO needs to throw more lives and more treasure to polish the egos and fill the bank accounts of a bunch of neocon fuckwits.
posted by adamvasco at 4:15 AM on July 1, 2010

Pashtunwali is that traditional "Way of the Pashtuns". It's their code of honor that they've been living by since roughly the time of Alexander the Great.

Among aspects of this code include "Hospitality". If anyone, even your own enemy, comes to you and claims protection from his enemies you are bound to take him in and defend him. When Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell was the lone survivor of his SEAL team after an firefight, Pashtun villagers took him in and defended him from the Taliban demanding they turn him over. He was later rescued. Many people pointed out that Osama Bin Laden was a "guest" in Pashtun territory, and he violated their hospitality by making war on the US.

But there' another aspect of Pashtunwali that's important here: revenge. When wronged, Pashtuns are required by their cultural laws to take revenge against the wrong doer, or their closest male relative. Generational tribal fueds get started like this.

As retired CIA agent Bob Baer mentions in Pt6 of th Rethink Afghanistan movie (linked above):
Pashtunwali means I will be your friend so long as you do no invade my woman's dressing room, my house, my family compound, or my country. Do any of those and it's on like Donkey Kong and it doesn't stop until I am avenged and you are driven out. And if I die, my sons and nephews and cousins will carry on the fight.
I paraphrase.

But the moment the first American military boot set foot on Afghan soil we were automatically at war with basically the entire Pashtun people.

We've been blowing up wedding parties, kicking in doors, pointed guns at women in their own homes, driving around in armored tanks like we own the place and have some right to be there.

"The Taliban" are not our only problem. There are lots of Pashtuns who have joined the Taliban simply to kill the invaders who are killing their cousins and pointing guns at their women in their own houses. At the end of Behind Taliban Lines Najibhullah asks a couple of fighters why they're fighting, and they answer "Because America invaded us. Go home and we'll stop fighting".

The pro-war faction hates this analogy, but it's the absolute truth: in Afghanistan today America/Nato are the Cuban/Nicaraguan/Soviets, the Pashtuns are the Wolverines.

There's little to no evidence that the Pashtuns actually want a central national government, much less the corrupt, Warlord-linked one we're trying to force them to accept a legitimate. In fact, corruption is one of the biggest complaints among Afghans. Look at the other, non-Obama related quotes from the Rolling Stone article. The soldiers implementing COIN don't believe in it, especially they nation-building part. McChrystal's people all have what borders on contempt for American diplomats and their part of the mission.

COIN's not working and the central lynch pin (popular support for the government) is quite likely fundamentally unachievable in Afghanistan.

COIN is not only an untried military doctrine that can't point to a single real-world success in defeating a local resistance movement and setting up a government, but COIN hinges on getting the population to accept and ally with the government under the idea that the government will protect them better than the rebels. This is not in the cards.

So faced with a COIN strategy that has (by it's own definition) close to a 0% chance of succeeding in Afghanistan, on top of a culture that teaches it's young that
When you grow up you will take your father's gun and go kill American soldiers as payback for invading our country, dishonoring our women, and blowing up the neighbor's wedding parties for so many years...
What then?

As long as we have troops on the ground in Afghanistan, we will be attacked militarily by the Pashtuns. That "Afghan national army" people keep bringing up, they're mostly non-Pashtuns from the north, so they're not particularly welcome to bring their guns into Pashtun territory either.

The people who are advocating staying till we "get the job done" (a still undefined and unclear subject) are advocating we engage in bloody, murderous tribal retribution with the Pashtuns that will go on for generations, all for the point of avoiding looking like America got beaten by a bunch of sandal-clad peasants AGAIN.

There is no spiking the football, there is no endzone dance for us.

But there's still a chance to drive out like the Soviets in an orderly withdrawal rather than reenact the scene from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:47 AM on July 1, 2010

Correction: the discussion of Pashtunwali is in this link, and it's not Baer. Same message, tho.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:56 AM on July 1, 2010

Taliban execute 7 year old boy for spying

Also I should note that in counter insurgency the number of your soldiers being killed actually tends to correlate to a higher probability of mission success. This results from the fact that your forces are enaging the enemy in firefights, rather than waiting in the barracks while civilians are being terrorized.

Finally some positive news not mentioned on this thread.
Villagers in Gizab -- A grouup of afghans in Gizab rose up against the Taliban and managed to reassert the authority of tribal elders.
New legislation on empowering local militias -- previously coin operations have been conducted by NATO and afghan army forces. However the afghan army is made up pf people who are typically not local to the area. A new law in Afghanistan allows NATO to arm local militias. The goal is to create a network of local militia forces at the village level who are cpmpensated by the central government instead of the local warlord or Taliban. In essense we are pursuing a strategy of displace the Taliban, and then building a local militia to replace them. Rather thn previous plans of bring in some essentially foreign afghan army guys.
Todays capture of the district commander in Hemland and the successful operation in Kunar. Futhermore we ache approval to move forward with the major offensive in the regions around Kandahar.
posted by humanfont at 8:28 PM on July 1, 2010

The Big Picture: Afghanistan, June, 2010
posted by homunculus at 9:13 PM on July 1, 2010

Neil Sheehan's A Bright And Shining Lie describes the Battle of Ap Bac in early 1963. It's one of the incidents that illustrates how the US couldn't win the Vietnam War. (Incompetent puppet government, more committed "insurgents.")

Back in April US troops pulled out of the Korengal Valley (AKA "Valley of Death") after trying to secure it for five years. The Taliban immediately took over. The valley is six miles long and a half-mile wide.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:44 PM on July 1, 2010

Taliban execute 7 year old boy for spying

Tragic, horrendous, monstrous. But it's not an excuse to occupy a foreign country.

If it were, we'd send the army down into Mexico. The drug gangs down there are chopping people up, burning people alive, and running paramilitary operations just over the border (and according to some, across it).

And by the way, the drone pilots in Nevada, they bombers constantly overhead, the itchy trigger fingers at the roadblocks, they're racking up a ~50-1 innocent civilian/badguy kill ratio with their boom-making. American tools of death (and they attendant displacement and suffering) kill more innocent afghans every year than were killed in the Sept 11th, 2001 attacks. And this war is in it's eighth year.

So aside from generating that much more ill-will and anti-American recruits among those who saw their little siblings in six bloody pieces in the living room, your appeal to Think of the Afghan children! in order to push for more war and killing is distasteful and smacks of moral hypocrisy. I would counsel against it's use as an argument.

Also I should note that in counter insurgency the number of your soldiers being killed actually tends to correlate to a higher probability of mission success.

I should note that up thread I addressed the fact that COIN is an untested theory with no real-world track record, that we're not actually pursuing a COIN strategy in Afghanistan (all war, everything else in the back seat), and how it's central linchpin is, by all available evidence, unachievable in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns don't accept either the border with Pakistan or the national government as legitimate, but creations of outsiders who don't get a say in how Pashtuns (the reigning World Champions at resisting foreign invasion and domination) live their lives.

Oh, and even if COIN had a proven track-record in the real world, we're not sending enough troops to do COIN according to the (untested) theory says are necessary for it to work.

But we've still got the increased casualties.

Villagers in Gizab

Eight years worth of war, death, and billions of dollars down the hole. Hamid Karzai is the Mayor of Kabul and not much more. And the Gizab revolt is worth squeeing over?

This article points out that:
-The western soldiers have already left, leaving the "Gizab Good-Guys" on their own. They should ask the southern Shia how that worked out for them after Gulf War 1.0
-They've gotten no support from the Mayor's Office in Kabul. No money, no deputy's badges, nada.
-This in not some unique "We're with the American's now!" moment, but part of a historical pattern in the back and forth ebb & flow of power relations in the area.

Props to the Gizabis, but one swallow does not a summer make. And I can point to a whole lot of "snow" on the ground.

A new law in Afghanistan allows NATO to arm local militias. The goal is to create a network of local militia forces at the village level who are cpmpensated by the central government instead of the local warlord or Taliban. In essense we are pursuing a strategy of displace the Taliban, and then building a local militia to replace them.

The last time they called in "Vietnamization" during the last quagmire. I nominate "Afghanifying the conflict" for this generation's quagmire.

Quotes from Gen. McChrystal's own staff & inner circle from the RS article:
-"We're fucking losing this thing"
Staff. Sgt.Kennith Hicks
-"The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perteptrated on the American people"
Douglas MacGregor, Retired Colonel
-"It is not going to look like a win, smell like a win, or taste like a win"
Maj. General Bill Mayville, Chief of Operations for Gen. McChrystal
-"If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular"
-Unnamed senior advisor to Gen. McChrystal

It's time to Rethink Afghanistan.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2010

The more you compare this to Vietnam the more ignorant you look. This is an entirely different terrain, the organization of the enemy is different as are their funding and operational capabilities. The principle failure in Vietnam was attempting to not recreate Korea; in seeking to avoid Vietnam we've created a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that we've embarked on a better startegy, things will turn around.

The point of the Gizab article is that the local people have said that they know how to take care of the Taliban, all they lack is the appropriate support from the central government and US Special Forces to act. They have repeatedly cleaned up their town only to be neglected. If you'd read the article and done bit more research you would have learned that with our new strategy we are working to actually support these people in a more effective way than previously and it is showing results. The new militia law allows us to empower and train these locals who are willing to act against the Taliban. In fact the entire failure in Korengal Valley was the result of failing to provide the locals with the tools they needed to defend themselves and instead making them rely on Afghan Army and poorly trained police while a small contingent of US troops repeatedly drew Taliban into the valley. Further complicating matters in Korengal was that it held little strategic value in terms of the broader COIN operations in the county. We will be back in Korengal in the future this time with a better plan for the valley.

The network that sustains the Taliban command structures is eroding and traditional authority is returning. We've captured 186 senior Taliban Commanders in the last 3 months and are making significant progress to isolate remaining leaders in the field from major population centers and make it difficult for them to find a safe haven in remote villages.
posted by humanfont at 10:01 AM on July 2, 2010

Now that we've embarked on a better startegy, things will turn around.

Stay strong, Canute. The tides of history dare not wash up and touch the hem of your robe.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:34 AM on July 2, 2010

Rory Stewart in the LRB :The Irresistible Illusion and recently in Der Spiegel concludes : -
European countries feel trapped by their relationship with NATO and the United States. Holbrooke and Obama feel trapped by the position of American generals. And everyone -- politicians, generals, diplomats and journalist -- feels trapped by our grand theories and beset by the guilt of having already lost over a thousand NATO lives, spent a hundred billion dollars and made a number of promises to Afghans and the West which we are unlikely to be able to keep.
So powerful are these cultural assumptions, these historical and economic forces and these psychological tendencies, that even if every world leader privately concluded the operation was unlikely to succeed, it is almost impossible to imagine the US or its allies halting the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan in the years to come. Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa may have been in a similar position during the Third Crusade. Former US President Lyndon B. Johnson certainly was in 1963. Europe is simply in Afghanistan because America is there. America is there just because it is. And all our policy debates are scholastic dialectics to justify this singular but not entirely comprehensible fact.
posted by adamvasco at 10:41 AM on July 2, 2010

America is in Afghanistan because we were repeatedly attacked by men who made their home there and after 6 years of esclating attacks culminating with 9-11 we made the very clear determination that to protect our many national interests we would have to resort to using our trillion dollar war machine. Europe is there because US and European interests are aligned through economic, diplomatic and military channels.

This is a war about the nature of the world we will live in for the next 50 years. In every long war there are groups who make the same arguments about the impossibility of it all.

Had this been 1942 you'd be talking about the shattered wreck of our fleet and our unpreparedness to engage with the Japanese and how we should just let them have China and Korea. You'd say the Philipines were part of our imperial legacy and we'd best just let it go.
posted by humanfont at 3:05 PM on July 2, 2010

You might be interested to note that Rory Stewart, who you just cited, points out the progress that has been made, generally agrees with the current plan, doesn't want a large reduction of troops immediately, and thinks it would be best to have a longterm -- albeit lighter -- military presence in Afghanistan.

"I think most people would be in favor of troop increase or withdrawal... black or white solutions. I think actually, a country like Afghanistan requires patience and time."

Really, if anyone has a good idea where we should go in regards to Afghanistan, he should, considering that he's walked clear across Afghanistan, has written books on the subject, and has worked there on projects that actually help the Afghan people economically.
posted by markkraft at 3:15 PM on July 2, 2010

The simple fact is, while a lot of generals would love to continue aggressive military operations in Afghanistan for years, with some still chafing about how they've had their hands tied, with less access to airstrikes and other rules designed to limit civilian casualties, the politicians and State Department appear to be winning the argument overall. Part of the reason for this is that a drawdown is more politically supportable and sustainable.

We even see a pretty clear sign of this within Congress, where billions of dollars for the Afghanistan government appears to be contingent upon anti-corruption efforts on the part of their government.

This isn't a reality that the black & white anti-war side is the least bit willing to accept. From their point-of-view, achieving the best possible outcome for the people of Afghanistan is of no value. Indeed, their arguments are hypocritical, as they sometimes claim that Afghanistan is of no strategic value, even as they talk about its value for pipelines or untapped raw materials. Of course, they only cite such things in terms of a capitalist conspiracy, as opposed to something that could help one of the world's most resource-poor nations increase the standard-of-living for its people.

What they don't talk about, ironically, is what's best for the actual people of Afghanistan themselves, or the obligations of their countries to try to fix what they broke. One can only assume that they feel that another decade of civil war and a desent into backwards poverty and radical Islam is what's best for the Afghani people, because anything else would come at a cost, and would require actually paying attention to the advice of those who know the situation best.
posted by markkraft at 3:33 PM on July 2, 2010

Sangin troop withdrawal: Four years in hell, and Taliban remain undefeated.
posted by adamvasco at 1:16 AM on July 7, 2010

Who are the Taliban?
Despite ever higher numbers of foreign troops, the Taliban have steadily extended their influence, rendering vast tracts of Afghanistan insecure, and violence in the country has returned to levels not seen since 2001.
posted by adamvasco at 4:35 AM on July 10, 2010

Tariq Ali talks about why the war is unwinnable and can only lead to a bloody stalemate. - From London Review of Books four videos comprising an April lecture. Articulate and informative.
posted by adamvasco at 11:54 PM on July 10, 2010

Nato's counterinsurgency tactic shows no signs of success, says Afghanistan NGO Security Office.
posted by adamvasco at 2:03 PM on July 18, 2010

Pakistan-Afghan Trade Deal Announced

Afghan Army Leads operation in Hemland Province

Also the Three cups of tea guy is coming. You really think these guys have a chance against Greg Mortensen?

Counter insurgencies have been successful in many places. There is no reason to suggest that we can't succeed here. The benefits to the Afghan people and the United States will outweigh the costs of this campaign. In conclusion we will prevail in Afghanistan. Iraq is a good example. Things are not great there, but we are now in a position to leave a functioning government that can consolidate and stabilize things over time. The Al Qaeda in Iraq folks are mostly gone and certainly no longer hold domination over the Suni's as they did a couple of years ago. Factional fighting remains, but one can see a path to stability that doesn't involve continued occupation. The same thing will happen in Afghanistan over the next 18-24 months. Ultimately we can pull back and let the country govern itself in a fashion that moves toward stability on terms the ensure we don't have to go back in the place to clear terror training camps out again.
posted by humanfont at 10:11 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

From your NYT link
Mr. Mortenson thinks there is no military solution in Afghanistan
posted by adamvasco at 2:57 AM on July 19, 2010

"Mr. Mortenson thinks there is no military solution in Afghanistan"

Um... so does the White House and the generals.

Oh, and before you use Mr. Mortenson for cover on your POV, you may want to note that he had a few choice words to say about how the Taliban are doing recently, while on Bill Moyers:

GREG MORTENSON: Originally the Taliban were somewhat, as you mentioned, somewhat more ideological. We saw them as an ideological kind of monolithic entity. But today the Taliban have turned, become more criminal. The Taliban are getting less Saudi funding now, so they're doing more extortion, heroin trafficking, illicit lumber trafficking, kidnapping, crime. What's interesting, too, is having been on the ground for many years, I've seen a shift in where people are starting to turn against the Taliban in the last two years. As a militant entity, they had a lot of support. But they're not able to deliver healthcare, education, roads, and the things that most people want, and peace. . .

BILL MOYERS: Well, what does the Taliban want? What is their goal?

GREG MORTENSON: Well, the Taliban want-- it's a little different than Al Qaeda. The Taliban want the imposition of Sharia law, in their version, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The trouble is, though--

BILL MOYERS: And that is religious law.

GREG MORTENSON: Islamic law. But having spoken to some of the actual Sharia experts, Sharia law actually doesn't say that women should be hurt and harmed and marginalized. It doesn't say they should commit suicide. It doesn't, in fact-- there's very implicit laws in Sharia about the right of land ownership for women. There's implicit laws about treating children, women, with respect. So they've again used illiteracy as a way to impose their own virulent, you know, militant kind of ideology. And most people are really getting sick and tired of the Taliban.

BILL MOYERS: Should we think there's progress or should we think of things going to hell there?

GREG MORTENSON: I tend to be an optimist. So here's the good news, Bill. The first thing is the number of kids in school has gone up ten times in the last decade to 8.5 million children. There's a central banking system in Afghanistan since 2006, which has been huge. There's a road building program, about 80 percent of the roads have been built now from north to south and east to west. It's like building a road from Minneapolis to Dallas and D.C. to-- or New York to LA. Now, that's maybe 70 percent of the way done. There are 80,000 troops trained now, the Afghan Army. The goal is 180,000. And some more interesting things are if you go into the district courts, you'll see the number of women filing titles and deeds for land ownership is skyrocketing. And I think that's a real important thing to note. . I think the U.S., we're-- we've been far too busy in the last two decades trying to plug in democracy in the world. And you cannot plug in democracy. We have to build democracy.

So, basically, you selectively cited Rory Stewart as an expert to back your argument... but he argued for patience and time. You've cited those polls from ICOS... despite the fact that they called for greatly increased troop levels in the south back in 2008.

And of course, you selectively cited Greg Mortenson... and he's called for patience and time. He's also made it very clear that we need to realize what we are fighting for is worth something to the hopes and long term future of tens of millions of Afghan people.

"War is, it's a horrific thing. It's something that none of us want. In order to get information or work with the people, the military has to be exposed. . . the U.S. military, their primary mandate now is to build relationships with the people, embed, kind of walk the beat with the cops. And the problem with that, though, is our casualties are going to go way up. There's no way around it."

This, of course, was obvious to anyone who knew anything about the nature of conflict. You don't go into an enemy's home turf, take over their streets, shut down their ability to control the locals, and expect them not to fight.
posted by markkraft at 2:41 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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