Afghanistan: Where Empire Goes to Die

Discussion in 'Military' started by Sunni Man, Aug 25, 2008.

  1. Sunni Man
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    Sunni Man Diamond Member

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    A very good read.


    Afghanistan: Where Empire Goes to Die

    Posted by Michael Scheuer on August 17, 2008

    For nearly thirteen years between 1979 and 1992, the Central Intelligence Agency managed the U.S. government’s largest-ever covert action program in support of the Afghan mujahedin’s war to rid their country of Soviet occupiers and Afghan communists. The CIA learned many lessons from this experience, the most important also being one of the simplist: Money is much appreciated by the Afghans you work with, but it will not get them to do what you want done. Despite the billions of U.S. and Saudi dollars expended in support of the mujahedin, there was almost no occasion when the Afghan insurgents took orders from U.S., Saudi, or Pakistani officials as to the pace of combat, targets to be struck, or efforts toward political unification. Ever polite, the Afghans would take your money, offer thanks, and then do exactly what they wanted to do with no regard for your wishes. The idea that U.S., Saudi, or Pakistani intelligence officers “ran” the mujahedin is a fantasy; if anything, it was much closer to the other way around.

    And that was acceptable. The U.S. objective in Afghanistan was clear and simple: to paraphrase Admiral Halsey, the goal was to kill Soviets, kill Soviets, and kill more Soviets. What has come to be known as “Charlie Wilson’s War” had little or nothing to do with Afghan self-determination and democratic nation-building; it had everything to do with exacting revenge from Moscow for the role it played in defeating America in Vietnam. In this context, the CIA-run covert action program was a significant success: the Red Army withdrew in defeat in 1989; the Afghan communists were annihilated in 1992; the USSR suffered high casualties which caused societal problems; and Moscow’s Afghan war sped the bleeding of the already dying Soviet economy. The clear lesson for Washington was that the U.S. got what it paid for: dead Soviets, the Red Army’s defeat, and the USSR on the road to implosion. But the money it expended bought no control of the mujahedin, and no influence on how the postwar Afghan environment unfolded.

    Between the covert-action program’s end in 1992 and al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, this straightforward lesson was lost on the U.S. government and–unforgivably–inside the CIA as well. In the wake of what Osama bin Laden calls “the Tuesday of God’s glory,” George Tenet—then Director of Central Intelligence—came up with a scheme for Afghanistan that ignored CIA’s 1979-1992 experience and depended on buying the Afghans’ loyalty and obedience. This purchase, Tenet claimed, would be possible because of the Afghans’ avarice for money, an avarice so intense that they would, he and his senior officers told President Bush, sellout their religion, their tribal mores, and even their mothers for cold, hard Yankee dollars. (See Tenet’s own At the Center of the Storm, and, more important, Bob Woodward’s Bush at War.) A few hundred U.S. Special Forces, a similar number of CIA officers, U.S. airpower, and truckloads of cash, Tenet claimed, would allow America not only to buy victory but buy it in a way that limited U.S. casualties, ensured Afghans bled for U.S. interests, and paved the way for building a democratic Afghanistan.

    So what did airpower, a few thousand U.S. personnel, and many millions of dollars buy America? Well, Mr. Tenet’s plan bought control of the Afghan cities—which each foreign invader of Afghanistan since 300 BCE has easily won—while allowing the Taleban, al-Qaeda, and their allies to flee to the Afghan mountains, Pakistan, and elsewhere to prepare to fight another day. Ignoring not only CIA’s experience, but also that of the British and Soviet attempts to defeat an Afghan foe and occupy the country, the United States by mid-2002 found itself controlling the major Afghan cities, protecting Karzai’s puppet regime that ruled no farther that Kabul’s environs, and facing an undefeated and rebuilding Islamist insurgency based beyond its reach in a Pakistani safe haven. These factors were dominant by late-2002 and have steadily worsened. Today, the Taleban al-Qaeda, their allies, and an increasing flow of non-Afghan Muslim fighters from across the Islamic world have seized the initiative from a too-small-for-Afghanistan—which is bigger than Texas—U.S.-led military coalition made up of American, British, Canadian, and Australian fighters and a large number of pseudo-military European well-diggers, medical inoculators, police trainers and school-house builders.

    There have been two foreign military operations that have worked in Afghanistan. The first was led by Alexander the Great in 329 BC, and his army faced many of the same problems now confronting the U.S.-led coalition: hit-and-run attacks, intense tribalism, the Afghans’ seemingly innate talent for insurgent warfare, impenetrable terrain, xenophobia, and the enemy’s determination not to stand and fight to the finish. Alexander solved his quandary by applying a combination of annihilating military action whenever possible with a process of planting communities of Greek colonists in Afghanistan. (The book to read on Alexander’s Afghan campaign is Frank L. Holt’s Into the Land of Bones.)

    The other successful foreign military campaign in Afghanistan was conducted in Britain’s Second Afghan War (1878-1881) by Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Roberts. Having lost an entire British army in 1842 to Afghan insurgents from the Pashtun tribes, London decided it was best to respond to the July 1880 defeat of a 2,500-man British force at Maiwand near Kandahar with a punitive expedition aimed at smashing responsible Pasthun tribes, rather than another attempt to occupy the country. Roberts marched his 10,000-man force from Kabul to Kandahar, fighting the tribes along the way, and defeating them in climactic battle near Kandahar. His mission complete, the tribes quieted and licking their wounds, Roberts withdrew his force to safety inside India. (The best book on the Second Afghan War is Brian Robson’s The Road to Kabul.)

    Back in garrison, Roberts wrote to his superiors in London what remains the best advice on Afghanistan ever put on paper. “It may not be flattering to our amour propre,” explained the man who is still the only modern Western warrior who succeeded in Afghanistan, “but I feel sure that I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us they less they will dislike us. Should Russia in future years attempt to conquer Afghanistan, or invade India through it, we should have a better chance of attaching the Afghans to our interests if we avoid all interference with them in the meantime.”

    America and its allies have now been on the ground in Afghanistan for nearly seven years and apparently are not aware of Roberts’ conclusion that absence makes the Afghan heart grow fonder, or its implicit reciprocal–familiarity breeds Afghan contempt. .

    Because U.S. political leaders are ignorant of history, don’t give a hoot about it, or both, Washington’s post-9/11 Afghan adventure was based on a plan for occupation and nation-building that history had long ago shown to be the road to defeat. Adding poignancy to the coming disaster is the last chance Washington was offered on the eve of war by the eminent British historian, and great friend of America, Sir John Keegan. Writing on 14 and 20 September in London’s Daily Telegraph, Sir John told Washington that Afghanistan was unconquerable and that the only viable option for U.S. military action was a punitive expedition—like that of LG Roberts in 1880—to destroy as much of the Taleban and al-Qaeda as possible. In essence, Keegan advised Washington to get into Afghanistan quickly with overpowering force, kill everyone who needed killing without much concern for collateral damage, and then get out more quickly than it entered. This splendid historically informed advice went unheeded, and seven years on America and its allies are on the edge of defeat in Afghanistan.

    In this context, the promises made by Senators Obama and McCain to send two more U.S. brigades—about 6,000 troops—to Afghanistan would be laughable if they were not so clearly ludicrous and blatantly uninformed. Six thousand more U.S. troops assigned against the current set of priority tasks are a drop in the bucket. In terms of controlling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, for example, 6,000 troops would provide four soldiers or Marines for every kilometer. This level of reinforcement would, at most, serve to disguise for a bit longer the fact that every soldier and Marine in the U.S. military—regular forces and reserves—would be needed to give America a bare chance of attaining its goals in Afghanistan. And, if other U.S. interests are to be protected at home and abroad at the same time, such an overall manpower requirement could only be met by reactivating conscription.

    The reality described above is unlikely to become clear to Americans before November’s presidential election, and until then they will be deliberately misled by the candidates’ two-more-brigades promise and the traditionally glacial pace of Afghan developments. A year or two after inauguration day, however, the new president surely will be faced with an unavoidable decision to either massively increase U.S. military forces in Afghanistan—to a total far exceeding the largest we had in Iraq—or evacuate the country with no U.S. goal accomplished. Given the cowardly draft-phobia of both parties, the latter option will be picked and that decision will galvanize the Islamist movement, greatly increase its funding and volunteers from across the Muslim world, and give all Muslims faith in ultimate victory against the West based on the Islamists’ defeat of the two greatest powers the world has ever seen.

    At that point, America’s real—and perhaps unwinnable—war with Islamism will begin.


    Taki's Magazine: Catastrophic Farce--How We Learned to Stop Worrying About National Interest…
     
  2. dilloduck
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    dilloduck Diamond Member

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    Good article but the war with Islam started a LONG time ago.
     
  3. 42Presidents
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    42Presidents CFT #1

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    I agree, good article, and true in many ways. My preference would be for the U.S. to step away from Afghanistan and go more on the defensive. I don't mind the occasional action if we know we can be successful but long term Afghan involvement has no real positive conclusion. As we've seen in Iraq, if the Afghan people won't step up and fight the evil within, then we have no business being there.
     
  4. Sunni Man
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    Sunni Man Diamond Member

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    The U.S. presence in those two countries is the evil within. We need to got out of both of those countries immediately and let the people decide their own fate.
     
  5. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    The Afghan people keep choosing their own fate.

    Then inevitably some "advanced" nation thinks it is their duty, or right, to help them or dominate them to become something they do NOT want to be.

    America will leave Afghanistan sooner or later, and it will be what it was before they came.

    The last real invader who had any real effect on Afhganistan was Alexander the Great.

    Apparently he was so brutal, and so effectively so, that he actully impressed them.

    The ONLY time we should go into that nation is when, as happened recently, the place becomes a haven and base for people who are going to mess with us.

    Otherwise, we should just accept that the Afghanistani people just don't WANT to be like us.

    Given what our nation is becoming, I can't say I entirely blame them, either.
     
  6. 42Presidents
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    42Presidents CFT #1

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    I definitely agree with your statement that the U.S. presence is the evil within. I agree we probably need to leave but I would never equate our country as evil in its current state.
     

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