Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Afghanistan In A Nutshell

"Like the Soviets we continue to bolster a failing state, while encouraging an ideology and system of government unknown and unwanted by its people."
That's the utterly prescient synopsis of the West's dilemma in Afghanistan by former US foreign service officer Matthew Hoh in his letter in which he resigned in protest over the AfPak war.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hoh has nailed it. Like the Soviets before us, in their turn, we're trying to convert what is essentially a feudal state into a modern state in our own image. But didn't MacArthur do just that in Japan? Sure he did but only after Japan was militarily defeated, its people's morale crushed and the country occupied. We never defeated Afghanistan. We simply helped the rebellious Northern Alliance warlords send the Taliban packing. There's a huge difference in that. We didn't dismantle the warlord structure. We didn't conquer the Afghani people and the miniscule force we did deploy to their country was anything but a post-WWII style occupation. Trying to draw parallels between today's Afghanistan and post-war Germany or Japan is ridiculous.
You can't fight an insurgency "on the cheap" (Petraeus) and that's just what we've been doing these past eight years. We have squandered opportunities that we just can't get back. In this type of warfare you don't get do-overs (Petraeus). The current honcho, General McChrystal says he wants to start all over again. You can't do that. You'll always be stuck with the baggage of those eight lost years. You have gone from being seen as liberator/defender to occupier/oppressor (Petraeus). Your "best before" date has lapsed. These are the inescapable consequences of eight years of screwing up. You can't start over unless you can reverse time. The enemy you face today is not the enemy of 2001-2002. The eager, welcoming civilian population you had in 2001-2002 is no more. The government you installed in the wake of the ouster of the old regime has defied your every hope and expectation. You stood amidst the most warlike people in that region, if not the world, a culture that has driven out one omnipotent invader after another and yet, after eight years, were unable to build an adequate army. The country has lapsed into a failed state and you have neither the resources nor the will to turn that around.
It's over.
Hoh is right. The situation today is merely a continuation of a 35-year old civil war. We have no business fighting another country's civil war - because we can't win it. We've been babysitting this civil war for eight years. It's time to hand it back.


Anonymous said...
Just gets better n' better

Comrade Okie said...

Yes, there are huge differences between Afghan and post war Japan/Germany. There are huge differences in dealing with any country that has a developed infrastructure and history of successful central government, good or bad, as opposed to the wilds of Afghan, the Swat and especially Waziristan.

I remember when the issue of sending troops to Afghan first came up shortly after 911, and remember being somewhat torn given the information at hand at the time. The one thing I was certain of and commented on a number of times was that if they decided to go there, they had better be prepared to stay for a very very long time. I often wonder why highly educated policital entities would not have realized that simple truth? Did they sleep through history classes at Harvard?

The Mound of Sound said...

How we got into Afghanistan likely illustrates just how difficult it will be to get out.

We signed on for what was clearly a "tour of duty." It was a time-certain committment to furnish an X-size force for a Y-limited term.

It ought to have been left as that and, according to our initial undertaking, we should have had our people out in 2007. But we extended the tour instead first to 2009 and then to 2011.

We made so many mistakes in crafting this mission. The greatest was in failing to elicit the express agreement of Washington and NATO to have our replacement force identified and constituted at least 8-10 months before the end of our stipulated committment.

In other words, we should have said, "we'll go in for two years but you undertake to have our relief force ready to take over at the end of this term."

By failing to extract this concession from NATO and the Pentagon we trapped ourselves. We created the situation where we could only leave by abandoning Kandahar province to its fate. We demanded no transition, no relief force and NATO and the Americans showed their duplicity in providing none.

Who is going to voluntarily relieve Canada when the existing force is seen to be understrength and Washington and Brussels are twisting arms to muster reinforcements? In terms of priorities, relieving Canadian forces is just about the bottom of the pile.

The last I heard the Dutch were still intent on pulling their forces out in 2010. We'll see how that goes. Of course if we go to AfPak War version 3.0 and simply fall back on Kandahar City or Kabul it will be easier for Harper to say that we've ended our 2005 mission to Kandahar.

Comrade Okie said...

An interesting excerpt from a conversation I was having with a 24 yr. veteran of the CF;

"And did you know that in the first years of ISAF, Afghans were only the FOURTH most numerous nationality among Taliban fighters bagged in A'stan? Behind Saudis, Yemenese and (I think) either Syrians or Pakistanis? Did you know that it took up until 2007 before Afghans as a nationality were the most represented population among the fighters captured in A'stan? And even then, they only made up 28% of all the fighters captured - with the remainder being from other countries, and the vast majority being from countries that neither shared a border with A'stan, nor were home to any cultural group found in A'stan.

Just something to think about when the argument runs around that these are just a bunch of good ol' local boys upset with our presence."


Oddly, my attempt to respond to the entry was blocked by the CBC censor of the day. I wanted to question if the figures implied a rising involvement by Afghan Nationals in relation to the length of time foriegn troops have been on their soil?

As for the CBC, it didn't take much for Harper to scare the Liberal out of them.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's an interesting comment, the first time I've heard that assertion from anyone. That, of course, makes me take it with a grain of salt. I'll see if I can find anything confirming that Afghans were ever a minority among Talib fighters.

Comrade Okie said...

I thought you might find that interesting.

The Mound of Sound said...

The best info I could find was from Jane's intelligence review. They report that the Taliban ranks have been swelled, at various times, by foreign fighters comprising from 20-25% of their force. Of these, the majority are from Pakistan (with its large Pashtun population) and the next group is from Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, of course, also has a significant Uzbek minority. In this region that ethnic overlap is hardly surprising. Over the years there have also been reports of small numbers of other foreign volunteers - Yemeni, Chechen, Saudi etc.

The Taliban leadership, however, appears to be strictly Afghan.

Comrade Okie said...

That is more or less the impression I had from various things I have read. I hadn't reasearched it largely because I had no reason to doubt the notions I had conceived. I'm giggling here a bit, and know I shouldn't but I'm thinking about
Gov. dilligence with census taking.

Then there's the surety that the CPC controlled military would never twist a few numbers for the sake of morale. heh..

I guess the source has to be considered too. Anonymous CBC poster claiming 24 yrs. CF background. A lot of possible variables there.

I am still curious though and will try to find other sources. Sadly, the CBC thought/information control dept. had little interest in information or opinion contrary to the strict legal interpretation of why Canada as a member of Nato is required to be involved in Afghan.

Seems to be the favored position of the representatives of the Ministry of Progaganda. The advocates of free speech, until it is something they don't want to hear.

Upon hearing the latest on Peter McKay made me think of a common strategy of Old World Monarchs. Peter marries into the House of Duffy (Ctv) and the CBC is kept at bay under threat of war.

I can see the light growing dimmer.

The Mound of Sound said...

It does make sense that CF would have contact with foreign fighters. If you're a Talib commander and a foreign volunteer shows up about the only use you can make of him is to hand him a gun and point him in the right direction. They make prime "cannon fodder."

To suggest, however, that our experience of these foreign insurgents indicates that the Taliban movement is anything but an Afghani/Pashtun nationalist movement is drawing misleading assumptions on anecdotal experience.

For example, the Mujahadeen who battled the Soviets (with our support and encouragement) also embodied a large contingent of foreign volunteers - guys with names like bin Laden - that we also supported and encouraged.

The presence of foreign volunteers during the Soviet/Afghan war never caused us to depict the Mujads as anything less than nationalist freedom fighters, did it? Of course not.

I don't want to draw parallels but it was the Soviet occupiers who repeatedly cast the Mujahadeen as foreign terrorists.

Isn't it funny how the Soviets and then the West came to see things in Afghanistan the very same way?

Comrade Okie said...

Yes, it does seem a bit abstract if in fact the CF are perpetuating that line of thought and it is factually incorrect.

Comparison to the Soviet involvement is legitimate in other ways as well. My studies have led me to believe their overall goals were not dissimilar to that which the West has voiced as justification for our continued involvement. The only significant difference being who ended up with a more solidified sphere of influence.

I was trying to shed a bit of light on the historical foundation of Bin Laden syndrome and the association with Western interests, when the new Oberfuhrer's at CBC online news must have decided I was quite possibly a purveyor of enemy counter intelligence.

No one respects the efforts of a Soldier more than I do, but the propagandists grind my grits when they try to stifle or alter the truth or color history.

Last thought for now.

Again I say, you are the premier blogger on Liberal sites. Perhaps the most intelligent and objective blogger I have read. So why is it that you receive so little input on your diligent posts regarding Afghanistan?

Is it only an issue for Liberals when it's politically expedient?

I sincerely hope not.