Monday, May 17, 2010

Lawyers, Guns & Money - Playing and Being Played in Afghanistan

Only now are we truly coming to grasp the real nature of the Afghan war. For the first seven or eight years, we thought that we defined the war. We deployed our weapons, our technology, our soldiers to fight what we stubbornly insisted was our way of warfare.

And they let us do it because they knew it was suiting their purposes, not ours.

"They" are all the crazies in Afghanistan - the politicians, the bureaucrats, the warlords, the drug lords, the insurgents. Each was well served by the way we fought our "war without end" in their homeland. It became obvious early on that we weren't going to win this one, we weren't in it to win. Once that reality settled in, each of these players shaped a course to best exploit what we had to offer - while it lasted. In a country that doesn't see a lot of opportunity, we were the best deal they'd had in a very long time.

If you doubt that assessment, ask yourself this. How would Karzai, how would the Fahims and the Dostums, how would the bureaucratic mandarins, how would the national police and how would the insurgents in all their varieties have acted these past eight years if they truly believed we were in this war to win, to do whatever it took for however long that took? Much of Karzai's intransigence and double-dealing is fueled by his conviction that we're not going to win our war and I suppose he can't be blamed for that. The rest are merely following suit.

They knew from their rich history of these things that we weren't fighting their war, the only war over there that matters, the war that will decide the course of their future. We certainly know how to fight their war, the Yanks have even developed a brilliant field manual on the subject, but, when its precepts aren't followed, invoked, it's just a nice book on the shelf.

A glimpse into the nature of our Afghan conundrum appears in today's Washington Post. WaPo reporter Greg Jaffe has penned an insightful piece entitled "Combat Generation: Trying to Work with an Afghan Insurgent." The article tells of the experience of Army Lt. Col. Robert Brown and the strange offer he received last November from insurgent warlord, Mullah Sadiq, who has been on the Army's "kill list" since 2005:

"Sadiq wanted 50 assault rifles, $20,000 and a promise that U.S. forces would not kill him. In return, he promised to turn against more-radical Taliban insurgents and to begin to work with the Afghan government.

Sadiq's proposition gave Brown a chance, however tentative, to achieve a victory of sorts in his corner of Afghanistan and redeem the loss of his men.

"This has the potential to work," Brown told his commander."

Lawyers, Guns & Money. Overturn the "kill order", hand over the weapons and pony up a bag of cash and Sadiq will turn on the really, really bad guys. If only. Was this Brown's chance to play the insurgency or were the insurgents playing Brown? In a country were treachery is the routine and capacity for betrayal is bottomless, chances are it was a mix of both.

..."It has become a given within the U.S. military after nearly a decade of grinding battle in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq that U.S. forces cannot kill their way to victory. Enemies must be persuaded to lay down their weapons through a mix of negotiation and force. Grievances must be understood and wherever possible addressed. These principles are at the core of the military's coming campaign in Kandahar, which U.S officials are touting as the most important battle of the nine-year war.

Sadiq had collaborated with the Americans before. Right up to 2004 he regularly dealt with a US Special Forces officer. Dealings with that officer's successors soured and, in 2005, the Americans tried to take Sadiq out with a Hellfire missile.

..."Sadiq's brother-in-law insisted that the U.S. commandos were acting on bad intelligence from a rival who had accused Sadiq of murdering his father a decade earlier.

Brown has no idea why previous U.S. commanders sought to kill Sadiq.

"We spent the first five or six years in Afghanistan making enemies, because we were used to settle political, economic and historical conflicts," he said. "We were pretty credulous."

Even as Col. Brown was working to shore up a deal with Sadiq, the Karzai government in Kabul balked. Sadiq, they feared, might emerge to challenge their own control over his region even if he did thwart the Taliban. Who would control Sadiq after the Americans left?

For going on nine years now we've been waging our form of warfare in Afghanistan, deluding ourselves into believing it works even as we are taught that this isn't war as we understand it with allies and enemies readily defined and constant. We don't comprehend warfare where enemies and allies cross sides with fluidity as and when that suits them, where even our supposed friends manipulate us to their purposes and against our own.

At the end of the day we're just banging away on drums. Why?


LK said...

Because the Military Industrial Complex must be fed? Because every State in the Union, and that ensures political support for war, stands to lose jobs, if they were at peace? Not to mention the fortunes companies like Haliburton and XE (Blackwater) wouldn't make.

The Mound of Sound said...

Now that warfighting has been commercialized, outsourced to the enormously influential "for profit" industrial sector, wrestling that genie back into the bottle is going to be very, very difficult indeed.