The generals who conned our political leaders into signing on to an unwinnable war talk of "success" in Afghanistan but they're blowing smoke, trying to cover the stench of the defeat they and their fellow generals engineered.
The story of our collective Western failure in Afghanistan is neatly told by an Afghan television producer, Abdul Nasir, in the July 9 issue of The New Yorker.
Nasir celebrated the American invasion in 2001, and, in the decade that followed, he prospered, and fathered six children. But now, with the United States planning its withdrawal by the end of 2014, Nasir blames the Americans for a string of catastrophic errors. “The Americans have failed to build a single sustainable institution here,” he said. “All they have done is make a small group of people very rich. And now they are getting ready to go.”
These days, Nasir said, the nineties are very much on his mind. The announced departure of American and NATO combat troops has convinced him and his friends that the civil war, suspended but never settled, is on the verge of resuming. “Everyone is preparing,” he said. “It will be bloodier and longer than before, street to street. This time, everyone has more guns, more to lose. It will be the same groups, the same commanders.” Hezb-e-Wahdat and Jamiat-e-Islami and Hezb-e-Islami and Junbish—all now political parties—are rearming. The Afghan Army is unlikely to be able to restore order as it did in the time of Najibullah. “It’s a joke,” Nasir said. “I’ve worked with the Afghan Army. They get tired making TV commercials!”
A few weeks ago, Nasir returned to Deh Afghanan. The Taliban were back, practically ignored by U.S. forces in the area. “The Americans have a big base there, and they never go out,” he said. “And, only four kilometres from the front gate, the Taliban control everything. You can see them carrying their weapons.” On a drive to Jalrez, a town a little farther west, Nasir was stopped at ten Taliban checkpoints. “How can you expect me to be optimistic?” he said. “Everyone is getting ready for 2014.”
Journalist Dexter Filkins decided to go and have a look for himself in the pprovince of Kunduz where he found the civil war already stirring.
The militias established or tolerated by the Afghan and American governments constitute a reversal of the efforts made in the early years of the war to disarm such groups, which were blamed for destroying the country during the civil war. At the time, American officials wanted to insure that the government in Kabul had a monopoly on the use of force.
Kunduz Province is divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by one of the new militias. In Khanabad district alone, I counted nine armed groups. Omar’s is among the biggest; another is led by a rival, on the northern bank of the Khanabad River, named Mir Alam. Like Omar, Alam was a commander during the civil war. He was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami. Alam and his men, who declined to speak to me, are said to be paid by the Afghan government.
As in the nineties, the militias around Kunduz have begun fighting each other for territory. They also steal, tax, and rape. “I have to give ten per cent of my crops to Mir Alam’s men,” a villager named Mohammad Omar said. (He is unrelated to the militia commander.) “That is the only tax I pay. The government is not strong enough to collect taxes.” When I accompanied the warlord Omar to Jannat Bagh, one of the villages under his control, his fighters told me that Mir Alam’s men were just a few hundred yards away. “We fight them whenever they try to move into our village,” one of Omar’s men said.
...Many Afghans fear that NATO has lost the will to control the militias, and that the warlords are reëmerging as formidable local forces. Nashir, the Khanabad governor, who is the scion of a prominent family, said that the rise of the warlords was just the latest in a series of ominous developments in a country where government officials exercise virtually no independent authority. “These people do not change, they are the same bandits,” he said. “Everything here, when the Americans leave, will be looted.”
Nashir grew increasingly vehement. “Mark my words, the moment the Americans leave, the civil war will begin,” he said. “This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government.” Nashir rattled off the names of some of the country’s best-known leaders—some of them warlords—and the areas they come from: “Mir Alam will take Kunduz. Atta will take Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum will take Sheberghan. The Karzais will take Kandahar. The Haqqanis will take Paktika. If these things don’t happen, you can burn my bones when I die.”
And as for that load of nonsense our commanders parrot about getting the Taliban to join the national government? Well, it's nonsense.
Afghan and American officials believe that some precipitating event could prompt the country’s ethnic minorities to fall back into their enclaves in northern Afghanistan, taking large chunks of the Army and police forces with them. Another concern is that Jamiat officers within the Afghan Army could indeed try to mount a coup against Karzai or a successor. The most likely trigger for a coup, these officials say, would be a peace deal with the Taliban that would bring them into the government or even into the Army itself. Tajiks and other ethnic minorities would find this intolerable. Another scenario would most likely unfold after 2014: a series of dramatic military advances by the Taliban after the American pullout.
“A coup is one of the big possibilities—a coup or civil war,” a former American official who was based in Kabul and has since left the country told me. “It’s clear that the main factions assume that civil war is a possibility and they are hedging their bets. And, of course, once people assume that civil war is going to happen then that can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
And these realities beg the question of whether Canada's forces actually "succeeded" in Afghanistan or whether our Afghan war was a failure. How does one measure success in war? By the achievement of stated goals? Our goals, something our military and political leaders scrupulously avoid talking about today, were to drive the Talibs out and to establish a modern, liberal democracy in the country that would provide security and human rights to the people. On that score, our war was a total failure. Maybe we should judge our success by whether we were ever defeated? Well, given that we always have had our adversaries outnumbered and that our side alone had all the attack helicopters, jet strike fighters, tanks, artillery, drones and so on wielded by hihgly-trained professionals and their side made do with Korean-war vintage assault rifles, RPGs and IEDs in the hands of illiterate farmers, that doesn't sound much like success either. In fact, it's hard to come up with any measure by which our war could be claimed a success.
Does it even matter whether the longest war in Canada's history actually succeeded or not? You're damned right it does. Because we've thrown our hat into the ring with a genuine warfare state, the United States of America, and as America's modern Foreign Legion, we can expect Washington to call us up again when and as they perceive the need to arise.
We need to understand that we failed in Afghanistan in large part because we were tied into an American war that Washington never sought to win. The Americans dragged us into a war they were never willing to commit to win. Because of Washington's betrayal of its allies, we all leave the field draped in the American mantle of defeat. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld sold Afghanistan down the river when they buggered off to Iraq. Our leaders, political and military, sold Canada's soldiers down the river when they ignored America's duplicity and agreed to consign our young people to a war we couldn't win, a war without end.
And if you need any reason to demand Canada reject the F-35, just look to Afghanistan. The F-35 stealth light attack bomber will be Canada's admission ticket into America's foreign legion for the coming decades. It's time to say "no" to this whole rotten business.