It has been a difficult week in Afghanistan. In Helmand province, Camp Bastion, which hosts the U.S. Camp Leatherneck, was attacked leading to the biggest single loss of U.S. fighter planes since the Vietnam war. They destroyed six Harrier jets, heavily damaged two others plus several helicopters, three refueling stations, and six hangars. A Marine Lieutenant Colonel and Sergeant were killed.
Yet again there have been more “green on blue” attacks, where Afghan soldiers turn on their U.S. or other ISAF trainers — the total so far … greater than twice that for all of last year. The increasing frequency of these attacks has led to the indefinite suspension this week of all joint NATO/Afghan National Army operations. It is a serious blow undoubtedly to the strategy of training Afghans to protect the Kabul government after U.S. withdrawal. By its own admission, the Afghan National Army(ANA) lacks the equipment and expertise to conduct these operations by itself. Thus not only will it forgo essential training, but the Taliban will soon be aware that effective operations against them are on hold. It also puts a damper on efforts to recruit more Pashtuns into the predominantly Northern Alliance dominated ANA, and there is the additional fear, now enhanced, that different elements in the ANA might turn on each other after U.S. withdrawal because a genuine esprit de corps has not developed.
The futility of the Afghan intervention has been clear from the start as the tactical methods employed conflict with the strategic goal. Allied with the Northern Alliance composed of minority ethnic groups, we used their forces to help defeat the ethnically Pashtun Taliban. The Northern Alliance then assumed a central role in government and the ANA.
The Pashtuns have so far resisted all efforts to bludgeon them into submission. While the Taliban happen to be Pashtun, their brand of Islam and their harsh rule were never popular. But the brutalities of a guerrilla war have succeeded in driving almost all Pashtuns into their arms. As the Pashtuns comprise the largest ethnic group, the shortcomings of our approach might have been transparent.
An exit strategy in such wars is almost always problematic, but doubling up in this so called “good” war has been sheer folly. Among a few other commentators, this letter pointed out the flawed logic three years ago. Now we are leaving, the Taliban are staying, and everybody knows it. Moreover, adjacent Pakistan with a traditionally porous Afghan border — the Pashtuns and their families live on both sides — is being radicalized and destabilized. It has close to a hundred nuclear weapons.
Such are the unexpected consequences of military intervention. Another example is the current ludicrous situation where we are fighting fundamentalists in Afghanistan, have supported them in Libya (including some Libyan veterans who had volunteered to fight in Iraq … on the opposing side!), and despite the recent blowback in Benghazi (the killing of the U.S. Ambassador and three consular officials), are supporting Libyan fundamentalist elements to fight in Syria.
War ravaged Afghanistan, bombed out Iraq and Libya, their infrastructures destroyed, and now the destruction in Syria, do not make life better for ordinary people, and certainly do not win us many friends. Perhaps a puppet government in Libya is better for some but the locals are not stupid. Which senior U.S. official would dare to drive in a cavalcade on the streets of any of these countries? Not much of a return after thousands dead and $3 trillion in cost.
September 21 is UN Peace Day. Most people are unaware of it; even fewer observe it — a minute of silence at noon to honor the victims of war. Almost everyone would if a siren reminded them.