In 1841 just before Christmas Sir William Hay Macnaghten, Her Majesty’s Envoy and Minister of the Government of India, was shot and knifed to death while seeking to negotiate with the son of the Afghan leader, Dost Mohammed. The British envoy’s remains were paraded about Kabul’s bazaar — in parts. In 1997 Taliban fighters seized the former Soviet-backed leader Najibullah. As happened to Macnaghten, Najibullah’s body was cut into many pieces that were then displayed on poles in the bazaar. That was only fifteen years ago. Not much changes in Afghanistan.
In 1979 terrorists kidnapped American Ambassador Adolph Dubs. He was killed in an unsuccessful Russian-led rescue attempt specifically objected to by the American authorities. At least his body wasn’t mutilated. It is estimated that from 1979-’89 close to one million Afghan civilians were killed in the war with the Soviets. Is there any sign that President Barack Obama or the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has any awareness of these historic moments and that which has occurred in between? It might be easy to ignore the dusty history of William Macnaghten’s death, but 1997 is not that long ago nor are the numerous public assassinations (such as Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Wali Karzai, and the key U.S. contact, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani) that have followed in retribution for the death of Osama bin Laden since May 2011.
And this is aside from the current calculation of 2,000 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan. Should these not be a bit fresher in the minds of those who ultimately command or seek to command the 80,000 American military personnel still in Afghanistan? Nothing at all regarding American involvement in Afghanistan is part of the discussion during the current election campaign.
How exactly does Washington’s leadership expect to extract our forces from a country that shows little sign of basically altering a tribally-dominated governmental structure? Waiting until 2014 was simply a political timetable constructed by President Obama to create a justification for his final “surge” of men and materiel that supposedly was deemed adequate to suppress the Taliban enemy forces while building up a new Afghan Army. In the Obama strategy these new Afghan troops would be loyal to some imagined democratic process introduced by that great democrat, President Hamid Karzai. What part of a near totally corrupt Afghan government and governmental system does Washington — both Democrat and Republican — not understand?
America’s part-time allies, Pakistan, told us back in 2004 that military victory, as the United States usually envisioned it — was just not possible. They said then what they had said before — that a partial and temporary political victory might be possible, but no “European” force could dominate the tribes of Afghanistan for anything more than a short while. The bearer of the historically proven advice was their then head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the American-trained and highly respected Chief of Army Staff today.
As the military brass and their political bosses like to say, the United States has the greatest fighting force in the world today. All that is true, but it is also true that the men and women who make up that force hate to lose. America is a highly competitive nation. Our volunteer military goes anywhere in the world and fights to keep enemies away from our shores. These warriors need to know they are doing a job that will help their country. That knowledge is being lost in Afghanistan.
The politicians are unable to figure a way to get out. The foreign terrorists, al Qaeda, have been driven out, but the indigenous Islamic radicals, the Taliban, who protected them, remain. In Washington each succeeding civilian leadership is afraid they will be blamed for pulling out of a commitment. The result is that they have continued to send troops into battle to beat the enemy, the Taliban, and the troops succeed. The trouble is that the war the American troops are fighting is not the war the enemy is fighting. The U.S. forces win the battles and yet the war is never won. Nor can it be without occupying the entire country and building a new nation — which in reality is not our business. It is the responsibility of America’s civilian leadership to recognize this and withdraw our military from such situations.
The reason for going into Afghanistan was to destroy the support base for the organization that was responsible for the attack on 9/11 and planned similar destruction against Western civilization wherever it could. What’s happened is that the physical side of that war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan has succeeded. Unfortunately the various sites for strategic development of jihad have grown elsewhere. The war has shifted locations and character of personnel.
As in Vietnam where U.S. troops won the battles but Washington lost the war because it never really understood the scope of the North Vietnamese Communist commitment, Afghanistan’s tribal culture and in-bred ability to absorb the punishment of war survives all battles. Our intelligence analysts have been saying this all along. Wars of choice (such as Afghanistan) are won if the political goals are attainable. The battles of these wars must be fought and won with concomitant political results. When it becomes apparent that the battle victories are not aiding in gaining the desired political result, it is time to withdraw from the field. This is the case now in Afghanistan.
There is no need to hold to the 2014 timetable unless there is an intent to maintain a heavy troop presence to provide a secure forward base in western Afghanistan in expectation of assisting an Israeli attack on Iran. Is this what is really behind the Obama strategy?
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