Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Other (Conveniently Forgotten) Quagmire


(Updated below)

Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, the sister of the Iraq War that is barely noticed by the American public, has been dragging on for almost seven years now - with no end in sight. And like it's younger sibling, this war is rife with incompetent decisions, wrongful approaches and utter failures. Strangely enough, this older quagmire is barely spoken of by the American MSM.

It was on 10/07/2001 that American and British forces undertook an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan - thus marking the beginning of the Afghanistan War. Other U.S. allies, namely Australia and Canada, also joined in this war. By the summer of 2002, the Taliban had been removed from power and its remnants, like those of al-Qaeda, had gone into hiding. By the end of spring 2003, then-still U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared major combat operations over. However, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, by then fully allied by necessity, had already regrouped along the Afghani-Pakistani border, recruiting heavily while training in guerrilla warfare tactics - thanks to consistent funding seemingly transiting through Pakistan. Then the Taliban insurgency followed - which has been lasting to this day.

At the time, President Bush justified the launching of the Afghanistan War as a response to 9-11 and the failure of the Taliban to meet his demands concerning terrorists, including delivering Osama bin Laden. Following the trauma and outrage brought by 9-11, an overwhelming majority of Americans supported the War in Afghanistan - and President Bush was believed at face value when he claimed that the replacement of the Taliban regime was a requirement for keeping the U.S.A. safe from another al-Qaeda attack. However, there was a rather meek international support for such justifications initially, especially since: 1) the U.S.A. had turned a convenient blind eye when the backward, fundamentalist Taliban regime seized power in 1996 (after all, the U.S.A. had supported the Taliban); 2) although the Taliban was indeed characterized by its parochial, fundamentalist and theocratic-driven ruthless rule, it was never a terrorist organization to begin with; 3) the Taliban was certainly not involved in 9-11; 4) the Taliban had agreed to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan for trial (10/01/2001, but Pakistan refused); 5) the Taliban then offered to try bin Laden themselves (10/07/2001, but the offer was rejected by Bush); and 6) the Taliban thereafter offered to hand him over to the U.S., provided that proof was shown that bin Laden was responsible for 9-11 (10/14/2001, but this offer was likewise flatly rejected by Bush). Furthermore, there was evidence that the Afghanistan operations were motivated at least in part by oil interests - not Afghani oil per se, since Afghanistan doesn't have any, but rather in the building of a major oil pipeline going through the Afghan territory. In addition, overall moral, ethical, effectiveness and competence questions were already being raised there and then, with regards to Bush's military/bombing approach against terrorism.

Nevertheless, faced with the reality of this war and seeking to salvage the most out of it humanitarian-wise, the United Nations Security Council authorized an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan on 12/20/2001, which not only included N.A.T.O. forces but was also to be lead by N.A.T.O. itself. The ISAF's original peacekeeping mandate was for a duration of six months - however, partly because of the Taliban insurgency and partly because the U.S. has been "too busy" with its Iraq War since it began in 03/2003, the ISAF's mandate was thereafter extended in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and then extended anew until 03/2008 ... with talks already in the works for a further twelve month-extension beyond this date. In between, N.A.T.O. expanded its Afghanistan mission by increasing its forces in 2005 and in 2006 (including Canadian ones) - because its peacekeeping mission had transformed into a counter-insurgency one.

The two initial objectives of the Afghan War were: 1) defeat the Taliban; and 2) defeat al-Qaeda. Two other objectives/justifications were added along the way: 3) bring freedom and democracy to the Afghanis (especially to women); and 4) protect the world from terrorism. Let us see how these have worked out so far, shall we?

1) Defeat the Taliban: Although having been successfully pushed out of power, the Taliban insurgency rages on in spite of the wishful thinking that it is weakening. Similarly to the Iraq theatre, the guerrilla warfare tactics of the Taliban extoll a terrible price (recent instance here) - and keeps confounding regular military tactics, for example leading to inevitable friendly-fire deaths (older instance here). In addition, the military's "shock and awe" approach only increases the tally of "unfortunate" civilian casualties - which does not help to win the hearts and minds of the Afghanis. Pakistan has not proved much helpful here, considering that it freed some 2500 Talibans in 2006 and that the Taliban keeps hiding along its border with Afghanistan, as well as within its territory - in the interim, Pakistanis are also being killed by N.A.T.O.'s bulldozer approach against the Taliban insurgents. And through it all, of course, the commanders, generals and leaders see only progress in Afghanistan ... just like in Iraq, I suppose. "Operation start over again" indeed - thanks in large part to shoddy post-war planning and the desire to rush into war with Iraq. Should we be surprised, then, that the Iraq post-war planning was equally shoddy and, as the situation there keeps worsening as well, we've been treated also with talks of war with Iran in between? I thought so ...

2) Defeat al-Qaeda: Osama bin Laden got away and is still in hiding, along with most of the al-Qaeda leadership - even if he and his organization were the prime justification for going into Afghanistan in the first place. But not anymore, it would seem - maybe because Bush declared that the "success" of Afghanistan constituted a victory in the Global War on Terror(TM), back in 2004? But if that is the case, then why has Regent Cheney expressed concerns that al-Qaeda has regrouped and helps the Taliban in the insurgency? In the meantime, Pakistan is once again of little help here - not only are bin Laden and al-Qaeda apparently hiding in Pakistan, Pakistan freed suspected al-Qaeda members in 2006, whereas al-Qaeda funding keeps going through Pakistan (at one point, Pakistan even "lost" the trail of bin Laden - sure). So all in all, it looks like the Global War of Terror(TM) is being won indeed ... in Afghanistan, just like in Iraq. Right. Gotcha.

3) Bring freedom and democracy to the Afghanis: There have been positive steps towards democracy in Afghanistan - but such gains are far from being faits accomplis. Corruption and the resurgence of opium trafficking are but two of the prevailing problems which keep undermining said gains. The biggest problem of them all lies with the remaining powerful, brutish Warlords. Although having been elected in 2004, President Karzai holds power in Kabul only ... with the consent of the Warlords who now hold power practically everywhere else, thanks to more short-sighted, expedient incompetence on the part of the Bush administration. It doesn't help either when one of them declares allegiance to Osama bin Laden. And Karzai's government is hardly stable, thanks to the ongoing insurgency. Furthermore, the Afghan militias are not only poorly effective, but easily open to bribes - and their disbanding is proving quite a slow and difficult process. In the meantime, Afghanistan's nascent army remains far from being ready to go at it alone. Then, you have your prisoner/detainee abuses which are still occuring to this day - as in Iraq. Last, but not least, what of the Afghani women? Little has changed since 2001 ... whereas freedom of the press is not that free just yet. And as for the "rebuilding" of Afghanistan - well, let's just say that it is going as well as in Iraq and leave it at that.

4) Protect the world from terrorism: go read again the "progress" concerning the second objective above, then tell yourself that "protecting the world from terrorism in Afghanistan is working as well as in Iraq" while clicking your ruby slippers three times.

Thus I conclude: Afghanistan is as much a "success" as in Iraq - provided that the reality-based operative definition of "success" here actually means "quagmire".

To this effect, this is one quagmire who has no end in sight as well.

Are we having fun, yet?


Update: 07/07/2007 - In the first half of 2007, the N.A.T.O.-lead ISAF forces have killed more Afghani civilians than Taliban and/or al-Qaeda members ... I did say this was another quagmire, right? Right.


(Cross-posted at DKos, at Suzie-Q, at Progressive Historians and at Diatribune)

19 comments:

  1. Good article Mentarch:

    You are right in the forgotten war, which is growing silently as the U.S continues its quicksand in Iraq.

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  2. Indeed, Larry - and have you notcied the eerie parallels that Iraq has with Afghanistan, with regards to incompetence?

    Tragic and wasteful adventurism.

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  3. Hey Mentarch I haven't been by because I thought you were on vacation, but the killing in Afganistan is really getting bad

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  4. Responded to this post over at Suzie-Q but just wanted to stop by and thank you for rolling Blognonymous.
    It's greatly appreciated, and I've added Another Point of View to my own blogroll.

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  5. Mentarch:

    Great post, as always! :)

    Afghanistan and Iraq were both mistakes!

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  6. Kvatch: the pleasure's all mine! ;-)


    Suzie-Q: indeed they were ... thanks to Puppet President Bush and Regent Cheney ... and their utterly incompetent entourage ...

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  7. This fight has been given to the UN because Bush has other fights to wage. He cannot be associated with actually killing his family friend.

    Karzai is just there doing what he can to stay out of the way as his countrymen are being use to mass produce drugs and be used for target practice.

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  8. Just thought that I'd let you godd folks know that late last night, the DKos version of this article was highlighted as a rescued diary ...

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  9. "good" (sigh - vacation typos are as bad as non-vacation ones!) ;-)

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  10. Holly: yes, I'm on vacation but, as I specified on my post about this,I can still opine - albeit less frenquently while I'm away ;-)

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  11. Mentarch:

    I hope you are relaxing and enjoying your vacation! :)

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  12. Having a ball here, Suie-Q! ;-)

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  13. The rationale behing this war became appaeant to me as sooon as I learned that Karzai and the US ambassador to Afghanistan were both from UnoCal.

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  14. TC: "strange" coincidence, eh? ;-)

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  15. and why should the Afghan war be any different from the Iraq war?

    in both cases the leaders were despicable dictators before we attacked em.
    in both cases, we were allies with the leaders before we attacked em.
    in both cases we're losing the war to much smaller foes out of hubris and an absolute refusal to learn guerrilla warfare [in that way, the situation also parallels Viet Nam].

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  16. Two Crows: e-x-a-c-t-l-y! 'Nuff said, eh?

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  17. Nice job mentarch. Afghanistan has been a disaster almost from the start.

    The biggest difference between Afghanistan and Iraq is that the international community endorsed the sponsored civil war and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan by NATO troops. There was no international agreement to go in and mess up Iraq - Bush, Blair, Howard and a few other nutjobs did that on their own.

    In both cases we have to choose the lesser of the evils - leave and admit that we created a mess that we cannot fix or stay and risk creating an even bigger mess that we cannot fix.

    Meanwhile, we declared war on terrorism and managed to lose it. #@%^$%&

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  18. Psychols: exactly! And why are we losing/have lost this war?

    Because you can't wage war against a method of fighting.

    Only by using traditional law enforcement approach, coupled with intelligence operations (constitutionally lawful ones, that is), can terrorism be stopped.

    Terrorism should and must be treated as any other crime (remember the LA bank heist in the late 90's, with the gunmen carrying AK-47's, bullet-proof vests and so on?)

    If terrorists can't suicide-bomb us, what would be their point, eh?

    Of course, we have to leave muslim lands first and foremost. We have no business meddling in their affairs ...

    As for the "oil thing" - true oil independance will come if we commit ourselves to using alternate sources of energy ... these are available, better ones will be encouraged to be designed, and so on and so forth. ;-)

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Please feel free to comment on APOV. However, remember to keep in check your tone and respect for all here. Let rational, reasoning, enthousiastic and passionate conversations and discussions rule first and foremost in our participatory democracy, so as to facilitate the free exchange of reality-based facts and ideas. In between, do not forget to have fun and enjoy yourselves ... in other words: keep on rockin'! - Mentarch