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The end nears for our expedition to Afghanistan. Time to reflect on what went wrong.

29 February 2012

Summary:  After writing over 100 posts since September 2003 about our war in Afghanistan, I faced the grim task of writing about its ugly end.  Fortunately, here are two articles that do it better than I could.  They deserve your attention, as we walk away from a project for which we borrowed so much money and spilled so much blood — probably in vain (as so many said when we began).  What have we learned from this experience?

Contents

  1. Powerful article about the cost of not knowing the terrain on which you fight
  2. Feature article: Blown Away – How the U.S. Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan
  3. About the authors
  4. Other articles sounding the death knoll for our war in Afghanistan
  5. For more information

(1)  About knowing the terrain

One cannot hope to win in fourth generation warfare without understanding the human terrain. As explained by Ralph Peters in “The Human Terrain of Urban Operations“ (Parameters, Spring 2000).  After a decade we remain ignorant, like a heavily armed but blind soldier – a horrific testamony to our military’s incapacity to adapt to the 21st century.  For details see “The causes of the protests in Afghanistan“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 26 February 2011.

(2)  Today’s feature article

The first of many post-mortums about the end of the expedition to Afghanistan:  “Blown Away – How the U.S. Fanned the Flames in Afghanistan“, by Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse, TomDispatch, 29 February 2012.  Reposted on the FM website with their generous permission.

Introduction

Is it all over but the (anti-American) shouting — and the killing?  Are the exits finally coming into view?

Sometimes, in a moment, the fog lifts, the clouds shift, and you can  finally see the landscape ahead with startling clarity.  In Afghanistan,  Washington may be reaching that moment in a state of panic, horror, and  confusion.  Even as an anxious U.S. commander withdrew American and NATO advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul last  weekend — approximately 300, military spokesman James Williams tells  TomDispatch — the ability of American soldiers to remain on giant  fortified bases eating pizza and fried chicken into the distant future  is not in doubt.

No set of Taliban guerrillas, suicide bombers, or armed Afghan  “allies” turning their guns on their American “brothers” can alter that  — not as long as Washington is ready to bring the necessary supplies  into semi-blockaded Afghanistan at staggering cost.   But sometimes that’s the least of the matter, not the essence of it.   So if you’re in a mood to mark your calendars, late February 2012 may be  the moment when the end game for America’s second Afghan War, launched  in October 2001, was initially glimpsed.

Amid the reportage about the recent explosion of Afghan anger over  the torching of Korans in a burn pit at Bagram Air Base, there was a  tiny news item that caught the spirit of the moment.  As anti-American  protests (and the deaths of protestors) mounted across Afghanistan, the  German military made a sudden decision to immediately abandon a 50-man outpost in the north of the country.

True, they had planned to leave it a few weeks later, but consider  the move a tiny sign of the increasing itchiness of Washington’s NATO  allies.  The French have shown a similar inclination to leave town since, earlier this year, four of their troops were blown away (and 16 wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, as three others had been  shot down several weeks before by another Afghan in uniform.  Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn their civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions in the wake of the latest unrest.

Now, it’s clear enough: the Europeans are ready to go.  And that  shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, we’re talking about NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — whose soldiers found themselves in distant  Afghanistan in the first place only because, since World War II, with  the singular exception of French President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, European leaders  have had a terrible time saying “no” to Washington.  They still can’t  quite do so, but in these last months it’s clear which way their feet  are pointed.

Which makes sense.  You would have to be blind not to notice that the American effort in Afghanistan is heading into the tank.

The surprising thing is only that the Obama administration, which recently began to show a certain itchiness of its own — speeding up withdrawal dates and lowering the number of forces left behind — remains remarkably mired in its growing Afghan disaster.  Besieged by demonstrators there, and at home by Republican presidential hopefuls making hay out of a situation from hell, its room to maneuver in an unraveling, increasingly chaotic situation seems to grow more limited by the day.

Sensitivity Training

The Afghan War shouldn’t be the world’s most complicated subject to deal with.  After all, the message is clear enough.  Eleven years in, if your forces are still burning Korans in a deeply religious Muslim country, it’s way too late and you should go.

Instead, the U.S. command in Kabul and the administration back home have proceeded to tie themselves in a series of bizarre knots, issuing apologies, orders, and threats to no particular purpose as events escalated.  Soon after the news of the Koran burning broke, for instance, General John R. Allen, the U.S. war commander in Afghanistan, issued orders that couldn’t have been grimmer (or more feeble) under the circumstances.  Only a decade late, he directed that all U.S. military personnel in the country undergo 10 days of sensitivity “training in the proper handling of religious materials.”

Sensitivity, in case you hadn’t noticed at this late date, has not been an American strong suit there. In the headlines in the last year, for instance, were revelations about the 12-soldier “kill team” that “hunted” Afghan civilians “for sport,” murdered them, and posed for demeaning photos with their corpses.  There were the four wisecracking U.S. Marines who videotaped themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans — whether civilians or Taliban guerrillas is unknown — with commentary (“Have a good day, buddy… Golden — like a shower”).  There was also that sniper unit proudly sporting a Nazi SS banner in another photographed incident and the U.S. combat outpost named “Aryan.”  And not to leave out the allies, there were the British soldiers who were filmed “abusing” children.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how Afghans have often experienced the American and NATO occupation of these last years.  To take but one example that recently caused outrage, there were the eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, slaughtered in a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province in northern Afghanistan (with the usual apology and forthcoming “investigation,” as well as claims, denied by Afghans who also investigated, that the boys were armed).

More generally, there are the hated night raids launched by special operations forces that break into Afghan homes, cross cultural boundaries of every sort, and sometimes leave death in their wake.  Like errant American and NATO air operations, which have been commonplace in these war years, they are reportedly deeply despised by most Afghans. All of these, in turn, have been protested again and again by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  He has regularly demanded that the U.S. military cease them (or bring them under Afghan control).  Being the president of Afghanistan, however, he has limited leverage and so American officials have paid little attention to his complaints or his sense of what Afghans were willing to take.

The results are now available for all to see in an explosion of anger spreading across the country.  How far this can escalate and how long it can last no one knows.  But recent experience indicates that, once a population heads for the streets, anything can happen.  All of this could, of course, peter out, but with more than 30 protesters already dead, it could also take on a look reminiscent of the escalating civil war in Syria — including, as has already happened on a small scale in the past, whole units of Afghan security forces defecting to the Taliban.

Unfolding events have visibly overwhelmed and even intimidated the Americans in charge.  However, as religious as the country may be and holy as the Koran may be considered, what’s happened cannot be fully explained by the book burning.  It is, in truth, an explosion a decade in coming.

Precursors and Omens

After the grim years of Taliban rule, when the Americans arrived in Kabul in November 2001, liberation was in the air.  More than 10 years later, the mood is clearly utterly transformed and, for the first time, there are reports of “Taliban songs” being sung at demonstrations in the streets of the capital.  Afghanistan is, as the New York Times reported last weekend (using language seldom seen in American newspapers) “a religious country fed up with foreigners”; or as Laura King of the Los Angeles Times put it, there is now “a visceral distaste for Western behavior and values” among significant numbers of Afghans.

Years of pent up frustration, despair, loathing, and desperation are erupting in the present protests.  That this was long on its way can’t be doubted.

Among the more shocking events in the wake of the Koran burnings was the discovery in a room in the heavily guarded Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul of the bodies of an American lieutenant colonel and major, each evidently executed with a shot in the back of the head while at work.  The killer, who worked in the ministry, was evidently angered by the Koran burnings and possibly by the way the two Americans mocked Afghan protesters and the Koran itself.  He escaped.  The Taliban (as in all such incidents) quickly took responsibility, though it may not have been involved at all.

What clearly rattled the American command, however, and led them to withdraw hundreds of advisors from Afghan ministries around Kabul was that the two dead officers were “inside a secure room” that bars most Afghans.  It was in the ministry’s command and control complex.  (By the way, if you want to grasp some of the problems of the last decade just consider that the Afghan Interior Ministry includes an area open to foreigners, but not to most Afghans who work there.)

As the New York Times put it, the withdrawal of the advisors was “a clear sign of concern that the fury had reached deeply into even the Afghan security forces and ministries working most closely with the coalition.” Those two dead Americans were among four killed in these last days of chaos by Afghan “allies.”  Meanwhile, the Taliban urged Afghan police and army troops, some of whom evidently need no urging, to attack U.S. military bases and American or NATO forces.

Two other U.S. troops died outside a small American base in Nangarhar Province near the Pakistani border in the midst of an Afghan demonstration in which two protestors were also killed.  An Afghan soldier gunned the Americans down and then evidently escaped into the crowd of demonstrators. Such deaths, in a recent Washington Post piece, were termed “fratricide,” though that perhaps misconstrues the feelings of many Afghans, who over these last years have come to see the Americans as occupiers and possibly despoilers, but not as brothers.

Historically unprecedented in the modern era is the way, in the years leading up to this moment, Afghans in police and army uniforms have repeatedly turned their weapons on American or NATO troops training, working with, or patrolling with them.  Barely more than a week ago, for instance, an Afghan policeman killed the first Albanian soldier to die in the war.  Earlier in the year, there were those seven dead French troops.  At least 36 U.S. and NATO troops have died in this fashion in the past year.  Since 2007, there have been at least 47 such attacks.  These have been regularly dismissed as “isolated incidents” of minimal significance by U.S. and NATO officials and, unbelievably enough, are still being publicly treated that way.

Yet not in Iraq, nor during the Vietnam War, nor the Korean conflict, nor even during the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the twentieth century were there similar examples of what once would have been called “native troops” turning on those training, paying for, and employing them.  You would perhaps have to go back to the Sepoy Rebellion, a revolt by Indian troops against their British officers in 1857, for anything comparable.

In April 2011, in the most devastating of these incidents, an Afghan air force colonel murdered nine U.S. trainers in a heavily guarded area of Kabul International Airport.  He was reportedly angry at Americans generally and evidently not connected to the Taliban.  And consider this an omen of things to come: his funeral in Kabul was openly attended by 1,500 mourners.

Put in the most practical terms, the Bush and now Obama administrations have been paying for and training an Afghan security force numbering in the hundreds of thousands — to the tune of billions dollars annually ($11 billion last year alone).  They are the ones to whom the American war is to be “handed over” as U.S. forces are drawn down.  Now, thanks either to Taliban infiltration, rising anger, or some combination of the two, it’s clear that any American soldier who approaches a member of the Afghan security forces to “hand over” anything takes his life in his hands.  No war can be fought under such circumstances for very long.

Apologies, Pleas, and Threats

So don’t say there was no warning, or that Obama’s top officials shouldn’t have been prepared for the present unraveling.  But when it came, the administration and the military were caught desperately off guard and painfully flatfooted.

In fact, through repeated missteps and an inability to effectively deal with the fallout from the Koran-burning incident, Washington now finds itself trapped in a labyrinth of investigations, apologies, pleas, and threats.  Events have all but overwhelmed the administration’s ability to conduct an effective foreign policy.  Think of it instead as a form of diplomatic pinball in which U.S. officials and commanders bounce from crisis to crisis with a limited arsenal of options and a toxic brew of foreign and domestic political pressures at play.

How did the pace get quite so dizzying?  Let’s start with those dead Afghan shepherd boys.  On February 15th, the U.S.-led International Security Force (ISAF) “extended its deep regret to the families and loved ones of several Afghan youths who died during an air engagement in Kapisa province Feb 8.”  According to an official press release, ISAF insisted, as in so many previous incidents, that it was “taking appropriate action to ascertain the facts, and prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

The results of the investigation were still pending five days later when Americans in uniform were spotted by Afghan workers tossing those Korans into that burn pit at Bagram Air Base.  The Afghans rescued several and smuggled them — burnt pages and all — off base, sparking national outrage.  Almost immediately, the next act of contrition came forth.  “On behalf of the entire International Security Assistance Force, I extend my sincerest apologies to the people of Afghanistan,” General Allen announced the following day.  At the same time, in a classic case of too-little, too-late, he issued that directive for training in “the proper handling of religious materials.”

That day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was on the same page, telling reporters that the burning of the Muslim holy books was “deeply unfortunate,” but not indicative of the Americans’ feelings toward the religious beliefs of the Afghan people.  “Our military leaders have apologized… for these unintentional actions, and ISAF is undertaking an investigation to understand what happened and to ensure that steps are taken so that incidents like this do not happen again.”

On February 22nd, an investigation of the Koran burnings by a joint ISAF-Afghan government team commenced.  “The purpose of the investigation is to discover the truth surrounding the events which resulted in this incident,” Allen said. “We are determined to ascertain the facts, and take all actions necessary to ensure this never happens again.”

The next day, as Afghan streets exploded in anger, Allen called on “everyone throughout the country — ISAF members and Afghans — to exercise patience and restraint as we continue to gather the facts surrounding Monday night’s incident.”  That very same day, Allen’s commander-in-chief sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that included an apology, expressing “deep regret for the reported incident.”  “The error was inadvertent,’’ President Obama wrote. “I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.’’

Obama’s letter drew instant fire from Republican presidential candidates, most forcefully former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it an “outrage” and demanded instead that President Karzai issue an apology for the two Americans shot down by an Afghan soldier.  (Otherwise, he added, “we should say goodbye and good luck.”)  Translated into Washingtonese, the situation now looked like this: a Democratic president on the campaign trail in an election year who apologizes to a foreign country has a distinct problem. Two foreign countries?  Forget it.

As a result, efforts to mend crucial, if rocky, relations with Pakistan were thrown into chaos.  Because of cross-border U.S. air strikes in November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, ties between the two countries were already deeply frayed and Pakistan was still blocking critical resupply routes for the war in Afghanistan.  With American war efforts suffering for it and resupply costs sky-high, the U.S. government had put together a well-choreographed plan to smooth the waters.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to issue a formal apology to Pakistan’s army chief.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would then follow up with a similar apology to her Pakistani counterpart.

Fearing further Republican backlash, however, the Obama administration quickly altered its timetable, putting off the apology for at least several more weeks, effectively telling the Pakistanis that any regrets over the killing of their troops would have to wait for a time more convenient to the U.S. election cycle.  Trading apologies to Afghans for those to Pakistanis, however, turned out to mean little on the streets of Afghanistan, where even in non-Taliban areas of the country, chants of “Death to America!” were becoming commonplace.  “Just by saying ‘I am sorry,’ nothing can be solved,” protester Wali Mohammed told the New York Times. “We want an open trial for those infidels who have burned our Holy Koran.”

And his response was subdued compared to that of Mohammed Anwar, an officer with the U.S.-allied Afghan police.  “I will take revenge from the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance,” he said. “I don’t care about the job I have.”

A day later, when Anwar’s words were put into action by someone who undoubtedly had similar feelings, General Allen announced yet another investigation, this time with tough talk, not apologies, following.  “I condemn today’s attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today,” he said in a statement provided to TomDispatch by ISAF. “We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered.”

Allen also took the unprecedented step of severing key points of contact with America’s Afghan allies.  “For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul.”

Unable to reboot relations with allies in Islamabad due to the unrest in Afghanistan (which was, in fact, already migrating across the border), the U.S. now found itself partially severing ties with its “partners” in Kabul as well.  Meanwhile, back home, Gingrich and others raised the possibility of severing ties with President Karzai himself.  In other words, the heat was rising in both the White House and the Afghan presidential palace, while any hope of controlling events elsewhere in either country was threatening to disappear.

As yet, the U.S. military has not taken the next logical step: barring whole categories of Afghans from American bases.  “There are currently no discussions ongoing about limiting access to ISAF bases to our Afghan partners,” an ISAF spokesperson assured TomDispatch, but if the situation worsens, expect such discussions to commence.

The Beginning of the End?

As the Koran burning scandal unfolded, TomDispatch spoke to Raymond F. Chandler III, the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, the most senior enlisted member of that service.  “Are there times that things happen that don’t go exactly the way we want or that people act in an unprofessional manner?  Absolutely.  It’s unfortunate,” he said.  “We have a process in place to ensure that when those things don’t happen we conduct an investigation and hold people accountable.”

In Afghan eyes over the last decade, however, it’s accountability that has been sorely lacking, which is why many now in the streets are demanding not just apologies, but a local trial and the death penalty for the Koran burners.  Although ISAF’s investigation is ongoing, its statements already indicate that it has concluded the book burnings were accidental and unintentional.  This ensures one thing: those at fault, whom no American administration could ever afford to turn over to Afghans for trial anyway, will receive, at best, a slap on the wrist — and many Afghans will be further outraged.

In other words, twist and turn as they might, issue what statements they will, the Americans are now remarkably powerless in the Afghan context to stop the unraveling.  Quite the opposite: their actions are guaranteed to ensure further anger among their Afghan “allies.”

Chandler, who was in Afghanistan last year and is slated to return in the coming months, said that he believed the United States was winning there, albeit with caveats.  “Again, there are areas in Afghanistan where we have been less successful than others, but each one of those provinces, each one of those districts has their own set of conditions tied with the Afghan people, the Afghan government’s criteria for transition to the Afghan army and the Afghan national police, the Afghan defense forces, and we’re committed to that.”  He added that the Americans serving there were “doing absolutely the best possible under the conditions and the environment.”

It turns out, however, that in Afghanistan today the “best” has not been sufficient.  With even some members of the Afghan parliament now calling for jihad against Washington and its coalition allies, radical change is in the air. The American position is visibly crumbling.  “Winning” is a distant, long-faded fantasy, defeat a rising reality. Despite its massive firepower and staggering base structure in Afghanistan, actual power is visibly slipping away from the United States.  American officials are already talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air).  And in an election year, with the Obama administration’s options desperately limited and what goals it had fast disappearing, it can only brace itself and hope to limp through until November 2012.

The end game in Afghanistan has, it seems, come into view, and after all these fruitless, bloody years, it couldn’t be sadder.  Saddest of all, so much of the blood spilled has been for purposes, if they ever made any sense, that have long since disappeared into the fog of history.

Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

(3) About the authors

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), has just been published.

Nick Turse is associate editor of TomDispatch.com.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His new TomDispatch series on the changing face of American empire is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation.  You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

(4) Other articles sounding the death knoll for our war in Afghanistan

  1. Afghanistan: the Death of a Strategy“, Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 27 Feburary 2012
  2. This is so very Vietnam War, sounding like the “Five O’clock follies” (as they called the Saigon press briefings):   Transcript of DoD News Briefing, 27 February 2012 — DoD responds to these events with blah blah, no thinking here.

(5) For more information

(a) See the FM reference page About our wars – Iraq, Af-Pak & elsewhere

(b) Other posts about our war in Afghanistan:

  1. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  2. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  3. The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009 — Tried by the Soviet Union and failed; we’re copying it.  And will fail.
  4. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
  5. You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009 — Tell people about the Big Lie justifying the war!
  6. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
  7. About those large and growing Afghanistan security forces…, 26 September 2009
  8. DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009
  9. A powerful story from Afghanistan, an illustration of our un-strategy at work, 18 April 2010
  10. On Strategy (specifically in Afghanistan), 1 September 2010
  11. Presidential decision-making about Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have 3 choices, sir”, 5 October 2010
  12. Kubler-Ross gives us a good perspective on the evolution of the Afghanistan War,19 October 2010
  13. About our operations in Kandahar – all that’s old is new again, 20 October 2010

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 February 2012 12:51 am

    I am not convinced that US forces could indefinitely remain in their fortified castle. As the French found out at Dien Pien Phu, and Von Paulaus found at Stalingrad, “We will supply you from the air” falls apart really quickly when the enemy can bring artillery fire on your runway. What really triggered the debacle for the USSR was the loss of air cover/resupply thanks to US-provided stinger missiles. I’ve been impressed that Iran (and Pakistan and the USSR, for that matter) have played so nice by not supplying Afghan defenders with man-portable SAMs. What a bitch of a payback that would be!!

    Like

    • 29 February 2012 12:53 am

      Did I write “USSR” in the present tense? How ’80s of me…

      Like

    • mike j permalink
      29 February 2012 1:57 am

      I’m no historian by any stretch, but given what’s happening in Afghanistan these days I’d like to ask our military and political people there if they’ve heard the names Burnes, Elphinstone, or Macnaghten, and if so, could they say something intelligent about what happened to those people? I have a sneaking suspicion I’d be very disappointed.

      Like

  2. 29 February 2012 1:09 am

    Can we, once and for all, finally stop chasing the Chimera of nation building?

    The only places such activities were successful were where we played a supporting role and the people wanted to rebuilt.

    When the NA took Kabul we should have congratulated them and left, killing as many AQ as possible on the way out.

    Like

  3. Whirlwind permalink
    29 February 2012 4:36 am

    Well Afghanistan is also known as the graveyard of empires. Could this be out own graveyard?

    Like

  4. Hoyticus permalink
    29 February 2012 5:37 am

    We went wrong when we invaded and then occupied a foreign country wholly different from our own. We know so little about Afghanistan and her people, we understand even less. That plus killing people makes it difficult to “win hearts and minds”. Hopefully our nation learned to avoid foolish military adventures for a very long time. We should offer know how when Afghans ask for it, not stay in their country or a decade.

    Like

  5. Bluestocking permalink
    29 February 2012 5:53 am

    I’ve been saying for a while now that a successful guerrilla or insurgent force nearly always has at least three significant advantages over an invading or occupying force, even if that occupying force genuinely has good intentions (and all too often, the supposed “good intentions” are little more than a convenient smoke screen which the invading/occupying forces have concocted, whether unconsciously or deliberately, in an effort to rationalize their actions to themselves and the rest of the world). Unfortunately, it seems all too clear from our military actions over the past thirty or forty years that even after our debacle in Vietnam, we still haven’t grasped this.

    1) Greater knowledge of, familiarity with, and adaptation to the terrain and the climate.

    2) Greater knowledge of and/or familiarity with the civilians living in areas close to the field of combat (not to mention the significant possibility that they will be on your side because you are likely to have more in common with them than the invading/occupying forces do — the odds of which become even greater when the invading/occupying forces choose to carry on as we have).

    3) The support (financial and/or military) of a third party who is at best neutral — and often hostile — to the invading/occupying forces. During the American Revolution, the third party was France (remember Lafayette?). During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it was (ironically) the United States. As Marcus J. Ranam has already pointed out, we should be thankful that the Russians have not chosen — at least not so far — to indulge in a little payback by serving as the third party in the conflict this time around (although it’s starting to look as if they might consider doing that if the US goes to war with Iran).

    Parenthetically, this is one of the reasons why I fear that if there ever came a point at which the US government and ordinary Americans ever seriously came to blows in the form of a civil war, the only way in which ordinary Americans might hope to hold their own against their own government — particularly in light of the fact that they are hopelessly outgunned, despite all the vainglorious posturing from the NRA — would be if a significant majority of people in the US armed forces (particularly those on the front lines) broke ranks and decided to desert or disobey orders rather than fire on their own people…because we would lack at least two of the aforementioned criteria for a successful guerrilla force.

    Like

    • 29 February 2012 6:04 am

      Quite right. As I and so many others have said, in 4GW the home court advantage is often decisive.

      Like

    • 29 February 2012 7:27 am

      What I think is underestimated is the language barrier. Learning language is hard, it takes time and some talent, and Americans don’t take it seriously. I can’t even imagine what it’s like riding around Afghanistan with body armor and automatic weaponry and then trying to play policemen with people who you basically cannot talk to.

      Like

  6. 29 February 2012 6:01 am

    Thx for this fine Post.

    “Chandler, who was in Afghanistan last year and is slated to return in the coming months, said that he believed the United States was winning there, albeit with caveats. ”

    Winning? Winning….? Best and the Brightest, deja vu. These People are simply lost. Lost in their self-delusional hubris. Madness.

    Tom is right, sadness is about all that is left of this madness. I am sorry, most do not want to see it even though the examples are numerous and clear to an untrained eye, the USA is a country that has lost its way.

    At least during VN the outrage was palpable and the lines were clearly drawn; today we hardly hear a whisper, a cry or a sigh from the Citizens. Terribly sad.

    Like

  7. 29 February 2012 6:39 am

    >What have we learned from this experience?

    We have learned nothing. We will learn nothing. Maybe this is the nature of war, that it’s just madness, but yet, we watch it all happen again and again and again.

    Like

  8. M Shannon permalink
    29 February 2012 4:04 pm

    My long held position is that the “end” in Afghanistan would happen in Kabul and not some remote province.

    I expect the situation will spin out of control not later than the 2014 election. Large scale demonstrations at another rigged presidential election. ANSF anti-riot techniques fanning the flames. The sacking of foreign corporate, INGO and IO offices with the foreign staff and media fleeing the country. Sectarian and inter-political “party” violence. Desertion en mass by ANSF to join the gangs. A enlarged Taliban assassination campaign and strikes on depleted ANSF garrisonss. .Withdrawal from their posts by NATO mentors in the name of force protection. District centers abandoned and overrun. A three or four way civil war in Kabul. NATO exit stage left but not until launching the odd air strike within Kabul city limits.

    As I expect Obama to be re-elected I also expect ISAF to have insufficient combat troops by mid 2014 to establish control of Kabul even if it wanted to. Half or even quarter measures will ensure this debacle puts an end to NATO out of area missions while pouring borrowed billions down the drain.

    Like

  9. annanic permalink
    29 February 2012 10:54 pm

    I got slapped down here for speculating on the future , a couple of years back .My thought then was that we might be lookimg at a ghastly killing field of collaborators as the Taliban took over again . The US might not like this scenario for either a)humanitarian reasons or b) they might be landed , perhaps by an angry UN , with going back there again .
    One would presume there are incinerators or shredders on US bases that could effectively dispose of Korans , that were suspected of containing secret messages. So why half burn the Korans , where they would be discovered ?
    Perhaps so the Afghans would unite , collaborators and resistance , in symbolic richeous indignation . Killing field scenario avoided ; and to save face all the blame can be put on some careless grunt .

    Like

  10. annanic permalink
    1 March 2012 12:41 am

    Out of interest, does anyone know the correct way to dispose of a Koran ? one smudged on a print run , or messed irretreivably by rain , moth , toddlers etc ?

    Like

    • Saif Katana permalink
      1 March 2012 9:24 am

      Actually, when a Quran (or other religious material) is worn out or contains errors which cannot (practically) be corrected, the best way to dispose of them is to burn them if the material is unusable.

      The point is to remove the script/words from the writing so no holy names are left on the bits of paper which are then thrown in the garbage. So burning is the best way to achieve this. Shredding is thus not advisable unless it is a really good shredder.

      “All acts are based on their intentions.”
      This is a principle all civilizations are aware of.

      Like stated in the article, the issue is not the burning but the years of humiliation and disrespect.
      I am aware all of you already know this though.

      I haven’t investigated all the details, so I cannot give a clear opinion on the entire situation.
      However in general it is just common sense not to destroy the holy things of others if you wish to win their hearts and minds.

      “Winning hearts and minds” is a principle of good character and not just a strategy or tactic.

      If the Qurans were regular Qurans they could have just donated them to the Afghans, even if they were worn out. And if they needed to be destroyed for valid reasons they should have consulted the Afghans and let them do the destroying.
      Some students of the Quran also write their commentary to the verses and chapters in the Quran itself.

      — Winning Hearts and Minds —

      (Based on Al-Ghazali’s The Revival of the Religious Sciences [Ihya ulum al-din],
      Book 22: Disciplining the Soul)
      The essential pillars of good character are the 4 virtues of:
      * wisdom, knowledge and understanding
      * courage, control over anger
      * temperance, control over desire
      (control = to direct and not to extinguish. To use and not to abuse)
      and
      * justice, which is the balance between these the 3 virtues.
      It is the balance between your lower animal nature and higher virtues.
      The narrow middle path.
      (In secularized terms, the balance of the ‘ego’ between ‘id’ and ‘superego’).

      The whole universe is founded upon justice|balance.
      Being forced into conflict, building nations, entering relationships, business etc.
      They must all be founded upon justice.
      To reject this is to build upon a foundation which is self-contradicting/irrational.
      It is to reject “Gods law” / “natural law” / “self-evident Truths”.
      It is like rejecting gravity.

      If you wish to win hearts and minds, have good character.
      And if you wish to have good character develop these 4 virtues.
      However what exactly is wisdom, knowledge, understanding, justice etc?
      And how do we achieve it?
      This is the challenge.

      Thus if you wish to win hearts and minds, save your own first.
      And the rest will follow naturally.
      This is valid for all of us on every level.

      The strongest “soft power” is not diplomatic-cultural-economic pressure,
      it is the moral high ground.
      (See Boyd on Grand Strategy, Osinga page 100)
      The big mistake is when people confuse this grand strategy with strategy,
      which leads to irrationality and hypocrisy.
      You become your own worst enemy.

      Like

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