Summary: Our descendents will read about the Af-Pak War and conclude that early 21st century Americans were either fools or insane. As seen in these two stories from today’s news.
(1) Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said that the government estimates that there are somewhat “more than 300” al Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas (“New Estimate of Strength of Al Qaeda Is Offered“, New York Times, 1 July 2010). How nice of them to tell us. How long have they known this? In addition AQ has another 50 – 100 in Afghanistan (per CIA Director Panetta).
(2) Now read “We must crush the Taliban and Al Qaeda in a ‘long war’ in Afghanistan“, John R. Bolton (former U.S. ambassador to the UN), op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2010:
“U.S. objectives in Afghanistan are straightforward: first, defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda efforts to reconquer Afghanistan and make it a base for international terrorism , and second, ensure that Afghan turmoil does not weaken or endanger Pakistan, permitting its nuclear weapons arsenal to fall into the hands of radical Islamists”.
Bolton gives no evidence that either of those things is likely. Esp that the few hundreds of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose any substantial threat to us. His assertions are variants of the two most common justifications for the war:
- to prevent another 9-11, and
- to build a stable and “good” Afghanistan. Good defined in many ways, and steadily down as the war winds on (see here for the “protect women” version)
The second reason is so absurd that it needs no rebuttal, as most Americans reject it as either impossible or not worth the cost in blood and money. The first of these is the big lie of the war (see Wikipedia). Afghanistan had little or no role in 9-11. Whatever we do in Afghanistan does not prevent another 9-11.
- The 9-11 attack was planned in Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, and Hamburg.
- The most important and relevant training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in the US.
- The Afghanistan camps primarily trained fighters against the Northern Alliance. The training they provided for 9-11 could easily have been done elsewhere. For more on this see “The ‘safe haven’ myth“, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 18 August 2009, or “Who’s Afraid of A Terrorist Haven?, Paul R. Pillar, op-ed in the Washington Post, 16 September 2009.
The 9/11 Commission’s investigation: what role did Afghanistan play?
The most complete public collection of information about 9/11 is The 9-11 Commission’s Report. For details about the role of the training in Afghanistan, see page 156, Chapter 5, Al Qaeda Aims at the American Homeland. Pretty weak basis for a long war, as the important planning and training was done in Europe and the US: