Valuable, powerful articles about our war in Afghanistan

This series is just a follow-up to You can end our war in Afghanistan.

The debate accelerates about our war in Afghanistan.  IMO the following all deserve your attention.  An advocate for the war called me a “troll” for making the same points as Finel, so these critiques must be hitting close to home.  Pass these on!

  1. Doubting Afghanistan“, Bernard Finel (American Security Project), Foreign Policy, 25 August 2009 — “A compelling case for continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan can be made, but only by answering these 10 questions.”
  2. Why can’t the Afghans fight their own war?“, Shuja Nawaz, Foreign Policy, 25 August 2009
  3. Working on a dream“, Sameer Laiwani (New America Foundation), Foreign Policy, 25 August 2009 — An aptly named explanation why millions of dollars and years are required to build an Afganistan Army capable of defeating the Taliban (operating without such funding and training).

I saved the best for last.  Joshua Foust, one of the sharper knives writing about Central Asia, has started a series of articles that I recommend reading closely.  Chapter One:  “Introducing The Case for Afghanistan“, Registan (“All Central Asia, all the time”), 26 August 2009.   Exum’s debate at Abu Muqawama was a wet firecracker, serving mostly to illustrate the increasing opposition to the war and its weak intellectual foundations.  We can hope for more from Foust.  Younger, sharper, fearless — willing to speak his mind.  This should be interesting.

The opening post is, however, disappointing confusing.  Like most advocates for the war, he opens by mentioning the by now well-demolished “prevent another 9-11” theme.

… you cannot ignore the domestic politics of the war. Namely, two administrations now have placed their foreign policy fortunes on defeating al Qaeda because it is a major, strategic threat. I honestly have my doubts—despite actually watching the September 11th attacks from my office window in Arlington, at the bottom of things 9/11 didn’t materially affect the U.S. — the stock market barely paused, the Pentagon didn’t stop working, and within a week things were functioning mostly normally (the psychological shock was severe, but that’s something different). When the nation’s top military officer continues to insist on teevee that al Qaeda is still capable of striking the U.S., that carries tremendous import, and building the case that even another 9/11 is an acceptable risk requires a sophistication of argument — exhaustive, comprehensive, meticulous — that simply is not evident in the “withdraw now” folks. In other words, they need to build an air tight case, which hasn’t happened yet.

What is he saying?  I don’t know, but here are comments on the specific points raised.

  1. If 9-11 is a justification for the war, the advocates need to “build an air tight case.”  American is not yet a global criminal, where war against other nations is OK unless someone builds an air tight case against it.
  2. For that matter, who has made the case that the war in Afghanistan makes another 9-11 less likely?  All I’ve seen is hand-waving.
  3. As for the rebuttal (for details see You can end our war in Afghanistan), on what basis can anyone say “it’s not airtight.”   Have any of the war’s advocates addressed the objections?

Update

Another comment about Foust’s article:  “A Cornucopia of Strategic Debates on Afghanistan“, Michael Cohen, Democracy Arsenal, 26 August 2009 — Excerpt:

Two things here. I hardly see at as being incumbent on those who oppose the current mission in Afghanistan to build an air tight case – shouldn’t that be the responsibility of the people who are arguing for a continued military intervention? It’s one of my great pet peeves about recent US national security strategy that the default position always seems to be in favor of using military force – and that somehow it’s incumbent on the opponents to prove why this is wrong.

But Josh is raising a bit of a strawman argument here. A top US military officer insisting that al Qaeda is capable of striking the US shouldn’t exactly shut down debate. Hell we had a President who spent 5 years telling us that Iraq was the central front in the war on terror – forgive me if I take these types of pronouncements with a grain of salt.

And just because AQ is capable of striking the US doesn’t mean the current mission makes sense. And being opposed to that mission is not the same thing as believing another 9/11 is an acceptable risk. One can certainly believe that US policy in Afghanistan is wrong while also believing that the US needs to aggressively target AQ terrorists.

But my real problem here is the notion that all of those opposed to the current US mission believe we should “withdraw now.” I certainly don’t although I do believe we should begin looking at ways to pare down our involvement there. The choice need not be full speed ahead or cut and run. That’s the same false choice we dealt with in the Iraq debate. I, for one, believe that the US has some strategic interests in Afghanistan, but I do believe those interests are not being furthered by the current mission – and what’s worse there is a growing credibility gap between what the Administration says needs to happen in Afghanistan and our capabilities (not to mention resources).

Afterword

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For more information about this topic

To see all posts about our new wars:

Some posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  2. Stratfor: “The Strategic Debate Over Afghanistan”, 13 May 2009
  3. Real experts review a presentation about the War (look here, if you’re looking for well-written analysis!), 21 June 2009
  4. The Big Lie at work in Afghanistan – an open discussion, 23 June 2009
  5. “War without end”, a great article by George Wilson, 27 June 2009
  6. “Strategic Calculus and the Afghan War” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 17 July 2009
  7. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 1, 18 July 2009
  8. We are warned about Afghanistan, but choose not to listen (part 2), 19 July 2009
  9. Powerful insights about our war in Afghanistan, part 3, 20 July 2009
  10. You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009

9 thoughts on “Valuable, powerful articles about our war in Afghanistan

  1. If America seriously truly wants to prevent another 9/11, we need to invade and occupy any possible staging areas. That means we must invade Tierra Del Fuego, the channel islands off California, and so on.

    This is insane. It’s preventive war. Preventive war was definitively debunked by the Iraq disaster. If we’re serious about preventive war to eliminate possible threats to America, we’re going to have to invade an occupy every third world country and failed state on the planet. That’s beyond demented.

    Who thinks up this idiocy? Three year olds?

  2. “why can’t the Afghans fight their own war?”

    The Afghans not only can fight their own war; they are. The Afghanis in question are called “the Taliban;” their war is actually against the United States; and many people think they’re actually winning.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Please point us to reports (or something) justifying any of these assertions. So far as I know:
    * The Taliban are only one of Afghanistan’s people.
    * They fight other groups in order to regain control of Afghanistan.
    * They are gaining strength in the areas dominated by Pastouns, but not “winning” in any other sense.

  3. FM: “* The Taliban are only one of Afghanistan’s people.
    * They fight other groups in order to regain control of Afghanistan.
    * They are gaining strength in the areas dominated by Pastouns, but not “winning” in any other sense.

    None of your points contradict me.

    1) So what if there are other Afghans besides the Taliban? Yes, they are Afghans, which is what I said. ( Although some are Pakistanis, if we want to get technical. )

    2) They fight other groups – ergo they are fighting, which is what I said.

    3) So the “sense” in which they are “winning” may be that they are gaining ground in Pashtun areas. My point was that people say that they are winning; which is consistent with your asserted qualification.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the explanation. That makes sense!

  4. Who are the “taliban” these days anyway? IT seems to me that it is a catch-all term used to describe mostly Pashtun nationalists operating in Afghanistand and Pakistan in the largely Pashtun regions in those countries.

    How much relationship is there even between the “Taliban” of today and the “Taliban” which ran Kabul and points south a decade ago?

    What negative strategic impact would it have on us if we just declared victory, pulled out, and let them “win” in their home turf, let them run their homelands in Afghanistan and Pakistan into poverty and the ground?

  5. From article #3, emphasis mine:

    The Taliban and al Qaeda had large cadres of well-trained and committed troops with mastery over the modern system of warfare. According to Biddle, the bulk of the terrorist training camps run by al Qaeda were actually training infantrymen in Western military tactics. They also had far stronger morale than their Northern Alliance brethren, demonstrated by their willingness to engage assault forces even during U.S. airstrikes.

    Today’s battle-hardened Afghan Taliban “core” (that number around 8,000 to 10,000 according to counterinsurgency specialist David Kilcullen, a figure likely rising with Taliban gains) are well-trained and committed. Though it may not be welcome news, it seems fair to estimate, for now, that the Taliban’s level of commitment to expel foreign forces from Afghanistan (demonstrated by their acceptance of heavy losses) exceeds the Afghan National Army’s commitment to suppress them , especially when less than half of the reported troop levels of the ANA are still in the ranks and ready for duty.

    OK, so the “modern system of warfare” is complicated. But U.S Army basic is 9 weeks, followed by 14 weeks of Advanced Infantry Training (granted that officer training takes much longer). So approximately 6 months to from green recruit to what are constantly lauded as the “best-trained” soldiers in the world.

    Furthermore, the Taliban ruled from 1996 – 2001, about 5 years, the period during which, according to the author, they were able to “master the modern system of warfare.” So either Al Qaeda is better at infantry training than the U.S., in which case we need to get some of those guys out of Gitmo and over to Fort Benning, or there’s something else going on, as suggested by the emphasized phrases above. Update: the U.S. has been at it for 8 years, vs. the 5 years for the Taliban.

    As Lind pointed out a couple of years ago with respect to Iraq, the issue is not one of training, but loyalty and motivation. The Taliban are willing to die for their cause, the ANA are not willing to die for theirs, because it’s not really theirs . . . All the training in the world isn’t going to fix that.

  6. The A. Taliban are a product of Islamist madrassas in the NWFP. They are rooted in Pashtun tribal groups which are both sides of the border and will continue the insurrections and uprisings which have characterized the region for the last two centuries. When supported by Arab money, permitting jihadist murder plots and the Pakistani military they pose a threat. We destroyed them in a week when we told the Paki army which was their logistical backbone and comm net we would destroy Islamabad if it did not withdraw. We need deep intel in A. and P. combined with focused aid programs and targeted assassinations that are not discussed. We need to support efforts to allow the Pashtuns to live united so they can resume their permanent civil war which is their first passion. We are wasting treasure, lives and spirit; if that is not bad enough, we are avoiding looking at ourselves and beginning to reconfigure the USA so it can have an economic system that is sustainable. We are still acting like spoiled children. And we are not governed by adults and have not been for decades.

  7. I still have this picture of the Helmand Taliban ambling into Baluchistan and heading North . That would be incorrect , yes ?

  8. I know nothing about the state of cancer care , availability of emergency surgery for appendicitis or fractures , or NSAIDs / joint replacements for releif of arthrits , etc in Afgh . I read that the average lifespan is short and childbirth frequent .
    How much Opium is for home consumption , and when ‘ they ‘ talk of eradicating the poppy fields , what are these people to do for pain releif ?

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