Summary: My first posts in 2003 debunked the victory in Afghanistan narrative told to us by the government and uncritically reported by journalists. The comments were brutal to it and my hundreds of other posts in the following 15 years. Now our long war has entered its last stage. As in Vietnam, we prepare to leave – with nothing to show for our investment of money and blood.
By William S. Lind at Traditional Right • 25 November 2018.
Posted with his generous permission.
The American position in Afghanistan is not just deteriorating, it is deteriorating at an accelerating rate. Historically, that is the last stage before a military collapse.
The November 3 New York Times reported in detail how a Taliban infiltrator penetrated a top-level meeting in Kandahar, killed one of Afghanistan’s top generals and almost got the American general commanding our forces there, General Austin S. Miller. Our reaction made the bad situation worse. The New York Times wrote about “How a Taliban Assassin Got Close Enough to Kill a General.”
“The scramble to get the Americans out of the governor’s compound after General Raziq was killed led to a brief firefight between Americans and Afghan security forces, with the Americans crashing through a gate and shooting at least one Afghan officer dead as they left, American officials said. Now, in the days that have followed, the Americans are being accused of General Raziq’s death, rattling the relationship between the allies.”
Editor’s note – This echoes another NY Times story that said “In the scramble to get the Americans out of Vietnam, the newspapers and television kept sending the message to Moscow, Peking and Hanoi that all Washington wanted was time for compromise …” (30 April 1975).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the November 4 NYT Times reported another “green on blue” shooting, with one American soldier dead: “Brent Taylor, Utah Mayor Killed in Afghanistan, Was on 4th Deployment.”
Afghanistan has a long history of being a place easy to get into but hard to get out of. Successful retreats are perhaps the most difficult of all military operations no matter where they are conducted. Conducting a successful retreat from Afghanistan is near the top of the list of daunting military tasks.
Everyone knows we have lost and will be leaving soon. We are trying to obtain a peace deal from the Taliban which will permit us at least an orderly withdrawal. That is wise on our part, and the Taliban are showing some interest.
If that does not happen, what we may face is a widespread realignment within Afghanistan in which everyone tries to get on the good side of the victor, i.e., the Taliban, with American forces still there. Afghan government soldiers and police will have a tempting opportunity to do that by turning their weapons on any nearby Americans. In that part of the world, “piling on” the loser is a time-honored way of changing sides to preserve your own neck.
The apparently widespread rumor that the Americans were responsible for General Raziq’s death illustrates the high level of distrust and dislike already present between U.S. and Afghan government forces. This is one of the strategic factors that are almost always present when an outside power intervenes in someone else’s civil war. We are foreigners, we have a different religion, our soldiers get far better pay, food, living conditions, and medical care than do Afghan soldiers and police, and we think we know what we are doing in a place we do not understand. Add to that volatile mix the growing realization that the Taliban are winning and we will soon be leaving, and the incentive for Afghans to change sides grows.
It does not help matters that of our two exit routes, one goes through Pakistan and the other eventually goes through Russia. Thanks to the usual idiocies from the Washington foreign policy establishment, we have bad relations with both countries. Pakistan probably won’t slam the door in our face because they want the Taliban to win. Why? Because we stupidly allow the current Afghan government to align with India. Does anyone in Washington know how to think strategically? Apparently not.
What is needed most now is detailed planning by the Pentagon for a fighting withdrawal. I am not saying we want to get out that way. It is contingency planning in case we have to. I fear that planning will not be done because it will be politically incorrect, since the military leadership still pretends we are winning. Subordinates will be afraid to initiate planning that contradicts their superiors’ public statements. But if we have to put a fighting withdrawal together on the fly, a difficult situation will become a great deal more hazardous. I hope some majors and lieutenant colonels are developing the necessary plan now, even if they can’t tell their bosses what they are doing.
Our departure from Afghanistan would end one chapter in their history and ours. What comes next in Afghanistan? How will Americans react to the final revelation that our expeditions to both Iraq and Afghanistan ended in expensive and bloody failures?
Update – The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is almost complete. In Spring 2011 the US had aprox 100,000 troops in Af. By Dec 2016 there were 8,000 troops. See Wikipedia for details. See the graph. Per NATO, these are the number of NATO troops in Af as of May 2018 (plus roughly two dozen smaller contingents).
- US: 8,475
- Germany: 1,300
- Italy: 895
- Georgia: 872
- Romania: 679
- Turkey: 588
- UK: 500
About the author
William S. Lind’s director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. He has a Master’s Degree in History from Princeton University in 1971. He worked as a legislative aide for armed services for Senator Robert Taft, Jr., of Ohio from 1973 to 1976 and held a similar position with Senator Gary Hart of Colorado from 1977 to 1986. See his bio at Wikipedia.
Mr. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook (1985), co-author with Gary Hart of America Can Win: The Case for Military Reform (1986), and co-author with William H. Marshner of Cultural Conservatism: Toward a New National Agenda (1987).
He’s perhaps best known for his articles about the long war, now published as On War: The Collected Columns of William S. Lind 2003-2009. See his other articles about a broad range of subjects…
- His posts at TraditionalRight.
- His articles about geopolitics at The American Conservative.
- His articles about transportation at The American Conservative.
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
- Why we lose wars so often. How we can win in the future.
- A powerful new article shows why we lose so many wars: FAILure to learn.
- Two generals chat about Afghanistan (a funny, sad, horrifying look at our war).
- Why Trump’s plan for Afghanistan will fail.
- Stratfor pans Trump’s new Afghanistan War plan.
- A reminder that we pay for our wars in money and blood.
- How We Learned Not To Care About Our Wars.
- On the 16th anniversary of Afghanistan, see why we lost.
- Dark secrets about our war in Afghanistan.
We can learn from our war in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way by Tim Bird and Alex Marshall (2011).
The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan by Jack Fairweather (2014).