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Grasping at Straws, Afghan Style

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It is beyond comprehension why America's leaders are unable to comprehend the nature of the Taliban. They are not fanatics in the sense that they are motivated by some incomprehensible beliefs that defy logic and sense of purpose. Contrary to popular Western belief, they are not terrorists. They have not launched one terrorist attack on any nation on this globe with the possible exception of Pakistan where they are fighting for their survival.

The Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban leaders, who are now ensconced in Pakistan, are under attack by the Pakistani army and militia. It follows that they are defending themselves the only way they can, and attacks on Pakistani cities are merely an extension of the war in Afghanistan.

Since I am not an apologist for the Taliban, it should be explained who the Taliban really are. The Taliban are a strict fundamentalist Sunni sect that adhere uncompromisingly to sharia law, much as many in the Western world adhere to democratic principles. They are also nationalists. The U.S.-led NATO invasion threw them out of power in late 2001. They want that power back.
They are Pashtuns, the dominant tribe in Afghanistan and feel that governing Afghanistan is their right. They are also insurgents using guerilla warfare techniques because they are outgunned from a technological standpoint and have no air power.

Most, including Muslims, have little sympathy for the Taliban's harsh religious beliefs. For the U.S. it is a question of knowing the enemy. Ignorance of the enemy's intentions, belief systems, and will is a recipe for disaster. Evidence Exhibit A: Eight years and five months of war since the U.S.-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan. Evidence Exhibit B: The Red Army invasion of Afghanistan, resulting in ultimate defeat after eight years of war. Evidence Exhibit C: Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires (see opening paragraph of this article).


Into this crucible President Obama suggested at a meeting of his "war cabinet" recently that it might be time to start negotiations with the Taliban, According to a report in the New York Times, "Obama said that the success of the recent operation to take control of the 'insurgent stronghold' of Marja, combined with the killing of insurgent leaders in Pakistan by drone attacks, might be sufficient to 'justify an effort to begin talks with the Taliban', two participants in the meeting told the Times." There is just one problem. Actually, there are several, but the problem I am referring to is that Marja was neither an "insurgent stronghold" nor a city.

According to IPS reporter Gareth Porter, "For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a 'city of 80,000 people' as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centers in Helmand. It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict." Porter added, "Marja is not a city or even a real town, but either a few clusters of farmers' homes or a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley."


Porter's account is verified by an official of the International Security Assistance Force who asked, mysteriously, not to be identified, probably concerned about his job status. "It's not urban at all." He called Marja a "rural community,"and explained, "It's a collection of village farms, with typical family compounds," adding that the homes are reasonably prosperous by Afghan standards. Porter is further supported by Richard B. Scott, who worked in Marja as an adviser on irrigation for the U.S. Agency for International Development as recently as 2005. Scott agrees that Marja has nothing that could be mistaken as being urban. It is an "agricultural district" with a "scattered series of farmers' markets." Inadvertently, the A.P. also supports Porter. A Feb. 21 story, referred to Marja as "three markets in a town which covers 80 square miles ..." Porter suggests that "A 'town' with an area of 80 square miles would be bigger than such U.S. cities as Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Cleveland. But AP failed to notice that something was seriously wrong with that reference."

Fortunately, there are other views within Obama's "war cabinet," and they are predominantly espoused by SecState Clinton and SecDef Gates. Both Gates and Clinton have argued in recent months that attempting to negotiate with Taliban leaders would be fruitless unless and until they have been convinced by U.S. military operations that they are losing. Unfortunately, success of NATO military operations in Afghanistan is very iffy, and the weight of history is not favorable to the Western powers. In addition to 2,500 years of imperial frustration in Afghanistan, the U.S. military record in a guerilla warfare environment, from Vietnam to Lebanon to Somalia to Iraq to Afghanistan has not exactly been a pantheon of success. In fact, it could be argued the very opposite is true.

Contrary to Obama's assertions, it is within the realm of possibility, or the imaginative, that the Taliban may wish to initiate negotiations with U.S. leaders for the purposes of removing the U.S.-led NATO invading forces from their land. They could use in their arguments Exhibits A, B, and C, and add Exhibit D -- the total failure of the U.S. military in a guerilla environment for the past half century.

Complicating the issue, which is standard fare in Afghanistan, is the arrest of one Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Pakistan. Baradar is second in the Taliban only to the one-eyed Mullah Mohammed Omar, and the latter decided to provide safe haven to bin Laden and Al-Qa'ida after 9/11, prompting the U.S.-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan. Deb Riechmann and Kathy Gannon of the A.P. reported that "Karzai 'was very angry' when he heard that the Pakistanis had picked up Baradar with an assist from U.S. intelligence, a Karzai adviser said. Besides the ongoing talks, he said Baradar had 'given a green light' to participating in a three-day peace jirga that Karzai is hosting next month."

Karzai wants Omar to attend that jirga, but the U.S. has not given the "green light" to Omar's right of passage to the event. What actually precipitated Baradar's arrest remains a mystery. However, it raises questions about whether the U.S. is willing to back peace discussions with top leaders of the Taliban. In the past, the U.S. position has been to negotiate with mid-level commanders of the Taliban, not the likes of Omar. Obama's "suggestions" do not change that dynamic.

Complicating the issue further -- as if the reader really wanted to hear that -- is the U.S. and Britain, prime movers of the NATO invasion of Afghanistan, cannot agree. The A.P. report stated, "At a breakfast meeting in Islamabad last week, Karzai said he and his Western allies were at odds over who should be at the negotiating table. Karzai said the United States was expressing reservations about talks with the top echelon of the Taliban while the British were 'pushing for an acceleration' in the negotiation process."

Karzai is reported to have said, "Our allies are not always talking the same language," no doubt adding to his frustration. I have the deepest lack of respect for the so-called mayor of Kabul -- he is corrupt, his administration is corrupt, his family is corrupt, and there are deep reservations as to whether or not he is a nationalist leader -- but, perhaps in this case, he has a point.

According to the A.P., Hakim Mujahed, a former Taliban ambassador to the United Nations, said many Taliban leaders are willing to talk. "The problem is not from the Taliban side," he said. "There is no interest of negotiations from the side of the foreign forces [U.S.-led NATO forces]."

Lisa Curtis, a research fellow on South Asia for the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, wades in with these comments -- "This disagreement is contributing to a lack of clarity in U.S. official statements on the issue and leading to confusion among our allies," she said. Well, no [expletive deleted]. Adding to our angst, Curtis states, "The military surge should be given time to bear fruit. Insurgents are more likely to negotiate if they fear defeat on the battlefield." She might have added, "I believe in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny," but she didn't. She also failed to add that our vaunted military has a dismal record in insurgencies. She also was remiss in failing to note that the Taliban, not NATO forces, have the upper hand in Afghanistan.

"The military surge should be given time to bear fruit." Uh-huh. LBJ's "military surge" in the late '60's is recalled, 550,000 troops, resulting in an embarrassing defeat of the U.S. military. The Red Army's "surge" of 100,000 troops is recalled in the early '80's, along with roughly 200,000 soldiers from the Afghan Communist Army -- albeit essentially worthless, not unlike the ANA today -- and the Soviet Union's defeat eight years later after enormous casualties on both sides.

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I am the author of two novels, "The Bode Testament" and "Impeachment." I am also a columnist who keeps a wary eye on other columnists and the failures of the MSM (mainstream media). I was born in Minnesota, and, to this day, I love the Vikings (more...)
 

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