As I recall the argument for invading Afghanistan, it went something like this. The assertion was (and remains) that Osama bin Laden (ObL) was responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001. ObL and his al Qaeda forces were 'hiding out" in Afghanistan. The U.S. demanded that Afghanistan turn over ObL. Since the Afghan government, controlled by the Taliban, would not turn over bin Laden, the U.S. would invade Afghanistan and perform a "regime change" (topple the Taliban), and root out ObL and al Qaeda. Well, regime change was performed, but both bin Laden and the Taliban seem to still be running around making trouble.
Regardless, the U.S. actions against Afghanistan were, and are still, claimed to be a good or just war.
The general consensus is now that the invasion of Iraq was about oil. This supposedly highlights the "justness" and importance of Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden remains at large. Afghanistan spirals into chaos because Bush "lost focus." The argument is that we must shift forces to Afghanistan, and indeed there are increasingly strident calls by U.S. military commanders that more troops are needed in Afghanistan.
Inconveniently, invading Afghanistan was not ObL - at least not directly. First, regardless of the brutality of the Taleban inside Afghanistan, the U.S. was friendly with the Taleban. Through the Clinton administration, and into George W. Bush administration, the U.S. supported the Taleban government. In fact, Colin Powell gave the Taleban government $43 million in the summer of 2001 to facilitate progress on a pipeline through Afghanistan. That was the carrot. The stick was - do it or we will invade by October. Wow! Time lines from the Bush administration.
From Power Play?
Afghanistan and US interests prior to 9-11
It has been widely broadcast that the U.S. helped arm and train Afghans and extremists to repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It is ironic that these same people would turn their skills and arms against the United States. However, it is beyond deceptive to present this as our sole connection or interest in Afghanistan.
The Clinton administration had been working with the Taliban from 1994 forward. Why? Because some companies (particularly UNOCAL and Saudi owned Delta) wanted "to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan." ... "so that the vast untapped oil and gas reserves in the Central Asian and Caspian region could be transported to markets in South Asia, South-East Asia, Far East and the Pacific" 17. This is supported by Jon Flanders (2001, 18) article. While official relations were purportedly broken off in 1998, relations with the Taliban were maintained through the State Department (Ahmad) and through the Pakistan Military Intelligence ISI by the CIA. 19
According to Jon Flanders (2001), U.S. interest in the pipeline restarted in 2000, but was still not moving forward when Bush was elected. With Bush came Cheney (CEO of Halliburton) and Halliburton had investments in Turkmenistan for "integrated drilling services with an estimated value of $30 million for the total package." 20
It should not be surprising given the oil interests of the President, his kin, and his appointees, that Bush placed Afghanistan on the top of his action list. In July 2001, Colin Powell gave the Taliban $43 million for "humanitarian aid" (Madsen, 2002, 21).
According to a BBC report by George Arney (9/18/01), the US was planning military action in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. "Naiz Naik, a former Pakistan Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action would go ahead by the middle of October." 22
The short story is that Hamid Karzai, former UNOCAL advisor in Afghanistan, became the head of the new Afghan government. The pipeline project moved forward, and the Bush administration jumped off to the next big energy target for control - Iraq. But Afghanistan would not, and did not, go away. Now the people of Afghanistan want Karzai out for corruption and failure.
Not only has Afghanistan not been a success, the strategy now seems to bring the Taleban back into the official government fold (CNN, AP). In fact, some areas of Afghanistan are already under Taliban rule.
Meanwhile, Pakistan seems to be falling apart on one hand, and ready to declare open war on the US on the other. At the very least the US strategy of raiding and bombing in Pakistan is increasing hostility, and threatens the new Pakistani government. Every indication is that Pakistan is on the edge - the edge of bankruptcy, the edge of losing precarious control, the edge of governmental collapse if the abridgement of its sovereignty continues. All of this threatens to not only remove Pakistan as an ally in the region, but to make it an enemy. Further, a destabilized nuclear Pakistan could trigger conflict with a nuclear India. In a compromise, Pakistan (and the US) may set up another "blowback" situation by arming anti-Taliban tribes in western Pakistan.
While both Obama and McCain have tried to out-hawk each other with threats of unilaterally pursuing al Qaeda into Pakistan, the consequences of doing that seem to be such a destabilizing force that it is clear a different strategy is necessary. It is just not a good idea to treat an ally as a threat. Nor should the US (or NATO) stand idly by while Pakistan spirals into an economic collapse. The US took that strategy before with Afghanistan, by walking away leaving Afghanistan in shambles after using it as a proxy in its conflict with the Soviet Union.
As with Iraq, reconstruction and stability goes a very long way towards undermining terrorist recruiting, and militia uprising. Unless the purpose of all this intervention has been to create a (profitable) chaos which requires indefinite US military presence in the region, we need a different course ... quickly.
6/11/08 Anand Golan, Christian Science Monitor. Secret accord sheltered Al Qaeda linked militants in tribal Pakistan
6/11/08 Fouad Pervez, FPIF. The Real Crisis in Pakistan
10/04/08 Eugene Puryear, PSL. U.S. violation of Pakistan's sovereignty puts Zardari in a quandary
10/05/08 Christina Lamb, Times OnLine, War on Taliban cannot be won, says army chief
10/05/08 Nic Robertson, CNN. Source: Saudi hosts Afghan peace talks with Taliban reps
10/06/08 AP. Taliban, Afghan officials meet in Saudi Arabia
10/06/08 Isambard Wilkinson, The Telegraph UK. Pakistan Facing Bankruptcy
10/14/08 Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, McClatchy. New intelligence report says Pakistan is 'on the edge'
10/15/08 M K Bhadrakumae, Asia Times. A mad scramble over Afghanistan
10/15/08 Anand Gopal. Christian Science Monitor. Some Afghans live under Taliban rule - and prefer it
10/16/08 al Jazeera. 'US missiles' hit Pakistan village
10/16/08 AFP. Suspected US Strike Inside Pakistan Kills Five: Officials
10/17/08 Abdul Qodous, Reuters. South Afghanistan attack kills 17 civilians
10/18/08 Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times. Pakistan does some US dirty work
10/18/08 BBC, Pakistani army 'kills 60 Taleban'
10/23/08 Karen DeYoung, Wa. Post, Pakistan Will Give Arms to Tribal Militias
10/24/08 Saeed Shah, Guardian, Pakistan rejects 'America's war' on extremists