Like many, I have been carefully following the war
in Afghanistan since its inception in Oct. 2001. Unlike many, I have devoted
countless hours of research on this lengthy war. Unlike many, I have written a
myriad of articles on the subject over the years. It can be reasonably argued
that I know a great deal about this war. But there is one thing I do not know.
In Heaven's name, why are we fighting it?
Once upon a time long ago there was a very good reason why the U.S. initiated this war. Al-Qa'ida ruthlessly attacked America on 9-11 utilizing fuel-laden passenger airliners and turning them into missiles to assault the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Al-Qa'ida was based in Afghanistan, and the ruling Taliban provided them sanctuary. There can be no better reason for war than to remove Al-Qa'ida from this Earth as well as the Taliban that shielded them. The vast number of grieving Americans with revenge in their hearts agreed with this premise " including this writer.
However, that was over nine years ago and much has changed, including the fact that the Taliban is stronger than ever. Something far more significant has changed. The original goal of the war was the removal of Al-Qa'ida from Afghanistan. In the strictest sense of the word that has been accomplished, just not in the way Washington intended. Al-Qa'ida removed itself from Afghanistan in late 2001, escaping to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan along with the leaders of the Taliban, including Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban. Al-Qa'ida now operates in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, North Africa, Somalia, Indonesia (the largest Muslim nation on Earth), and elsewhere.
All of this begs a question. How did all of this happen? How was the mighty U.S. foiled by an enemy with no air force, essentially no armor, who largely relied on hand-held weapons, and basically had little or no technology? There are two reasons, both almost infantile in terms of military strategy. The first reason is too few ground troops. The U.S. "invaded" Afghanistan a country about the size of Texas with less than 1500 ground troops, relying almost exclusively on air power. How a F-16 or a B-52 bomber is supposed to locate and eliminate the top Al Qaeda leaders is beyond my comprehension. Ordinarily that type of mission requires reliable intelligence and troops on the ground. This error in judgment led to the second folly. The American commanders were forced to use indigenous troops for ground operations like the Battle of Tora Bora.
So, let's see if I have this straight. An American strategic military genius envisioned a miniscule ground force to invade Afghanistan while the American air force was bombing the crap out of the Afghan countryside, villages, and its cities, than expected Afghans to fight right alongside these very same Americans against Afghans. If that sounds rather preposterous, that is because it is. The name of this military genius is Donald H. Rumsfeld, President Bush's Secretary of Defense.
All that was nine years ago, totally irrelevant, as is the initial cause of this war. So, again I ask, why are we fighting this war in 2010? There are plentiful reasons as to why not. Afghanistan has no strategic relevance to the U.S. Afghanistan has no economic relevance to the U.S. It is one of the poorest countries on Earth, has few mineral resources, and what it has cannot be exploited because of its primitive roads and a transportation system that cannot rival France in the Middle Ages. Its culture is so diverse from Americans it could be on another planet. Its main cash crop is poppy, the source of its opium and heroin trade. In view of the factors mentioned above, the most important reason we should not be fighting this war is the cost in blood and treasure. The U.S. is borrowing billions to fight this war, and we are borrowing against future generations with the loss of our young men and women.
Taking all this into account, there has to be viable reasons why we are fighting this war today. The alternative is that our political and military leaders have simply gone insane. They continue to fight a war, during which our young men and women are being killed or wounded while costing billions, for no substantial reason? That is a difficult concept to accept. The stated reasons for this war today will now be closely examined, once again noting the initial cause of this war has not been relevant for over eight years.
One reason that is being touted today, even by President Obama, is that we are fighting in Afghanistan to deny Al-Qa'ida a safe haven. That sounds reasonable. However, if one takes a closer examination of this premise, it becomes more of an illusion than reality. It represents an admission that Al-Qa'ida will be around for an extended period of time. I liked the idea of eliminating them a lot better. As has been pointed out, Al-Qa'ida essentially no longer exists in Afghanistan. So, why pick on Afghanistan? Because of 9/11? That was over nine years ago. It is expected that our leaders should be able to adjust to reality on the ground a bit quicker than that. It also implies that a military solution is also required in Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia, North Africa, etc., etc. to deny Al-Qa'ida safe haven in those places as well. That, of course, is absurd. To fight terrorism the military is the absolute worst tool. Fighting terrorism requires comprehensive intelligence from all nations, including Muslim nations since those nations are more often in Al-Qa'ida's crosshairs then Western nations. Fighting terrorism also requires federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, not armies. It is easy to conclude this reason for the fighting is farcical.
So, obviously, a third reason was needed for this war, and the Obama administration complied. We are fighting to prevent the Taliban from taking back control of their country. The Obama Administration believes that if the Taliban thrives, Al-Qa'ida will benefit, and Afghanistan and Pakistan will be imperiled. After all these years, now the stated goal of the U.S.-led NATO force is regime change. I am going to admit something. I don't care. I do not care if the Taliban retakes control of Afghanistan. They can have it. There are extremely serious doubts that a Taliban government in Kabul would "imperil" Pakistan. That oft-expressed fear has little semblance to reality.
We now come to the fourth official reason as to why we are still fighting in Afghanistan in 2010, along with 2011, and 2012 is pretty good bet, too. Let us hope it is better than the first three. The fourth official reason is to provide a stable government in Afghanistan. Alas, this one is even worse than the others. This goal is illusory. Afghanistan has not had a stable central government in over 3,000 years. Why? Afghanis do not want one. Afghanistan has a diverse culture consisting of Pashtuns 42%, Tajiks 27%, Hazaras 9%, Uzbeks 9%, Aimaks 4%, Turkmens 3%, Balochs 2%, and others 4%, and, for the most part, they do not like or trust each other very much. Moreover, the prime element in Afghan society is the tribe. Afghans feel that the local tribe is more relevant to their needs than some far-off central government in Kabul. Taking into account all aspects of Afghan society, using the corrupt Karzai government and the cruel and inhumane Taliban government that preceded it as examples, the Afghani people are probably right. What is wrong in withdrawing all NATO forces and let the people of Afghanistan decide their own fate? For better or worse that is what they have been doing for over three millennia.
Well, according to some circles, there is something wrong with that. In the view of some, withdrawing our military forces will cause the U.S. a loss of prestige, perhaps, so-o-o? Anyone out there feel that right after we withdraw our troops from the Middle East (yes, Iraq too) that would be a good time for Iran, or North Korea, to attack the United States? Anyone feel that Russia would launch its ICBM's skyward to attack targets in the U.S.? Anyone feel that the Red Chinese navy will re-enact the attack on Pearl Harbor? If so, go back to whatever you were doing. You are not a strategist by any stretch of the imagination. So, now it comes down to American perseverance. Pardon me, but 7 years in Iraq and over nine years in Afghanistan goes a long way to prove perseverance. However, the issue is not perseverance. The issue is, short of carpet-bombing both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration with too few ground troops in both wars gave our military missions it could not possibly accomplish. Both missions then became pure debacles, and most of the civilized nations on the planet regard our two extended wars as abject stupidity. Consequently, withdrawal then becomes a matter of prudence, not cowardice.
There you have it. Every reason given to the American people for our continued fighting in Afghanistan is either irrelevant today, lacking realism, or is just plain nonsense. Therefore, our political and military leaders have all simultaneously gone insane. But wait, there is another reason. The reason goes unstated because it is not the least bit palatable to Americans. There is evidence before our very eyes for this reason if one looks closely enough. Our politicians in Washington give lip service to ending the wars. Obama wants to "begin" the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in July 2011, whatever that means. Lawmakers decry the wars, but continue to approve appropriations for them.
The reason that the war in Afghanistan goes on and on is because the Military Industrial Complex wants that to happen. War is big business with huge profits at the expense of blood and the American taxpayer, and the MIC has its tentacles in every Congressperson, Senator, governor, and the American President. This gives rise to the question, who really controls the purse strings of war, as the Constitution states, Congress, or some other entity? With prominent generals, McChrystal and Petraeus come to mind, being so vocal against the President's wishes, serious questions can be asked if the President is really the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces " or is it some other entity? Generals are not stupid. They know which side of the bread gets buttered.
McClatchy Newspapers recently reported, "The Obama administration has decided to begin publicly walking away from what it once touted as key deadlines in the war in Afghanistan in an effort to de-emphasize President Barack Obama's pledge that he'd begin withdrawing U.S. forces in July 2011, administration and military officials have told McClatchy."
Two reasons were provided by White House Officials to McClatchy. "U.S. officials realized that conditions in Afghanistan were unlikely to allow a speedy withdrawal." And, "During our assessments, we looked at if we continue to move forward at this pace, how long before we can fully transition to the Afghans? And we found that we cannot fully transition to the Afghans by July 2011." Sometimes, when covering this war, I feel like I am living in la-la-land. No one on this planet expected a "speedy withdrawal" from Afghanistan, and only the most optimistic dreamer thought the U.S. could "fully transition to the Afghans by July 2011." According to officials, conditions do not permit any meaningful withdrawal at all that starts in July 2011.