Looking for the enemy in Afghanistan
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Last September 28th a small Taliban contingent of 500 overran and held for 15 days the important city of Kunduz after several thousand government soldiers fled. On October 3rd we were given a vivid display of American airpower 'helping' Afghan ground forces retake the city. An AC-130 gunship severely damaged a Kunduz hospital operated by Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) killing 30 civilians.
Recognizing that Afghanistan's "new day" had not yet dawned, Obama announced on Oct. 15, 2015 that instead of a nearly complete withdrawal 9,800 American troops will remain in place through most of 2016. This puts the U.S. on a slippery slope that could quickly become steeper.
Will 9,800 troops accomplish more than the 38,000 that were there in early 2014, or the 101,000 at the peak of Obama's surge in June of 2011? If (as seems likely) the Taliban and other jihadist forces continue to gain ground, how can Obama say "no" to further increases in U.S. forces? What if ISIS captures some of these troops and videotapes their beheading?
The Obama administration's current story is that there is now a more competent government in Kabul, one that deserves our support. It is headed by President Ashraf Ghani, who succeeded the corrupt and uncooperative Hamid Karzai on Sept. 29, 2014. Yet the glaring incompetence of the Ghani regime was obvious in Kunduz, and government corruption is still pervasive.
The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim explains why ordinary Afghans distrust their government and even prefer the Taliban: "Imagine that you are an Afghan civilian generally opposed to the extremism of the Taliban. Yet for nearly everything you need to do -- travel to and from work, transport merchandise, enroll in school, open a business -- you get shaken down by the Kabul government, often by somebody of a different ethnicity."
The New York Times reported that the quick collapse of Kunduz was preceded by growing Taliban dominance of the surrounding countryside where residents came to hate the Kabul government: "Militias and Afghan Local Police forces installed by the American Special Forces were largely unaccountable. They extorted protection money from farmers, and committed rapes and robberies. But because they had guns and the backing of local strongmen close to the government, people's complaints were ignored."
Although the U.S. has spent over $8 billion trying to combat opium poppy cultivation, Afghanistan today accounts for 90% of illicit opium production. Ironically, the Taliban had successfully banned opium production just before the invasion. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) said in an October 2014 letter to the heads of the Departments of Defense, State and Justice that "The narcotics trade poisons the Afghan financial sector and undermines the Afghan state's legitimacy by stoking corruption, sustaining criminal networks, and providing significant financial support to the Taliban and other insurgent groups."
SIGAR reports that U.S. reconstruction programs in Afghanistan totaled "$110 billion, after adjusting for inflation, [which] exceeds the value of the entire Marshall Plan effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II." According to an investigative report by Pro Publica, "In just six years," SIGAR "has tallied at least $17 billion in questionable spending. This includes $3.6 billion in outright waste."
Included in the latter category is the Pentagon's $486 million purchase in 2008 of 20 refurbished cargo planes for the Afghan Air Force. The planes were in such poor condition that they could not be flown. Sixteen of them were later sold as scrap metal for $32,000. The strategic incompetence of the U.S. government in Afghanistan was matched by financial and managerial bungling.
On October 15th, President Obama gave this rationale for extending American troop deployments in Afghanistan: "As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again." The Taliban should know that "the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of U.S. and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government."
Why is it a vital American interest that the Taliban and other Jihadists reach a "lasting political settlement" with the corrupt and incompetent Kabul regime? How likely is that ever to happen? What sort of settlement with such parties could guarantee that no terrorist would ever find safe haven there again? Obama's rationale is dishonest nonsense.
Here is a long overdue question: was there ever a good reason for the invasion, let alone for a 14-year war in Afghanistan?
Of the nineteen airline hijackers who killed 2,996 people on Sept. 11, 2011, 15 were Saudi Arabians, two were from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Lebanon and Egypt. Their ringleader was Egyptian Mohammed Atta, who piloted one of the planes hitting the World Trade Center.
The idea of hijacking and crashing airliners originated with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), a Kuwaiti of Pakistani extraction. KSM sold his plan to Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian based in Afghanistan. But much of the detailed planning for 9/11 was done by Atta and other middle-class self-radicalized students living in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany.
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