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The U.S. In Afghanistan: Meaningless Military Success, Profound Moral Failure

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Message Bill Distler
Forty-three years ago in Vietnam, I was one of the grunts who watched the high sounding theories of counterinsurgency turn into the ugly reality on the ground.  Although counterinsurgency has been given an update, one thing hasn't changed: we still think we can decide the fate of other countries. This attitude explains why we think we can tell the story of Afghanistan without including the Afghans.

Many think-tankers, generals, and politicians favor endless war.  U.S. peace activists are rarely asked their opinion.  But the group asked their opinion the least are the people with the most at stake, the Afghan people. 

Through their personal histories, Afghans know the story of this war in a way that no American does.  But a true picture of the human cost of this war might make it harder to sell.

U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been both a success and a failure.  One success has been the ability of the military to control the message.  Instead of asking the first question: "Is the war right or wrong?",  we have been led to debate less important questions, such as: "Are we winning?" 

There are two answers to this question about winning.  If "we" means generals, weapons makers, mineral and natural gas thieves, fraudulent contractors, war-promoting politicians, and columnists who call for war, then yes, "we" are winning.  If "we" means the decent people of Afghanistan and America, then "we" are losing.

General Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan and proponent of counterinsurgency, laid out guidelines for "success".  The population must be protected and brought to the government side with good governance and services.

When the general accepted this assignment he must have known that success was impossible because:

1)  he can not protect the population when there is no plan to stop the guerrillas from using sanctuaries in Pakistan;

2)  the government he is offering the Afghans is considered the third most corrupt government in the world by Transparency International;

3)  he works with U .S. contractors who are accused by the U.S. Senate's Commission on Wartime Contracting of stealing  "tens of billions" of dollars;

4)  he violates his own guidelines for protecting civilians by increasing air strikes and night raids

5)  he weakens the health of the population by leaving thousands of untreated amputees and wounded children as a burden on their families;

6)  he makes no honest effort to empower Afghan women.  Like the wounded, they are left to fend for themselves.

From the beginning our government has supported the corrupt and casually brutal Karzai regime against the fundamentalist brutality of the Taliban.  The U.S. now offers the Afghan people a coalition of the most corrupt and the most brutal groups in Afghanistan.  Have so many civilians and soldiers died for this pitiful result?

Why would U.S. policy deliberately undermine democracy?  A recent news article offers a clue.  Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, perhaps the most brutal and woman-hating mujahideen warlord in Afghanistan, will be allowed to participate in peace negotiations with the Karzai government.  But he must agree not to attack the proposed Turkmenistan to India natural gas pipeline (TAPI) that will pass through his territory. 

If the profits from mineral extraction are to go to corporations and not the people, it is necessary to have a corrupt central government and a weak and disorganized population.  General Petraeus' methods are certainly accomplishing that.

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Bill Distler was a squad leader in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam from Dec. 1967 to Sept. 1968. He has been a member of Veterans for Peace since 2003. Hobbies include reading the Afghanistan entries in the USGS Minerals Yearbook. He (more...)
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