Monday, September 28, 2009

At the Crossroads in Afghanistan

The reality of Afghanistan is that any foreign presence in that country will always be viewed by most of the citizens as contrary to their welfare. This is a country where the majority of the people live the same way they did hundreds of years ago.

If you look at the tens of millions of people in Afghanistan, try to understand that the percentage of them who are fundamentalist in their religious beliefs far exceed the number of troops we will ever have in their country. These Afghans (and their supporters in Pakistan) will never accept the long-term presence of American troops any more than the Iraqis did. Remember that the new government in Baghdad insisted on a firm date for the withdrawal of all our forces when they negotiated that Status of Forces agreement last year.

Since I fought in Vietnam, I have always opposed “half wars” – wars where we dive in to save or introduce “democracy," but either our leaders didn’t know how to win, or they never planned to win in the first place. The soldiers who fight America’s wars must never have to die in such “half wars." After all, we didn’t enter Afghanistan to create a model of democracy in the first place.

We invaded Afghanistan to find, kill, and/or capture Osama bin Laden and the leadership of Al Qaeda. Since the Taliban government refused to turn over bin Laden, we dismantled their government and sent them scurrying into the mountains like the animals they are.

While we owe the innocent citizens of this defeated nation a chance to rebuild their government, no magical number of soldiers will ever conquer the ancient hatred of western occupying armies. This instinctive distrust of westerners will always remain the basis of an insurgency. We need to have enough soldiers to get the Al Qaeda job done (the "victory" we need), and then we should pack up and go home. Yes, we would continue to support and advise a democratic Afghan government, but they need to do the work.

With safe havens in Pakistan where we only wage war with rocket-laden drones, the insurgency in Afghanistan could never be defeated anyway. Just like Laos and Cambodia, where the North Vietnamese built their supply centers and base camps in safety, the Afghan/Pakistani insurgents have a free rein – as long as they pay attention to what is flying overhead. The safe havens in Pakistan are like bee hives, constantly breeding, training, and equipping new guerrillas. As long as these “hives” exist, the dead insurgents will continue to be replaced many times over by new fighters.

If the commanding general in Afghanistan wants more soldiers to hold the line while we get bin Laden and his pals, then the president better give him what he wants – and fast. Our troops deserve only the best in terms of equipment, supplies, and manpower.

But if the goal is to keep fighting another “half war” where we ask our soldiers to put their lives on the line for years when there isn’t a solid plan for real victory, then it’s time to re-evaluate how the war on terror will be fought now and in the years to come.

The definition of “victory” in military terms is the complete defeat or surrender of the enemy. If we are unwilling or unable to achieve this goal in Afghanistan, then we must change our strategy and choose a better way of fighting the plague of international terrorism.

Charles M. Grist

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