Monday, April 4, 2011

Afghanistan - America's Decade In A "Half War"

The Taliban

"The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue."  Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-Tung) on guerrilla warfare

When America first entered Afghanistan, we did so with about a hundred special ops troops. We knew that Osama Bin Laden was at Tora Bora, but we didn't drop the 82nd Airborne in to surround the place. We let the Northern Alliance, the guerrillas who opposed the Taliban, lead the way. As a result, Bin Laden and his cronies escaped to Pakistan where they live in relative harmony today, the rare drone attack notwithstanding.
The biggest mistake we made was not using the full power of the U.S. military to destroy Al Qaeda in the beginning. Had we done so, we could have brought our troops home in victory, having punished those who attacked us on September 11th.
Instead, we began to fight a guerrilla war in a country that was only slightly above the stone age. The average Afghan was tribal and really only cared about those in his family or village. He was incapable of understanding the lofty ideals of Jeffersonian democracy. As in wars past, our presence in Afghanistan became the issue. Remembering foreign invaders over thousands of years, many Afghans classified us with the colonial powers of the past.
Because the Afghan war quickly became a politicians' war (as in Vietnam, as in Iraq), American troops are dying in valleys that have never been cleared since the beginning of the war. The Afghan president criticizes our motives and our nation, even as he and his drug-dealing relatives shove greenbacks into their pockets. New guerrillas are created every day in the bee's nest of Pakistan, and no war can ever be won as long as the enemy has a safe haven to train, resupply, and recruit.
Our troops have performed in a heroic manner in every way. As in Iraq and Vietnam, they have made friends, shown the people the best that America has to offer, and they have killed, wounded, or imprisoned thousands of bad guys. But, in the end, America cannot be involved in nation building in a place like Afghanistan. When we leave, it will be the strong who will survive. That may very well mean the Taliban, their buddies in Al Qaeda, the drug lords, or a combination of all of them. The culture of corruption is part of the Afghan way of life. Only the Afghans themselves can ever change that.
Afghanistan is another of America's "half wars". We may prosecute such wars with good intentions, but when we have no endgame, we are stepping into one of those infamous quagmires. We cannot "impose" democracy on people who don't really understand what it is. And we certainly can't fight a war without a clear definition of victory.
We went to Afghanistan to get Al Qaeda, but we let ourselves get sucked into the vortex of a guerrilla war where the definition of victory is lost in the fog and mist of those mountain valleys.
Now all we can do is maintain the status quo until Obama's withdrawal date, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda will wait patiently for us to leave. After all, they've been doing this type of thing for thousands of years.
About the time I arrived in Vietnam, America had begun withdrawing under President Nixon's "Vietnamization" plan. As we conducted our patrols in the jungle, we wondered who would be the last soldier to die in Vietnam.
The troops in Afghanistan are probably asking themselves the same thing.
Charles M. Grist 

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