Tag: afghans

Knocked Out, but Not Knocked Down: Spinning the Taliban Defeat in Marjah

Remember Marjah? The Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan captured several weeks ago by U.S. and Afghan forces? I remember the offensive being hailed as a big deal. Well, what happened?

Although they have been pushed out of power in Marjah, Taliban insurgents have slowly been trying to reassert some measure of control.

Marjah residents have told U.S. Marines that Taliban insurgents are coming around at night to threaten and beat Afghans who cooperate with the Americans.

In at least one confirmed case, said U.S. military officials, the Taliban beheaded a local resident suspected of working with U.S. forces. The U.S. Marines are checking out at reports of at least two other beheadings in Marjah.

If that weren’t enough, the newly appointed Afghan official for Marjah, described as “the Afghan face of the American-led military offensive,” is Haji Zahir, who served four years in a German prison for attempted murder after stabbing his stepson.

Maybe this question will come across as obvious, but what discernible interest does America have in clearing regions we can’t hold, and backing ex-cons to disperse hundreds of thousands of U.S. tax payer dollars “to repair schools, clean canals, and compensate Afghan families who lost relatives” to people who will likely turn back to the Taliban anyway?

While residents of Marjah have little affection for the Taliban, they say they nevertheless prefer them over the non-Islamic Americans and the corrupt Kabul government.

This piece in Foreign Policy, “Down the AfPak Rabbit Hole,” confirms my suspicions that the offensive in Marjah was in part a PR stunt intended to galvanize public support for the war back at home (HT: Justin Logan).

The “Rabbit Hole“ ‘s authors, Thomas H. Johnson, a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, and M. Chris Mason, a retired Foreign Service officer who served as a political officer in Paktika province, write “this battle—the largest in Afghanistan since 2001—is essentially a giant public affairs exercise, designed to shore up dwindling domestic support for the war by creating an illusion of progress.”

That sentiment was echoed several weeks ago by Greg Jaffe and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post. They write, “The campaign’s goals are to convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year-long war and to show Afghans that U.S. forces and the Afghan government can protect them from the Taliban.”

For some sanity on this situation, and how much we have lost our way, listen to “Afghanistan and Conservatives” featuring Joe Scarborough.”

President Obama to Announce Troop Increase in Afghanistan

afghanistan mapThere are two things that President Obama’s plan won’t do: win the war, or end the war.

While all Americans hope that the mission in Afghanistan will turn out well, the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency doctrine says that stabilizing a country the size of Afghanistan would require far more troops than the most wild-eyed hawk has proposed: about 600,000 troops. An additional 30 to 40,000 troops isn’t just a case of too little, too late; it holds almost no prospect of winning the war. Accordingly, this likely won’t be the last prime-time address in which the president proposes sending many more troops to Afghanistan; my greatest fear is that this is only the first of many.

But we shouldn’t just commit still more troops. President Obama should have recognized that the goals he set forth in March went too far. A better strategic review would have revisited our core objectives and assumptions. It would have focused on a narrower set of achievable objectives that are directly connected to vital U.S. security interests—chiefly disrupting al Qaeda’s ability to do harm—and that would have left the rebuilding of Afghanistan to Afghans, not Americans. President Obama’s national security team seems not to have even considered this course. Instead, the administration focused on repackaging the same grandiose strategy.

Secretary of Defense Gates fixed on the dilemma several weeks ago when he pondered aloud: “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open-ended?”

It turns out you can’t. The president’s decision to deepen our commitment to Afghanistan while simultaneously promising an exit is ultimately absurd on its face.

I’d be surprised if any foreign policy analyst would bet his or her next paycheck that this is going to work. I wouldn’t.

Comparing Vietnam and Afghanistan

Reports have leaked out over the past week that President Obama will announce that he is sending additional troops into Afghanistan. The only question seems to be whether he will send 30,000, 40,000 or some number in between. That is, frankly, not a very important issue.

And for all of his talk about “off ramps” for the United States if the Afghan government does not meet certain policy targets or “benchmarks,” the reality is that he is escalating our commitment. Since Obama has repeatedly asserted that the war in Afghanistan is a war of necessity, not a war of choice, his talk of off ramps is largely a bluff—and the Afghans probably know it.

There are obvious hazards in equating one historical event with a development in a different setting and time period, but there are a couple of very disturbing similarities between Vietnam and Afghanistan. In both cases, U.S. leaders opted to try to rescue a failing war by sending in more troops. And in both cases, Washington found itself desperately searching for a “credible” leader who could serve as an effective partner in the war effort.

The United States never found such a leader in Vietnam, and was frustrated by a parade of repressive, corrupt, and ineffectual political figures. That experience sounds more than a little like the problem the Bush and Obama administrations have encountered with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government. That fact alone suggests that our Afghanistan mission is not likely to turn out well.