America’s Cascading Disaster in Afghanistan

the Oval Offrice ...
A U.S. government promotional photo.  Pamela notes, “Look closely at the expressions on the faces of the Afghans.”

By Pamela

Editor’s Intro: I asked Pamela if I could highlight a recent comment she made at this site about the U.S. military’s approach to Afghanistan.  Not only did she give me her permission: she elaborated on her point in an email.  Pamela, a former aid worker with a decade’s worth of on-the-ground experience in Afghanistan, worked with the Afghan people in relationships characterized by trust and friendship.  Her words should be read by all Americans, especially our foreign policy “experts.” W.J. Astore

Cascading disaster is an apt term for the U.S. military’s strategy in Afghanistan, which involves the indiscriminate killing of terrorist leaders, whether Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS or whatever else.

In addition to heavily underreported civilian casualties, U.S. military strikes increase the ferocity of those terrorist outfits. Not just because those outfits want to show the world how strong they are.  There is another element which arguably is even worse, as it is virtually impossible to reverse. Each “neutralized” leader leaves a power void within his organization and a number of usually younger and more ruthless members start fighting among each other to take over — with cruelty and spectacular attacks obviously being stronger “election” arguments than a “softy” willingness and capacity for peaceful dialogue.

Thus in Afghanistan the original Taliban – the ones who were ousted in 2001 – probably could have been convinced to take part in negotiations. They were an unsavory lot to have as a government, with medieval habits, but they were not terrorists like the ones nowadays. Few people know that in 2000 the British charity Christianaid (yes, with such a provocative name) had an office there, run by a female Australian doctor with her husband and little Sam, their six-month-old son. They enjoyed it very much and the Taliban had no objection against a foreign woman providing medical care to women and children, despite the obvious need for careful diplomacy.

Since then, however, there have been so many cascading series of eliminations of Taliban leaders at all levels – all for the purpose of PR spin rather than any coherent strategy – that we now have the umptiest generation, which has lost whatever dignity and humanity their predecessors may have had.

Furthermore, we knew the original Taliban leaders, and they were relatively predictable.  Each new batch needs to be infiltrated, investigated and analyzed from scratch, after which we kill those too. What a waste of energy and knowledge! But President Trump believes that the evident lack of success is caused by too little rather than too much bombing/eliminating, so this vicious cascade can be expected to go on and on until doomsday.

This “destroy the Taliban by assassination” strategy has one more layer: the eroding authority of their original leaders.  By continuously eliminating (often after several failed attempts in which civilians are killed instead) successive leaders at all levels — from village to nation-wide – the U.S. has shattered the Taliban into different splinter factions, each with its own power structure & power struggles.  This has increased pressure and violence at the village level, as people who during the day were already pressured by coalition armies and at night by the Taliban, ended up with several competing “Taliban” factions all pressuring them to join. Some of these factions were foreign, as Afghan friends would tell me, meaning they were from some other part of Afghanistan, not necessarily from a different country, which made it even harder to negotiate with them.  Multiple terrorist factions contributed to anarchy in which common criminality has flourished.

At the same time, as this cascading fracturing continued, successive local “terrorist” leaders became increasingly detached from central top leadership and therefore any negotiations with Mullah Omar or any other grey eminence might not translate into concrete changes in the field.

Negotiations should have been conducted in 2002, when the Taliban had been wiped out, which then was no major feat as the vast majority of its followers had been coerced into joining and were only too happy to have been delivered from this burden and being able to return home.

So few true believers were left in 2002 that the Taliban was in a very weak bargaining position, a perfect starting point for negotiations.

Systematic demonizing by the U.S., however, and the ludicrous strategy of killing them one by one — which is as absurd as believing that the best way to eliminate ants is by crushing them one at a time as they appear at our sugar bowl — have led to what we have now: a thoroughly opaque playing field with regularly shifting alliances and competition, which makes it even harder to keep track of who’s who, with whom, against whom.   This increasingly chaotic situation makes counter-terror operations even more complicated (spectacular attacks may have more centralized backing, but smaller attacks are often initiated by local splinter factions).

The addition of ISIS further complicated the situation, as the Taliban have been fiercely fighting them — Afghans generally do not like Arabs nor any other foreigners who want to impose their ways — and thus the absurd situation developed in which everyone is fighting everyone — Taliban, ISIS, Haqqani et al, the Afghan army & police, coalition-supported local militias and coalition armies themselves.  A bit like the present proxy-wars in the Middle East in a nutshell.

We also tend to forget that the Taliban — for all their senseless cruelty and often medieval ideas — were welcomed in 1996 with a huge sigh of relief when they cleaned up the murderous chaos of the civil war and restored law and order.  When asking Afghan friends what part of their experiences since 1979 was the worst, they all would name the civil war.  Unfortunately power corrupts and soon this relief was replaced with a different kind of horror. The Taliban regime was loathed but at least was relatively predictable.  One could somehow adapt to its rules.

I am convinced that given a bit more time, the Afghans would have gotten rid of that regime themselves and the ensuing civil war would have been relatively short-lived as then they all were thoroughly fed-up with fighting.

Today, the chaos and corruption in Afghanistan is being hidden further, as the U.S.-led coalition acts to suppress information, specifically the reports of SIGAR, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.  John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, has always been a hero of mine, shining a bright light on the mess that otherwise was swept under the carpet.

Now even that light is being switched off.

16 thoughts on “America’s Cascading Disaster in Afghanistan

  1. The photo is worth a few 1000 words for sure! “…so this vicious cascade can be expected to go on and on until doomsday” she writes. Another few 1000 words! Pretty frightful – but true – words as Trump taunts Russia, NK, etc. into nuclear war, but I’m convinced he’ll never ‘win’ in Afghanistan. Nor will anybody else, nor DID anybody else.
    I’m more familiar with Lebanon, and find a thread between Taliban & Hezbollah: 2 groups disgusted with their ‘National Governments’; corrupt, self serving criminals, caring nothing of the ‘people’ they’re supposed to serve. Both have proven themselves! And will continue to do so as fearless & professional fighters for their beliefs.
    Israeli instigated war of 2006, sounded great to Condi Rice – until BAREHANDED Hezbollah turned over a few Israeli/American made tanks – then she decided “truce” was a better route.
    Cat’s out of the bag folks! I don’t care how tender the steak is at Pentagon luncheon tables; the wars are over! We lost! 2 VERY viable “terrorist” groups, according to Western opinion, will finally get rid of us, and FORCE our politicians to make our countries of origin “Great Again”.
    But it won’t be the old way of colonization & plunder. And this time, they have an “enemy” in the South & North.
    These American/EU clowns should be arrested; not only for bankrupting their countries budgets, but killing & ruining millions of lives, all for natural resources which could easily have been negotiated in a fancy club.
    So when tanks are overturned & I read “advisers” are being shot, I “get it”. The world has changed! Onward to a new one! Do we want a new French Vietnam, Belgian Congo? ETC! Of course not!
    But the lazy decadent ruling class do, thus the unnecessary wars.

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  2. Apparently because of the backlash, Pentagon did release the report of SIGAR however with a note by John Sopko…..
    This quarter, the Department of Defense (DOD) instructed SIGAR not to release to the public data on the number of districts, and the population living in them, controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both. SIGAR has been reporting district-control data since January 2016, and later added estimates of population and land-area control reported by DOD. As shown in Appendix E of this quarterly report, SIGAR was informed this quarter that DOD has determined that although the most recent numbers are unclassified, they are not releasable to the public.
    https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/quarterlyreports/2018-01-30qr-intro-section1.pdf

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      1. Two o’clock in the morning and I woke up with this rattling around in my addled brain:

        Commendation Accumulation Syndrome

        “We don’t do body counts,” the general said,
        reciting statistics of “enemy” bodies now dead,
        from right off of the top of his four-cornered wooden-block head,
        in tribute, he thought, to the recycled soldiers he led
        from behind, on the phone, at his desk, in his office instead
        of the battlefield, distant, upon which he’d not likely tread
        Until his jet airplane could visit, then vanish, in dread
        of discovery by the dead enemy’s relatives, bled
        for data required by computers to process a thread
        of a thought, indistinct, yet compelling: “Print paper, then shred.
        Start again. Go to START. Iterate.” Up the ladder he sped.

        Then he turned on the nightlight; fell asleep in his general’s bed;
        and dreamed of the body-count numbers upon which he fed.

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018

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      2. Poetic update:

        (1) I changed the four-syllable word “discovery” to the three-syllable word “targeting” in line-8. It seemed more appropriate and sounded better to my ear.

        (2) I also changed “a thought” (two syllables) to “thought” (one syllable) in line-10. That made the semantic reference not to a single thought, but to thought in general (no pun intended). I thought it fit the rhythm of the line better, too.

        Moving right along: While obviously not a great fan of General Tommy Franks, he did once call Douglas Feith (the Pentagon’s neoconservative undersecretary for policy) “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth.” What a struggle for low-man on the intellectual totem pole, so to speak. Which, in turn, reminds me of a Bush II cabinet meeting where Condoleeza Rice reportedly said to Mr Feith: “When we want the Israeli position, Doug, we’ll call in their ambassador.” Sounds about true for that administration and the two that have followed it. I understand correctly, this guy Douglas Feith now has a gig as a professor at some college or university — and not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, either.

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  3. “In early 1967 [General] Westmoreland gave a most complicated and interesting explanation for the rationale behind the President’s “ceiling” on the number of American troops. ‘If,’ he said, ‘you crowd in too many termite killers, each using a screwdriver to kill the termites, you risk collapsing the floors or the foundation. In this war, we’re using screwdrivers to kill termites because it’s a guerilla war and we cannot use bigger weapons. We have to get the right balance of termite killers to get rid of the termites without wrecking the house.’ To continue this extraordinary metaphor, the American force had managed to wreck the house without killing the termites; they had, further, managed to make the house uninhabitable for anyone except termites. In a different manner, they had made the [American-created puppet government] house unlivable as well.” Frances Fitzgerald, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietanam (Westmoreland quoted in Newsweek, 27 March 1967 – almost a year before the Tet Offensive of 1968)

    Economists have a different expression for this phenomenon. They call it The Law of Diminishing Returns. It postulates that the more one puts into an unproductive process or product, the less one gets out of it, with both inputs and outputs following divergent exponential curves. As this applies to the U.S. military, a.k.a., The Lunatic Leviathan, our vaunted Visigoths started out bombing the “high value” targets throughout North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, after which they then moved on to lesser- and lesser-valued targets until they had nothing of any real value left to bomb. The Americans and their genius generals began by bombing factories, oil stoage depots, electrical power plants, water-treatment systems, government buildings and roads, but quickly wound up sending hugely expensive aircraft carrier battle groups halfway around the world to bomb bamboo bridges and jungle trails that the Southeast Asians could rebuild or relocate overnight at hardly any cost at all. Change the Southeast Asian names to Middle Eastern or African ones and the dreary tale will need no adjustment. Same Bungle, Different Jungle.

    Some of our military professionals might argue distinctions without a difference, saying things like, “But Iraq is not Vietnam.” To which my fellow Vietnam veteran Daniel Ellsberg would answer: “Yeah, like in Iraq it’s a dry heat and the language our military and diplomatic personnel don’t speak is Arabic instead of Vietnamese.” Back during my time in Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club, even eight months at the Defense Language Institute didn’t help all that much. Our Vietnamese teachers would just smile and compliment us on learning “Monterey Dialect,” which no one in South Vietnam spoke. Other than the Vietnamese alphabet, I had to start learning the language all over again from scratch once I finally arrived in-country. Most of my fellow “advisors” simply forgot everything since they never got to meet a Vietnamese who needed or wanted any “advice” from them.

    Taking note of this extarordinarily uneconomical pattern of behavior — which typically consumes decades once allowed to begin — one might even come to suspect that the U.S. military considers national bankruptcy a good and necessary thing. Something tells me that the Afghan “termites” (and their relatives on other continents) will come out of this insanity on top once again.

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  4. Pamela’s ant-sugar bowl analogy resonated with me, since last summer we had this problem. A small honey pot in our kitchen was attracting ants (we didn’t know right away). Killing one ant at a time with my “hellfire” fingers wasn’t working — the ants kept coming. Discovering and removing the honey pot did work, along with some judicious spraying outside to deter the ants from climbing the wall.

    But the U.S. military continues to kill ants, not recognizing that its presence (and the U.S. government’s support of a corrupt Afghan government with billions of dollars) is the sugar bowl that must be removed before any “victory” is attained.

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  5. Second one for the day:

    Ordnance Expenditure Expeditions

    Ordnance Expenditure Expeditions,
    Use up and then order more munitions.
    Make sure to run down the inventory.
    Start wars for profits: the same old story.

    “Give us the money or we’ll huff and puff.
    Buy from us all of these weapons and stuff.
    No-bid, cost-plus guarantees we demand.
    Or we’ll export all these jobs from our land.”

    How? First a false flag: a made-up “good reason”
    Summer, Spring, Winter, or Fall: any season.
    “Gas” attacks “on his own people” will do it.
    “Brutal dictator must go.” Then see to it.

    Second: “advisers” deploy for a tour,
    Helping make countries with little more poor,
    Calling in airstrikes to wipe out the towns
    Whenever local folks fight back with frowns.

    Third: the “straight-legs” force us all to include them.
    Regular Army. No way to exclude them.
    They’ve got their generals, too; they demand it:
    Their chance to play the Big Cheese (meaning, bandit).

    Fourth: then the Air Force and Navy want in,
    Bringing Marines as their “infantry” kin.
    Some to pin medals and stars on their shirts.
    Some to catch bullets and shrapnel, which hurts.

    Generals, admirals, colonels, commanders:
    Aimless amphibians, swamp salamanders,
    Punching their tickets while lost in a land which
    Doesn’t need them fucking up a soup sandwich.

    Still, screwing pooches can make a career.
    Just learn to lie with a lisp and a leer.
    No one will know, if your jargon’s opaque,
    How to distinguish the real from the fake.

    Just babble bullshit and throw in some numbers,
    Then keep it up until everyone slumbers.
    You’ll have succeeded when their eyes start crossing.
    Soon they won’t know a toothbrush from a flossing.

    Fifth: let the dogs-of-war piss on the fire:
    “Contractors” who’ll kill their mothers for hire,
    Shooting at anything moving on roads.
    Selling some “Safety” to rich loathsome toads.

    Last: the camp-following big corporations
    Feeding the troops on their overpriced rations.
    Petrol at four-hundred bucks to a gallon.
    Taxpayers sliced with a razor-sharp talon.

    No thought to budgets that balance the books.
    Just like Dick Nixon, these people are crooks:
    Buying Republicans who’ll chant “God bless!”
    Renting the Democrats who’ll lose for less.

    Dining at Davos in Switzerland’s mountains,
    Oligarchs drink to wealth spurting in fountains.
    Then with The Donald they swap salutations,
    Making our country a plague among nations.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018

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    1. Yes. Win or lose, there are always those who “win” from war. Weapons makers and arms merchants, of course. Various camp followers. Certain military-types who advance their careers. Even people at “think tanks,” talking tough while cashing in. And politicians who love posing as hawks while selling fear.

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  6. Boil it down, and they’re from there and we’re not. Therefore they rightfully object to our presence.

    “One day while I was in a bunker in Vietnam, a sniper round went over my head. The person who fired that weapon was not a terrorist, a rebel, an extremist, or a so-called insurgent. The Vietnamese individual who tried to kill me was a citizen of Vietnam, who did not want me in his country. This truth escapes millions.” –Mike Hastie, U.S. Army Medic, Vietnam 1970-71

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    1. Thanks for chipping in, Don. I know precisely how Mr Hastie felt. Anyone who has heard the angry bumble-bee go whizzing by a few inches from the ear realizes that just an inch or two in the other direction and a hot metal slug would have gone in one eye, through the brain, and out the back of the skull, leaving a puddle of chipped-bone, blood, and grey-matter all over the place next to the dead young American guy on the ground who never wanted to visit Vietnam in the first place.

      I served in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent from July of 1970 through the end of January 1972, about the same time as Mike Hastie whom I don’t believe I ever met. Sometime in 1971, while languishing at <a href="http://www.themisfortuneteller.com/"<ATSB Solid Anchor (deep in IV Corps, about two kilometers from the sounthernmost tip of the country), I decided to go for a little exercise run out to the end of our corrugated-metal airstrip and back. Not a very bright idea, actually, because when I turned around out at the end of the runway, I would find myself all alone and exposed, not far from the jungle folliage which had started recovering since the last time we poisoned it with a shit-load of crop defoliant, probably Agent Orange. Sure enough, just as I turned around for the return part of my jog, I heard what sounded like an angry bumble-bee go whizzing past my head. This caused me to accelerate, breaking into a flat-out sprint. Part-way back along the airstrip this Vietnamese guy pulled up alongside and started matching me, stride for stride. Then it became a face-saving contest, since I couldn’t let this skinny, underfed little Asian guy beat me in what had clearly become an impromptu race. So I accelerated again and — about twenty yards away from “Nam Can International Airport” (the sandbag bunker that marked the beginning of the base) — my Vietnamese companion just quit, wheezing for breath, leaving me the “winner” in more ways than one. I never did that again.

      On another occasion during my fourteen months at Solid Anchor, some Vietnamese (or possibly even, Cambodians) in the surrounding countryside decided to start dropping mortar rounds into our little base complex. All of us Navy “advisers” had a “battle station” assigned to us in case of “enemy attack.” This meant that I, as the base interpreter/translator, had to go out onto some boats tied up at a pontoon in the middle of the Son Cua Lon River where I would stand by with a radio to call in air support in the event of the base getting overrun by unfriedly native farmers and fishermen. I had no training in operating any radios and wouldn’t know whom to call if I did, but as we used to say in Uncle Sam’s Canoe Club: “I go where they send me. I do what they tell me to do.

      So on the night in question, when we heard a few explosions and the base alarms started going off, I grabbed my helmet, flak jacket, M-16 rifle (along with bandoleer of ammunition) and headed out towards the pontoon anchorage in the middle of the river for whatever might await me there. Then, nothing happened. Everything got quiet. Bored, tired, and not knowing what to do in any event, I placed my rifle and other gear on top of an ammunition box and went below decks to catch a little nap.

      I woke up shortly when I heard a few explosions and more blaring alarms. I ran up the ladder to get back on deck but discovered — by tripping over the ammunition box — that someone had moved it. I’ll never forget watching my M-16 rifle disappear over the side and down into the swirling muddly salt-water flowing by the boat. Then I noticed the Vietnamese crewmen frantically trying to unmoor (i.e., “untie”) us so we could get underway. I looked downstream and saw these splashes, one after another, “walking” their way down the center of the river right towards us. From the direction of the moving splashes and the distance and timing between each successive one, I could just picture some unfriendly person (whom I did not personally know) out in the darkness carefully calibrating his mortar sights, readjusting after every shot, and clearly meaning to drop one of those little explosive bastards right on the little boat with me standing on it, unarmed, and not having a clue what to do next. I could see that the Vietnamese crewmen could not get us underway in time, so I roughly estimated that in about two more splashes I would either have to jump overboard into the river, or simply accept my likely death or dismemberment.

      Then, suddenly, everything stopped. Quiet once again replaced all the noise and frenetic activity. I returned to my little “hootch” (i.e., barracks) back on base, only without my M-16 rifle. I felt too embarassed to tell anyone that I had lost it. I never had any use for the damn thing anyway, having only received one week of weapons training with the Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, before heading off to Monterey for eight months of language training at DLI. So, better for everyone if I didn’t go around discharging the thing at anything that moved, in any direction whatsoever. I never discovered the identity of those Vietnamese (or Cambodian) persons who tried to discourage me from occupying their country and making such a stinking, sandbagged slum out of so much of it. But I forgave them and I hope they have forgiven me. I left as soon as anyone would let me. I tried to do as little harm possible. And I have never gone back.

      But still the memories linger …

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      1. Sorry for the busted link to my website showing an overhead photograph of ATSB Solid Anchor. I hope this works better. I have started going through old slides and photographs with an eye towards putting together something of a memoir, beginning with that year-and-a-half that I spent in the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent, a pretty-much awful and wasted period of my youth when the direction of my life took an unexpected turn and nothing ever seemed the same again. “Just lucky, I guess,” would probably make a good title for a chapter, I just don’t know which one.

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