Leave Afghanistan Now (Repeat)

W.J. Astore

Back in 2010, I wrote the following article for Huff Post. The title was “Leave Afghanistan Now.” It was obvious to me, and of course to many others, that the U.S. military/governmental mission to Afghanistan was a failure. And here we are, eleven years later, finally leaving (I hope), though who knows with all those U.S. troops deployed there to protect U.S. nationals? Anyhow, here’s what I wrote in 2010. Will we ever learn?

Winston Churchill’s memorable quotation, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” captured the nobility of the RAF’s performance protecting free people from the tyranny of Adolf Hitler during World War II.

An irreverent paraphrase of this quotation, however, captures the Afghan war as it stands at this moment: Never was so much squandered by so many for so few.

The United States is currently spending $7 billion a month on the Afghan war, yet progress remains elusive and the end nowhere in sight. Just read General Stanley McChrystal’s own bleak assessment (which may have been a factor in his firing); several sobering metrics stick out:

  • Counterinsurgency (COIN) is about securing population centers from violence. But of the 116 Afghan population centers assessed, 40 (or more than a third) were considered “dangerous” or “unsecure,” with only five being judged “secure.”
  • A key element to the Afghan war is the span of control of the central government (led by Hamid Karzai). Remarkably, only five areas of Afghanistan (out of 122) are under the “full authority” of the Karzai government. In 89 areas, Karzai’s authority was judged “non-existent,” “dysfunctional,” or “unproductive.”
  • Of vital importance to an eventual American withdrawal is the viability of Afghan national military and police forces. Here again, according to McChrystal, progress is feeble, with less than a third of the Afghan military and only 12 percent of its police forces rated as “effective.”

So, despite nine years of American involvement and $300 billion dollars spent, key elements of our strategy in Afghanistan are not close to being achieved. We’re failing at COIN, the Karzai government remains corrupt and ineffectual, and the Afghan military and police forces, which we’ve expended eight years and $10+ billion training and equipping, are still unready to fight or provide security.

Of Rifles and Fighting Effectiveness

A question that rarely gets asked in the mainstream media is why, despite all our money and training, the Afghan national army and police remain unreliable and ineffective, whereas Taliban fighters on shoestring budgets are tough, resilient, and effective.

We can’t place all the blame on our Afghan allies. As Ann Jones has noted, much of our training and equipment is haphazard, insufficient, or inappropriate. To cite one of her examples, Americans provided M-16 rifles – precise but overly sensitive and prone to jam in the pervasive dust of Afghanistan – to Afghan army trainees, when Taliban fighters get by with Soviet-era AK-47s or even SMLEs (the British Lee-Enfield of World War 1 vintage).

Taliban fighters armed with century-old bolt-action rifles are giving us fits; our Afghan allies armed with M-16 automatic rifles are giving us fits for an entirely different reason. Such vivid discrepancies on the micro scale are sadly consistent with the failures of our strategy on the macro scale. They are both indicative of a war gone very wrong.

Changing the general in charge and tinkering with the controls will not bring victory in Afghanistan. “Victory” will come when we face up to our own limitations — and leave.

33 thoughts on “Leave Afghanistan Now (Repeat)

  1. Amazing that a post you wrote in 2010 would still be spot-on today. But then, your premises could have applied in 1968, too, for the most part. No, the MIC does NOT learn. But why should they, considering that no matter what they do, they continue to collect hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars?

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    1. Honestly, Denise, if you knew some history, and read the reports without an agenda, the conclusion was obvious. I wrote against the Afghan Surge as well before it happened. Afghanistan was never ours to win, certainly not by military force.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Regarding your last point, military leaders saw what happened with the Soviets, but somehow thought it would be different with them. Meanwhile, anyone with the capacity to think logically knew the score in 2001. The arrogance and sheer stupidity that produced the same results in 2021 as in 2010 just boggles the mind.

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      2. What I find fanciful is the US attempted to create a national army based on combined–arms – when anyone with any sense of history and knowledge of Afghanistan would have recognized that small regional tribal-based light-infantry was the only possible way of pulling it off. (I’m not sure outsiders could have even done that – but it would have made more sense than this mess).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. On a different subject, is Joe Biden doing this because he knows he’s a one-term president? I don’t think Biden planned to run again in 2024, when he’ll be turning 82.

    Also, all those Beltway bandits and insiders at the Pentagon will surely hate Joe, not because he’s weak, but rather because he has revealed to one and all their gross lies about U.S. “progress” in Afghanistan.

    I’m still waiting for the Pentagon budget to be cut as these wars end. (Sound of crickets.)

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    1. I have no doubt at all that Uncle Joe mustered the stones for this withdrawal only because he has no intention of running again. Every MSM pundit out there is calling for his head, including many who absolutely should know better.

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      1. In spite of the umbrage taken by the entire national-security establishment against Biden for the withdrawal, he will still represent the best chance the Democrats have in 2024; even though by then he will likely face a Congress with both houses in Republican control.

        If, however, he leaves before his firs term ends or decides not to run for reelection, then the Democrats, and the country, will be doomed – the sitting VP will either complete the first term or be the heir apparent for 2024. There’s no way Kamala Harris can win a general election.

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        1. Hadn’t given much thought yet to a Harris bid for the Oval Office, but I think you’re absolutely right. After all, Ms. Harris couldn’t even come close to winning her own party’s primary, and she isn’t very visible in office now, so… OTOH, if she runs in 2024, the Dems will throw everything they have behind her, to the exclusion of better candidates, it’ll be yet another lesser-of-evils situation.

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          1. She didn’t win a single delegate. She’s toast in 2024 if she runs.

            The Dems had better find a better candidate or it’ll be Trump for another four years.

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          2. As the corporate Dems (DNC) haven’t done anything intelligent in at least two decades, I’m not betting that they’ll look for an alternative to Harris in 2024. They’d rather lose than do the smart thing. For reference, see: Hillary.

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          3. Yes, of course, Denise. Even better: Harris is a Clinton protege.

            Here’s the thing: No matter what, the DNC wins. They figure if they lose to Trump, they’ll get scads of money again from scared liberals and other anti-trumpets. And if they win with Harris, that’s OK too; she’ll keep the corporate dollars flowing.

            What they despise is any candidate who threatens their perks and privileges, e.g. Sanders, Gabbard, Kucinich.

            And I know you already know this!

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Denise, I researched and pushed the numbers on my calculator wrt your question on high speed rail.
        The Afghan War cost they say $2-trillion.
        The cost to build the high-speed rail in CA at this moment is $154-million per mile. (The Chinese are building theirs at a third of this cost – but that’s a subject for another forum.)
        So if we had sent half what we did in the Afghanistan War – that would be 6,493-miles of high-speed rail that could have been built. Across the nation nearly twice.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s “spent” not “sent” – I wish there was an edit feature in WJA’s site.
          In the 20-years the US has been fighting Taliban goat herders in Afghanistan the Chinese have built 23,687-miles of high-speed rail. And spent 20% of what the US spends on its military.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. The numbers keep going up. Exactly who are all these “U.S. nationals” and why were so many there? What does it mean to be a “U.S. national”?
    I am reminded of an incident many years ago when I climbed telephone poles for a living: I got a late-night call from the duty supervisor to go out and repair a telephone line. It was, I was told, an emergency.
    “What kind of emergency?”
    “It’s for a doctor.” The duty supervisor paused. “Well, he says he’s a doctor. Hell, I could say I’m a Puerto Rican astronaut …”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The two links in my “old” article are to pieces written by Ann Jones for TomDispatch in 2009. They detailed the corruption that was evident then in Afghan reconstruction and failed efforts to create an Afghan national army and security forces.

    But, you know, it was the “right” war according to Obama. What a disappointment that man was (and is). He played the long game for money and power and won it, and the American people were the suckers. Not to say Obama was all bad — just that he was (and is) a typical politician offering no hope and no change.

    Those articles by Jones:
    https://tomdispatch.com/ann-jones-the-afghan-reconstruction-boondoggle/

    https://tomdispatch.com/ann-jones-us-or-them-in-afghanistan/

    The last article has the great title: “Meet the Afghan Army: Is It a Figment of Washington’s Imagination?”

    That was 2009. And now we know the answer. Yes. It was imaginary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too right about Obama. I was deeply disappointed to find that my initial instincts about him were on target. For a few weeks there, on election night and just afterward, I’d changed my mind and had some hope that he’d be the real deal. But no. His latest stunt, the grandiose birthday party, revealed his true aspiration: to become one of the “beautiful people.”

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      1. Denise, we were riding our motorcycles in Africa the day Obama was elected President. All the natives were singing and dancing in the streets. Man, did he turn out to be a disappointment. He never achieved any of the things my wife and I voted for. He was and is a huge phony!

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        1. Disappointment is right! I saw Obama give a speech during the 2004 Dem convention, and told my husband that he’d be President someday. I was completely impressed with his eloquence, gravitas, and ability to engage his audience. Then, when he was nominated in 2008, to my surprise, I knew he’d been groomed to run all along. Nobody rises that fast, almost out of nowhere, unless there’s a lot of money and power behind him. I figured the fix was in, but gradually, I began to believe that he might do some good, despite the fact that he was so obviously a tool of the DNC. Scratch THAT idea!

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  5. I read recently that over half of Afghanistan population is under 20 years old. They never lived under the old Taliban. I can’t imagine the Taliban are going to have an easy time governing this time around. Could get even uglier than I feared.

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  6. Now, this raises the question, “What does ‘governing’ mean to the Taliban?”
    Removing any and all elements of outside and/or Western influence and enforcing their interpretation of Koran?
    For all the Western profiles & assessments of Taliban “leadership” and capabilities, ideologically they strike me as little more than a lot of guys who wish the 13th century had never ended. The fact that some of them may speak English and are at ease in front of a camera means nothing. The fact that they withstood the Russians and then the US (don’t mention “coalition forces,” this was a true case of “us vs them”) means nothing.
    I’m thinking Christopher Hitchens was right in this respect: the Taliban isn’t a political entity, they have no political agenda. This isn’t about establishing/building a new nation, it’s a war between their version of Islam and Western culture.
    What becomes of all those devout, violent, and illiterate individuals the mainstream media continues to refer to as “insurgent forces” when the shooting finally stops? They have nothing except their weapons and a belief they are doing God’s work. Does anyone see them as the foundation of a new society? Solid citizens who will bring forth a new dawn? I think not.
    All they know how to do is fight and die. The Taliban “leadership” created a one-dimensional beast. Can they domesticate it or train it to do tricks? If not, their only other option is to turn it loose.

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    1. Should we care? As long as they’re not exporting war to other lands, most especially against us, why should we care how the Taliban decides to rule?

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      1. That’s another fair question. But we’re already being told not only that we should, but that we have to.
        But I freely admit that at this moment, I don’t, for the simple reason I can’t bring myself to turn a blind eye to the ongoing tragedies in my own country. As long as there is homelessness, hunger, inadequate health care, little or no hope for so many of escaping those conditions and ever attaining a better life, and as long as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are merely words on an old piece of parchment, I’ll keep my sympathies at home.
        Throughout my life, I watched America’s downward spiral, at times wondering if it was my imagination or if I was overcome by romantic notions of “how things out to be” and that believing in the promise of America was merely the residue of The Sixties, that most tumultuous and exciting of decades. No one else seemed to notice and what they did notice, they didn’t seem to mind.
        I retired in 2016. In early 2019, I lit out for The Netherlands where I could have decent housing, affordable healthcare (socialized medicine), and yes, engage in “the pursuit of happiness” all on my Social Security, something I couldn’t do in my home country.
        I chose self-imposed exile over what has long been the inevitable end of so many senior citizens and, even more disturbingly, what passes as “the future” for so many of our children: a non-life of little hope whose only glimmer comes from a television screen whose images and voices reinforce the government’s line of “no, we aren’t perfect, but we’re still better off than these other poor bastards.”
        So. Am I okay with what’s happening and may yet happen in Afghanistan? How about, “I feel no sense of outrage over it.” It’s what I would expect in a country several centuries behind the rest of the world. Our attempt to drag it into the 21st century failed miserably, as it had to.
        Attempting to impress contemporary Western “values” on a tribal society has never and will never work.
        As flippant as it sounds, Star Trek’s “Prime Directive” needs to be applied. Interfering on “humanitarian grounds” is still interfering. In long ago, pre-Mao China, it was held that if you saved a man’s life, you were responsible for him from then on, as doing so interfered with Divine Will, thereby releasing the gods from any further responsibility. We (the US) do that day in, day out around the world … but not within our own borders.
        I am not wholly bereft of compassion, but I find it has its limits. A condition, like my self-imposed exile, brought about by changing circumstances I would rather not have had come to be.

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