Back to the Beginning

By Clint Douglas

The war in Afghanistan is spiraling out of control. Long referred to as "The forgotten war" or "the other war, " Afghanistan demands immediate corrective attention, lest we go the way of our British and Soviet predecessors. Their failure was never predestined to become ours, and yet the United States and this administration, whether through hubris or simple inertia, has blithely ignored Afghanistan for seven years. Defeat is now a real possibility, as the Taliban and their various off-shoots have effectively consolidated their control over the Tribal Areas and NorthWest Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Our efforts in Afghanistan have never been a priority, lacking both urgency and focus, something that was frustratingly obvious when I deployed there back in 2003. The latest trend points to an American expansion of operations into western Pakistan. The most recent involves a Predator drone strike on a madrassa run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, an infamous Taliban commander. This on the heels of other Predator strikes and a raid deep inside Pakistan by American and Afghan troops marks a significant escalation.

I have no problem with denying our enemies the secure rear areas that they have enjoyed in Pakistan, however, the consequences of these operations cannot be overstated. Pakistani madrassas have always driven the fighting in Afghanistan. They are already flooding Afghanistan with both fighters and suicide bombers. Given that attacks on Pakistani soil have and will result in civilian casualties, this trend can only significantly accelerate. There could be a pay off to all of this if we and our allies had enough troops to secure Afghanistan itself, but we don't and won't for the immediate future.

Pakistan has a population of around 172 million, while that of Afghanistan is 26 million, and the border between the two is porous. Duplicitous Pakistani generals and politicians have been more than eager to channel the frustrations of their disenfranchised population towards the Americans in Afghanistan. What is the strategy here? Or is there one? Our position in Afghanistan is a tenuous one and one of our own making. I worked in Pashtun areas and was always surprised at the amount of goodwill that I encountered, even in places that were deemed sympathetic to the Taliban. Our failure to secure the population and our over-reliance on air power has allowed much of that goodwill to evaporate. Attacks inside Pakistan will not remedy this situation, at least not until we finally make the commitment in men and materiel that a war in Afghanistan necessitates. I only hope that that day won't come too late.

Clint Douglas is a freelance writer. He spent eight years in the Army Special Forces and served in Afghanistan in 2003, after several deployments to Latin America. Prior to that he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Lesotho (92-94), working in rural development. He lives in Chicago.

By |  September 8, 2008; 2:40 PM ET  | Category:  Counterinsurgency , Counterterrorism , Military Manpower
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The Afghan war has always been out of control, because it started and ran itself. It started itself when you and your SF buddies showed up riding camels and horses, sporting beards, and acting like Afghan War Lords. Since the Taliban was an armed mob whose only control on the country was the fact that none of the warlords already there would risk taking inordinate casualties being the first to oppose the Taliban, when you made yourselves targets all the war lords decided they couldn't afford to stand by and let the rest of the warlords win the revolution.

Had the U. S. sent in a sufficient expeditionary force at that point, heavy on Rev Dev/Civic action troops, Engineering troops, Medical Troops, MPs, and, to make them more effective, the Tenth Mountain to work the high ground, the Fifth Mech to patrol the roads the Engineers would build, and the First Cav to play QRF whenever the Taliban or al Quaeda stuck their noses over the border, we would now have a functioning somewhat Democratic, (especially by Afghan standards) country capable of controlling its borders. Since, however, that didn't meet Rumsfield's standards for deploying or tasking his new improved Army, that didn't happen.

Since it would have committed us to a war where George didn't really want a war, (because the 9/11 attacks were supposed to justify a war with Iraq, not Afghanistan) it couldn't be allowed to go its own natural course, and instead had to be throttled back as much as possible.

Now the Talibs are a bit more organized force, although still not MUCH more than an armed mob, but they are entrenched in an area where we can't expect help, and would be hated even if the ONLY people we killed were taliban fleeing back into the tribal regions.

Afghanistan can still be saved, but not by any tactics or strategy that George or John can comprehend.

We would have to reconstitute the Army, restore the draft, raise taxes, and demand sacrifice of enough of the nation that Republicans might actually have to pay the price. Neither our current mobile topiary figure, nor his wannabe replacement has the cojones, let alone the character, to stand up and call for such a war, so somewhere in here we better be prepared to slink out of Afghanistan like we slunk out of Viet Nam. Thieu and Ky can invite Kharzai to join them in exile. Its what good Republican sponsored presidents do.

Posted by: | September 10, 2008 7:49 PM

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