An Editorial in today’s Irish Times brings readers bang up-to-date on the US war on Afghanistan.
We are told “NATO…are quietly scaling down their commitment to it ahead of withdrawing troops,” while the US and UK are still willing to give military means one last chance before the inevitable “political negotiation with the Taliban.” As the costs continue to rise, their critics are not so confident, saying “it is time to scale down ambitions there and to reduce and redirect the military effort.”
Afghans are in agreement, they “do not want Nato there and support efforts to reach a political deal with the Taliban, based on the assumption that it is not a unified resistance run by al-Qaeda, but a coalition of regional and local opponents who could be attracted to an alternative path.”
An ‘assumption’ supported by at least one “western official” in Afghanistan, who said in 2006:
“The name “Taliban” may be misleading, he explained – as certainly is the assumption that its insurgency is a simple black and white struggle of foreigners versus fundamentalists. “This is about narcotics, corruption, tribal tensions, warlordism, illegal armed groups, Arabs, Iranians, Chechens – and all of these factors are interrelated. You never know who you are dealing with. You probably have some guys working for good and bad at the same time.” [July 4, 2006]
The US legacy to Afghanistan is summarised as follows: “rampant insecurity, endemic corruption, widespread poverty and weak government.” Along with the possibility of “a new civil war” potentially resulting in “an effective partition between the north and south of the country, which could make parts of it even more of a haven for international terrorism.”
This analysis is interesting in several respects, the most obvious of which being that the story is told entirely from the perspective of those in Washington and London. According to the Times there are only two sides to the war: the proponents in the White House and Downing Street and the critics in the White House and Downing Street.
Long gone are the days when anti-war activists (the vast majority of the world, including Afghans) had a say in the matter, even if the reasons for their objections became entirely bastardized when squeezed through the journalistic editing process practiced at the Times: “They were never going to be convinced it could work, or convince a country that believes it has a right to strike back.” [October 10, 2001]
Another useful omission is the purpose of the whole bloody venture. The purpose of the war, which has gone through countless improbable iterations, now seems to be the idea of a courageous defeat, following Obama’s unfulfilled lofty ambitions of “reveres[ing] the recent impression of slow defeat or stalemate.” But lest we forget the original motive, finding and killing Osama bin Laden:
“The United States-led military riposte so intensively under preparation since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th is now under way. A formidable force has been assembled to attack bases in Afghanistan used by the al-Qaeda organisation and its leader, Osama bin Laden, and the political and military infrastructure supporting them.” [October
“Nearly three weeks on from the beginning of the US-led military campaign against Afghanistan it is clear that its objectives are increasingly difficult to attain. There is little sign that the Taliban regime is close to collapse. It is proving difficult indeed to assemble an Afghan coalition that might replace it. The search for Osama bin Laden and his al-Queda organisation, blamed by the United States for the atrocities in New York and Washington on September 11th, has so far proved fruitless.” [October 26, 2001]
“It should be remembered that even if a major transition is successfully engineered in Afghanistan as a result of these events the objective of bringing the perpetrators of the attacks on New York and Washington to justice remain to be achieved. The chief suspects, Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation, are still at large.” [November
The “military victory” of this “this short war” “demonstrates the awesome effectiveness of modern US air power accurately deployed.” “It will allow the US-led campaign in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation to go ahead unhindered and maybe successfully.” [December 7, 2001]
“The 18,000 US troops still deployed have failed to find Osama bin Laden despite inflicting huge casualties on his supporters.” [November 21, 2006]
No Weapons of Mass Destruction and no dead bogeyman. That’s 0 for 2 for the US military, unless that is, they had an ulterior motive?
[Image via Wikicommons “Pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. 1988. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev.”]