Afghanistan: A Real Pullout or a Shell Game?
Far-called our navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
--Rudyard Kipling “Recessional”
NEW YORK - War is waged to achieve political objectives, not to kill enemies. In this sense, the United States has lost the ten-year Afghan conflict, its longest war. Afghanistan remains the “graveyard of empires.”
The US has failed to install an obedient regime in Kabul that controls Afghanistan. It has made foes of the Pashtun majority, and, in pursuing this war, gravely undermined Pakistan. Claims that US forces were in Afghanistan to hunt the late Osama bin Laden were widely disbelieved.
Last Wednesday, President Barack Obama bowed to public opinion, approaching elections, military reality and financial woes by announcing he would withdraw a third of the 100,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer. Pentagon brass growled open opposition.
US allies France and Germany announced similar troops reductions. All foreign troops are supposed to quit Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Washington currently spends at least $10 billion monthly on the Afghan war, not counting “black” payments, CIA and NSA operations. The US has poured $18.8 billion in development aid into Afghanistan since 2001 with nothing to show for the effort. Pakistan has been given $20 billion to support the Afghan War.
The US deficit is heading over $1.4 trillion. The national debt, when unfunded pensions and benefits are added, is likely $100 trillion, according to the chief of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond trader.
Forty-four million Americans now receive food stamps; the national infrastructure of roads, airports, bridges and schools is crumbling from neglect. Unemployment, officially at 9.5%, is probably closer to 20%.
The cry is being heard: “Rebuild America, not Afghanistan.”
In spite of intense pro-war propaganda, over half of Americans now oppose the Afghan War. Even US-installed Afghan president Hamid Karzai calls it, “ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties.”
So will the US really pull out of Afghanistan? That remains to be seen. There are contradictory signs.
Mid-level talks between the US and Taliban are under way. The US will probably keep some of its remaining 66,000 soldiers in Afghanistan after 2014, rebranding them training troops. The huge US bases at Kandahar and Bagram will be retained.
Billions more will be spent on the Afghan government army and police. They have so far proved ineffective because most are composed of Tajik and Uzbek mercenaries who are hated and distrusted by the Pashtun.
A similar process is underway in Iraq where “withdrawal” means keeping renamed US combat brigades in Iraq, thousands of mercenaries, and US combat forces in neighboring Kuwait and the Gulf. New US embassies in Baghdad and Kabul– huge, fortified complexes with their own mercenary combat forces– will be the world’s biggest. Kabul will have a staff of 1,000 US personnel. Bin Laden called them “crusader fortresses.”
In addition, the US will still arm and finance allied Tajik and Uzbek militias in Afghanistan. Financing Pakistan’s US-backed regime and Uzbekistan must also continue at around $3 billion yearly.
The US appears to be going and staying at the same time. By contrast, Taliban’s position is clear and simple: it will continue fighting until all foreign troops are withdrawn. US special forces, drones and hit squads have been unable to assassinate enough Taliban commanders to make the mujahidin stop fighting.
Americans never study history, not even their own. They don’t recall founding father, the great Benjamin Franklin, who said, “there is no good war, and no bad peace.” Or that the Pashtun Taliban and its allies are fierce, dedicated, undefeated warriors. I’ve been in combat with them and remain in awe of their courage and love of combat. The Pashtun mujahidin will keep fighting as always, as long as their ammunition lasts.
America, for all its B-1 heavy bombers, strike fighters, missiles, helicopter gunships and drones, armor, super electronics, spies in the sky and all the other high tech weapons of modern war has failed to defeat some 30,000 tribal fighters with nothing more than small arms and legendary valor.
The US has lost the all important military initiative in Afghanistan. It may linger there, but it cannot win.
© 2011 Eric Margolis