In Afghanistan, “victory” came early -- with the U.S. invasion of 2001. Only then did the trouble begin.
Ever since the U.S. occupation managed to revive the Taliban, one of the least popular of popular movements in memory, the official talk, year after year, has been of modest “progress,” of limited “success,” of enemy advances “blunted,” of “corners” provisionally turned. And always such talk has been accompanied by grim on-the-ground reports of gross corruption, fixed elections, massive desertions from the Afghan army and police, “ghost” soldiers, and the like.
Year after year, ever more American and NATO money has been poured into the training of a security force so humongous that, given the impoverished Afghan government, it will largely be owned and paid for by Washington until hell freezes over (or until it disintegrates) -- $11 billion in 2011 and a similar figure for 2012. And year after year, there appear stories like the recent one from Reuters that began: “Only 1 percent of Afghan police and soldiers are capable of operating independently, a top U.S. commander said on Wednesday, raising further doubts about whether Afghan forces will be able to take on a still-potent insurgency as the West withdraws.” And year after year, the response to such dismal news is to pour in yet more money and advisors.
In the meantime, Afghans in army or police uniforms have been blowing away those advisors in startling numbers and with a regularity for which there is no precedent in modern times. (You might have to reach back to the Sepoy Mutiny in British India of the nineteenth century to find a similar sense of loathing resulting in similarly bloody acts.) And year after year, these killings are publicly termed “isolated incidents” of little significance by American and NATO officials -- even when the Afghan perpetrator of the bloodiest of them, who reportedly simply wanted to “kill Americans,” is given a public funeral at which 1,500 of his countrymen appeared as mourners.
Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to pursue a war in which its supply lines, thousands of miles long, are dependent on the good will of two edgy “allies,” Russia and Pakistan. At the moment, with the cheaper Pakistani routes to Afghanistan cut off by that country’s government (in anger over an incident in which 24 of their troops were killed by American cross-border air strikes), it’s estimated that the cost of resupplying U.S. troops there has risen six-fold. Keep in mind that, before that route was shut down, a single gallon of fuel for U.S. troops cost at least $400!
Admittedly, just behind the scenes, the latest intelligence assessments might be far gloomier than the official talk. A December 2011 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, for instance, suggested that the war was “mired in stalemate” and that the Afghan government might not survive an American and NATO withdrawal. But it’s rare that the ranks of the military are broken publicly by a straight-talking truth-teller. This has just happened and it's been bracing. After a year in Afghanistan spending time with (and patrolling with) U.S. troops, as well as consulting Afghan military officers and local officials, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis published a breathtakingly blunt, whistleblowing piece in Armed Forces Journal. It stated baldly that, in Afghanistan, the emperor was naked. (“What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground... I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress. Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.”)
Given all this, here’s what remains doggedly remarkable, as Nick Turse reports in the latest post in his TomDispatch series on the changing face of empire (supported by Lannan Foundation): the U.S. military continues to build in Afghanistan as if modest progress were indeed the byword, limited success a reality, and corners still there to be decisively turned -- if not by a giant army of occupation, then by drones and special operations forces. Go figure.