Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. agree on very little, but both are united in their determination to lose to the Taliban in Afghanistan. This comprehensive effort crosses party lines. The world has witnessed ten years of underfunded troop and trainer levels, mismanaged aid contracts, fractured efforts to inconsistently support both regional warlords and a strong central government, excessive civilian casualties, secret prisons and a half-hearted and floundering civilian surge effort that is wasting billions of dollars per year. The Taliban continue to be funded by opium and U.S. tax dollars and can operate relatively freely from safe havens in Pakistan. Their numbers have now reportedly risen to over 40,000. Based on current conditions they can continue to wage this war indefinitely, while U.S. and NATO efforts wind down due to exhaustion. Despite all of this, there is no major effort to address any of these substantive problems. The level of mismanagement and confusion has been so stunning that it cannot be passed off as mere negligence but appears to be part of a conscious and deliberate effort to lose the war.
General Stanley McChrystal shocked the American public in 2009 when he announced that the Taliban suddenly had the momentum in the war and that the U.S. was losing. The American people had been hearing from Congress and the compromised American news media for eight years that all was well, that the Taliban had been defeated and that al-Qaeda personnel were hiding in holes in the ground in Pakistan. The official response to the McChrystal pronouncement was not to fix the problems but to find a scapegoat. The Pentagon, in May 2009, with the support of President Obama, dishonorably singled out General David McKiernan, (a hero of the Iraq war) to take 100% of the responsibility for these failures. In fact there are hundreds of senior officials, diplomats and military leaders who should have been and should be fired for this monumental debacle. Again, as they have not been, the only conclusion to be drawn is that U.S. officials actually want to lose or care little whether they win or lose.
Every month visiting U.S. Senators to Kabul are given rosy briefings of success. They are undoubtedly shown fancy color charts depicting Taliban defeats and expanding Government control. They are fed Power-Point presentations filled with misleading metrics, cherry-picked to show imaginary progress. They are then taken on special tours of the Afghan version of “Potempkin villages.” Then they all hold press conferences in which they praise what they have seen, with each giving his worthless impression that the war is on the right track. Back home in the U.S. the Pentagon covertly feeds “independent experts” to the cable news channels. They all proceed to mimic Pentagon press releases, assuring the public that all is well.
The real news from Afghanistan comes out in small pieces and usually through independent news sources. These nuggets, if pieced together, create a frightening picture of failure:
1. The U.S. is now air-dropping 6,000 pallets of food, water and ammunition into Afghanistan every month, up from about 120 pallets in 2005. The reason is that the roads are increasingly dangerous. This means that every gallon of water probably costs more than $100 to deliver.
2. The rate of desertions among Afghan police and army units continues to exceed 25% per year.
3. Southern Pashtoons continues to avoid serving in the security services;
4. U.S. diplomats and civilian experts rarely venture into the countryside;
5. Afghan police corruption continues at record levels;
6. Opium production continues to rise and fund the Taliban;
7. The shoddy U.S. build road system in Afghanistan is already collapsing;
8. Afghan women were slowly losing the freedoms they won in 2001; and
9. U.S.-caused civilian casualties continue to fuel the war.
In this sordid mess, America’s troops are abandoned as they are never told that they are fighting and dying for nothing; their families are lied too under the rationalization that it is somehow all in the best interests of the country and taxpayer monies are squandered overseas with abandon, while Americans increasingly go hungry, homeless and jobless.
The rich and powerful in America do not support the Afghan war effort. They have access to classified Pentagon reports such as the “amputations list.” For 2011, it reportedly reveals large increases in both single and multiple amputations among troops in Afghanistan. Even that secret report refuses to list “genital injuries,” which are reportedly skyrocketing so high that the Pentagon will not even put them into secret reports. As a result what we are seeing is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s daughter Chelsea is not volunteering to fight in Afghanistan, following in the tradition of the daughters of George W. Bush and Dick Chaney. Contrast that with the children of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who all fought in the Second World War.
Note: Current U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s son James did serve for a short time in a safe headquarters position in Afghanistan in 2007-2008. In 2008, Navy Lieutenant Panetta was awarded the Bronze Star for his office analytical skills at “identifying and tracking high value al- Qaeda targets.” Based on currently available information the award seems dubious.
In order to understand the current official ambivalence towards this war, one must return to the actual reasons for the Afghan invasion. The story begins in 2001. Officially the goals of the invasion of Afghanistan were to retaliate against Usama bin Laden and destroy al-Qaeda. Unofficially these were not the primary goals at all. In reviewing the planning for Operation Enduring Freedom, the Pentagon did not target Usama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leadership or its members. Such planning would have endorsed the use of precision air strikes, commando operations and even the airlifting of combat units against al-Qaeda camps and known residences and other facilities. None of this is known to have happened and in fact al-Qaeda’s leadership was permitted on December 16, 2001 to escape into Pakistan. The one precision air strike that was carried out occurred on December 3, 2001 in Kandahar in which an American plane bombed the home of al-Qaeda’s No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, reportedly killing his wife Azza and three of his daughters, including his youngest Aisha.
The Pentagon’s war plan called for an invasion from north to south, beginning in Mazar-e Sharif. It followed the same invasion model that the Soviet Union successfully used in 1979, with the U.S. occupying many of the same airbases and other facilities as the Soviets. In analyzing the war plan, its only goal was to push the Taliban from power (not destroy the Taliban). The idea was simply punishment and therefore to scare other countries that might decide to harbor al-Qaeda, telling them that they faced the same fate as the Taliban government.
The international news media reported on the rapid success of the 2001 American invasion, but it was the same superfluous “success” that Napoleon achieved in his march on Moscow in 1812. He captured the capital because the Russian army refused to engage. Capturing territory without destroying the enemy was nearly fatal for Napoleon’s army. Likewise it has proven disastrous for the U.S. military and the world.
Rudderless and without direction from Washington, D.C., the Afghan war today continues aimlessly. The current situation was aptly summed up by Pakistani officials interviewed by Tom Wright of the Wall Street Journal for this September 24, 2011, article. They reportedly told him:
“The U.S. is quite scared of what is happening in Afghanistan.” and “they don’t know what to do.”