Sorry. I accidentally hit your ‘magus71’ when I was aiming for the blog title in the comments list. . .So I thought I wouldn’t let the following go to waste.
Given Afghanistan’s long history of wars, including the 9-year Russian war there at the end of the last century, how many of the four points about why we cannot win the war were not known or at least predicted within the intelligence community before we even entered Afghanistan in 2001?
Was there ever a real feeling that we could win the war? Who felt that way? What was their definition of victory?
Well, I for one said this in many blog posts before I deployed. But i”m a nobody.
Several people that I know of, many of them well-known in the media, such as Ralph Peters and Karl Eikenberry (former ambassador to Afghanistan) made it clear they thought victory as defined by some, was impossible. Essentially, that kind of victory could only be accomplished by creating a nation from whole cloth.
It must be made clear that I and almost everyone in the intelligence community agree that going in to Afghanistan in 2001 was the correct thing to do. We displaced the Taliban with only a handful of Special Forces troops who trained local anti-Taliban militias. Within weeks the Taliban was gone and at a very reasonable price.
Then after 2008, we changed everything. The documentation of this is Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s War”. The war in Afghanistan had become a campaign promise and required escalation beyond the actual value of the the war. People became so infatuated with Counterinsurgency that it morphed into something it never was: War without killing. The logical conclusion in Afghanistan was that if Counterinsurgency amounted to pleasing people into dropping their guns, then we should build the Afghans an entire nation: What could please them more? Additionally, many government organizations wanted to justify their existence. Those who did the nation building, making wells, roads, schools etc. felt resentment at the men with armor and guns walking around “stirring up trouble.” The men with guns and armor felt resentment for having rules of engagement so restrictive, that in many cases they protected insurgents more than US soldiers.
So if you have the fundamentals of human nature and cultural and religious aspects wrong from the beginning, it is quite logical that our final strategy was way off.
As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gate said in a parting speech, it is unlikely that nation building under fire will happen again anytime soon.
I appreciate your lengthy response, but after you read my reply I hope you’ll see why I still have a few questions.
“We displaced the Taliban with only a handful of Special Forces troops who trained local anti-Taliban militias. Within weeks the Taliban was gone and at a very reasonable price.” Sounds like the correct thing was done, and it was successful in a very short time. Sounds like an unqualified success. Did the success turn to failure? Or was it never a success to begin with? How does Afghanistan magically become a post-2008 problem if success was achieved in 2001-2002? Why were we even there six years later?
“. . . it is quite logical that our final strategy was way off.” Sounds like our initial strategy was way off.
Our initial strategy was everything a strategy should be: limited and possible. Our goal was simple–remove al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and destroy their training camps. We were very successful in that regard. I remember as the 2008 election approached, seeing headlines that trumpeted the resurrection of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The message was that the Bush administration took its eye off Afghanistan when it entered the Iraq war, and the result was that we were going to lose the “necessary war.”
But we’d done exactly what we wanted to do: We destroyed al-Qaeda for all intents and purposes in Afghanistan. Unfortunately we failed in killing as many as we could have, and allowed thousands (perhaps) of fighters to escape into Pakistan at Tora Bora, likely where bin Laden made his get away. From there, al-Qaeda was able to strengthen its existing networks in Pakistan and form a significant alliance with the Haqqani Network in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).
The truth is, the Taliban is a very localized phenomena in Afghanistan, though as I mentioned above, al-Qaeda helped morph some Pashtun groups in Pakistan into transnational terrorist groups such as Terik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which was responsible for the unsuccessful car bomb in Times Square and regularly attacks Pak government infrastructural and personnel. The Taliban for the most part do not want al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, one because AQ brings too much attention from the rest of the world, and secondly, because Afghans don’t much care for Arabs.
So, Afghanistan is not a major problem if it does not harbor terrorists who plot to harm people around the world. Should those types of people show up there again, we can deal with them in the same way we deal with AQ in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia: From afar with drone strikes and small raids. We don’t need thousands of troops and dozens of bases, bleeding our money and the morale of our troops (who are sent on pointless patrols and end up being practice targets for insurgents).
Thanks for your prompt response. I hope you can understand the initial misunderstanding caused by the leap from 2001-2 to 2008.
Here’s my problem. When I place two statements 1/”It must be made clear that I and almost everyone in the intelligence community agree that going in to Afghanistan in 2001 was the correct thing to do. We displaced the Taliban with only a handful of Special Forces troops who trained local anti-Taliban militias. Within weeks the Taliban was gone and at a very reasonable price. ” and 2/ “Our initial strategy was everything a strategy should be: limited and possible. Our goal was simple–remove al-Qaeda from Afghanistan and destroy their training camps. We were very successful in that regard.” I get confused.
These two statements make it sound like , at the very least, there were ‘two goals’, one which was successful but temporary at best (displacing the Taliban), and one which was unsuccessful until some time later (“removing Al-Queda from Afghanistan and destroy[ing] their training camps”)
The big thing to remember is that the US government actually asked the Taliban to allow the US in to destroy the training camps, but the Taliban refused. It was only then that the US deemed it necessary to destroy the Taliban. Before that, the Taliban was no threat to the US, nor would the US have destroyed the Taliban had the Taliban cleaned up Afghanistan of AQ.
The Taliban and AQ are different but both are fundamentalist Islamic groups. The Taliban could be compared to any local fundamentalist sect in any religion, whereas AQ is more like Nazism in that it has global aspirations and is willing to use almost any means to achieve its goals. The Taliban formed in Afghanistan after the civil wars which commenced upon the Soviet defeat. AQ has most of its roots in the teachings of the Egyptian fundamentalist, Sayyid Qutb, which bin Laden absorbed and formed al-Qaeda, “The Base.”
Mostly what happened between 2002 and 2008 was a blurring of our strategic goals, and the Clausewitzian maxim of the inevitability of escalation in war. The changing of administrations in the middle of a war was not at all helpful either.
Basically, we need to think smaller in Afghanistan, much smaller.
From a ‘past, present and future’ standpoint: Has the Taliban ever truly been “gone” from Afghanistan?Is it gone now? And (feel free to make an informed guess here) do you think it will it be gone from Afghanistan in the future?
“. . .nor would the US have destroyed the Taliban had the Taliban cleaned up Afghanistan of AQ. . .”
Was the Taliban ever ‘destroyed’? Will/can it be?
While the current Republican narrative is that Obama is too blame for how things are in Afghanistan, it seems odd to give him the majority of the blame. After all, Bush handled Afghanistan from the start until Obama was sworn in in January of 2009. Assuming that Obama was directing the war policy from that instant, that still gives him only a few years of responsibility.
Looking at http://www.nationaljournal.com/u-s-troop-levels-and-fatalities-in-afghanistan-20110621 we can see that though Obama increased the troop levels, he was following the trend set by Bush (that is, troop levels were always increasing). As such, Obama did not seem to be making a break with Bush’s strategy. Rather, he seems to have largely followed the Bush approach (you’ll also note that Bush surged in Iraq which is what Obama did in Afghanistan).
Now, it is fair to say that Afghanistan is not going well. As Clint noted, the Soviets got spanked there. In fact, no one has ever won there-going back to Alexander the Great. This is presumably because the basic factors in Afghanistan have remained the same over the centuries.
The criticism of Obama thus seems to be that he has been unable to do from January 2009 to September 2012 what Bush could not do in the time between 2001 and 2008.
There was a significant shift in strategy after Obama took office. The leaked State Department cables from Karl Eikenberry show that he was very concerned about the proposed surge in Afghanistan. While Bush may have increased troop levels, it was nowhere near the 40,000 troop surge that Obama administered. In fact, if this were really what Bush wanted he would have done this, but he didn’t . The fact that Eikenberry wrote those cables shows that it was evident that this was a significant strategic change.
And Obama made Bush’s handling of the war a big part of his 2008 campaign. He did not plan to merely follow what Bush had been doing all along. But as the book, “Obama’s War” makes clear, the only voice who offered an alternative course in Afghanistan was, amazingly enough, Joe Biden. Biden’s proposed course of action would have been my choice–that is a scaled back, counter-terrorist model, as opposed to COIN+nation building.
I admit the mistakes of the Bush administration, which were actually more the fault of the military than political, such as the Battle of Tora Bora, or Operation Anaconda, which, while deemed successful, were not as decisive as they could have been.
As far as Bush surging in Iraq, yes this is true. But all Counterinsurgencies are different. For one, Afghanistan is quite a bit bigger than Iraq. Stanley McChrystal asked for 80,000 additional troops , but Obama authorized only 40,000 more. Going half way was the exact wrong thing to do. We should have massively surged or scaled back. Additionally, Iraq was an advanced country; a country didn’t have to be built from nothing, only an enemy defeated. Thirdly, Iraq did not have the level of border issues and cross-border safe havens that Afghanistan does; Pakistan is the largest terrorist safe haven in the world. And lastly, the Taliban is comprised mostly of Afghans and is nearly inseparable from the average Pashtun culture.
We won the war years ago in Afghanistan, but hung around long enough to convince our enemies we weren’t winning. In any case, I do believe it’s time to go. Our troops are no being afforded the right to defend themselves to a level acceptable in a war zone. The war has become a running joke and it’s time the Afghans man-up and take control of their own destiny.
I think we have seen this week that Islam and the U.S. will never see eye-to-eye on free speech. Since free speech is absolutely fundamental to who we are as a people, I think it is fair to say that Islam and the U.S. have irreconcilable differences.
There is absolutely nothing we can accomplish in Afghanistan. Has it not occurred to anybody that a lot of people there evidently like the Taliban? We need to get out, cut our losses. This has been obvious for a long time. Iraq was the winnable war, but Obama has thrown that victory away.