Afghanistan 2011

3 Jan

On June 7th of last year, the Afghanistan “War” became the longest war in the history of the United States.  As of this writing, our involvement in this conflict now exceeds the combined time we spent in a combat role in WWI, WWII and the Korean War, combined.


What is the goal?  How do we know what success looks like?  How do we know when we’ve “won”?  Lindsay Graham appeared on “Meet The Press” this past Sunday and alluded to our desire for permanent basing rights for the US Air Force and Army as preconditions to our “leaving”.

Is it about empire?  Keeping our pulse on nearly $1 Trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan including iron, copper, cobalt, gold and lithium?

After the surge of troops into Afghanistan, General Petraeus now alludes to a withdrawal of combat troops in 2014 and maybe longer.

Sometime in mid-December, the president will meet with his senior national security team to evaluate the war’s progress. It’s virtually certain that Obama’s year-end review will result in no change of policy, no course corrections, and a commitment to remain engaged in combat until 2014 and beyond.

That’s not because Obama’s strategy is working.

By all accounts – except the US military’s overly optimistic reports – that progress is nil. After tripling the level of American forces in a year and launching offensives in Helmand and Kandahar, the Taliban insurgency continues to grow, spreading from its southern stronghold and the areas east of Kabul into Afghanistan’s previously calm northern provinces.Kabul is surrounded to the east, south and west by Taliban-controlled areas, and the insurgents can strike the capital itself with gunmen and suicide bombers at will. The Afghan government has little or no influence over provincial and district administrations anywhere in the country, and the Afghan National Army is unable to operate except as a cosmetic accompaniment to the United States and NATO.

The government put in place by President Bush and supported by President Obama has little to no control over the vast country.  The Taliban is now in control of an estimated 40-50% of the country and they are well-funded through their role in hashish and opium production and distribution estimated to raise nearly half a billion dollars each year.

We’re fighting the war in much the same way the Red Army did, we attempt to control the urban centers while allowing insurgents and Taliban to control the rural areas where 80% of the population lives.  We’re simply not a military built for this type of warfare.

As Bob Woodward noted in his book, “Obama’s Wars”, Richard Holbrooke gave President Obama some stark advice, “The surge won’t work“.  It looks like the late Ambassador may have been right.  So, the question becomes when does this end?  How does it end?  Who has the courage to end it?

The president’s decisions are primarily based on domestic political calculations. The sweeping defeat suffered by Obama’s Democratic party at the polls in November greatly increased the power and influence of hawks in the Republican party in Congress, especially in the House of Representatives, where ultra-conservatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Buck McKeon of California will take over the foreign affairs committee and the armed services committee, respectively. Both are bitterly opposed to the July 2011 drawdown, and they’ve signalled their intention to form a political alliance with the uniformed military, including Petraeus, to quash it.

It’s time to reset the equation, look for different strategies and lay out definitive measurements for “success”.  Else, we’ll spend the next several years with Generals moving the goalposts and asking for more time.

19 Responses to “Afghanistan 2011”

  1. Mike In WNY January 3, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    Measurements for success and different strategies will only ensure that the economically devastating war-mongering will continue. Don’t over-think the obvious. All we need to do is defend our natural borders.

  2. Brian Castner January 3, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    We’re in Afghanistan for 2 reasons: a camapign pledge by Obama, and fear of another 9/11 after we leave. There was a time (Oct 2001) when we prided ourselves on not making the mistakes of the Soviets. Now (Surge of 2009-2010) we pride ourselves on following their footprint. This war does not end well.

  3. Leo Wilson January 3, 2011 at 11:29 am #

    If this were about Empire, we’d have annexed the entire country, made it a territory with a promise of statehood in the future, imposed out own legal and tax system upon them, appointed an American-born governor, the same as Great Britain or Rome did during their imperial exploits. I guess we are investing our gold in their infrastructure, building roads and irrigation systems. We aren’t taking slaves like empires always do, either.

    This is such a superficial claim, aimed at us only because it offends us. In practice, we’re the anti-empire, the people who have to be defeated in order to build an empire.

    During any sincere imperial effort, recognizing the empire isn’t an insult, it’s a statement of fact. We don’t have one. Great Britain did, and when called en empire, they just nodded and asked, “What’s your point?”

    My take is that, if we WERE a sincere empire and did those things I just mentioned, Afghanistan would be happy to resist the outsiders coming in from Pakistan rather than us.

  4. Brian Castner January 3, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    @ Leo: Americans, to our credit I think, have always been unhappy empire builders. Our only real example of what you accurately describe is the Phillipenes at the start of the 20th century – we have given back far more terriroty than we have eventually permanently claimed (post-Manifest Destiny). A futurist I read (Geroge Freidman at STRATFOR) sees us adding states in the future, in a domino rush after the first (Puerto Rico) falls. The Guam, Virgin Island, etc. But that is very different, in scope and process.

    Now hegemony, that’s another story – we love holding sway over other countries. But we have strecthed that as far as it will go, I think – literally, step by step (Europe, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq (again) and the -stans) to the other side of the world. I see retrenchment, until a threat to our already established hegemony (say China in SE Asia) makes us more active again.

  5. Brian January 3, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Strangely, Afghan patriots and freedom fighters don’t like being invaded and occupied any more than Americans would, and they show their displeasure by shooting and exploding NATO soldiers whenever possible.

    What kind of a person would volunteer NOW for the U.S. military, knowing that both Iraq and Afghanistan are based on the lies of two presidents?  Stupid? Ignorant? Vicious?  Mercenary (it’ll help me pay for college)?

  6. Brian Castner January 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    You don’t need to be a patriot or freedom fighter to not like your home being invaded. But please, let’s canonize our enemies and demonize our own soldiers as much as possible. No chance that any of the Taliban are stupid, ignorant, vicious or mercenaries, or that any American soldiers are patriots.

  7. Gabe January 3, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Leo, anyone who insists that America doesn’t have an Empire is fucking delusional. Modern Empires are no longer about purely physical occupations and colonial viceroys, these days it’s become more a subtle art of puppet military governments, bribed local officials and aggressor corporations having free reign over the victim nation’s resources.

    Brian, I didn’t think it was possible to OD on propaganda KoolAid.

    Chris, my general remarks on our (not so) little Afghan problem summed up in a few points:

    1. AFG is not a real country, it’s really just a “badlands” patchwork of tribal territories. Most Americans probably couldn’t name even a single ethnic group dwelling there.

    2. All throughout history, foreign powers have had terrible luck occupying this terrifying place. America is certainly no exception to the rules.

    3. Don’t fuck with the Pashtuns, they will fuck you back tenfold. Anyone wanting to do serious bidness in AFG needs to cough up a hefty troll tax to these fearless badasses.

    4. Theres is a massive mound of goodies in AFG in the form of rare mineral resources. Too bad America is going to get zero say in how they are used throughout the world this century.

    5. America is broke and the rest of the world is starting to readjust to this reality. No more imperial adventure soup for you!

    6. China is patiently waiting for us to GTFO of AFG. It won’t be long until they really start PWNing our fat, incompetent asses in every way imaginable.

  8. Leo Wilson January 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    @Brian C: hegemony I do agree with, and can join the fray in demonizing some efforts and techniques for building it.

    The reason I always want to challenge this specious accusation against us is simple: REAL imperialists currently have more than 20 nations under attack (twice as many as Japan attacked during WW2) at a low level right now, today. Theocrats whose legal system declares any land that isn’t controlled by followers of their faith “corrupt”, promise to impose that legal system and “purge the land of corruption”. They DO take slaves, they DO impose their legal and political system, they DO tax the conquered.

    It’s foolish and dangerous, and false accusations serve only as the sleight of hand that hides the truth.

  9. Leo Wilson January 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm #


    Please read my response to Brian C.

    I’ve never even MET delusional, must less had intimate relations with him/her/it.

    I do know that some academicians have changed the meaning of Imperialism in dictionaries to include modern hegemonies, but until that’s the only attempt being made, I still think it’s fool’s work that only provides cover for the current attempt at traditional empire that is under way.

    Your other judgements, about America being broke, are on the money (no pun intended). Those problems could be simply (not easily) remedied, but there’s more than a lack of political will to address them – there’s also substantial and effective resistance to it by our own people.

    China… yep, can’t argue with that at all.

  10. Leo Wilson January 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm #

    Oh, and Gabe… the rest of the world is ALREADY addressing our fall. Who isn’t is US. We’re the country that still spends like it has an industrial sector that is more or less gone, and continuing to shrink.

    Which of your pet issues should be defunded because of it?

  11. Brian Castner January 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    @ Gabe: to which Brian do you speak?

  12. Gabe January 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Brian, that one was to you. Your comment, “We’re in Afghanistan for 2 reasons: a camapign pledge by Obama, and fear of another 9/11 after we leave.” is the official media explanation of our continued presence there.

    In reality, I think our presence there has something more to do with the establishment’s deep fears that Pakistan (and therfore AFG) will go either go fully “rogue” or fall under sway of an strong antagonist like China. And of course, this all goes back to the logistics of who gets to manage Planet Earth’s dwindling inventory of strategic natural resources.

  13. Brian Castner January 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    @ Gabe: Actually, I think Chris lays out part of the major media reason: empire and basing rights. And I think Obama himself echoes Bush’s talk of democracy and little girls going to school and all that. Comparatively, I think the idea that the world’s last superpower is in Afghanistan because it is afraid is hardly mainstream. We’re the US – we’re not supposed to be afraid of anything. I understand the Grand Game nature of everything in the central -stans, but China is getting all of it whether we stay or leave, so to me that’s hardly a compelling underlying reason for our continued involvement.

    BTW, on a side note, do you consider our US soldiers as “badass” as the Pashtuns? Do you wish they were more “badass?” Do you think the bigger badass there would win? If you answer yes to any of those questions, you may find yourself in agreement with the common solider of the US military. Similar line of questioning for your regular comments that China pwns us – I can’t tell if you are looking forward to that, simply accept it as inevitable, or wish we acted more like China ourselves.

    • Christopher Smith January 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm #

      I think the Pashtuns have more reason to fight and fewer rules to follow, so yes, I would agree with the assessment that they are more “badass”. Our troops are volunteer professionals, not volunteer insurgents defending their homeland and children from an encroaching evil superpower hell bent on destruction of their culture…or at least that’s what their local tribal leaders tell them.

  14. Gabe January 3, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    1. I use the term “badass” irrespective of morals and ethics. Other than that, I think Chris answers your question pretty well. This might explain things in more detail:

    2. On China, I’d have to say all of the above, to some degree:
    A. I look forward to that in terms of a more powerful and influential China putting a serious check on America’s inflated sense of entitlement.
    B. The writing is on the wall, current trends have all but illustrated that quite vividly.
    C. I would welcome a stronger, more streamline-managed government that could put an end to the reign of the rootless oligarch parasites who continue to loot our nation unabated; a competent, meritocratic government run by technical experts instead of know-nothing lawyers (rhetoricians) and lobbyists (bribe artists).

  15. Brian Castner January 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    @ Chris – It the rules that I was getting at. Nothing like putting the opposing tribe – men, women and children – in a hot shipping container and throwing away the key to increase your badass quotient. Either we need to be willing to do that to some, or kill most, or its time to leave, and let them get back to just fighting each other. As we are not willing, and for good reason, then I guess we left with a war dragging on and (ironic?) hipster praise.

    @ Gabe: I find your love affair with China interesting because they have no less sense of entitlement (in fact, I would argue a historically greater one) than the US, they are no more sustainable, and your description of the US would work for China if you replaced the oligarchs and lobbyists with party insiders and bureaucrats. China is building coal power plants at one a day to power factories that build wind turbines to sell to us (along with rubber dog shit, et al). China’s world will be no freer, no less commercial, no less capitalist, no less oil dependent or less environmentally destructive than ours. I hope your sense of schadenfruede sustains you through it.

  16. Gabe January 5, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    Brian, I gotta hand it to you, you’re a nice guy, you handle these things with class. There are about 1,001 or so cheap counterattacks you could have employed…Mao quips, traitor baiting, “In Soviet Russia..” jokes, ect. Being a China apologist is a pretty unpopular thing to do these days. Let’s just say that their central bank has the greatest inventory of real assets out of any bank anywhere in the world right now. You do have to admire China’s collective smarts at this juncture. As being an admirer of the “whatever works” (within ethical boundaries) school of geopolitics, I do need to give props where props are due. I look forward to debating this issue further with you in the near future. Peace out.

  17. Brian Castner January 5, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Well, thank you, I think. Cheap counterattacks are utilized by people who don’t believe in the strength of their own ideas. As long as my rhetoric partner stays clean, I prefer to stay that way myself. I would think being a China apologist would be unpopular with you, personally, because the things you bag on the US for (human rights abuses, hegemony, supporting oppressing dictators, environmental destruction, lack of sustainability, etc etc) China takes to a whole new level. They do not stay in your ethical boundaries in geopolitics, so why do you look past their faults? I don’t fear or look forward to the rise of China because I think they’ve already grown about as far as they can. Futurist and intel guru George Friedman predicts China will implode because it is already at the outer end of its historical size limit. Eventually, the poor inland will rise against the rich coast, as it has for 5000 years, and China, if not crumbling, will at least look inward for several generations, not outward. We’ll see, I guess – that’s part of the fun. There are other cultural reasons I don’t fear them – we can discuss those in the near future too.

  18. Gabe January 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    On…”human rights abuses, hegemony, supporting oppressing dictators, environmental destruction, lack of sustainability”…I think we’ve been far worse over the years, we’ve just managed to externalize a lot of that activity to other, poorer nations as a result of our own foreign policy dictated by economic directives.

    A lot of China’s abuses have come from their efforts to maintain a closed society. While this is something I would never condone, we need to at least understand China’s turbulent history over the past few centuries. Being fucked nine ways to hell by the Brits then subsequently the Japanese (if we really wanna start talking about grotesque human rights abuses….), had created the need to be extremely paranoid of external influences in a geopolitically dog-eat-dog world of covert ops and constant threats of having your own national sovereignty undermined. In the eyes of China’s power structure, allowing too much Democracy might see them once again at the wrong end of the opium pipe.

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