Friday, December 25, 2009

The fog of Afghanistan

War's outcome rests with people's will
By Mike Marcellino

Part 3 of a 3 part series on America’s course in the Afghanistan War

Today I was asked what at first seemed to be a simple question about a recent column I had written about America’s course in Afghanistan and the escalation of the war. The column was called, “Afghanistan: Different viewpoints, same ol’ same ol.’ The column cited a BBC of an interview with a senior American diplomat and Marine captain in Iraq and a Stars and Stripes story about what U. S. troops are encountering fighting and community building on the ground in Zabul Province, a Taliban stronghold.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘what are the major powers doing in a backwater such as Afghanistan??’” a reader asked. He used two question marks and I would see why trying to answer his question.

What we are doing in Afghanistan? Like some people say on Facebook about their relationships –“It’s complicated.”

One answer could be that the United States leaders fear facing hostel governments in the Middle East and South Asia threatening our oil supply (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan).

A number of major powers have interests at stake, including the United States, Russia and China. In addition the struggle to control oil supplies, Russia and China have large Muslin minorities.

The answer may be the old Cold War “domino effect” is back in vogue in Washington. Politicians and military leaders had believed that if one country would fall to Communism then others would follow. This was the rationale for the Vietnam War, along with control of natural resources of Southeast Asia.

The United States feared the spread of Communism and yet, even though we lost the Vietnam War to the communists, other nations didn’t fall and the Soviet Union collapsed.

The decade long war in Southeast Asian cost 6 million lives, including 58,000 American troops. Some argue that just fighting against communism in the Vietnam War led to its collapse in the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Vietnam is now rather prosperous with many resorts on the South China Sea beaches and increasing tourism.

Since the beginning of the Middle East wars in the early 1990s, 
U. S. policy makers have put communism on the back burner and Islamic fundamentalist insurgents and terrorists on the forefront. Radical Islam is the “evil” we must confront with force, not communism, at least for the time being.

Afghanistan has been embroiled in political turmoil and war for 35 years with leftists, monarchists and Islamic fundamentalist and minorities battling for power. In the late 1970s the Soviet Union set up a communist government in Afghanistan. In a 9-year war, Afghan Islamic fighters, the mujahedeen, defeated the Soviet army. The country was devastated, as one million Afghans died and millions more fled the country as refugees.

Everyone agrees the present Afghan government is corrupt and lacks wide popular support. The country is rather lawless. Most of the people are poor and illiterate. The poppy crop supplies much of the heroin for the world’s illicit drug trade and funds the Taliban and other insurgents.

The answer may be that we’re convinced that in Afghanistan we’re in a holy war, with good fighting evil. Many fundamentalist Christians in the U. S. armed forces, including senior military leaders, believe they are engaged in a holy war.

Radical Islamic fundamentalist, principally al Qaeda and its supporters believe they are waging a holy war against the “infidels,” or non-Muslims.

One answer may be a resurrection of the Crusades of the 11th Century. Each side of course believes the other to be “infidels.”

Both “holy wars,” some historians and observers believe are rooted in the timeless desire for power and control, whether it be a cave, a country or the world.

Whatever the reason for the U. S. involvement in Afghanistan, we’ve decided that force and violence are the only solution. The 
U. S. won’t talk to the Taliban until they surrender and the Taliban won’t talk until the U. S. forces leave the country. There seems to be little attempt to break the deadlock.

Regardless of the answer to the question, ultimately the outcome of the war and the nature of Afghanistan will be determined by the Afghans.

The present U. S. strategy in Afghanistan seems to be predicated on the belief that we are engaged in a worldwide war against extremists, including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A few political leaders, even Vice President Joe Biden to an extent, along with senior diplomats, military and intelligence officers believe in a narrow focused strategy to defeat al Qaeda.

President Obama, Secretary Clinton and our military leaders have rejected that strategy, believing that Afghanistan is the den of al Qaeda.

As a result 30,000 more U. S. troops are going to Afghanistan bringing the total of 10,000. Next spring the U. S. plans to attack Taliban strongholds in rural and urban areas, beginning a new "ground up" strategy of rebuilding Afghanistan in the towns and villages.

We plan to step up the training of Afghan troops, start turning security over to them and in the middle of 2011 start withdrawing U. S. troop “if conditions on the ground permit.”

That’s the strategy the U. S. used in losing the Vietnam War. President Nixon called it “Vietnamization.”

South Vietnam had an army of two million, one of the largest in the world at the time of its defeat by North Vietnam, two years after U. S. troops withdrew.

The likelihood of the Afghan army being able to secure the country is questionable. Factionalism and lack of confidence in and corruption of the present government must be overcome. Afghanistan isn’t much of a nation for nation building.

“What are the major powers doing in the backwater of Afghanistan?”

“It’s complicated.

The outcome of the war is simpler.  It lies with the will of the Afghan people.

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