Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Afghanistan?

You don't. I want to spin a quick yarn about a country back in the 1970s and 1980s that played a massive role in bringing down one of the most militarized nation-states in recent history. This country was a mountainous region with a very weak central government and was ruled over mostly by tribal warlords and religious extremists. When a very large nation-state to the north encroached on their territory and wanted to export their version of government, the tribal warlords and religious extremists mobilized against this foreign force. They eventually wore down the foreign army over nearly a decade, forcing them to withdraw. Now, we all know that the foreign army that retreated was the Soviet Union and the mountainous country it failed to keep under its control was Afghanistan. And clearly the story is a little more complex than a short paragraph (CIA Stingers, ISS corruption, etc.). But the fundamentals remain the same: the Afghan mujahideen was able to draw the Soviets into Afghanistan and then embarrass them on the world stage during the Soviet-Afghan War.

Fast forward to 2001 and while some of the circumstances have changed, the fundamentals remain the same. We've been drawn into Afghanistan by a Soviet-Afghan War veteran who understands how powerful guerrilla warfare tactics can be against a superior military. Compounding this, bin Laden has had two very lucky breaks. The first was Tora Bora in November, 2001 when we let him get away (a conclusion reached five months after the fact but made "official" by the Senate this week) and the second was Iraq. If we catch bin Laden in November we take out a major figurehead of the terrorist movement in Afghanistan and clearly and unequivocally send the message that you do not fuck with the United States. Instead bin Laden escapes because of crucial errors in judgment and tactics, becoming an even more mythic figure. Secondly, we go into Iraq, allowing Afghanistan to be relegated to red-headed stepchild status, with funds, troops, and materials diverted to the desert to find non-existent WMDs.

At the height of the Soviet-Afghan War, the Soviets had about 118,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan. With Obama's plan to send another 30,000 troops to the war-torn country it will bring American troop levels to about 100,000 (with an additional 45,000 NATO troops). We are, essentially, sticking to the game plan that the Soviets had back in the 80s, at least in terms of troop levels. If it did not work for them, what could possibly make those in Washington think it will work for us?

We could sit here all day and talk about the failures of the past 8 years in Afghanistan, but that's not going to help with the future. What are our options there? I don't know, as I don't have top-level security clearance. Going on public information, though, one major issue is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan that border Afghanistan, where it is believed bin Laden is hiding out and from where Al-Qaeda is launching attacks on American forces. We could talk to Pakistan to try to get permission to follow skirmishing Al-Qaeda/Taliban/Haqqani forces whose tactics include ambushing our armed forces and running back over the Zero Line, but Islamabad has no tangible control over the area. We could try to set up something similar to a DMZ on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan akin to that between North and South Korea and try to contain the terrorist forces. We could pack up and leave like we did in the 80s and allow the area to fall out of control (yet again) and hope we don't get attacked twenty years down the road. Pick your poison.

It's important to remember that in war nobody wins. Whether the insurgent forces in Afghanistan/Pakistan want to claim victory or the Americans and their "coalition of the willing" want to claim victory, the reality is we have all lost. Afghanistan has become even more war-torn, is now home to 90% of smack production in the world, and is stuck between two warring groups. Americans have seen our reputation both at home and abroad mocked, we've lost nearly 1,000 men and women in Afghanistan alone (with that number rising each year), and we will more than likely have some type of military presence in the country for at least a decade. You want the definition of a quagmire, here it is.


  1. alright mr history:

    American revolution deaths in combat = ~5,000 from 1775-1783

    War of 1812 deaths in combat = ~2,500 1812-1815

    Mexican American War deaths in combat = ~12,000 1846-1848

    Civil War deaths = ~215,000 1861-1865

    WW1 deaths = ~75,000 1917-1918

    WW2 deaths = ~300,000 1941-1945

    Korean Conflict deaths = ~35,000 1950-1952

    Vietnam Conflict deaths = ~52,000 1964-1975

    Persian Gulf 1990-91 deaths = 147 1990-1991

    "Global war on terror 2001-present" battle deaths = 3,776

    Please explain to people how in any this loss of life even compares to any other conflict/war that America has fought. Given the circumstances we're winning over there and suffering minimal losses. If we were in a draft state where people did not have a choice I could see an argument. Granted I hope every one of our soldiers come back home alive and the same way they left, they are making the decision to fight for the US, me and sadly you.
    Sadly if you understood anything about history and how politics worked in the 1980's you would realize it was not just Afghanistan fighting the former USSR by themselves. What you see of the "Afghanistan-Soviet War" in quick blips is far misleading from the actual events that took place. For one the USSR in the 1980's was far from what it was in previous decades (GO WATCH THE MOVIE MIRACLE, they lost in the SEMI-FINALS!). But all joking aside, the idea of Communism was actually breaking down the USSR from the inside dude to greed, corruption etc. Put a failing government into the equation and then put Afghanistan on the table. Now with Afghanistan, yes they were not a unified state, but in no way did they fight by themselves. Fighting with top of the line weapons in a Guerrilla warfare has proven to work (American revolution, Vietnam, Afghanistan via 1979-1988). Yes yes that is right the American revolution was a guerrilla war. We were supplied by those little countries called France and Spain, without them we would still be part of the British Empire. Now, you say Afghanistan they did not have "modern weapons" i bet. Hmmmm now we have the "failing" USSR invading a weak, tribal country, I'm only wondering which country would provide weapons in complete secrecy to help stall the Red Army. Yes, that country happened to be America, by providing them with upwards of 100,000,000's of $$$$ in weapons. So now you put a country with modern weapons vs an army with traditional tactics and modern weapons. Guerrilla warfare wins more than you think.

    Ignorant liberals.

  2. Anonymous:

    I fail to see your point. You compare troop casualties in past conflicts as if Afghanistan and the previous wars are on the same plane (in terms of tactics, military technology, etc.). Unfortunately they're not and we can't compare them without massive caveats.

    You then go on to state that America provided the mujahideen with state-of-the-art military weapons. While America undoubtedly provided the mujahideen with weapons they normally did not have access to, to call the arms state-of-the-art is a bit of a stretch to say the least. The most advanced arms they got were Stinger missiles to bring down the Soviet helicopters wreaking havoc on their forces.

    When you say "guerilla warfare wins more than you think," you're right (I've never stated the opposite). This is exactly why Afghanistan is such a difficult country to fight a war in (the point of the post).

  3. See I don't compare past wars and battle deaths with Afghanistan on the same plane, because they are not even close. The causalities alone in this theater do not even compare to any other war that America (as a nation) as fought. What America has lost in military personal is almost comical to the extent the media is making a "huge" deal about it. Why don't you, and the media try to get behind the troops that are there (i mean jeez you guys voted for Obama and he said he was gonna pull them out of there). Over 1,000 Men and woman have died, yes, yes they have and they did it because of what happened to this country. Take someone like Pat Tillman who turned down a contract with the NFL to serve his country and he died in battle. I guarantee he had no regrets about himself being over there. So why don't people stop questioning the government and "actually" support he troops that choose to fight over there instead of crying about things that they will never know.

    Again if you understood anything history your argument of stinger missile's would seem absurd. The stinger missile was produced in the late 1970's, and considering this war started in 1979, i would say that is pretty damn "state of the art" modern. And to just clarify, yes it did wreak havoc on their forces, to the point of withdrawal. But if that is the case then how is this the point of your post. Afghanistan is fighting with now "weapons of the 80's (which you don't clarify as modern) against our now modern weapons. Their is no soviet block to provide them with counter weapons, they are fighting with AK's, stinger missiles and homemade bombs. This doesn't present a problem, if they had support. And to say the least Afghanistan at this point is not a country, but a bunch of lone fighters strewn across the landscape. In no way do they actually pose a viable threat to overtaking American forces that are over there.

    And still you have yet to mention the fact of a failing government.

    Regardless the figures I posted of battle deaths was merely to clarify the standing of the Afghanistan War. Pearl Harbor alone had nearly 2,400 people killed. 9/11 surpassed that nearly totaling 3,000 (civilians). So to be obnoxious WW2 = 300,000 deaths caused by a Japanese raid on a "military base" killing nearly 2,400 (2,300 of which were military personal). Afghanistan War = 1,000+ deaths caused by a raid on American soil killing nearly 3,000 Fathers, Wives, Children who were all civilians. Unlike me, unlike people who serve our country, you will sit there and critique it, try to tear it down, try to take every little flaw and bring it to the forefront.

    Wikipedia isn't the place to get your facts.

  4. Hi Anonymous:

    I'm still confused: what, exactly, is the point you're trying to make? That I am ungrateful for what our servicemen and servicewomen do on your and my behalf? I can assure you I am not. Is it that I should not question our strategy in Afghanistan and the Middle East because some perceive Afghanistan as a success thus far? I'm just confused on what you're trying to say.

    I can also say with absolute conviction that nearly 1,000 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan since 2001 is nowhere near "comical" and I'm sorry you think that those deaths are overblown by the media.

    Additionally, Pat Tillman's diary would contradict your assertion that he had "no regrets about being over there." Tillman regretted everyday having left his wife and family in the States to serve with the Army Rangers with his brother. In addition to this, he had misgivings about the way certain missions were dealt with by the top brass. From his journal, "We've had leaders telling guys to shoot innocent people only to be ignored by privates with cooler heads...It seems their battlefield sense is less than ideal. Given the stress of a situation, I absolutely will listen to my instincts before diving headfirst into any half-baked scheme of theirs." (Pp. 214-215) Sadly, the incident in which Tillman was killed by friendly fire was preceded by a controversial plan to split the platoon up that was resisted by those on the ground but overruled by those miles away.

    One issue I have with those who say we are achieving success after success in Afghanistan is that they have yet to clearly define victory. At what point can this country claim victory in this conflict (and I mean real victory, not premature photo-op aircraft carrier victory)?

    I don't understand the failing government aspect you bring up. Also, I am not worried about any force in Afghanistan overtaking the Americans. In guerrilla warfare (which, as you state, "wins more than you think") the point is not to overtake the enemy, it is solely to make sure the enemy does not win (which is exactly what I am worried about, especially given that victory has yet to be clearly defined).

    My question in this post is "How do you solve a problem like Afghanistan?" I've yet to receive a clear answer from anyone.

  5. I have a clear solution, leave them there, because there is one clear thing that has come it.

    Throughout the nineties, the bombing in Kenya, USS Cole and first World Trade among dozens more under Clinton. 2001, 9/11. Since then there has not been a terrorist attack on US soil since then. Im pretty sure we've done something right.