Friday, April 1, 2016

How Badly Did We Lose Afghanistan?

We know that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, conspiring rather openly with his handlers in Iran, placed his country squarely into Tehran’s political orbit. Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s iron Sunni boot (Sunni’s constitute a 20% minority) was an uncomfortable reality for its 60% majority Shiites. When the United States crushed Hussein in 2003 and banned his top military and civilian cadres from any participation in the new government, al-Maliki wreaked revenge against Sunnis throughout his nation. His new Shiite majority ran roughshod over Sunnis.
Sunnis responded to their new helplessness with bombings and shooting against Shiite targets, particularly in the capital city of Baghdad. Not much changed. They turned to al Qaeda for support. Not much changed. Those displaced former Hussein-administration Sunni officers joined farmers who lost their homes and farms to the big drought and enlisted in the horrific ISIS militia. ISIS grew powerful. The Shiites in the rest of Iraq leaned heavily towards their new allies in Tehran. While Kurds in the north, operating fairly autonomously, remain pro-American, the vast bulk of Iraq remains in the hands of or sphere of influence of two powerful anti-U.S. forces: Iran and ISIS. We lost Iraq… badly.
Did we do better in Afghanistan? Sunni extremists – known as Taliban – conquered the Afghan territory in the mid-1990s and ruled until a U.S.-led assault, in retribution for the Taliban’s allowing the 9/11/01 killers to train on Afghan soil, pushed the Taliban from power in 2001. We appointed what was supposed to be a representative democracy under Hamid Karzai, replete with “free elections,” that became, according to Transparency International, one of the most corrupt governments on earth. This central “government” never really maintained any consistent control over the Afghan countryside beyond the capital city, Kabul and the area immediately around it. The U.N. under U.S. leadership eventually transferred military operations to NATO (also led by U.S. forces).
According to NATO’s Website, “NATO took command of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in August 2003… ISAF helped build the capacity of the Afghan national security forces. As these forces grew stronger, in agreement with the Afghan authorities, they gradually took responsibility for security across the country, and ISAF’s mission was completed at the end of 2014… ISAF has been NATO’s longest and most challenging mission to date: at its height, the force was more than 130,000 strong with troops from 51 NATO and partner nations.”
Afghanistan is the largest producer of opium on earth. Heroin production has skyrocketed. In 2013 alone, opium production rose by well over a third from the year before, over 200,000 hectares of production fields generating between $7.5-$8 billion/year of crop yield (around 5.5 million kilograms). “That increase in cultivation has been matched by a growing share of the world’s heroin market: Over the past decade Afghanistan has gone from supplying roughly 50% of Europe’s heroin to over 90% of the world’s.”, 4/09/13.
In order to garner enough troops to pursue the mythological “weapons of mass destruction” in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the U.S. reduced its efforts in Afghanistan… and the Taliban began a slow but steady return to power. With the “legitimate” Afghan government only in Kabul and its environs, the Taliban today have managed to take over control of 30% of the entire nation, the largest percentage they have held since they were ousted by American forces.
But Taliban aren’t the only bad actors in the country. “ISIS in Afghanistan is growing, according to Gen. John Campbell, the top commander of NATO and American troops in the country, the Pentagon, and lawmakers who have recently visited the war-torn nation… Al-Qaeda training camps are also reportedly sprouting across Afghanistan, more than 14 years after U.S. troops were deployed to topple the Taliban regime and pursue al Qaeda after it used Afghanistan as a base for the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the American homeland.”, January 13th.
The heroin trade has pushed gangs and warlords to take over other, rather large sections of the rest of the country. “In many areas of Afghanistan it is the warlords who hold sway - not the central government or the Taliban. They are able to exploit villagers with impunity using the threat, or the reality, of violence.
“In rural Takhar province, in the remote north-east of Afghanistan, time seems to have stopped in the 19th Century - bumpy roads, mud-built houses, lawless villages and no sign of the Kabul government… Here, armed commanders and their guns are in charge. Their word is the law. ‘Local armed commanders forced three of my elder brothers to fight for them against the insurgents,’ 26-year-old Najbulla tells me. ‘They were all killed in wars.’”, November 2012.
The short answer to the question of who controls Afghanistan, is primarily Taliban, warlords with heroin on their minds, with only a very small part of the country under that U.S.-imposed mega-corrupt government. Neither the United States nor any friendly forces control anything but a small sliver of Afghanistan.
So our two biggest modern forays in the Islamic world have resulted in a rather complete failure of stated U.S. intentions in engaging in those military expeditions. Trillions of dollars later, with enumerable casualties, we are now thinking about yet another major assault in an Islamic world we seem to have gone out of our way to alienate in the current presidential campaign. Really? Not that we should remain passive, but our massive invasion and bombing attacks of the recent past have been complete busts. Maybe we should ask ourselves what lessons we have learned from our mistakes, if any.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I wonder exactly what we think is different about this area of the Middle East that would make our failed strategies work this time.

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