4 Easy Ways to See How Obama's Strategy in Afghanistan Isn't Working
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From Kandahar province, where American soldiers mass for the well-advertised securing of Kandahar, come reports that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is stealing equipment -- right down to bottled drinking water -- from the U.S. military and selling it to the Taliban. U.S. commanders can’t do much about it because the official American script calls for the ANA to take over responsibility for national defense.
NATO soldiers have complained all along about the ill-trained, uninterested troops of the ANA, but the animosity between them seems to have grown deadly in some quarters. American soldiers in Kandahar report that, for their own security, they don’t tell their ANA colleagues when and where they’re going on patrol. Back in the 1980s, in the anti-Soviet jihad we supported, we trained Afghan jihadists who have today become our worst enemies, and now we may be doing it again.
Factor in accounts of what General McChrystal did best: taking out bad guys. Reportedly, he was vigorously directing Special Forces’ assassinationsof high and mid-level Taliban leaders in preparation for “peeling off” the “good” Taliban -- that is, those impoverished fighters only in it for the money. According to his thinking, they would later be won over to the government through internationally subsidized jobs. But assassinating the ideological leaders, the true believers and organizers -- or those we call the bad Taliban -- actually leaves behind leaderless, undisciplined gangs of armed rent-a-guns more interested in living off the population we’re supposed to protect than being peeled off into abject Afghan poverty. From the point of view of ordinary Afghans in the countryside, our “good Taliban” are the worst of all.
I could go on. If you spend time in Afghanistan, evidence of failure is all around you, including those millions of American taxpayer dollars that are paid to Afghan security contractors (and Karzai relatives) and then handed over to insurgents to buy protection for U.S. supply convoys traveling on U.S. built, but Taliban-controlled, roads. Strategy doesn’t get much worse than that: financing both sides, and every brigand in between, in hopes of a happier ending someday.
2. So why does Obama stick to this failed policy?
Go figure. Maybe he’s been persuaded by Pentagon hype. Replacing General McChrystal with Centcom commander General David Petraeus brought a media golden-oldies replay of Petraeus’s greatest hits: his authorship of the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, updated (some say plagiarized) from a Vietnam-era edition, and of Bush’s 2007 “surge” in Iraq, an exercise in sectarian cleansing now routinely called a “success.” If you can apply the word “success” to any operation in Iraq, you’re surely capable of clinging to the hope that Petreus can find it again in Afghanistan.
But like David McKiernan, the general he ousted, McChrystal has already misapplied the “lessons” of Iraq to the decidedly different circumstances of Afghanistan and so producing a striking set of failures. A deal to buy offthe Shinwari Pashtuns, for instance, a tribe mistakenly thought to be the equivalent of the Anbar Sunnis in Iraq, ended in an uproar when they pocketed the money without firing a shot at a single Talib. Not so surprising, considering that the people they were paid to fight are not foreign invaders -- that would be us -- but their Pashtun cousins.
Moreover, the surge into the Afghan south seems only to have further alienated the folks who live there, while increasing violence against local residents. It has also come at the expense of American troops in the east, the ones I was recently embedded with, who face an onslaught of hostile fighters moving across the border from Pakistan.