30 December 2010


Leon Panetta, now Director of CIA (with whom I shared a picnic event, in 1986, for about 11 people), revealed (see WaPo link, 6/27/2010) that there are perhaps only 50 to 100 Al-Qaeda operating in Afghanistan. If this is fact, and is significant, would someone remind me, or inform me, just why the U.S. military is fighting in that country?


In throwing out the question as to the reason the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan, it was both a rhetorical question to me to spur my own investigation and to any others who might read this. It is bewildering that Americans both seem to show little interest in the country's military adventures, and that the reasons for the war seem so unclear.

I say "unclear" after spending hours now reading several articles in mainstream news sources and web sites such as "The Long War Journal" (< http://www.longwarjournal.org/>) and the Institute for the Study of War (<http://www.understandingwar.org/>).

As an admitted non-expert, I will hazard some observations:

1. There are reports that the war is going both well and unwell.

2. The Karzai government was not elected, is terribly and hopelessly corrupt, and has threatened several times to form an alliance with the Taliban.

3. The main Taliban-affiliated group--the Haqqani Network--is in league with military and intelligence elements in Pakistan because the Pakistani ISI uses Haqqani to counter and attack Indian interests in Afghanistan.

4. After the U.S./NATO finally leaves, perhaps before, the Karzai government--no matter how much the Afghan government forces are strengthened--will increasingly ally with elements of the Taliban, including Haqqani.

5. In the meantime, we are stalling for what reason? Are the former Mujahidin groups that Karzai has allied with that much worse than the Haqqani? After all, the latter can be seen as Muslim, hyper-Sunni, mostly Pashtun, nationalists, who some believe are being encouraged by the ISI to attack U.S./NATO forces rather than Pakistani forces and who might not remain an enemy of the U.S.

6. By this reasoning, are the other tribal forces allied with Karzai any more pro-U.S./NATO? The latter are surely being paid off by the Karzai government (with American money) and currently--for how long?--not fighting the U.S./NATO only for that reason.

7. With the "enemy" and "ally" so unclear, does it make sense to spend a treasure on warfare?

8. I like the reasoning about the U.S. intending to preserve an energy corridor from Central Asia. But, how long could that be maintained? In a world increasingly desperate for energy sources, perhaps the answer to that question--and the reason for the war--is that it would be maintained as long as necessary.

Contrary to what is inherent in the American worldview, the project of nation building most likely must be measured in decades--or never--in a "society" (perhaps "territory" is a better descriptor) such as Afghanistan. This is even though Gen. Petraeus has wisely understood that attention must be focused at the level of the village.

But, the apparently successful build-up of Afghan security forces might not portend any loyalty to the central government. Also, it seems that there is no progression toward a cohesive central government.

U.S. officials state that they understand that there cannot be only, or primarily, a military solution, yet "soft power" does not seem to end the fighting, either. I'm afraid that the U.S. will decide on sending more personnel, rather than withdrawing, as is the stated plan. This would be similar to U.S.involvement in Vietnam.

An alternative scenario (I alluded to it previously) is that the Afghan government reaches some reconciliation with the Taliban (probably against U.S. advice as the U.S./NATO withdraws), brings it into the central government, and subsequently government and society all break down into further sectarian conflict and instability.

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