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Afghanistan: the Other War
In view of the steady stream of bad news from Iraq – five dead Marines in Saturday’s paper, two more in Sunday’s and four soldiers in Monday’s, along with the Baathist element of the resistance so “weakened” it is now striking targets in Iran – it is easy to forget that we are fighting, and losing, not one Fourth Generation war but two. Five U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan last week. On June 9, the Washington Post reported that
Insurgents linked to the former Taliban regime have set off a wave of violence in Afghanistan, launching a string of almost daily bombings and assassinations that have killed dozens of U.S. and Afghan military personnel and civilians in recent weeks . . . a virtual lockdown is in effect for many of the . . . roughly 3,000 international residents of Kabul . . .
As recently as April of this year, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno, said he envisioned “most of (the Taliban) collapsing and rejoining the Afghan political and economic process” within a year. He seems to have projected the winter’s quiescence as a trend, forgetting that Afghan wars always shut down in wintertime, as war did everywhere until the 19th century. Afghanistan is not so much Iraq Lite as Iraq Slow, the land that forgot time. Our defeat will come slowly. But it will come.
The reason we will lose is that our strategic objective is unrealistic.
Neither America nor anyone can turn Afghanistan into a modern state, aka Brave New World. In attempting to do so, we have launched broadscale assaults on Afghanistan’s rural economy and culture, guaranteeing that the Pashtun countryside will eventually turn against us. Afghan wars are decided in the countryside, not in Kabul.
The Pashtun countryside’s economy depends on opium poppies. Columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave, an old Afghan hand, recently wrote that poppy cultivation generates 12 times more income than the same acreage planted in wheat. 400,000 acres now grow poppies.
Ministers or their deputies are on the take. Police cars carry opium through roadblocks . . . Former anti-Soviet guerillas, known as the mujahideen, now populate the national highway police, which give the smugglers total security on the main roads.
Opium is the Pashtun economy. Yet we are now waging a war against it, a war where every victory means impoverishing the rural population. A story in the March 25 New York Times, “Pentagon Sees Antidrug Effort in Afghanistan,” reported that
On March 15 the American military in Afghanistan provided transportation and a security force for 6 D.E.A. officers and 36 Afghan narcotics policemen who raided three laboratories in Nangahar Province. . .
Under the new mission guidance, the Defense Department will provide "transportation, planning assistance, intelligence, targeting packages" to the counternarcotics mission, said one senior Pentagon official.
American troops will also stand by for "in-extremis support," the official said, particularly to defend D.E.A. and Afghan officers who come under attack . . .
Our assault on traditional Afghan culture is also guaranteed to unite the rural Pashtuns against us. A story in the May 10 Christian Science Monitor began,
A bearded man from the bazaar is whisked into a barber shop, where he’s given a shave and a slick haircut. After a facial, he visits fashion boutiques.
In a few tightly edited minutes of television, the humble bricklayer is transformed into an Afghan metrosexual, complete with jeans, sweater, suede jacket and sunglasses.
This was on Kabul’s new Tolo TV, which was established with a grant from U.S. A.I.D. The story goes on to note that “Modesty in male-female relations and respect for elders are two important parts of Afghan culture that Tolo is challenging.” Not surprisingly, in March Afghanistan’s senior Islamic council, the ulema shura, criticized such programs as “opposed to Islam and national values.”
In consequence of these blunders, assailing rural Afghanistan’s economy and its culture, de Borchgrave reports that “Britain’s defense chiefs have advised Tony Blair ‘a strategic failure’ of the Afghan operation now threatens.” That term is precisely accurate.
Our failure is strategic, not tactical, and it can only be remedied by a change in strategic objective. Instead of trying to remake Afghanistan, we need to redefine our strategic objective to accept that country as it is, always has been and always will be: a poor, primitive and faction-ridden place, dependent on poppy cultivation and proud of its strict Islamic traditions.
In other words, we have to accept that the Afghanistan we have is as good as it is going to get. Once we do that, we open the door to a steady reduction in our presence there and the reduction of Afghan affairs to matters of local importance only. That, and only that, is a realistic strategic objective in Afghanistan.
WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.