Can anyone state exactly why foreign troops are fighting in Afghanistan? What is the collective aim, the specific mission, the ultimate objective, of the 60,000 soldiers there? I ask this because as I write the total of US deaths in Afghanistan “and region” is over 450, and news has come in of the killing of more British and American soldiers. And I wonder what all of them have died for.
There are three separate foreign military organizations in Afghanistan, and they conduct operations entirely differently. The International Security and Assistance Force, the NATO countries’ military contingents, and the independent US forces have no single overall headquarters ; they have entirely unrelated Rules of Engagement (a preposterous and almost unbelievable situation) ; and do not have a combined mission statement. If a young captain at any military college in the world were told to produce a planning paper for direction of military operations in a foreign country and came up with such a harebrained cockamamie muddle he would be laughed at and sent packing.
The situation in Afghanistan is bad and getting worse, but before sketching the history of foreign military failure in that harsh and barbaric country it should be noted that its eastern neighbor, Pakistan, remains host to the largest number of refugees existing in any one country in our horrible world. There is no other nation that has accepted so many displaced people for so long – or has received less international gratitude for its generosity to foreign exiles. There has been attentive care, of course, from the saintly UN High Commission for Refugees whose staff around the world rarely receive the recognition they deserve. But Pakistan has not received any acknowledgment, either, for its hosting of millions of Afghans, some of whom are intent on wrecking the country that has given them haven.
There remain in Pakistan over 1.5 million Afghans who have the status of refugees. (Plus some 400,000 who have been absorbed into Pakistan society, legally or otherwise.) They cannot return to their own country, no matter how much they may want to, because it is still in a state of chaos, thanks to inept foreigners, evil fanatics, terminally corrupt politicians, and ruthless tribal thugs who are allowed by the government and occupation forces to rule their fiefdoms with no regard for laws of God or man.
The US Government Accountability Office made it clear last week that there should be no more funding of training for the Afghan army because there is no “coordinated, detailed plan” for its future – after five years of foreign military occupation of the country. Remember the chaotic scenes in Kabul in April when President Karzai fled for his life and Afghan soldiers ran equally swiftly from the scene of a shooting at a military parade? That black comedy summed up the pathetic non-effectiveness of the new Afghan army. And the situation in Afghanistan would be uproariously funny, because of the amateur and clumsy dabbling by so many western nations, were it not that the majority of its citizens are in a state of even deeper poverty, fear and despondency than applied when the weird, fanatical, illiterate and psychotic Taliban were in power.
After Britain’s three Afghan Wars in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the Soviet Union, in a fit of Kremlin madness (for it transpired that it was a gigantic mistake), decided they would succeed where the British had failed, and in 1979 they invaded a country which had been doing quite well until a coup had deposed leadership that actually tried to look forward socially and improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. In the course of the Fourth Afghan War the country was destroyed, and brutal mujahideen “freedom fighters” prospered as a result of vast American subsidies. Their viciousness was promoted by tiny-minded gung-ho knuckle-dragging foreigners whose egos were matched only by the size of their moneybags.
When the USSR retreated from Afghanistan it was expected that western powers would rally round and help the country in its time of greatest need. Reconstruction, good governance and establishment of rule of law were obvious imperatives. Not a bit of it. There is no oil in Afghanistan. It doesn’t produce vast quantities of anything marketable, apart from heroin, so was not a desirable plot to be cultivated. There was no encouragement of democracy ; no notion of supporting the few forward-thinking Afghan leaders who wanted to bring at least a modicum of social improvement and equality to a benighted country that was in a state of anarchy. So the moronic Taliban came to power and thrust Afghanistan even further back towards the Dark Ages.
But because the Saudi Arabian suicide plane-destroyers on 9/11 in America were guided by a murderous Saudi Arabian lunatic who lived in Afghanistan, the place became a priority. Not for development, of course, for that was the last thing in the tiny minds of George Bush and his demented crew : their priority was vengeance. US air attacks destroyed countless villages and an unknown number of Afghans. An assault on the area in which bin Laden was supposed to be hiding was ludicrously unsuccessful, and the whole story of that bizarre and militarily unprofessional fiasco has yet to be fully told. (I give some details in my next book, but am restricted by having many years ago signed the Official Secrets Act which, as retailed in the wonderful BBC TV series ‘Yes Minister,’ is “Not there to protect Secrets. It is to protect Officials.” There are, however, a couple of interesting tales.)
The Afghan brutes who are dignified by the word ‘warlord’ by the western media – for there is something swashbuckling in the word that appeals to hacks and headline writers – but who are only grubby gangsters – had a wonderful time, courtesy of the CIA and MI6. They murdered hundreds of their closest enemies and laughed all the way to their Swiss banks, while bin Laden disappeared. Elsewhere, the drug thugs have had an even more vindictive and lucrative time. The Fifth Afghan War has been good for some – especially the dozens of corrupt members of the present government in Kabul who have prospered mightily. (Their names are well known by western nations involved in Afghanistan – I had detailed descriptions of names, places and bank accounts during my last visit to Kabul.)
But last week the ineffectual President Karzai of Afghanistan said that Afghan troops would cross the border into Pakistan to pursue and kill anyone who had been fighting against Afghan or “coalition” forces. This would be a very serious statement were it not for the fact that the US Government Accountability Office has observed that “only two of 105 Afghan army units are considered [operationally] capable,” with a third of them able to perform “only with routine international support” – for which read massive US bombing strikes such as killed Major Akbar of the Pakistan army and ten of his Frontier Corps soldiers on 11 June.
Afghanistan is a disaster area. The lives of hundreds of foreign soldiers have been sacrificed by their governments. The army of Pakistan has suffered thousands of dead and wounded. For what? The collective wisdom of the condescending west has produced nothing other than chaos, death, corruption, hatred and booming heroin exports.
Is there any optimism that the next five years of the Fifth Afghan War will be any better than the last if present policies apply? It is time for a common sense approach to Afghanistan by all the clever foreigners who think they know how the country should be governed. Does anyone think that will happen?
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY’s website is www.briancloughley.com
This is an expanded version of ‘The Fifth Afghan War’ that appeared in two newspapers in Pakistan, The Nation and The News, on June 25.