Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Afghan Bangs and Whimpers


This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

— T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone.

— Barack Obama, May 21, 2012

The war in Afghanistan is going badly for everyone. The ordinary people of that chaotic country, who are the most important element in the whole horrible shambles, are suffering enormously, and the vast quantities of money poured into their country by US and other taxpayers have not benefited them in any way whatever.  But these oceans of cash have certainly benefited several thousand not-so-ordinary Afghans who have siphoned off countless millions of dollars into bank accounts in Dubai and elsewhere. One of these loyal citizens was the country’s former vice-president, Zia Masood, who on arrival in Dubai was found to be carrying $52 million (according to a Wikileaked US Embassy cable), but was allowed to go laughing to the bank without any action being taken.  The US Inspector General on Afghan Reconstruction reported last year that “As much as $10 million a day in cash is being smuggled through Kabul airport,”  and in March the deputy governor of Afghanistan’s Central Bank told Reuters that his countrymen “have been moving up to $8 billion in cash in suitcases and carry-on bags from Afghanistan’s airports every year.” But it seems there is nothing that the US or anyone else can do about it.  This is the totally corrupt country that is expected by Obama to “stand up” within the next year or so, and be left to look after its own domestic security in 30 months’ time. This is the country in which this week five US soldiers were shot by an Afghan soldier.

In 2009 Obama declared that “Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards.”  Three years later, during his seven hour presidential electioneering visit to the country, during which he did not dare to travel anywhere, he declared “we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly.”  But there was no talk of moving backwards or forwards because the place has stayed the same as it was in 2009 when he was casting round for solutions, none of which has produced proposals that will result in anything but continuing bedlam.  Nobody knows how wars can be ended “responsibly”, unless you figure in the re-election factor, when responsibility is confined to getting votes at any cost — which price includes the lives of American and other foreign soldiers.

It’s cliché time when you refer to statements by Senator John Kerry, but he did make one original and mind-stopping declaration about the Vietnam war, way back in April 1971.  (And there is no doubt, no matter the malicious campaign against him, that Kerry was a brave man.  He’d probably have been a lousy president,  but the hell with his spiteful tiny-minded critics, because he deserved every medal he wears.)  All these years ago Kerry asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which continues to have more than its share of self-righteous pompous ignorant self-important asses,  just “how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

And we should echo this, because how is President Obama going to ask one of his soldiers to be the last man to die in Afghanistan?  It might be a Brit, of course (three more of them died last week); or an Australian (one killed Sunday); or an Italian (one the previous week); or a soldier of any country, in fact, of the forty plus which have soldiers being killed and maimed for nothing.

Obama has declared — no doubt to the delight of the murderous Taliban and all the other insurgents (because there are many different sorts) — that there will be no US combat troops in Afghanistan in eighteen months’ time. So all the militant opposition groups have to do is hunker down and choose their opportunities to strike. What a gift to give an enemy.  And think what the Afghan army feels about this. Its soldiers are poorly led, ill-equipped, badly-paid, and from a multitude of mutually-hostile regions and tribes. Most are illiterate and incapable of operating technically demanding equipment — which, these days, is most equipment. And according to US spokesman LtCol Timothy Stauffer, “There is an awful lot of equipment purchased and sitting in warehouses until we get the logistics fixed and get the ANA trained to request the equipment and get it issued.”

This statement by LtCol Stauffer about equipment management might seem a bit of a throwaway line and of little importance, but in fact it summarizes very well the entire support, assistance and organizational debacle in Afghanistan.  Bear in mind that foreign troops have been in the country for ten years. Their deep involvement began in 2005. So they’ve had over six years to devise and implement a workable equipment management system for the Afghan military.  This isn’t brain surgery or nuclear science:  in every country with an army worthy of the name there is a well-tried, proven and effective system of equipment control.  (Sure, the pointy-headed bureaucrats in the British Ministry of Defense have managed to totally louse up almost every aspect of defense procurement and budget management; but there are exceptions to every rule.)  It is verging on the unbelievable that in six long years the massive amounts of money plowed into Afghanistan have not produced a workable military logistics system. And this is but a tiny example of the shambles.

Foreign troop contingents are well aware that their governments have decided to withdraw them from combat by the end of next year, and that they are to leave entirely by the end of 2014, irrespective of whether the Afghan Army can “stand up” (to use the Obama phrase) or not.  So what will the Commander-in-Chief tell the families of those who are killed in his final desperate hours before his troop withdrawal from combat takes place?  And what will he tell all the soldiers who are maimed and mentally shattered in the last days of his war?  There will be the usual platitudes, by all these politicians who have never heard bullets and look on warfare, in the words of Clausewitz, as being “the continuation of Politik by other means.” But in Afghanistan, this won’t wash.  The US is up to its neck in an unwinnable war.

Rarely has there been such total incompetence in the direction of a war. The foreign soldiers in Afghanistan try to do their military duty, but essentially they are the patsies of the politicians. They die and suffer mutilation and disfigurement while the focus of the White House and the heaven-help-us-alternative Romney is on winning power at any price. They die while US Navy ships are shouldering each other out of the water in the Persian Gulf, where their menacing belligerence against Iran, a country that presents not a shred of threat to the United States, is being strangled by governments who leap to obey the diktats of western oil companies. The next war looms, even before this one collapses.

The site can be relied upon to report foreign deaths and injuries in the Afghan War, about which little appears in western mainstream media. It records that 39 foreign soldiers were killed last month, and 224 so far this year. What did they die for?  And what will the last soldier die for?  This war will end with both bangs and whimpers. And the main victims will be the people of Afghanistan, because their corrupt and ineffective government is incapable of ‘standing up’ when the foreigners leave. It’s a whimpering dream world.  With stand-alone bangs.

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future