Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama and McCain’s Goofy Afghan Bluster

The first serious talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban took place ten days ago in Mecca under the auspices of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. During the discussions all sides agreed that the war in Afghanistan is going to be solved by dialogue and not by fighting. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar was not present but his representatives said he was no longer allied to al Qa’ida.

The admission by a senior British General Mark Carleton-Smith over the weekend that absolute military victory in Afghanistan is impossible has been overtaken by the talks in Mecca. “If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that’s precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this,”  said Gen Carleton-Smith. “That shouldn’t make people uncomfortable.”

This sounds as if Britain’s latest military venture in Afghanistan is going to end in a retreat with none of its ill-defined objectives achieved. In the US an understanding of the real situation on the ground has been slower in coming. John McCain and Barack Obama still speak as if a  few more brigades of American soldiers sent to chase the Taliban around the mountains of southern Afghanistan would change the outcome of the war.

US policy in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein has been constantly denigrated as a recipe for self-inflicted disaster. But President Bush’s policy in Afghanistan on the wake of the fall of the Taliban was just as catastrophically misconceived. In both countries the administration’s agenda was primarily geared to using military victory to make sure that  the Republicans won elections at home.

The Taliban has always been notoriously dependent on Pakistan and on the Pakistani military’s intelligence service (ISI). It was the ISI which propelled the Taliban into power in the 1990s and covertly gave its militants a safe haven after their retreat from Afghanistan in 2001, enabling them to regroup and counter-attack.

But at the very moment this was happening Mr Bush was lauding the Pakistani government of General Pervez Musharaf, which had fostered the Taliban, as America’s great ally in its war on terror. The self-defeating absurdity of this policy has not struck home in the US as did the debacle in Iraq though it is obvious that so long as the Taliban have a vast mountainous hinterland in which to base themselves, they will never be defeated. The presence of foreign troops was always more popular in Afghanistan than in Iraq. The Afghans have a deep loathing for their warlords. But no foreign occupation force, particularly if reliant on ill-directed air attacks and engaged in combat, stays popular for long. This is particularly true if the foreign troops do not, in fact, deliver security. Meanwhile their presence means that Taliban fighters can portray themselves as patriots battling for their country and their faith.

The overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was never quite what it looked  like. Soon after they had given up the fight I drove from Kabul to Kandahar  along one of the world’s worst built roads. The Taliban were adroitly changing sides or going home as local deals were hammered out. Casualties on both sides were mercifully low. In the ancient town of Ghazni an accord on the end to Taliban power was only delayed because  of a disagreement on how many government cars could they retain. In a village outside Kandahar I asked a local leader if he could gather some  former Taliban for me to meet and in half an hour the village guest house  was full of confident and dangerous looking fighters. I thought it would not  take much for them to make a come back.

Yet they would not have been able to do so without the blunders of the White House and the Pentagon. By invading Iraq they convinced General Musharaf that it was safe to give support to the Taliban once again. There were enough foreign troops in Afghanistan to de-legitimize the Afghan government but not enough to defeat its enemies. Chasing Taliban fighters around the hinterland year after year only led to the insurgency expanding.

The talks in Saudi Arabia are a long way from negotiations but they are a sign that the present political logjam might be beginning to break. General Carleton-Smith’s forthright admission that there can be no  outright military victory also shows realism. The best route for Britain and the US in Afghanistan is to have modest and attainable objectives combined with a recognition that in its struggle for survival the Afghan government must fight and win its own battles.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the the author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.

 

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

May 22, 2018
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail