Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Of Kabul and Tet and Generals

“Now we can see [success in Vietnam] clearly, like the light at the end of a tunnel”

–Gen. Henri Navarre, commander French forces in Vietnam, May 20, 1953

“A new phase is starting…we have reached an important point when the end begins to come into view…there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

–Gen. William Westmoreland, commander U.S. forces in Vietnam, November 1967

“Yesterday’s attack [in Kabul] was a fleeting event; it came and it went. The insurgents are on the defensive.” The performance of Afghan security forces should tell Afghans “they can sleep well at night.”

–Gen. John Allen, North Atlantic Treaty Commander in Afghanistan, Sept. 14, 2011

Dear Lord, what is about generals that seem to make them so particularly immune to history’s lessons?

Gen. Navarre had a sure-fire plan to draw the Vietnamese insurgents into a great battle that would end the war. Worked like a charm. On May 7, 1954 the French army surrendered at Dien Bien Phu.

In November 1967, Gen. Westmoreland was making the rounds in Washington, talking up “body counts” and “pacification,” and how the U.S would have this little matter in Vietnam wrapped up pretty quickly. Ten weeks later, on Jan.31, 1968, the National Liberation Front and the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive that put the U.S. Embassy in Saigon under siege, seized the city of Hue, and shattered the myth that the U.S. was winning the war in Vietnam.

And now Gen. Allen says the attack on Kabul indicates the Taliban are on their last legs.

For NATO this year has been the deadliest in the decade-old war, and the Kabul assault suggests that the Taliban are hardly on the ropes. As Matthew Green of the Financial Times put it, “The attack was among the most sophisticated insurgents have launched on the capital and exposed the inability of Afghan forces to guarantee security even in the most heavily defended districts.”

A “fleeting event”? I suppose that depends on how one defines “fleeting.” Seven Taliban pinned down NATO and Afghan security forces for 20 hours, scattering Embassy officials, and pretty much paralyzing a major part of the capital. It was the 26th major attack on Kabul since 2008, assaults that have killed 225 people.

What generals don’t get (it tends to be above their pay grade) is that wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan— wars of occupation—are political, not military affairs. The U.S. military continues to claim that the Tet offensive was a huge military victory because it killed lots of insurgents, and the U.S. took back all the cities it lost. But Tet was less a military offensive than a political undertaking aimed at derailing the myth that the U.S. was “winning” the war in Vietnam. And that is exactly what Tet did. Regardless of what the generals thought, the American people concluded that they had been lied to, and that the war could not be won.

During the Paris peace talks to end the war in Southeast Asia, an American colonel confronted his North Vietnamese counterpart and told him that the U.S. had won every battle in the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese officer nodded, “Yes, that is true, but also irrelevant.” I doubt the American officer got the point.

General Allen’s line about “the insurgents are on the defensive” can now join former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s dismissal of the growing Iraqi insurgency as nothing but Saddam Hussein “dead-enders.”

As for Kabul residents being able to “sleep well at night” because of the performance of the Afghan security forces:

“The nature and scale of today’s attacks clearly proves that the terrorists received assistance and guidance from some security officials within the government who are their sympathizers,” Naim Hamidzai, chair of the Afghan parliament’s Internal Security Committee, told the New York Times. “Otherwise it would be impossible for the planners and masterminds of the attack to stage such a sophisticated and complex attack, in this extremely well guarded location without the complicity of insiders.”

The Afghan Army saw its desertion rate more than double in the first six months of this year. Between January and June, some 24,590 soldiers deserted, compared with 11,423 who left in the same period in 2010. The Afghan army is supposed to reach 195,000 by October 2012.

The Afghan army has also been unable to recruit Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan, the heart of the insurgency. According to a recent study by the New York Times, Pashtuns from Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan, Zabul, Paktika, and Ghazni make up 17 percent of the population but only 1.5 percent of the army. In short, the Afghan Army in the south is essentially a northern army of occupation, which explains why no one in the southern provinces will join the army, and virtually no Taliban have switched allegiances to the government.

To shore up security, the U.S. has been recruiting and arming militias that, according to a recent Human Rights study, have killed, raped and stolen from local villagers. U.S. Special Forces recruit the militia members, who then shift their loyalties to local warlords. This should hardly come as a surprise. The Soviets tried exactly this tactic during their occupation, which ended up fueling the growth of the warlords and led to the devastating 1992-96 civil war.

Of course General Allen might have had something else in mind when he talked about getting a good night’s sleep.

According to the United Nations, this year will be a bumper crop for opium. Prices for dry opium increased 306 percent this year, from $69 a kilo to $281 a kilo. As Jean-Luc Lemahieu, an official of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, told the New York Times, “This is not business as usual. There is no crop that can compete with those prices.”

Smoke enough opium you can sleep through anything.

For the last 10 years we have bombed, shot, incarcerated, and water-boarded a lot of people in Afghanistan. We have allowed opium to become the country’s major source of income, and we are currently bringing back the warlords and their armies. Afghanistan is a far more dangerous place today than it was a decade ago, and the only tunnels are the ones in which the Taliban store their weapons and supplies.

It seems time to resuscitate a line from another decade and another war: “Out now!”

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

More articles by:

Conn Hallinan can be read at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com 

October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
Colin Todhunter
From GM Potatoes to Glyphosate: Regulatory Delinquency and Toxic Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
Evacuating Nauru: Médecins Sans Frontières and Australia’s Refugee Dilemma
Marvin Kitman
The Kitman Plan for Peace in the Middle East: Two Proposals
Weekend Edition
October 12, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
My History with Alexander Cockburn and The Financial Future of CounterPunch
Paul Street
For Popular Sovereignty, Beyond Absurdity
Nick Pemberton
The Colonial Pantsuit: What We Didn’t Want to Know About Africa
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Summer of No Return
Jeff Halper
Choices Made: From Zionist Settler Colonialism to Decolonization
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Incident: Trump’s Special Relationship With the Saudi Monarchy
Andrew Levine
Democrats: Boost, Knock, Enthuse
Barbara Kantz
The Deportation Crisis: Report From Long Island
Doug Johnson
Nate Silver and 538’s Measurable 3.5% Democratic Bias and the 2018 House Race
Gwen Carr
This Stops Today: Seeking Justice for My Son Eric Garner
Robert Hunziker
Peak Carbon Emissions By 2020, or Else!
Arshad Khan
Is There Hope on a World Warming at 1.5 Degrees Celsius?
David Rosen
Packing the Supreme Court in the 21stCentury
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Threats of Death and Destruction
Joel A. Harrison
The Case for a Non-Profit Single-Payer Healthcare System
Ramzy Baroud
That Single Line of Blood: Nassir al-Mosabeh and Mohammed al-Durrah
Zhivko Illeieff
Addiction and Microtargeting: How “Social” Networks Expose us to Manipulation
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
What is Truth?
Michael Doliner
Were the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a Mistake?
Victor Grossman
Cassandra Calls
Ralph E. Shaffer
Could Kavanaugh’s Confirmation Hearing Ended Differently?
Vanessa Cid
Our Everyday Family Separations
Walaa Al Ghussein
The Risks of Being a Journalist in Gaza
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal and Treachery—The Extremism of Moderates
James Munson
Identity Politics and the Ruling Class
P. Sainath
The Floods of Kerala: the Bank That Went Under…Almost
Ariel Dorfman
How We Roasted Donald Duck, Disney’s Agent of Imperialism
Joe Emersberger
Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno’s Assault on Human Rights and Judicial Independence
Ed Meek
White Victimhood: Brett Kavanaugh and the New GOP Brand
Andrew McLean, MD
A Call for “Open Space”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail