FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Afghan Quagmire

by

It is impossible to win a war that you cannot define. That seems to be the main lesson to be drawn from Afghanistan, where a so-called victory seems ever more unreachable. It is also the conclusion of several experts on the region, who fear U.S. forces would be mired forever in that unjustly punished country.

Civilians can sometimes offer insights into a war situation that professional warriors cannot do. In 2001, American writer Philip Caputo offered a unique insight into the Afghan psychology. He had spent a month in Afghanistan with the mujahedeen as a reporter, during the Afghans’ decade-long war with the Soviets.

At some point in the 1980s, he was accompanying a platoon of mujahedeen who were escorting 1,000 refugees into Pakistan. They had to cross a mountain torrent on a very primitive bridge, consisting essentially of two logs laid side by side. In front of him was a 10-year-old boy, separated from his family, his feet swollen from several days of barefoot marching.

When Caputo realized that the boy was terrified fearing that he could fall into the rapids below and almost certain death, he carried him to the other side. With the help of his interpreter he found the father and handed the boy to him. The father, rather than thanking him slapped the boy in the face and poked Caputo in the chest, shouting angrily at him. Caputo was obviously shocked.

He asked his interpreter about the boy father’s reaction and the interpreter explained to him, “He is angry at the boy for not crossing on his own, and angry with you for helping him. Now, he says, his son will expect somebody to help him whenever he runs into difficulties.”

Caputo concludes, “Well, that little boy probably learned. I don’t know what became of him, but in my imagination, I see our troops encountering him: now 31, inured to hardship and accustomed to combat, unafraid of death, with an army of men like him at his side.”

In a few words, Caputo magisterially captured the strength of the Afghan soldier, able to fight with the most primitive weapons against the greatest empires on earth. When these soldiers feel their land usurped by foreign forces, their strength is multiplied. And this is just one of the obstacles confronting U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

There are increasing doubts that a plain increase in the number of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan can lead to a victory progressively more difficult to define. Matthew Hoh, a former Foreign Service officer and former Marine Corps captain who became the first U.S. official to resign in protest over the Afghan war, declared to the Washington Post, “Upon arriving in Afghanistan and serving in both the East and South (and particularly speaking with local Afghans) I found that the majority of those who were fighting us and the Afghan central government were fighting us because they felt occupied.”

In the meantime, the costs of the occupation keep mounting. According to some estimates the total spending in Afghanistan is now more than $2 trillion, not even counting the future costs of interest for the money borrowed to finance the war. Those additional costs could add trillions of dollars to the total tab.

To those costs should be added veterans’ medical and disability payments over the next 40 years, which could be over $1 trillion. Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says, “The cost of caring for war veterans typically peaks 30 to 40 years or more after a conflict.”

Since the start of the war, more than 2,350 US troops have been killed, in addition to thousands of allied forces. The toll on Afghans has been even greater, with tens of thousands Afghan civilian and military who died in the conflict. Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires. It should more properly be called the graveyard of illusions.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail