By Borhan Osman
Mr. Osman is the International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Afghanistan.
Feb. 7, 2019
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai headed a Taliban delegation at meetings with Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow this week.
“The United States and the Taliban made progress in peace talks in late January after coming to a basic understanding about withdrawing American troops in return for Taliban commitments to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for transnational terrorists. An agreement between the United States and the Taliban has been long overdue — as part of a broader settlement also involving the Taliban’s Afghan opponents — and is the way out of a war without victory.
The fear of Afghanistan-based terrorists attacking the United States has been the key reason for keeping American troops in the country and keeping the Taliban out of power, but it is rooted more in perception than in reality.
The transnational terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been exaggerated. For years, I have puzzled over claims from American and Afghan officials that 20 terrorist groups operate in Afghanistan. Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan, portrayed the country as a “front line” in the global fight against terrorism. These statements make the Afghan conflict appear terribly chaotic.
The reality is that the Afghan war is a two-sided struggle, something increasingly rare in the fragmented landscape of modern warfare. The conflict in Afghanistan is simpler than the multifactional wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Almost every battle in Afghanistan involves the Taliban fighting the government forces, which makes insurgency almost synonymous with the Taliban.”
By The Editorial Board
The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.
Feb. 3, 2019, 632
On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress wrote what would prove to be one of the largest blank checks in the country’s history. The Authorization for Use of Military Force against terrorists gave President George W. Bush authority to attack the Taliban, the Sunni fundamentalist force then dominating Afghanistan that refused to turn over the mastermind of the attacks perpetrated three days earlier, Osama bin Laden.
In the House of Representatives and the Senate combined, there was only one vote in opposition: Barbara Lee, a Democratic representative from California, who warned of another Vietnam. “We must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target,” she said. “We cannot repeat past mistakes.”
Days later, Mr. Bush told a joint session of Congress just how broadly he planned to use his new war powers. “Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there,” Mr. Bush declared. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
More than 17 years later, the United States military is engaged in counterterrorism missions in 80 nations on six continents. The price tag, which includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased spending on veterans’ care, will reach $5.9 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University. Since nearly all of that money has been borrowed, the total cost with interest will be substantially higher.
The war on terror has been called the “forever war,” the “long war,” a “crusade gone wrong.” It has claimed an estimated half a million lives around the globe.
It is long past time for a reappraisal.”
“. . . . . I learned that Osama bin Laden’s strategic logic was to embroil the United States in a never-ending conflict to ultimately bankrupt the country. “All that we have to do is send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written ‘Al Qaeda,’” he said in 2004, “in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note ….” Why are we continuing to do what Bin Laden wanted all along?
But that, ultimately, was not the thing I realized.
I learned that every part of me wanted to just stay quiet with my feelings about the war because I was afraid of what people might say. It’s easier to bask in the warm embrace of “Thank you for your service” without questioning what that service was for. One way or another, we were all affected by Sept. 11, which has caused us to view the war through a distorted lens. This is why most of us won’t comment or share or at least have a dialogue about the war.
But the main reason I wanted to stay quiet is because it has embarrassingly taken me 17 years to realize something, and what I realized was this: Seventeen years ago, staring at that picture of Mohammad Atta, I wanted revenge against the people who killed my brother. But what I finally realized was that the people who killed my brother died the same day he did.
I refuse to take Atta’s orders, or Bin Laden’s. I will not “stay quiet.” End the war.”
Joe Quinn is a United States Army veteran.
DL: In hindsight, invading Iraq and Afghanistan were mistakes. I recommend “State of Denial,” by Bob Woodward, for a briefing on the Iraq mismanagement. We ignored the rules of war as delineated over a thousand years ago by Sun Tsu, in “The Art of War.”
For example, three of his cardinal rules are: know your enemy better than you know yourself. Only go to war as a last resort. Never occupy a foreign land for a long time, it is too expensive, and reveals your ignorance while all of your advantages will slowly erode.
Having severely damaged these two counties, and Syria, Libya and Yemen, perhaps we have no better choice than to pull out. Here is the top comment which I endorsed:
“If there is a compelling case to be made for deepening the United States military involvement in Afghanistan, where the 16-year-old war has already lasted longer than any other in American history, President Trump did not make it in his speech Monday night.
Rather than the comprehensive strategy that is called for, his plan amounted to a jumble of ideas that lacked detail and coherence and were often contradictory. Having spent years criticizing America’s involvement in Afghanistan, he now appears inclined toward an open-ended commitment, but with no real ways to measure success and no hint of a timetable for withdrawal.”
I saw no reason to post this editorial, until I came across the following comment, which enjoyed and approved.
On the day after Trump’s announcement of escalation in Afghanistan, the stock market is up 185 points. That is obscene.
War-profiteering used to be illegal, but now it is the order of the day, even when the cost of all these profits is wasted American lives.
Want to end wars fought by the United States? Have some new rules:
1. Declared wars only. No declaration of war, no fighting.
2. An automatic draft in wartime, with the children of the wealthiest Americans drafted first, and only to combat units.
3. All declared wars will be paid exclusively through increases in corporate taxes.
Put those three rules into effect, and we would by God be the most peaceful country on the planet.
“Since I can’t explain Trump’s Middle East, let me explain what I saw here — three things in particular: I saw a new way of mounting warfare by the United States in Iraq. I saw in this new warfare a strategy that offers at least a glimmer of hope for Iraq, if and when ISIS is defeated. But, though only a glimpse, I saw in Afghanistan an eroding stalemate — with all the same issues that have undermined stability there for years: government corruption, distrust among Afghans and perfidious interventions by Pakistan and Iran.”
“. . . Democracy is about majority rule, not majoritarian tyranny. What is under attack in India is not just Hindu-Muslim concord, but the right of all minorities — ethnic, linguistic, regional, political, social and cultural — to be themselves, to be equal, to be free. Dissent, free speech and the freedom to choose with confidence and without fear are under strain.On Gandhi’s 75th birthday in 1944, Albert Einstein wrote in a book of felicitations, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.” When Einstein said “will scarce believe,” he had in mind Gandhi’s distinctive capacity for nonviolent resistance.Einstein knew of Gandhi’s having been pitched out of a train in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, because of the color of his skin. He knew that Gandhi led the subsequent resistance by Indians in South Africa against discriminatory treatment, and he knew of his nonviolent ability to suffer persecution and humiliation without physical retaliation.
Gandhi bore no hatred for his oppressors, did not speak or write a harsh word about them but, with his large and growing band of associates, offered the toughest resistance through what he called satyagraha, or soul force. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela found this capacity in Gandhi compelling, exemplary and even sublime.
Gandhi’s satyagraha was famously illustrated in the Salt March in 1930, when he walked 240 miles with his followers to the village of Dandi on the Arabian Sea in western India. . . . “
OXFORD, England — Two and a half million soldiers drawn from Britain’s empire in South Asia fought in World War II. But they are missing from many British commemorations and accounts of the war — an absence reinforced by Christopher Nolan’s new film “Dunkirk,” which does not feature any of the Indian soldiers who were present at the battle.The Indian soldiers at Dunkirk were mainly Muslims from areas of British India that later became Pakistan. They were part of the Royal India Army Service Corps — transport companies that sailed from Bombay to Marseille. The men brought with them hundreds of mules, requested by the Allies in France because of the shortage of other means of transport. They played a significant role, ferrying equipment and supplies.The Germans captured one Indian company and held the men as prisoners of war. Others were evacuated and made it to Britain. Paddy Ashdown, a British politician, has spoken of his father’s being court-martialed for refusing orders to abandon the Indian troops under his command.
“Yet, when it comes to the actual life-and-death responsibilities of the commander in chief — overseeing America’s vast war machine and sending men and women into conflict — Mr. Trump seems more like the delegator in chief. The latest evidence was his decision this week to give Defense Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to determine troop levels in Afghanistan, which could lead to an increase of as many as 5,000 troops, if proposals favored by Mr. Mattis and his generals go forward.
Mr. Mattis has acknowledged to Congress that the United States-led coalition is “not winning” in Afghanistan. It is not at all clear that adding 5,000 more troops — a roughly 50 percent increase over the current troop level of 9,800 — can make a difference, especially when the administration has yet to confront the basic problem of ensuring public safety and the larger political and economic issues that must be part of a comprehensive strategy to resolve the conflict.
What such a decision would do is reverse the drawdown President Barack Obama put in place and set a new policy of expanding involvement in a war that has already dragged on for 16 years, cost thousands of American and Afghan lives and consumed billions of dollars.”
It is a sad day indeed, when the comments are stronger and clearer than the editorial. Here are two comments I support:
As an Afghan Vet, its nice to see someone actually talking critically about the war. The question? Why now? Years ago, while we were slogging it out under rosey predictions, it became clear that our leaders had concluded that Afghanistan was a lost effort and our Soldiers, my fellow Soldiers, were dying either for officers to punch their ‘combat ticket’, or in operations that were almost theatrical, deeply focused on killing, and then total abandonment once the initial attack stopped. Our hands were tied in the face of endemic corruption, local force exploitation and often severe criminality, that rapidly (and very clearly) undermined our strategic efforts – there is no way to build a better state than the Taliban by empowering people even more rapacious and greedy. All of this has been greeted by silence, and even the Times doesn’t seem to want to offer badly needed advice – cut our losses and get out. The War, and everything in Afghanistan, has been badly bungled for years. There is no fixing it, there is only delaying the return of the Taliban (and every power in the region is reaching out to the Taliban in acknowledgment of their expected ascension). The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time. The best policy on Afghanistan is an easy one: end it.
“DHAKA, Bangladesh — In 1971, Bengali nationalists and the people of what was then called East Pakistan waged a war of independence against the Pakistani Army. The conflict culminated in the birth of a new nation, Bangladesh. The war, which lasted nine months, was a brutal one: Depending on the source, some 300,000 to three million people were killed, and millions were displaced.There is no question that there were many atrocities, including rape, deportation and massacres of civilians, carried out by the Pakistani Army, aided at times by pro-Pakistani militias. Some of these included members of the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party that remains a powerful force in Bangladesh today. There is an academic consensus that this campaign of violence, particularly against the Hindu population, was a genocide.”
“KABUL, Afghanistan — Farkhunda had one chance to escape the mob that wanted to kill her. Two Afghan police officers pulled her onto the roof of a low shed, above the angry crowd.From Our AdvertisersBut then the enraged men below her picked up poles and planks of wood, and hit at her until she lost her grip and tumbled down.Her face bloodied, she struggled to stand. Holding her hands to her hair, she looked horrified to find that her attackers had yanked off her black hijab as she fell. The mob closed in, kicking and jumping on her slight frame.Continue reading the main storyRelated Coverage Kabul residents at the riverbank Friday where a woman’s body was set afire after she was stoned and beaten to death the day before. A Day After a Killing, Afghans React in Horror, but Some Show ApprovalMARCH 20, 2015 Afghan women protested outside the Supreme Court in Kabul on Tuesday, demanding justice for a woman named Farkhunda who was beaten to death last week after being falsely accused of blasphemy. Open Source: Afghan Protesters Demand Justice for Woman Killed by MobMARCH 24, 2015 Rika, whose stepmother poured acid on her face when she was a girl, in her room in the Women for Afghan Women shelter in Kabul. A Thin Line of Defense Against ‘Honor Killings’MARCH 2, 2015 Police training in Kabul. The hiring of policewomen has been a priority for Western funding organizations. Afghan Policewomen Struggle Against CultureMARCH 1, 2015The tormented final hours of Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old aspiring student of Islam who was accused of burning a Quran in a Muslim shrine, shocked Afghans across the country. That is because many of her killers filmed one another beating her and posted clips of her broken body on social media. Hundreds of other men watched, holding their phones aloft to try to get a glimpse of the violence, but never making a move to intervene. Those standing by included several police officers.”