Get Rid of the Foreign Devils

March 22, 2010

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana

It’s been a month since the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) began Operation Mushtarak, an effort to drive the Taliban out of Marjah in Afghanistan.

ISAF consists of mostly US troops, aided by NATO and Afghan forces, who all must be wondering, “What’s the point?”

Though classed as a “town,” Marjah is really a 100-square-mile collection of small farms. It is part of Helmand province, 22,600 square miles in southern Afghanistan that are securely under the control of the Taliban. Operation Mushtarak injected 10,000 or 15,000 ISAF troops into Marjah, with plenty of advance warning. Apparently, ISAF leader U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal thought that advance warning of the ‘invasion’ would scare the Taliban off, thus ensuring a swift and easy victory. It didn’t. The Taliban took the time between the warning and the invasion, not to run for the hills, but to harden their positions, set up sniper and ambush positions, and plant plenty of IED’s.

ISAF forces spent about three weeks sweeping through an area that should have been cleared in three days. Reports of casualties among ISAF forces, Taliban, and civilians conflict and vary widely. The lack of frank information coming out of Marjah indicates the operation was largely a failure.

The Taliban still are in Marjah, though in smaller numbers, planting bombs, assassinating government sympathizers, and doing what terrorists generally do. Unless ISAF leaves a division permanently to guard this inconsequential settlement, the Taliban will drift back in over the next few months. By May, it will be as though they never left.

Think of a truck driving down a road in a heavy rain. As the truck rumbles by, the water on the road is pushed away and you can see bare, damp, pavement. Within a few seconds, the water returns and it’s as if the truck had never been there. That’s what’s happening almost anywhere the US, the Afghan government, or ISAF go. As soon as they pass through, the Taliban flows in and it is as if they had never left.

The British and the Russians previously experienced this phenomenon in Afghanistan and the French, Japanese, British, then French again, then Americans saw the same thing happen to them in Viet Nam. Why? Because underlying all of this is the issue of foreign occupation. No matter how nasty the Viet Cong or the Taliban, they are at least locals. They are not the foreign devils, the imperialists demonized in nationalist and xenophobic propaganda.

You’re an Afghan opium grower, drinking tea outside a café in Marjah. On the street you see an American Marine and a guy you know is in the Taliban. “Which of these guys is going to be here in the long run,” you ask yourself? “Which is most like me? Which is most likely to marry my daughter? Which understands me, my religion, my hardships, my life?”

“Sure the Taliban guy is a prick and, as soon as that American gets bored, or goes off duty, the Taliban guy probably will shake me down for a few bucks (he doesn’t trust the local currency any more than I do). But I’ve got to live with him for a long time. I’ll bet that American has about 3 months left on his rotation here.”

Or consider the opinion of former Helmand Gov. Sher Mohammed Akhundzada. “The Taliban are not gone. They have only gone to the other districts of Grishk and Sangin. The administration of Helmand is generally corrupt and nothing is changing in Marjah, no signs of reform with the latest appointment. It doesn’t matter if you have thousands and thousands of NATO troops, you will still have Taliban in Helmand.”

We went to Afghanistan to get bin Laden. We couldn’t find him. Let’s go home.

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News from the Front

February 24, 2010

The latest piece of military maneuvering in Afghanistan makes me wonder if they’re teaching battlefield strategy at our military academies any more.

On February 3, the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) forces (mostly NATO and US troops) operating in Afghanistan made the dubious decision of announcing, well in advance, their intentions to drive the Taliban out of Marjah, a village in southern Afghanistan.

Operation Moshtarek actually got under way on February 13, giving the Taliban occupiers of Marjah ten days to set up ambushes, booby traps, mines, entrenchments, sniper positions, and forward observation posts before the foreign devils arrived.

USMC Lt. Gen. John Paxton briefs Senate Armed Services Committee on Operation Moshtarek

It seems to have worked out well for the Taliban as relatively few (maybe 120) have been killed or captured. About 13 ISAF troops have died, so we are close to maintaining that ever-important 10 to 1 kill ratio. Also this week saw the death of the 1000th American in Afghanistan since this whole mess started 8 years ago.

ISAF troops are meeting with unusually stiff resistance. Two weeks ago they were saying it would it would take a month to clear the booby traps and mines out of Marjah. Now, it looks like it will take longer.

For civilians around Marjah, the scene is one of unremitting chaos. Hundreds have died and at least 40,000 are trapped in the midst of the fighting. Aid workers said the number civilian casualties will be unknown until health officials can move freely in the area.

Civilians who managed to survive and escape to medical care in secure areas all had the same story: their wounds were caused by shooting and bombs from “foreign soldiers.”

“There is no difference between Taliban and the civilian people. The Taliban are the rural people. They are our people,” said one victim who was moved two miles to a hospital in a wheel barrow.

“We were not unhappy with the Taliban,” said another. “The government didn’t do anything for us.”

“They shot me. They came at night. They were foreigners,” said a twelve-year-old victim. “I was outside in the field with a friend.”

So much for winning the hearts and minds.

And Operation Moshtarek seems to suffer from the same lack of long-range planning that has plagued our entire involvement in Afghanistan. After we “win,” what happens?

We can’t stay in Marjah forever and there is no question the Taliban will move right back into town when the Americans leave. Similarly, there’s no question the Taliban will move into the rest of Afghanistan when the Americans leave.

So what are we doing there in the first place?

Afghanistan represented a chance for Mr. Obama to take on one of the most questionable commitments of the Bush administration. His response has been to send another 30,000 troops with no overarching mission other than to survive until he begins withdrawing them in 2011.

He’s still yammering about health care like we give a shit.


Barry Goes to War

December 5, 2009

Tuesday night, President Obama delivered a speech at West Point detailing his plans for America’s involvement in Afghanistan.

I wish the president luck, I really do. American lives and fortunes are at stake here. We can’t afford to be wrong, but we are.

During the presidential campaign, Obama said Afghanistan is “a war we have to win.” He did not then, nor has he now, explained why—other than to “deny the insurgents a safe haven.” I guess his idea was to secure every cave in a country the size of Texas with a squad of American infantry.

Early in 2009, he increased the number of American troops in Afghanistan by 30,000. He then dithered away the entire spring, summer, and fall in countless strategy meetings before reaching a decision regarding the next step.

Now we know his plan—throw another 30,000 American troops at the problem, bringing our commitment to around 110,000. Count on our allies to supply another 45,000 or so. (There are about 38,000 non-US troops currently in Afghanistan). These troops will scour the Afghan countryside, neutralizing the Taliban and al-Queda. By the summer of 2011, according to Obama, domestic tranquility will prevail throughout most of Afghanistan. Those few pockets of insurgent resistance will be dealt with handily by enlarged forces of well-trained Afghani soldiers and police. Our men and women will come home and the world will once again be Safe for Democracy.

I fought in a guerrilla war for a year. That doesn’t make me an expert but it does give me a perspective sorely lacking in the conference rooms and legislative chambers of Washington. One achieves a certain focus when he realizes, “Holy shit. These people are really trying to kill me.” In subsequent years, I read widely on guerrilla warfare. That still doesn’t make me an expert but I can spot the bullshit written by poly sci wonks.

And this plan is most definitely a piece of bullshit cooked up by poly sci wonks. Sure, the generals bought into it but only because they weren’t going to get what they wanted in any case. General McChrystal wanted a total force of 400,000. He’ll have half that many. And he certainly wanted whatever troops he got for more than a measly 18 months.

Here’s what’s going to happen. Unless the Taliban and al-Qaeda really are dumber than dirt (a remote, but not impossible hope), they will study the great guerrilla movements of the past and how the leaders of these movements succeeded. They will learn a few simple rules, apply them and, in the long run, prevail.

  1. Obama made a big mistake when he announced the schedule for withdrawal of our troops (summer 2011). All the insurgents have to do is wait for us to leave. There’s an expression in the Taliban that shows they already understand this: “The Americans have the watches, but we have the time.”
  2. Karzai’s Afghan government is among the most corrupt in the world. Do you really think he can train and equip 200,000 police and soldiers over the next 18 months? Most of the money will wind up in the pockets if him and his buddies.
  3. Mao Zedong

    Chairman Mao, one of the masters of guerrilla war saw guerrillas as “fish swimming in the sea of the peasantry. The peasants sustained them, just as the sea sustained the fish.” So he taught his guerrillas to behave correctly in their relations with the peasantry. Right now, the Afghanis see the Taliban as pricks, but if the Taliban can show a kinder, gentler side for a mere 18 months it will look as if the American-led troop insurgence was a smashing success. We’ll go home and then the beheadings can begin again in earnest.

  4. The Taliban will avoid any major confrontations. Over the short term, they will be outgunned and will only succeed in drawing attention to themselves. Better to be vewy, vewy quiet.
  5. The Taliban will stop mining and placing IED’s. Sure, it’s great fun to blow up an American every once in a while but if they can just contain themselves, the infidels will leave, Insha’Allah
  6. The Taliban will disperse their training bases (god knows there are plenty of places to hide clusters of a few dozen men in Afghanistan) and recruit quietly, but firmly as in, “Join up with us when we call, or your whole family dies.”
  7. Like the herpes virus, the Taliban will lie dormant until the meds have worn off, then those nasty blisters will show up again.
  8. Ho Chi Minh

    The Taliban dealt with the Russians for 10 years, they’ve dealt with us for 8. What’s another 18 months? The war in Viet Nam lasted 30 years.

So here’s the forecast. Obama’s new troop surge will fail. The troops will be required to stay longer than summer 2011. American tolerance for the war in Afghanistan, polling right now at 32%, will be down around 20%, representing mostly die-hard Republicans. The troop levels will be sustained into 2012, when the political party conventions are held. The Obama faithful will be totally disgusted (Michael Moore already is) and will stage massive protests over the mess in the Middle East.

Democratic National Convention - Chicago 1968

Memo to the pols in Charlotte, Houston, Phoenix and any other city vying to host the 2012 Democratic Convention: Review the films of Chicago, 1968.


Crazy about Afghanistan

November 19, 2009

At his inauguration a few days ago, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai told dozens of visiting dignitaries that Afghan forces will have the country securely in hand in just five short years. “We are determined that by the next five years, the Afghan forces are capable of taking the lead in ensuring security and stability across the country,” he said.

Great, just great. But who’s going to keep Afghanistan Safe for Democracy in the meantime? You guessed it. The suckers from the land of the Big PX, the United States. Right now, mind you, we’ve got about a dozen allies helping out in Afghanistan but over 2/3 of the troops on the ground are American. And most of our Allies sense the strong smell of cadaverine. They are planning to get out.

Three hundred dignitaries (a dignitary is a celebrity who is in no way entertaining) attended the inauguration ceremonies in the Kabul palace but outside the the streets were empty. Police had ordered citizens to stay home.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, however, there were street celebrations, including the south where a Taliban suicide bomber killed 10 civilians and a car bomber killed two more U.S. soldiers.

Karzai, taking a page out of Rodney (“Can’t we all just get along?”) King’s book proposed a “loya jirga,” a sort of Afghan version of a Sicilian “sit-down.”

Hillary and a Colleague Laugh It Up Over the Prospect of Kicking a Little Taliban Ass

The Taliban ridiculed the sit-down and Abdullah Abdullah, the guy who lost to Mr Karzai in the likely-rigged presidential elections also dissed it claiming Karzai was, is, and always will be corrupt.

But Karzai’s pledge to have Afghanistan securely under control (in just 5 years) was well received by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Mrs. Clinton, who should know better after having lived with a pathological liar for over 35 years, apparently bought Karzai’s line of shit.

Mrs. Clinton’s boss, Barry Obama, has put off making any substantive decisions about American troop commitments in Afghanistan. When Barry took over as Commander in Chief he promised a swift decision on Afghanistan. While he has been dithering with things like the Chicago Olympics, 300 more Americans have died in Afghanistan. He announced Saturday that his decision will be postponed at least another week, until sometime after Thanksgiving. At the current rate another 20 Americans should die while he’s jacking off. Hard to tear yourself away from those photo ops and do something that requires balls, isn’t it Barry?

This all could be funny. But it isn’t

Let me tell you why it’s time to stop laughing. Obama likely will up our troop commitment in Afghanistan to around 110,000. They will be there for at least five years, probably more like twenty, because Afghanistan is fundamentally incapable of sustaining a democratic government for at least another generation.

With a median age of 18 (that means half of all Afghanis are under 18) the country will have an unlimited supply of terrorist recruits, gangsters, warlords, and common criminals for the foreseeable future. The country is without resources, an economy, a government, or a sense of nationhood. Afghanistan’s only identifiable skills appear to be rug making, opium cultivation, and tribal warfare.

Despite what Messrs Obama and Karzai and Ms Clinton say, we’ll be there at least ten years, if not twenty. Like Vietnam, our troop commitments will increase while our successes diminish.

Though the Obama flacks are talking around 110,000 troops (vs. the 68,000 currently there), I know from experience that we couldn’t do the job with 200,000. But I’ll stick with the “experts” and say that the commitment is 110,000 troops and I’ll cut my twenty-year estimate to just ten.

Using the conservative estimates above, here is the calculus of war: At our current military death rate in Afghanistan (5 deaths per thousand soldiers per year) we can expect to lose another 5500 young men and women over the next decade. Five thousand five hundred young Americans, most of whom are just now heading from middle school to high school.

If you’d like your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter to have a chance to be among these 5500 dead American youth, be sure to sit down tonight and write Mr. Obama, expressing your strong support for an American troop commitment in Afghanistan.

Eight US Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan

UN Evacuating Workers from Afghanistan


Barack: Between Photo Ops, Give These People a Call. They May Know Some Things You Don’t.

November 9, 2009

“What have the Americans done in eight years? Americans are saying that with their planes they can see an egg 18 kilometers away, so why can’t they see the Taliban?”

Afghani quoted by The New York Times

“…In spite of US presence in Afghanistan for 5 years, terrorism has not been wiped out there and there is no security in that country.”

Iran Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki quoted in Global Security.Org

“The United States military presence in Afghanistan greatly contributes to the legitimacy and strategic message of the Pashtun insurgency.”

Matthew Hoh, Iraq War combat veteran and State Department officer in Afghanistan quoted by CBS

“Afghan forces simply do not have the capacity to do the protecting themselves at this point and, given the challenges of building up new institutions in Afghanistan after decades of war, will not have the ability until at least 2012.”

Bruce Reidel and Michael O’Hanlan in USA Today

“Although the US military makes every effort to avoid civilian deaths, its air strikes kill innocent bystanders who are often used by insurgents as human shields. As long as militants can exploit such collateral damage for their propaganda, they will draw more recruits to their cause and erode the legitimacy of President Hamid Karzai’s regime.”

Malou Innocent The Cato Institute

un_kabul

A Kabul Apartment Occupied by UN Personnel until a Recent Visit by the Local Chapter of the Taliban Welcome Wagon