Comment on numerous previous articles and comments on Afghanistan From: Taylor Jesse Clear
FIVE MYTHS ABOUT THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
First is the persistent myth of TRAINING (relating to the Afghan military and police): “Training and increasing numbers of Afghani troops and police will allow them to take responsibility for their own security.” In fact, the Afghan military’s ancient tribal loyalties are the salient problem. Their loyalties are to tribe above all, and to their local warlords by extension. Bone-deep corruption infects the police ranks. No amount of technical training will overcome these obstacles. This “training” mantra perseveres in the face of our disastrous failures at such attempts in Vietnam, and continuing in Iraq.
Second is the conceit of “NATION BUILDING.” Other nations are not ours to build — that is the arrogance of empire. The corrupt and feckless Kabul government has neither force, nor effect, nor loyalty in the larger country. Why are we propping up this moribund corpse?
Third, there is no CONVENTIONAL MILITARY SOLUTION to this conflict of political, ideological, and cultural dimension. Our leaders readily admit this in words. But their actions betray their words. The Army and the Marines essentially are about real estate. Classically, Marines storm and hold beachheads; the Army fights for and holds territory. But controlling Afghanistan’s landscape is of little relevance to Al Qaeda. Playing whack-a-mole is fruitless against Al Qaeda: this enemy can resurface on a multitude of different fronts.
Fourth is the notion that we can force the enemy to FIGHT ON OUR TERMS. The British learned to their sorrow that American colonists-in-revolt would not stand still for classic European set battles. Why can’t we learn insurgency from our own history? How can a handful of village mechanics, working in Afghani back-alley garages, rig roadside bombs and suicide vehicles which continue to kill hundreds of our finest and thousands of their own? Whatever happened to our vaunted technological superiority?
Fifth is the warning of DIRE CONSEQUENCES OF WITHDRAWAL. We’ve heard this one before. MacNamara’s “domino theory:” “If Viet Nam falls, so goes the rest of Asia.” What really happened? Communist Vietnam became our enthusiastic trading partner, communist China became our banker and other states in the region basically went their own way. Then Rumsfeld’s “domino theory in reverse:” “toppling Saddam Hussein will plant the seeds of democracy in Iraq and spread over the Middle East.” What really is happening? Iraq’s ancient bloodletting between Sunni minority and Shi’a majority continues . . . with the Kurds trying to stay out of the way. Purple fingers supplied a fetching TV icon — but they didn’t point toward Democracy.
The perfervid sloganeers shouting “cut-and-run” should remember history and be informed by President Reagan’s actions that cut our losses in Lebanon, February 1984. Our military presence and tragic casualties in Beirut counted for nothing whatsoever in the still-troubled state of Lebanon. Now we hear that a “failure of mission” in Afghanistan would “empower the Taliban and yet again provide a haven for Al Qaeda.” The Taliban already are empowered … in our absence, they immediately will return to their struggle for power with the hereditary warlords.
AN IMMODEST PROPOSAL
— Seek out the counsel of area experts who understand the culture, the sociology, and values of the enemy; the population in which he moves; and the local environment.
— Stop underestimating the terrorist opponent. Military leaders and civilian policymakers continually express surprise at their capabilities and successes. Focus on the top leadership of Al Qaeda. The rank-and-file are secondary targets.
— Understand that Al Qaeda’s top leaders truly are evil geniuses. Consider what they have accomplished: Massive world-wide logistics and financial resources; inspiration and admiration for their violent brand of Islam; motivational ability to recruit legions of suicide-bombers and dedicated fighters; expert weaponry and bomb engineering…
— Liquidate Al Qaeda’s top-tier leadership (perhaps 500 to 1000 individuals) … simply because these leaders are so rare, they are virtually irreplaceable in one generation. We must destroy the brainpower and organizational skills that can conceive and create such abominations as 9/11 and suicide bombings.
The government claims that drone air strikes in Pakistan have killed many ranking Al Qaeda. Perhaps … but at what cost? Since drone intelligence can’t seem to distinguish between terrorist training camps and wedding parties, the inevitable fallout of “collateral damage” is obvious. It is far better to use Special Forces targeted specifically on the top leaders. That’s what Special Forces do … and they are very good at doing it.
Mr. Clear is a retired U. S. Foreign Service Officer who served with the U. S. Navy toward the end of the Korean War and later with the Merchant Marine throughout the Vietnam War. Over a 27-year career in the Foreign Service and the State Department, he specialized in the regions of North Africa, the Middle East, and the Subcontinent and served on a counter-terrorism detail to the Special Operations Directorate at the Pentagon.