Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This documentary was released in six parts, between February and August 2009, by Robert Greenwald. As the President considers his options, following a blatantly fraudulent Presidential election and an ever increasing US/NATO/Afghan death toll, the same group of chicken hawks (the Project for a New American Century and their Coterie of neo-conservative war-mongering fools and high ranking brass who were responsible for the Iraq war are now calling for a massive increase in US troops beyond the 17,000 mentioned in the film, the questions and issues raised in this film are brought into sharp focus.
Part One: Afghanistan + More Troops = Catastrophe
President Obama has committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. This decision raises serious questions about troops, costs, overall mission, and exit strategy. Historically, it has been Congress' duty to ask questions in the form of oversight hearings that challenge policymakers, examine military spending, and educate the public. After witnessing the absence of oversight regarding the Iraq war, we must insist Congress hold hearings on Afghanistan.
Part Two: Pakistan: "The Most Dangerous Country"
The war in Afghanistan and its potentially catastrophic impact on Pakistan are complex and dangerous issues, which further make the case why our country needs a national debate on this now starting with congressional oversight hearings.
Part Three: "Cost of War"
As we pay our tax bills, it seems an appropriate time to urge everyone to Rethink Afghanistan, a war that currently costs over $2 billion a month but hasn't made us any safer. Everyone has a friend or relative who just lost a job. Do we really want to spend over $1 trillion on another war? Everyone knows someone who has lost their home. Do we really want spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?
Part Four: "Civilian Casualties"
When foreign policy is well-reasoned, we see attention given to humanitarian issues like housing, jobs, health care and education. When that policy consists of applying a military solution to a political problem, however, we see death, destruction, and suffering. Director Robert Greenwald witnessed the latter during his recent trip to Afghanistan--the devastating consequences of U.S. airstrikes on thousands of innocent civilians.
The footage you are about to see is poignant, heart-wrenching, and often a direct result of U.S. foreign policy.
We must help the refugees whose lives have been shattered by U.S. foreign policy and military attacks. Support the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an organization dedicated to helping women and children, human rights issues, and social justice. Then, become a Peacemaker. Receive up-to-the-minute information through our new mobile alert system whenever there are Afghan civilian casualties from this war, and take immediate action by calling Congress.
Part Five: "Women of Afghanistan"
Eight years have passed since Laura Bush declared that "because of our recent military gains, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes" in Afghanistan. For eight years, that claim has been a lie.
The truth is that American military escalation will not liberate the women of Afghanistan. Instead, the hardships of war take a disproportionate toll on women and their families. There are 1,000 displaced families in a Kabul refugee camp, and they're suffering for lack of food and blankets. A few weeks ago, you generously gave $6,000 to help and $9,000 more is needed to take care of all 1,000 families. Thats a donation of $15 per family to provide the relief necessary for their survival.
Here's what your money will buy:
Part Six: "How much security did $1 trillion buy?"
The war in Afghanistan is increasing the likelihood that American civilians will be killed in a future terrorist attack.
Part 6 of Rethink Afghanistan, Security, brings you three former high-ranking CIA agents to explain why.
There is no "victory" to be won in Afghanistan. It is the most important video about U.S. Security today.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was distributed by the Inter-Press Service, September 22, 2009
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 (IPS) - The leak of the "initial assessment" of the war in Afghanistan by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in the war, with its blunt warning that "[f]ailure to provide adequate resources" is likely to result in "mission failure", was part of an obvious effort to force the hand of a reluctant President Barack Obama to agree to a significant increase in U.S. troops.
The version of the classified McChrystal assessment published on the Washington Post website Monday has many redactions, indicating that it had been prepared especially for the purpose of leaking it the press.
What may be even more important about McChrystal's assessment, however, is that it presents a highly discouraging picture of the situation in Afghanistan – and that the Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan to which he had agreed just three weeks earlier was even more pessimistic than his "initial assessment".
The integrated campaign plan, signed by McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on Aug. 10, said that popular rejection of the Afghan government in the Pashtun region of the country is already so pronounced that "key groups" are supporting the Taliban as the only available alternative to a government they regard as abusive.
The integrated campaign plan is marked "Sensitive but Unclassified", and has not been released to the public, but a copy has been obtained by IPS.
Both documents acknowledge fundamental socio-political realities that raise serious questions about the feasibility of the counterinsurgency programme that McChrystal outlines in his assessment, but McChrystal's assessment altered or softened some central conclusions of the integrated campaign plan.
The most important difference between the two documents is their conclusion about how much popular support the insurgents have already gained. The McChrystal assessment suggests that the insurgents have been unable to obtain uncoerced popular support.
"Major insurgent groups use violence, coercion and intimidation against civilians to control the population," the assessment says. It concludes that "popular enthusiasm" for the Taliban and other insurgent groups "appears limited, as does their ability to spread beyond the Pashtun areas".
Pashtuns are by far the largest ethnic group in the country, with 40 to 45 percent of the population, and predominate across most of Afghanistan's territory, from the far west across the entire south to the east.
While denying popular support for the insurgency, however, McChrystal admits that some factors, such as "a natural aversion to foreign intervention" and tribal and ethnic identities that are reinforced by "historical grievances" have resulted in "elements of the population tolerating the insurgency and calling to push out foreigners".
The integrated campaign plan goes further, suggesting that the Taliban have gotten support because they are seen as the only feasible alternative to an abusive government. It notes that most Afghans reject the "Taliban ideology", but concludes, "Key groups have become nostalgic for the security and justice Taliban rule provided."
The two documents use different terms to describe the political failure of the Afghan government and its consequences. The McChrystal assessment refers to a popular "crisis of confidence" in the government. But the integrated campaign plan calls it a "crisis of legitimacy" and says the insurgents have "derived some legitimacy by appealing to ideological affinities and fears of 'foreign occupation' as well as in quick provision of local justice."
The two documents also differ on what progress can be expected in carrying out an ambitious agenda for change outlined in the integrated campaign plan.
McChrystal's assessment simply presents the broad strategy and the objectives that must be achieved in regard to providing security, increasing Afghan government security forces and reform of governance. It does not consider the risks or likelihood of failure in regard to any these objective.
The integrated campaign plan, however, does consider risks and the possibility of failure. It makes the identification of corrupt local officials and punishing them or changing their behaviour a priority objective, for example.
But it also warns that the Afghan government and its warlord allies in the provinces, who have no real interest in changing the status quo, may well be able to frustrate such efforts at reform. The plan even suggests Karzai might "replace several effective government officials with ineffective or corrupt individuals".
It raises the possibility that "dashed hopes" about reducing Afghan government corruption could create a "backlash" against the ISAF.
Another risk anticipated by the plan is that the Afghan elections of Aug. 20 would be "widely viewed as unfair" and would lead to "a political crisis and/or increased perception of GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan] illegitimacy". Reporting during the month since the election suggests that such an expectation was quite realistic.
Although it clearly pulls its punches on some key issues, the McChrystal assessment nevertheless contains some remarkably candid language for an official document – let alone one clearly intended to justify the escalation of the war.
McChrystal acknowledges the problem of warlords – referring to them as "local and regional power brokers" – who have autonomy from the government and in some cases hold positions in the Afghan National Security Forces, particularly the Afghan National Police.
He also refers to the fact that ISAF has "relationships" with the warlords, these "individuals", meaning that foreign military contingents have many contracts with them to provide security services and rely heavily on them for intelligence.
Those relationships, McChyrstal observes, "can be problematic". For one thing, he observes, the Afghan public perceives the ISAF as "complicit" in official Afghan abuses of power.
This degree of realism about the fundamental socio-political conditions bearing on the success or failure of a counterinsurgency war found in both the McChrystal assessment and the integrated campaign plan is highly unusual, if not unparalleled, in U.S. military policymaking. In this case, it apparently helped precipitate a crisis in U.S. Afghan policy.
Along with the blatantly fraudulent election run by President Hamid Karzai's regime and the sharp downturn in domestic U.S. political support for the war in Afghanistan, the fundamental obstacles to success discussed candidly in the two documents were part of the context of Obama's scepticism about McChrystal's troop request.
Thus they contributed to his decision to engage in what one senior administration official has called "a very, very serious review of all options", according to the report by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post Monday.
This article, by Kay Johnson, was posted to antiwar.com, September 18, 2009
A U.S. service member and a Canadian soldier died in separate roadside bomb explosions in southern Afghanistan, officials said Friday, announcing new deaths from a day that claimed the lives of a total of nine international troops.
The American and Canadian died Thursday, the same day a car bomber killed six Italian troops in a brazen attack in the heavily guarded capital of Kabul. A NATO soldier also died Thursday of wounds from an earlier attack.
The car bomb in Kabul killed 10 Afghan civilians as well as the Italians, leaving a crater 3 feet (one meter) deep and nearly twice as wide. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi called Friday for a "transition strategy" to allow the Afghan government to do more for its own security — and decrease the number of international troops in Afghanistan.
The Italian deaths were the country's greatest single loss in the war, but Berlusconi said his government remained committed to defending democracy in Afghanistan, "which is still very far from being a modern and civilized country."
Italy's chief military officer in Afghanistan — who also serves as NATO's chief of staff — said the deaths do not diminish his country's commitment, insisting the government and military "share together the strong will to accomplish our mission" and that no NATO forces are threatening to withdraw.
"It's normal that the political parties, that the population, wonders if it's worth staying here" after an event like Thursday's car bombing, said Maj. Gen. Marco Bertolini. But he said the reason for staying in Afghanistan hasn't changed: strengthening the country so that it is not a breeding ground for insurgents.
At the bomb site in Kabul on Friday, Afghan men in traditional tunics peered into the blackened pit in the road — a major thoroughfare connecting the airport to the capital — and mourned the deaths of neighbors and relatives.
Ghulam Sakhi said the two storekeepers on each side of his carpentry workshop were among those killed in the fourth major attack in the capital in five weeks.
The resurgent Taliban has increased attacks sharply this year — the deadliest yet for the international forces in Afghanistan. The Islamist extremists run a shadow government in the south and their attacks have increased ahead of last month's presidential election and with the arrival of 21,000 more American troops.
U.S. military spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said the American died when his patrol struck a bomb planted in the road. She did not provide his name.
Canadian Brig. Gen. Jonathan Vance said Pvt. Jonathan Couturier, 23, was killed as he returned from a mission to root out Taliban weapons caches in the southern province of Kandahar.
Bombs planted in and around roads are one of the main weapons used by the insurgents, now accounting for the majority of U.S. and NATO casualties.
This year has been the deadliest for American and NATO troops since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban for sheltering al-Qaida leaders who plotted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Violence has been particularly harsh in the south, where thousands of U.S. troops have deployed to bolster the Canadian and British-led operations in the Taliban heartland.
The U.S. and NATO have a record number of troops in Afghanistan — nearly 100,000 in total — and the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is likely to soon request thousands more.
This article, by Conn Hallinan, was posted to Foreign Policy in Focus, September 10, 2009
One of the oddest — indeed, surreal — encounters around the war in Afghanistan has to be a telephone call this past July 27. On one end of the line was historian Stanley Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History. On the other, State Department special envoy Richard Holbrooke and the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. The question: How can Washington avoid the kind of defeat it suffered in Southeast Asia 40 years ago?
Karnow did not divulge what he said to the two men, but he told Associated Press that the "lesson" of Vietnam "was that we shouldn't have been there," and that, while "Obama and everybody else seems to want to be in Afghanistan," he, Karnow, was opposed to the war.
It is hardly surprising that Washington should see parallels to the Vietnam debacle. The enemy is elusive enemy. The local population is neutral, if not hostile. And the governing regime is corrupt with virtually no support outside of the nation's capital.
But in many ways Afghanistan is worse than Vietnam. So, it is increasingly hard to fathom why a seemingly intelligent American administration seems determined to hitch itself to this disaster in the making. It is almost as if there is something about that hard-edged Central Asian country that deranges its occupiers. Delusion #1 In his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Obama characterized Afghanistan as "a war of necessity" against international terrorism. But the reality is that the Taliban is a polyglot collection of conflicting political currents whose goals are local, not universal jihad.
"The insurgency is far from monolithic," says Anand Gopal, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor based in Afghanistan. "There are shadowy, kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students, of course, but there are also erudite university students, poor illiterate farmers, and veteran anti-Soviet commanders. The movement is a mélange of nationalists, Islamists, and bandits...made up of competing commanders and differing ideologies and strategies who nonetheless agree on one essential goal: kicking out the foreigners."
Taliban spokesman Yousef Ahmadi told Gopal, "We are fighting to free our country from foreign domination," adding, "Even the Americans once waged an insurgency to free their country."
Besides the Taliban, there are at least two other insurgent groups. Hizb-I-Islam is led by former U.S. ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyer. The Haqqani group, meanwhile, has close ties to al-Qaeda.
The White House's rationale of "international terrorism" parallels the Southeast Asian tragedy. The U.S. characterized Vietnam as part of an international Communist conspiracy, while the conflict was essentially a homegrown war of national liberation. Delusion #2
One casualty of Vietnam was the doctrine of counterinsurgency, the theory that an asymmetrical war against guerrillas can be won by capturing the "hearts and minds" of the people. Of course "hearts and minds" was a pipe dream, obliterated by massive civilian casualties, the widespread use of defoliants, and the creation of "strategic hamlets" that had more in common with concentration camps than villages.
In Vietnam's aftermath, "counterinsurgency" fell out of favor, to be replaced by the "Powell Doctrine" of relying on massive firepower to win wars. With that strategy the United States crushed the Iraqi army in the first Gulf War. Even though the doctrine was downsized for the invasion of Iraq a decade later, it was still at the heart of the attack.
However, within weeks of taking Baghdad, U.S. soldiers were besieged by an insurgency that wasn't in the lesson plan. Ambushes and roadside bombs took a steady toll on U.S. and British troops, and aggressive countermeasures predictably turned the population against the occupation.
After four years of getting hammered by insurgents, the Pentagon rediscovered counterinsurgency, and its prophet was General David Petraeus, now commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Hearts and minds" was dusted off, and the watchwords became "clear, hold, and build." Troops were to hang out with the locals, dig wells, construct schools, and measure success not by body counts of the enemy, but by the "security" of the civilian population.
This theory impelled the Obama administration to "surge" 21,000 troops into Afghanistan, and to consider adding another 20,000 in the near future. The idea is that a surge will reduce the violence, as a similar surge of 30,000 troops had done in Iraq. Delusion #3 But as Patrick Cockburn of The Independent discovered, the surge didn't work in Iraq.
With the possible exception of Baghdad, it wasn't U.S. troops that reduced the violence in Iraq, but the decision by Sunni insurgents that they could no longer fight a two-front war against the Iraqi government and the United States. The ceasefire by Shi'ite cleric and Madhi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr also helped calm things down. In any case, as recent events have demonstrated, the "peace" was largely illusory.
Not only is a similar "surge" in Afghanistan unlikely to be successful, the formula behind counterinsurgency doctrine predicts that the Obama administration is headed for a train wreck.
According to investigative journalist Jordan Michael Smith, the "U.S/ Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual" — co-authored by Petraeus — recommends "a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents. In Afghanistan, with its population estimated at 33 million, that would mean at least 660,000 troops." And this requires not just any soldiers, but soldiers trained in counterinsurgency doctrine. The numbers don't add up. The United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies currently have about 64,000 troops in Afghanistan, and that figure would rise to almost 100,000 when the present surge is completed. Some 68,000 of those will be American. There is also a possibility that Obama will add another 20,000, bringing the total to 120,000, larger than the Soviet Army that occupied Afghanistan. That's still only a fifth of what the counterinsurgency manual recommends.
Meanwhile, the American public is increasingly disillusioned with the war. According to a recent CNN poll, 57% of Americans oppose the war, a jump of 9% since May. Among Obama supporters the opposition is overwhelming: Nearly two-thirds of "committed" Democrats feel "strongly" the war is not worth fighting. Delusion #4 Afghanistan isn't like Iraq because NATO is behind us. Way behind us.
The British — whose troops actually fight, as opposed to doing "reconstruction" like most of the other 16 NATO nations — have lost the home crowd. Polls show deep opposition to the war, a sentiment that is echoed all over Europe. Indeed, the German Defense Minister Franz-Joseph Jung has yet to use the word "war" in relation to Afghanistan.
That little piece of fiction went a-glimmering in June, when three Bundeswehr soldiers were killed near Kunduz in northern Afghanistan. Indeed, as U.S. Marines go on the offensive in the country's south, the Taliban are pulling up stakes and moving east and north to target the Germans. The tactic is as old as guerrilla warfare: "Where the enemy is strong, disperse. Where the enemy is weak, concentrate."
While Berlin's current ruling coalition of Social Democrats and conservatives quietly back the war, the Free Democrats — who are likely to join Chancellor Angela Merkel's government after the next election — are calling for bringing Germany's 4,500 troops home.
The opposition Left Party has long opposed the war, and that opposition gave it a boost in recent state elections.
The United States and NATO can't — or won't — supply the necessary troops, and the Afghan army is small, corrupt and incompetent. No matter how one adds up the numbers, the task is impossible. So why is the administration following an unsupportable course of action? Why We Fight There is that oil pipeline from the Caspian that no one wants to talk about. Strategic control of energy is certainly a major factor in Central Asia. Then, too, there is the fear that a defeat for NATO in its first "out of area" war might fatally damage the alliance.
But when all is said and done, there also seems to be is a certain studied derangement about the whole matter, a derangement that was on display July 12 when British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told parliament that the war was showing "signs of success."
British forces had just suffered 15 deaths in a little more than a week, eight of them in a 24-hour period. It has now lost more soldiers that it did in Iraq. This is Britain's fourth war in Afghanistan.
The Karzai government has stolen the election. The war has spilled over to help destabilize and impoverish nuclear-armed Pakistan. The American and European public is increasingly opposed to the war. July was the deadliest month ever for the United States, and the Obama administration is looking at a $9 trillion deficit.
What are these people thinking?
This article, by M. Ashraf Haidari, was originally published in Journal of International Peace Operations, September 4, 2009
The study of the political landscape of a country used to involve looking for the existence of certain state and security institutions; it has changed in the recent decades to examining whether these institutions perform as they should. In the case of Afghanistan , however, the metric is slightly different. Here, human capital has remained underdeveloped, courtesy of the decades of war that preceded the current state-building efforts. As a result, the question here is not whether institutions exist, but how well institutions are run and how meritorious those running them are.
Capacity, or lack thereof, in the police, the judicial system, the bureaucracy, education and other fields is a thread that weaves through the successes and failures of our efforts to build a state essentially from ground up. In what follows, I will outline some of the key lessons learned over the past eight years. Indeed, whether or not we proactively work together to build upon these vital lessons learned will determine our collective success or failure in the few critical years following the 2009 presidential and 2010 parliamentary elections in Afghanistan .
Afghanistan’s battle against the Taliban and other extremist elements is unique in that it is the national police, not the army or the international forces, who constitute the first line of defense. Our sincere efforts to fight drug-trafficking and production, defeat the insurgency, and create an enabling environment for the civilian institutions also hinge on this key area.
However, law enforcement institutions have been neglected from the beginning in Afghanistan . The implementation of judicial and police reforms—reforms that should have been the foundation on which other state institutions were built--was shelved indefinitely due to a lack of resources. This paucity of resources has contributed to a significantly higher number of police casualties. Between 2007 and 2009 alone, more than 1500 Afghan National Police (ANP) officers were killed. Close to 600 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers have lost their lives in the same period. The total International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) casualties since 2001 are at about 1300. Thus, given the substantially higher risk environment the ANP faces and the seminal role it plays in maintaining day-to-day law and order across Afghanistan , it is very important that long-term attention and resources be focused on police training and equipment. These enable them to counter threats from the Taliban and other militant elements, who are often better trained, paid, and equipped.
Another related and equally neglected institution has been the Afghan justice sector. Although the effectiveness of the justice sector determines the legitimacy of any government in public eyes, the reform of this critical sector in Afghanistan has unfortunately received the least amount of international attention and aid resources. Afghanistan has fewer than 1500 judges and 400 defense lawyers for a population of approximately 33 million. Most of these judges and attorneys lack modern legal training, as well as office resources and protection to execute their duties effectively. This is one of the main reasons why 62% of Afghans believe the government does not provide timely justice, and only half believe the government’s justice system is fair; compare this to 70% favorability for traditional methods, according to an Asia Foundation survey.
The popular sense of justice is still percipient—Afghans expect the government to provide them timely and effective justice. Indeed, failure to do so will undermine popular confidence in the government, as well as in the state-building efforts of the international community.
Work on the justice sector must be complemented by an increased emphasis on aid effectiveness. In the past, many donor-related contractors have undermined the Afghan government’s efforts by working parallel to it, instead of working with it or through it. Over the last eight years, this parallel method of operation has resulted in very little transfer of knowledge and skills to Afghans. Donor-related firms continue to receive highly profitable contracts, which they frequently subcontract to smaller companies for implementation. Indeed, each layer of subcontracting skims some 20% of the taxpayers’ aid monies, consequently robbing the beneficiaries of the “billions of dollars” in officially announced aid to Afghanistan .
Moreover, most of the contractors and their affiliated business partners neither have the necessary work experience in Afghanistan nor the right expertise to operate successfully in Afghanistan . Yet, so far, only about 10% of all aid money given to Afghanistan has been spent through the government; the rest has been channeled through private contractors and other means. And because of a lack of consultation and coordination with the Afghan government and people, these agencies have concentrated most of the aid activity in insecure areas, apparently hoping to help defeat the insurgency by winning the people over. Not only has this tactic not worked, but the absence of enough aid in the peaceful provinces has caused disillusionment among the masses and given insurgency a foothold there.
Coupled with aid effectiveness is aid coordination. So far, donor countries have failed to effectively coordinate their efforts in various sectors. This has hampered aid effectiveness and slowed down the process of state-building. Case in point is the education sector. In many instances, the building of a school is constructed by one country, the chairs and desks are provided by another, and other equipment is financed by a third donor—if donors notice the shortages in the school that was just “built.” The overall aid effort in the country is characterized by this same lack of coordination.
Common to each of the above lessons is the importance of human development and institutional capacity building in Afghanistan . Past experience is instructive in this regard, as the first point of contact between the Afghan people and the governing entity used to be the army, the police or other militia groups. These institutions mostly kept people in check rather than protecting them. As a result, Afghans are not used to—but have shown great demand for— a government whose main function is to protect them and maintain conditions for peaceful life.
Unlike established democracies, therefore, the source of legitimacy and support for the government in Afghanistan does not overwhelmingly come from electoral majority. It rather comes from the nature of people’s first experiences with the government, the bureaucracy, the police and the justice system. The more positive these experiences, the greater respect and legitimacy the government and the democratic system garner in the eyes of the Afghan people.
In order to ensure that these popular experiences are positive, building institutions that are staffed by qualified professionals is necessary. In case of Afghanistan , that has to happen from scratch. As stated earlier, with less than a third of the Afghan population being literate, the pool of competent people for professional careers and leadership capacities is already small. Unfortunately, decades of war have significantly hampered human development in Afghanistan , and the absence of effective state institutions in these periods—such as the police, the army and a civil bureaucracy—has certainly contributed to the deceleration of the development and transfer of knowledge and skills to successive generations.
Therefore, human development and institutional capacity building must top the agenda of international peace operations in Afghanistan . Without enough knowledge and skill, Afghans could hardly achieve self-sustainability to help drive the rebuilding and development of Afghanistan on their own. The road leading up to this level of competence is long and hard, but a serious emphasis on education and training is imperative.
Improving the infrastructure for, and quality of, both secondary and higher education coupled with ensuring greater inclusion of women in education are cornerstones of this policy. To complement that, helping Afghanistan establish a culture of meritocracy in all hiring and firing, and emphasizing accountability in all institutions of the government is critical to improving governance and curbing corruption.
Finally, it is important to note that international peace-building efforts so far enjoy tremendous popular support in Afghanistan . Some of the most recent public opinion polls indicate that more than two-thirds of the Afghan people believe our country is headed in the right direction. A July poll by Glevum Associates found that an overwhelming majority of the Afghan people—more than 80 percent—believe the August elections will be inclusive and representative. Such overwhelming popular trust in the democratic process is a signal to the international community that the Afghan people are still optimistic about the future, support human rights and the rule of law, denounce extremist elements, and demand a future with democracy rather than militant extremism.
But perhaps the most important lesson is that even after being neglected twice—first after the defeat of the Soviet Union and then after the ouster of the Taliban—the Afghan people still want to be part of the global community of nations. They are ready to give the international community another chance.
Indeed, international peace operations have hardly been cheap, and it takes time, patience, and commitment. However, the alternative— neglecting Afghanistan again—in a world where security has rapidly globalized, is far more costly, as we vividly remember from the tragedy of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
To this extent, failure in Afghanistan is not an option, and peace can hardly take hold in Pakistan and the rest of the region without stability in Afghanistan . Nor can global security be ensured without a consolidation of Afghanistan 's democratic achievements of the past eight years.
All stakeholders—Afghans and non-Afghans alike—should understand the gravity of committing to success by building upon the above lessons learned until the Afghan people can stand on their own and secure the future of Afghanistan.
This editorial, was originally published in the Washington Post, September 3, 2009
LAST MONTH we expected that Afghanistan's elections would mark a modest step forward for the country. Now it appears that they could be a major reverse. Though the election campaign was positive in many respects, Election Day itself is emerging as a disaster of relatively low turnout and massive irregularities -- including ballot-box-stuffing on behalf of both incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his leading opponent. Unless the fraud can be reversed or repaired through a U.N.-backed complaints commission or a runoff vote, Mr. Karzai may emerge as a crippled winner, his already weak and corruption-plagued administration facing further discredit or even violent protests.
This grim prospect is particularly worrisome because the United States and its allies were counting on the election to provide the Afghan government with a new lease on public support. They hoped the vote would be followed by a drive to reform both national and local administrations and extend their authority to areas where only the Taliban has been present. That construction of government capacity -- call it nation-building if you like -- is essential to the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by U.S. commanders during the last year and embraced by President Obama in March.
Unfortunately for the Obama administration, the bad election news has arrived at the same time as a report by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, that portrays a "serious" military situation in which Taliban fighters are growing more capable and Afghan and international forces lack the military and civilian resources they need to regain the initiative. Gen. McChrystal is expected to ask Mr. Obama to dispatch more American troops next year -- perhaps tens of thousands of reinforcements to the 68,000 U.S. troops already deployed or on the way. The bad election and heavier U.S. casualties this summer, including more than 100 deaths, mean that Mr. Obama will probably come under considerable pressure to deny the additional troops and change course.
The Democratic left and some conservatives have begun to argue that the Afghan war is unwinnable and that U.S. interests can be secured by a much smaller military campaign directed at preventing al-Qaeda from regaining a foothold in the country. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) has proposed a timetable for withdrawal -- the same demand the left rallied around when the war in Iraq was going badly. Its most cogent argument is a negative one: that the weakness of the Afghan government and the general backwardness of the country mean that the counterinsurgency strategy, with its emphasis on political and economic development, can't work.
That might prove true. But the problem with the critics' argument is that, while the strategy they oppose has yet to be tried, the alternatives they suggest already have been -- and they led to failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For years, U.S. commanders in both countries focused on killing insurgents and minimizing the numbers and exposure of U.S. troops rather than pacifying the country. The result was that violence in both countries steadily grew, until a counterinsurgency strategy was applied to Iraq in 2007. As for limiting U.S. intervention in Afghanistan to attacks by drones and Special Forces units, that was the strategy of the 1990s, which, as chronicled by the Sept. 11 commission, paved the way for al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington. Given that the Taliban and al-Qaeda now also aim to overturn the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the risks of a U.S. withdrawal far exceed those of continuing to fight the war -- even were the result to be continued stalemate.
Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq. The Taliban insurgency is not comparable to those that earlier fought the Soviets and the British in Afghanistan. Surveys show that support for its rule is tiny, even in its southern base. Not everything in Mr. Karzai's government is rotten: U.S. officials have reliable allies in some key ministries and provincial governorships, and the training of the Afghan army -- accelerated only recently -- is going relatively well. Stabilizing the country will require many years of patient effort and the pain of continued American casualties. Yet the consequences of any other option are likely to be far more dangerous for this country.
This article, by Kim Sengupta was published in The Independent, Augiust 31, 2009.
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.
The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.
General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.
The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.
This article, by Ryan Harvey and Sergio España, was posted to Courage to ResistAugust 26, 2009
As the government of Afghanistan, under the watchful eye of Washington, prepared for its second national election since the U.S. invasion of 2001, we sat down with Shazia, a Kabul resident and member of the powerful organization RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. We wanted to ask her about the current situation in her country, and the experiences of women under the regime of Hamid Karzai and his American backers.
RAWA was formed in 1977 during the initial phases of the Soviet invasion. Their mission is the true liberation of not just Afghan women, but Afghanistan as a whole, and they have maintained this work throughout the nine years of Soviet occupation, the subsequent civil war, and 20+ years of hard-line religious rule. They have suffered serious repression, most notably the 1987 assassination of RAWA founder and leader Mina by KHAN (Afghan KGB) agents.
From the beginning, RAWA has demanded the withdrawal of foreign armies from their country while also challenging oppressive threats within Afghanistan. When the Soviets withdrew in 1989, different factions within the Mujahideen, a loose-coalition of Muslim resistance groups largely based in Pakistan and allied against the Soviets, vied for power. The dominant groups that emerged in the ensuing civil war, due in large part to the disproportionate amount of secret U.S. aid given to these smaller, far-extremist factions during the occupation, were the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. RAWA maintained a general opposition to both of these groups, as their interests were not in support of the freedom of the women of Afghanistan, but in the interests of their own political and business ventures.
The United States joins the Soviet Union, the Northern Alliance, and the Taliban on this list, of unpopular military forces producing hardship for the Afghan people. From 1979 through the 1990’s, covert operations (like one involving Osama Bin Laden’s Makhtab al Khadimat, which after the war would become Al Qaida) resulted in the Taliban’s rise to power. Today, after 8 years, the NATO-led American occupation continues bringing hardship, death, and corruption to their war-torn and desperately poor country.
RAWA’s work continues at present through a conjunction of political and social activities including literacy classes for women, educational craft centers, refugee relief aid, orphanages, and medical services. Their political activism ranges from helping organize mass rallies to speaking engagements for small gatherings, often in secret, in an effort to reach out to those most oppressed. Internationally, RAWA's trips to share their experiences and understandings with allies all over the world have helped forge alliances where a media-wall often prevents the development of real knowledge and cooperation.
When the U.S. invaded, "people were hopeful" because people were fed up with the Taliban's harsh rule. But when the U.S. "brought Karzai as their puppet" they "shunned the trust and demands of the Afghan people", Shazia tells us. It quickly became obvious that the White House “relied on and shared power with those fundamentalist extremists who were in power before the Taliban”; with many of their key political and social stances sharing the same ideas.
Afghan PM Malalai Joya, who has survived three assassination attempts and was recently suspended from the Afghan parliament for speaking out publicly against other members of the government, states it directly: “Our country is being run by a mafia, and while it is in power there is no hope for freedom for the people of Afghanistan.”
“If democrats take power (in Afghanistan), then there's no need for the U.S. to be in Afghanistan” Shazia added. “That's why they never rely on democrats.”
Perhaps the occupation’s hypocrisy can be summed up best by the empty, rhetorical responses Western politicians offered in response to the Karzai administration’s passing of the Shi’a Personal Status Law. The law, introduced and supported by hard line Shi’a clerics and signed with no public announcement by Hamid Karzai earlier this month, allows Shi’a men to deprive their wives of food and basic necessities if they refuse to fulfill sexual demands. It goes on to require permission from one’s husband before applying for work, and effectively legalizes rape by requiring that “blood money” be paid to the victim’s family.
Though President Obama called the law “abhorrent”, he did nothing in his power to push Karzai to repeal it. France threatened to withdraw only its female troops, but nothing else has been done. Alone, as is so often the case, Afghan women took to the streets in protest, risking their lives to voice their opposition. “The government was not democratically elected, and it is now trying to use the country's Islamic law as a tool with which to limit women's rights”, Malalai Joya contends.
“In 2007 more women killed themselves in Afghanistan than ever before”, she continued. Shazia told us of a terrifying increase of self-immolations, with hundreds of women setting themselves on fire in the last few years. Malalai, Shazia, and millions of other women in Afghanistan live amongst this nightmare, struggling to make sense of the horrors of war while dealing with their immediate safety. "We have a lot of different enemies in Afghanistan", Shazia explains. Tthe war continues\ While the West grapples to understand a fraction of what is happening in Afghanistan, its citizens are dying. Western media reports censor, mis-construe, or conceal facts, in large part due to the American media often reporting events after they have been carefully processed through a Pentagon filter, part of a Bush "War on Terror" program first developed in 2002 by the Office of Strategic Influence. The Pentagon’s efforts to undermine reality continue to this day, with reports on U.S. air raids and predator strikes always assuring us of ‘suspected militants’ or ‘Taliban fighters’ being killed, with the gross majority of civilian casualties hidden from view. Take a bombing incident in July, 2002 where after a U.S. plane bombed a wedding killing upwards of 40 civilians, U.S. Central Command released the following response: "Close air support from U.S. Air Force B-52 and AC-130 aircraft struck several ground targets, including anti-aircraft artillery sites that were engaging the aircraft."
Since then, funding for these ‘strategic’ communications programs has grown at a staggering rate, with the Washington Post last month finding funding for such programs growing from $9 million in 2005 to nearly $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2010. Quite frankly, it is passed the point where the existence of such programs should be considered shocking.
Meanwhile, atrocities continue. Shazia described a U.S. bombing earlier this year in Farah province, where over 150 people were killed. "They massacred more than 150 Afghans. I personally saw the lists of the people who were killed. 12 people were killed from one family. I saw the name of a child of one year, of two years who were killed. This is a massacre. This is a mockery of freedom and democracy in Afghanistan."
After the invasion, the U.S. "almost removed the Taliban in one month”, she continues, “then they brought Karzai”. Since then, coalition deaths have increased every year except 2003, where they fell from 67 to 57, then back to 59 in 2004. Halfway through 2009, coalition deaths (overwhelmingly American and British) have almost surpassed last year's record of 294, with July being the bloodiest month on record.
All the while, Taliban forces have steadily grown more powerful. "It shows that they don't want to remove them from Afghanistan, because they need a justification to be in Afghanistan, to fulfill their demands and interests in Afghanistan” Shazia says. "Through Afghanistan they can easily control Pakistan, Iran and the Middle East countries." Furthermore, "more than 92 percent of the world's opium is cultivated in Afghanistan, and it's a big drug business for the Westerners to control that."
Last week, captured Afghan militants led British forces to a stash of "several tons" of raw opium on one of Ahmed Wali Karzai's farms (United Press International, August 13, 2009). Ahmed, head of the provincial council of Kandahar, is President Hamid Karzai's half-brother. Ahmed, of course, was not arrested. Shazia told us about Ahmed Wali Karzai’s drug activities right before this story broke.
Our conversation soon illuminates the America that Afghans know, the one so many here don't want to recognize. Under the Taliban, opium production was banned and the export of opium dropped dramatically. Under Karzai, business is booming. "They encouraged farmers to grow. If Karzai encourages, the U.S. encourages." Shazia also told us about the new Minister of Anti-Narcotics, General Khodaidad, "the biggest, biggest drug lord" in her country.
As we write this, thousands of U.S. Marines and British soldiers are knee-deep in an offensive in the opium-rich Helmand Province, supposedly to tackle this "Taliban stronghold" and fight the poppy industry. The role has seemed to shift lately towards more anti-narcotics operations, supposedly to take away the financial base of terrorists and Taliban militants. But one can’t help but wonder whose crops they will be destroying if they are following the lead of an anti-drug policy being written and directed by one of the countries largest drug-dealers. Thousands of villagers, as well as hundreds of U.S., British and Afghan soldiers and many Taliban-affiliated fighters have been killed in the Helmand in the last two months.
Aside from the opium-trade, this "surge" also came at a time when Hamid Karzai feared he would lose this election. Attempts to "weaken the Taliban" could well have been a tactic of scaring people into voting for the current government, or keeping Taliban-supporters scared of going to the polls. This form of political bullying grew even more explicit this week, with Karzai announcing a ban on reports of violence or "opposition" during the voting process, which has been quickly condemned by human rights groups and the UN. Perhaps Karzai took a tip from the Americans here, with Tom Ridge’s recent admission that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed him to raise terror alert levels during the 2004 elections.
The U.S. and Karzai insist that low-voter turnout is the result of Taliban-led attempts to disrupt the elections, which they did through bombings, an attempted bank robbery and multiple instance of murder. However, it’s more likely that low-voter turnout is the result of a general feeling of mistrust amongst the Afghan population. “Like millions of Afghans, I have no hope in the results of this week’s election”, Malalai Joya said in a recent online post. “In a country ruled by warlords, occupation forces, Taliban insurgency, drug money and guns, no one can expect a legitimate or fair vote.”
Shazia adds; “I don't think that people will go to vote… Because these elections, these laws that are being passed, are just for show, to show to the world that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and now Afghan women are free, and now they have democracy and they are living in peace, it's just a show to the world."
Last Thursday’s election has since been heralded as a beacon of democracy and freedom, despite low turn out reported in several, but not all, provinces (though hardly any turnout in the Helmand, Kandahar, and Logar provinces), and 26 Afghans dead, four of them children. Karzai sounded very obliged in the Washington Post, "We regret the loss of civilian lives, but we are grateful for the sacrifices people made. It went very, very well."
And though the White House’s public justification for the surge and ongoing occupation has received little criticism from its constituents, Shazia, along with a large portion of her country and an increasing number of U.S. service-members, does not agree with the common American rhetoric that troops need to stay to prevent a civil war. “Now there is a civil war”, she says. “If the troops leave Afghanistan, of course for a few years there will be wars… Years and years of struggle is needed. After World War Two, the European and Western countries all struggled. Women and men, they, together, struggled to better their own countries. We will also do that. We will give sacrifices. But we will do that ourselves. Because history has shown that no country can grant peace and security to another country as a gift. This is the responsibility of that country, that people, to gain those values.… by their resistance and by their struggle.”
This article, by Nancy A. Youssef and Jonathan S. Landay, was posted to Common Dreams, August 26, 2009
WASHINGTON - With the deaths of four U.S. soldiers Tuesday, the U.S.-led NATO coalition in Afghanistan now has lost more troops this year than in all of 2008, and August is on track to be the deadliest month for American troops there since U.S. operations began nearly eight years ago.
The numbers reflect the rising pace of combat in Afghanistan and come at a difficult time, just as Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is considering asking for more U.S. troops even as opinion polls show that a majority of Americans think the war in Afghanistan isn't worth the cost.
Underscoring the deteriorating situation, a massive explosion late Tuesday shook the southern city of Kandahar, leveling dozens of businesses as people were breaking the daylong fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Local officials said at least 37 civilians were killed and another 100 were injured.
Afghans also are awaiting results from the Aug. 20 presidential election as the top candidates claim the lead. A runoff will be held if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the nationwide vote; the protracted uncertainty could lead to more violence. Partial results released Tuesday showed President Hamid Karzai running slightly ahead of his nearest competitor, with 40 percent of the counted votes.
In July, 45 U.S. troops died in Afghanistan, the highest monthly toll this year. So far in August, 40 Americans have died, many in the south, and Pentagon officials say privately that with nearly a week left in the month, they expect August to exceed July's number. Americans make up the majority of the 63 coalition troops killed so far this month; 75 coalition soldiers died in July.
In 2008, total coalition deaths were 294, 155 of whom were Americans; the 2009 total through Tuesday was 295, of whom 172 were Americans.
There are currently 63,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The four Americans who died Tuesday were killed when an explosion hit a convoy in Kandahar province. U.S. officials didn't disclose the identities of the soldiers or of their unit and did not say where the convoy was precisely when it was struck.
Senior U.S. military leaders have warned that troop deaths were likely to rise as the Obama administration sent an additional 17,500 troops and 4,000 trainers to Afghanistan. Those forces began arriving in Afghanistan earlier this summer, including thousands of Marines who launched a major offensive in southern Helmand province. Roughly 6,000 of those forces are still en route.
Under McChrystal, the U.S. is expanding its presence into parts of southern Afghanistan, including Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where coalition forces have never had enough troops to displace the Taliban.
Kandahar city is the country's second-largest and the spiritual capital of the Pashtuns, the ethnic group that comprises virtually all of the Taliban. And more than 90 percent of Afghanistan poppy production comes out of Helmand.
"We are not surprised," said a senior Pentagon officer who asked for anonymity so that he could discuss the casualty figures candidly. "We knew this would happen."
The increase in casualties comes at a time that public support for the war appears to be eroding. A Washington Post-ABC News polls released last week found that for the first time, a majority of Americans don't think the war is worth fighting.
Members of Congress are expressing concerns about U.S. progress in a country known as the graveyard of empires.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a proponent of sending more troops to Afghanistan on Sunday called the trends in Afghanistan "very alarming and disturbing" on ABC News, while Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a member on the Foreign Relations Committee, told his home state's Appleton Post-Crescent newspaper that he wants a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
"I think it is time we ought to start discussing a flexible timetable when people in America and Afghanistan and around the world can see where we intend and when we intend to bring our troops out," Feingold said, according to the paper.
Interviews with Afghans show that they are fed up as well. Many say they don't want help from the U.S., the Taliban or their central government; they just want to be left alone.
Haji Agha Lalai, the head of the provincial peace and reconciliation commission and a Kandahar provincial council member, visited the scene shortly after Tuesday night's bombing. In a telephone interview, he said he was told by a police officer that a large tanker truck was moving through the neighborhood when the explosion occurred.
"The houses along a 20-meter (66 foot) section of roadway were completely destroyed," he said.
The bombing happened as there are growing charges of massive fraud in the presidential election, which the U.S. and its allies had hoped would produce a stable government that would cooperate closely on the Obama administration's new strategy for defeating the Taliban-led insurgency.
Preliminary results released Tuesday by the Independent Election Commission showed that with 10 percent of polling stations counted, President Hamid Karzai was running slightly ahead of his closest challenger and former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, 40.6 percent to 38.7 percent.
Just before the IEC announced the results, Abdullah intensified his charges that Karzai had used his control over the government to orchestrate a campaign of "wide-scale fraud."
Using stronger language than in previous days, Abdullah warned that he'd "not allow a big fraud to determine the outcome of the election" and would "not make deals" in return for dropping his charges, like accepting a top post in the new government.
Six other candidates issued a joint statement warning that the volume of rigging complaints had many people "seriously questioning the legitimacy and credibility of the results."
This article, by Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason, was published in Foreign Policy, August 20, 2009
For those who say that comparing the current war in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War is taking things too far, here's a reality check: It's not taking things far enough. From the origins of these North-South conflicts to the role of insurgents and the pointlessness of this week's Afghan presidential elections, it's impossible to ignore the similarities between these wars. The places and faces may have changed but the enemy is old and familiar. The sooner the United States recognizes this, the sooner it can stop making the same mistakes in Afghanistan.
Even at first glance the structural parallels alone are sobering. Both Vietnam and Afghanistan (prior to the U.S. engagement there) had surprisingly defeated a European power in a guerrilla war that lasted a decade, followed by a largely north-south civil war which lasted another decade. Insurgents in both countries enjoyed the advantage of a long, trackless, and uncloseable border and sanctuary beyond it, where they maintained absolute political control. Both were land wars in Asia with logistics lines more than 9,000 miles long and extremely harsh terrain with few roads, which nullified U.S. advantages in ground mobility and artillery. Other key contributing factors bear a striking resemblance: Almost exactly 80 percent of the population of both countries was rural, and literacy hovered around 10 percent.
In both countries, the United States sought to create an indigenous army modeled in its own image, based on U.S. army organization charts. With the ARVN in South Vietnam and the ANA in today's Afghanistan, assignment of personnel as combat advisors and mentors was the absolute lowest priority. And in both wars, the U.S. military grossly misled the American people about the size of the indigenous force over a protracted period. In Afghanistan, for example, the U.S. military touts 91,000 ANA soldiers as "trained and equipped," knowing full well that barely 39,000 are still in the ranks and present for duty.
The United States consistently and profoundly misunderstood the nature of the enemy it was fighting in each circumstance. In Vietnam, the United States insisted on fighting a war against communism, while the enemy was fighting a war of national reunification. In Afghanistan, the United States still insists on fighting a secular counterinsurgency, while the enemy is fighting a jihad. The intersection of how insurgencies end and how jihads end is nil. It's hard to defeat an enemy you don't understand, and in Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, this fight is being played out in a different war.
This is but the tip of the iceberg of a long list of remarkable parallels. What's really startling are the deeper strategic connections. The United States lost the war in Vietnam, historical revisionism notwithstanding, because of a fatal nexus of political and military failure, and the exact same thing is happening in Afghanistan. As Andrew Krepinevich noted many years ago, the army failed in Vietnam because it insisted on fighting a war of maneuver to "find, fix, and destroy" the enemy (with what became known as "search and destroy missions") instead of protecting the people in the villages. Today these tactics are called "sweep and clear missions," but they are in essence the same thing -- clearing tiny patches of ground for short periods in a big country in hopes of killing enough enemy to make him quit. But its manpower pool was not North Vietnam's Achilles heel and neither is it the Taliban's. Almost exactly the same percentage of personnel in Afghanistan has rural reconstruction as its primary mission (the Provincial Reconstruction Teams) as had "pacification" (today's "nation-building") as their primary mission in Vietnam, about 4 percent. The other 96 percent is engaged in chasing illiterate teenage boys with guns around the countryside, exactly what the enemy wants us to do.
Meanwhile the political failure in Kabul is Saigon déjà vu. A government that is seen as legitimate by 85 or 90 percent of the population is considered the sine qua non of success by counterinsurgency experts. After the Diem coup, this was never possible in Vietnam, as one incompetent and utterly corrupt government succeeded another. None was legitimate in the eyes of the people. Contemporary descriptions of the various Saigon governments read almost exactly like descriptions of the Karzai government today. Notwithstanding all the fanfare over this week's presidential voting in Afghanistan, the Kabul government will never be legitimate either, because democracy is not a source of legitimacy of governance in Afghanistan and it never has been. Legitimacy in Afghanistan over the last thousand years has come exclusively from dynastic and religious sources. The fatal blunder of the United States in eliminating a ceremonial Afghan monarchy was Afghanistan's Diem Coup: afterwards, there was little possibility of establishing a legitimate, secular national government.
It doesn't matter who wins the August elections for president in Afghanistan: he will be illegitimate because he is elected. We have apparently learned nothing from Vietnam.