The Unwinnable War in Afghanistan

Saving face in unwinnable war

Sinking in debt and no closer to victory, heads may roll as the U.S. and NATO wrap up their pointless Afghan adventure

American soldiers search for caves concealing weapons in eastern Afghanistan. (PHOTO CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES)

By ERIC MARGOLIS, QMI AGENCY

Fire-breathing U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his Special Forces “mafia” were supposed to crush Afghan resistance to western occupation. But McChrystal was fired after rude remarks from his staff about the White House.

A more cerebral and political general, David Petraeus, replaced McChrystal. Petraeus managed to temporarily suppress resistance in Iraq.

Last week, the usually cautious Petraeus vowed from Kabul to “win” the Afghan War, which has cost the U.S. nearly $300 billion to date and 1,000 dead. The problem: No one can define what winning really means. Each time the U.S. reinforces, Afghan resistance grows stronger.

Afghanistan is America’s longest-running conflict.

The escalating war now costs U.S. taxpayers $17 billion monthly. President Barack Obama’s Afghan “surge” of 30,000 more troops will cost another $30 billion.

The Afghan and Iraq wars — at a cost of $1 trillion — are being waged on borrowed money when the U.S. is drowning in $13.1 trillion in debt.

America has become addicted to debt and war.

By 2011, Canadians will have spent an estimated $18.1 billion on Afghanistan, $1,500 per household.

The U.S. Congress, which alone can declare and fund war, shamefully allowed U.S. presidents George W. Bush and Obama to usurp this power. A majority of Americans now oppose this imperial misadventure. Though politicians fear opposing the war lest they be accused of “betraying our soldiers,” dissent is breaking into the open.

Last week, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele let the cat out of the bag, admitting the Afghan war was not winnable. War-loving Republicans erupted in rage, all but accusing Steele of high treason. Many of Steele’s most hawkish Republican critics had, like Bush and Dick Cheney, dodged real military service during the Vietnam War.

Republicans (I used to be one) blasted McChrystal’s sensible policy of trying to lessen Afghan civilian casualties from U.S. bombing and shelling. There is growing anti-western fury in Afghanistan and Pakistan over mounting civilian deaths.

By clamouring for more aggressive attacks that endanger Afghan civilians and strengthen Taliban, Republicans again sadly demonstrate they have become the party and voice of America’s dim and ignorant.

Obama claimed he was expanding the Afghan War to fight al-Qaida. Yet the Pentagon estimates there are no more than a handful of al-Qaida small-fry left in Afghanistan.

Obama owes Americans the truth about Afghanistan.

After nine years of war, the immense military might of the U.S., its dragooned NATO allies, and armies of mercenaries have been unable to defeat resistance to western occupation or create a popular, legitimate government in Kabul. Drug production has reached new heights.

As the United States feted freedom from a foreign oppressor on July 4, its professional soldiers were using every sort of weapon in Afghanistan, from heavy bombers to tanks, armoured vehicles, helicopter gunships, fleets of drones, heavy artillery, cluster bombs and an arsenal of hi-tech gear.

In spite of this might, bands of outnumbered Pashtun tribesmen and farmers, armed only with small arms, determination and limitless courage, have fought the West’s war machine to a standstill and now have it on the strategic defensive. Read more of this post

Waging 10 year war on Taliban then making peace with same Taliban!

Stanley McChrystal, the senior US general in Afghanistan, has told the Financial Times he believes a negotiated settlement would be the right way to end the Afghan conflict. His comments have fuelled a debate on the merits of talking to the Taliban.

Can negotiations end the war?

The appeal of dialogue to end the Afghan conflict has a whiff of alchemy about it: great in theory but extremely difficult in practice. The biggest problem may be that the Taliban feel they are winning. US troop deaths more than doubled in 2009. Gen McChrystal hopes his surge of 30,000 troops will convince his opponents they are better off negotiating but admits that Taliban attacks are likely to spike. “They have got to create the perception that Afghanistan’s on fire,” he told the Financial Times. With Nato allies already eyeing the exit, the Taliban may believe their long-term goal of regaining power in Kabul is within their grasp.

Who could help facilitate dialogue?

Pakistan played midwife at the birth of the Taliban and, along with Saudi Arabia, was one of only three countries to recognise the movement when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Reports of efforts by Islamabad and Riyadh to broker talks have surfaced repeatedly. Both are US allies that would use their leverage over any peace process to expand their influence in Washington. Pakistan, in particular, would want to be rewarded with greater backing in its competition with India.

How would talks happen?

Even contacting the Taliban is a complex process involving intermediaries bearing scraps of paper: the leaders shun telephones that could be used to trace their location. Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador who lives in Kabul, helps facilitate contacts with the Taliban’s leaders, but organising face-to-face talks would be complex. Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, which also recognised the Taliban government when it was in power, might be the most plausible venues for initial meetings between low-level representatives.

Although many insurgents loosely pledge allegiance to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the movement’s founder and spiritual head, he was a renowned recluse even before fleeing the 2001 US invasion. Distinguishing key Taliban decision-makers from mid-level commanders who control only small groups of fighters would be tricky.

So what’s the problem?

Too many to list. It is hard to see Mr Omar, who once ruled Afghanistan as emir of an austere theocracy, accepting a role under the current western-style constitution. Although the Taliban has recently stressed it does not pose an international threat, its leaders are conscious of the ire they earned in the west for allowing Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaeda, to organise the September 11 2001 attacks from Afghan soil. Mistrust on all sides runs deep.

What about other insurgent leaders?

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who leads the insurgency in several eastern provinces, is most likely to cut a deal. A former prime minister, he founded a party called Hezb-e-Islami, a faction of which already shares power in Kabul. A father-and-son team from the Haqqani family who run a fiefdom straddling the Pakistan border are less biddable.

Can Taliban fighters simply be bribed?

Maybe. Western countries gathering in London for a conference on Thursday will pledge funds for a scheme outlined by Hamid Karzai, the president, to try to lure Taliban foot soldiers with job offers. Details remain sketchy. Insurgents may simply accept the incentives then return to the fight. The central problem remains: the Taliban may simply believe it can outlast the west. (Q&A: How do you get the Taliban to negotiate By Matthew Green in Kandahar )

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