Monday, September 7, 2009
Three Thoughts on Afghanistan
Chinnok landing in dust storm, by Michael Yon
The three articles I am posting today, bring the thoughts of three men who are intimately familiar with Afghanistan and the war that continues to bring the immense pain of losing a loved one to a growing number of families around the world, as well as the people of Afghanistan.
Michael Yon penned this brief, but important message from Afghanistan.
Helmand, Afghanistan - The West is losing this war. This has been obvious for more than three years. Less obvious is that in 2009, we are down to the wire. Gen. Stanley McChrystal and others will soon recommend to President Obama the latest treatment for a dying patient.
Meanwhile, allies and Americans are asking themselves why we are here. Some are saying that Al Qaeda is still here or is waiting in the wings to return to its home. Yet Afghanistan was never Al Qaeda's permanent home to begin with. Al Qaeda was just renting a little space here, just as it was renting space in places like Germany and Florida.
We must face reality: Our reasons for continuing are not the reasons we came for. We are fighting a different war now than the one that began in 2001. Today's war is about social re-engineering. Given the horrible history of Afghanistan, and the fact that we already are here, the cause is worthy and worthwhile.
The decisions facing us are perilous and immense. On the one hand, we desperately need more troops, while on the other increasing troop levels introduces a host of costs and potential traps.
Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Iraq wrote this essay in Newsweek with advice on the pathway the United States must consider in Afghanistan.
The 8 a.m. US Airways shuttle from Washington to New York City took off pretty much on time. The mid-September sky was clear, the air still, and most of the flight was perfectly uneventful. My State Department colleague David Pearce and I read the papers and looked over our notes as the plane began its descent toward LaGuardia.
"Look!" somebody said, and a rumble of alarmed voices spread through the cabin. One of the towers of the World Trade Center was on fire, and smoke churned over the upper stories like a thunderhead over lower Manhattan. We craned our necks to see through one window, then another as our plane banked and made its approach to the runway. Then, just as we landed, we saw in the distant skyline the second tower erupt in flames. Cell phones rang out, and random, frightened voices tried to make sense of what was happening.
For a diplomat, I have seen a lot of violence in my career. I survived the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut that was, until that day in September 2001, among the most infamous attacks on Americans in the history of terrorism. David is as experienced in the Middle East as anyone we have at State. But you didn't need our expertise to know, when that plane hit the second tower, that this was the work of terrorists.
His parting advice carries the ring of others who have recognized that like author Steven Pressfield noted in his blog, It's The Tribes Stupid!. My emphasis added in bold type.
In Afghanistan, too, the decision has been made to talk to people who have been fighting against us, and perhaps even to enlist their support. The question is not whether they have been shooting at us; it's whether we can get them to stop shooting. But relentless internal conflict is not endemic in Iraq. In Afghanistan it is. For most Afghans an effective central government isn't even a distant memory. Tribal identity is everything. And Al Qaeda and the Taliban have learned from the mistakes of the insurgencies in Iraq. They have not forced the people to turn against them. They know the hills and valleys of the political terrain as well as they do the killing fields of Helmand province or the caves of Tora Bora. They have learned strategic patience. I can't begin to predict what will unfold in Afghanistan, or in Iraq. But as I leave the field, I take heart from the fact that Dave Petraeus, my comrade from Baghdad who knows all about strategic patience, has oversight of both wars.
This final essay comes by way of the SWJ Editors who have linked this Op-Ed Ahmed Rashid from the Washington Post.
For much of the 20th century before the Soviet invasion in 1979, Afghanistan was a peaceful country living in harmony with its neighbors. There was a king and a real government, which I witnessed in the 1970s when I frequently traveled there. Afghanistan had what I'll call a minimalist state, compared with the vast governmental apparatuses that colonialists left behind in British India and Soviet Central Asia.