Saturday, October 24, 2009

Afghanistan, A Cause or A Curse?

Afghanistan, like the physical mass of her landscape, continues to defy the best intentions of military forces arrayed within her artificial borders to wrest a people who for the past 2500 years have chosen to live by a code dictated by conditions of tribal custom kept safe from intrusions by the geographic characteristics of a desolate landlocked society cutoff from outside influence. The challenge of trying to impose Western style democracy in the span of less than a decade is meeting with a resistance that first confounded the Bush Adminstration and continues to suck the Obama Presidency into it's moral and ethical quicksand.

The central question is Afthanistan a cause worth pursuing, or a curse that will continue to eat at the fabric of resolve until America and their allies quit leaving a vacumn for the Taliban to return? Will quiting become an example to others who see profit in the strategic defeat of the great powers. Can America singlehandedly manhandle 28 million people, 15 million of which are under 30, into the modern world without destroying the tribal culture. These questions have kept the midnight oil burning in Washington for over two months and right along side, the soft glow of monitors have reflected the thought of experts from all corners of the spectrum.

I am no expert and will not pontificate on what we should do or not do. It troubles me as someone who willingly fought for a cause that at the time seemed just, will again see thousands of American and families from many nations, stand over their childrens graves and wonder what hath their nation done to waste their childs life.

In a continuing effort to inform, I offer the following posts that reflect the breadth of this issue.
First from the field>Michael Yon who up until a short time ago was embedded with the 2 Rifles of the British Army in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. The British became sensitive to Michael's honest reporting and ended his embed. He wrote this troubling post.

In 2008, I was trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal preparing for a return to Afghanistan. A message came from a British officer suggesting to end the trip and get to Afghanistan. Something was up, and I didn’t bother to ask what. Days of walking were needed to reach the nearest road. After several flights, I landed in Kandahar and eventually Helmand Province at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The top-secret mission was Oqab Tsuka, involving thousands of ISAF troops who were to deliver turbines to the Kajaki Dam to spearhead a major electrification project. The difficult mission was a great success. That was 2008. During my 2009 embed with British forces, just downstream from Kajaki Dam, it became clear that the initial success had eroded into abject failure. And then the British kicked me out of the embed, for reasons still unclear, giving me time to look further into the Kajaki electrification failure.

READ MORE: Afghanistan: Electrification Effort Loses Spark

To illustrate that all is not lost, we turn to the United States Marines and this measurement of progress that prove the Marines the most innovative of our forces, have made since being deployed to the same Helmand Province that Michael Yon reported about above. It is heartening that the Marines are again proving as they did in Vietnam with their Combined Action Program (CAP) that success means getting up close and knowing the people you are tasked to protect.

There’s No Substitute for Troops on the Ground by Max Boot, New York Times Opinion

I hope people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like.” Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan’s strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel’s men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a “security bubble” around Nawa. Colonel McCollough recalls that when they first arrived the bazaar was mostly shuttered and the streets empty. “This town was strangled by the Taliban,” he says. “Anyone who was still here was beaten, taxed or intimidated.”

Small Wars Journal sponsored this essay by Dr. Tony Corn. Toward a Kilcullen-Biden Plan?

At this particular juncture, the U.S. simply cannot afford a 500 billion dollar open-ended escalation. Nor can it opt for an incremental (“middle road”) strategy which would fail to create the psychological effects required in both the West and Afghanistan.

A temporary 40,000 surge is doable, but only if the core of the Obama strategy is a “Kilcullen-Biden” plan combining convocation of a loya jirga domestically with a regionalization of the Afghan question diplomatically. Let’s go massive for a limited time, and “clear, hold, and build” as much as we can. If it does not work, a regional negotiation provides ample cover for a drawdown.

Rounding out this weeks discussion is this post from It's The Tribes Stupid! where Steve Pressfield continues his interview with Afghan tribal leader, Chief Zazai. Here a little taste of this informative interview.

Welcome back, Chief Zazai, after last week’s break in our ongoing, multi-part interview. As you know, we took that space last week to post an open letter to Gens. Jones, Petraeus, McChrystal and Adm. Mullen, alerting them to your formation of a Tribal Police Force in the Zazi Valley and asking for help in aligning that force with the American troops (10th Mountain Division) whose Area of Operations (AO) includes your district. Respect for confidentiality prevents me from publishing particulars, but I’m happy to say that we got an immediate response and that it was just what we hoped for. The top U.S. commanders are listening. More on that as it develops– and as confidentiality permits. Now back to our talk!

READ MORE: Interview with a Tribal Chief #4: Warlords and Taliban

This week will bring more news and comment along with the solemn knock, followed by the mournful cry as another family learns that their son or daughter has fallen in the dusty gravel of far off Afghanistan. I learned first hand that war is every bit as exciting as Patton described, and as hellish as Sherman penned. For many in Afghanistan, the lure of conflict is a rite of manhood, exploited and provoked by both sides who seek to impose their own brand of governance on a people who have lived for centuries as if they were the only people on the earth. The answer lies somewhere far down the road, alas, a road strewn with the corpses.

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