Everyone in Afghanistan suffers PTSD

I’m pretty sure that long before American troops set foot in the mountains of Afghanistan, that the people of that country already suffered from post-traumatic-stress-disorder. Another ten years of war stacked on top of the decades of war and theocratic tyranny there has only made matters worse.

When we talk about the failure of the American military to do things like improve maternal mortality rates, or build schools, or significantly improve the lives of Afghanistan’s population, we miss a larger point: we didn’t even have ruins to rebuild when we came there, and we’ve done little more than spread rubble since we arrived.

The Taliban were and remain monstrous and I shed no tears at their upheaval. Same for Al Qaeda. But the Taliban took power in the first place was because that country was already shattered when they got there . They took advantage of a power vacuum. The uneasy peace between the Taliban and the warlords was the first real stability the country knew since the Russians invaded, and a brutal stability can sometimes be better than the chaos it replaces – or at least a tempting bargain.

What we’ve done is bring back the chaos. Maybe our intentions are noble. Maybe we really would like to bring in people and cash to help pave some way toward a functioning civil society there, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that this is just fantasy.

We hear pundits talk about all the good things Americans have done in Afghanistan, how certain living standards have improved. I can’t help but think it’s an illusion and transient and doomed. You don’t rebuild a society that was never built to begin with. You certainly don’t do it with bombs and drones and American and Afghan lives.

This latest massacre of Afghan civilians at the hands of an American soldier is just a symptom of a larger problem. How many of our troops there are suffering from mental illness? Drug addiction? Something like two thirds of the country itself is said to suffer from some form of stress-related mental illness. I can’t imagine anybody there isn’t suffering some form of PTSD, from the orphans to the politicians. Roadside bombs are indiscriminate. Nobody can look at this mess and see some hopeful outcome. Either Americans stay forever and the war rages on or the Americans leave and the power vacuum opens up.

No good will come of either option.

(image via Wikipedia)

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84 thoughts on “Everyone in Afghanistan suffers PTSD

  1. Sorry I must disagree with your premise. We as in the US didnt bring back the chaos. That was the taliban who hosted OBL and wouldn’t turn him over to the US. Imagine how different things would be if they had.

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        • Yeah, they asked for the evidence. Whether they would release him was an issue that needed to be negotiated: their first preference was to try him themselves in an Islamic court, or to send him to another Islamic country to be tried in an Islamic court. However, they weren’t going to do anything without the evidence. We said give him to us or esle. We’re still dealing with or else.

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      • The taliban demand that we stop bombing and present evidence of his guilt before they would even discuss the subject of handing him over to a third country or trying him in Afghanistan. As far as I know they never offered to turn OBL over to the US. The bottom line is that the taliban would still be in power if they had turned OBL over. You seem to be one of the few that seems to think the taliban were being serious and not just playing for time.

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  2. havesomelibertyThe OP, summarized in a visual and rather less sober fashion.

    I’ve come around to agreeing with the sentiment, after long resisting it and hoping that we could do something good in Afghanistan. Without pointing fingers at anyone with regard to fault, it seems we cannot do much more than we’ve done, even after two years of a troop surge.

    It’s time to call it a decade and give the Afghans their country back to do with as they please.

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        • There are plenty of other options.   We might empower local government instead of this wretched Kabul-centric scheme imposed on us by the Karzai regime.   All they want is our money so they can grift and take it off to Dubai banks.

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                  • Dude, I think you need to take a step back. It makes little sense to say that they weren’t committing genocide and say that said genocide is still going on. This is what you are accusing me of doing. I’m not sure you’re capable, at this moment, of hearing what I am saying, or what anyone is saying, on this subject. In the interest of civility, this will be the last thing I say to you on this topic until you’ve shown that you’ve calmed down enough to actually understand what BSK, I, and others are saying.

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                    • Interpol opened a Red Card on OBL in March of 1998.  The Taliban government of Afghanistan refused to honor it.   It makes perfect sense to point out the USA drove out the Taliban government and stopped its policy of genocide against the Hazara and Tajiks.   You’re wriggling around, trying to say because it hasn’t stopped completely that somehow this means we haven’t done anything.

                      Now, perhaps I should have read #26 as a bit of sophomoric snark.   Perhaps you believe the Taliban won’t take over Afghanistan as they did before and are trying to do at present.   Will the Afghans be able run their own country once we’ve left?  That’s a lovely idea, I think that’s what everyone wants in this situation.   That’s what the USSR wanted, too, a nice progressive government in Kabul.   They built most of the roads in Afghanistan, hospitals and the like.

                      But we both know that’s a fantasy while the Taliban are on the other side of the mountains, cuddling up to the Pakistani government which wants nothing more than to keep Afghanistan mired in tribal warfare, just so the Indians won’t come around meddling, opening up a second front against them.    That’s how Pakistan thinks, you know.   And with very considerable basis in truth may I add, the Indians have more “embassies” in Afghanistan than anyone else, at least twelve now.   Afghanistan is riddled with Indian spies and we’ve done nothing to stop it, as we’ve done nothing to stop the heroin trade.

                      Y’know, maybe you’re right.   Maybe we should just stop the war and let things go back to the way they were before, with millions of Afghans streaming through the passes, back to the camps at Jalozai.    As others have noted, these Brown People are worthless.   Their suffering and misery is of no consequence.    But I do hope I live long enough to turn up around here to say I Told You So, as I told people so back in the 1980s when those refugees were stacked up in those camps.

                       

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              • Blaise – here is what I think.

                1) We suffer the company of many murderous governments and more often than not we choose not to wage war on them. Indeed, we’d negotiated other times with the Taliban. That being said, I don’t really blame the US government for going to war there in the first place, though I do think sticking around to try to “save” the Afghan people is nonsense.

                2) This is because we can’t save them, whether we stay or go. You say that you’re hearing people claim that the only way to save the Afghan people is to leave. On the contrary, I think there is no saving them regardless. Two roads that lead to the same place stretch out before us, but only one is littered with American corpses. The Afghans are pretty much screwed either way.

                3) Maybe you could have convinced me otherwise a few years ago. Maybe we could have triumphed had we focused our energies there instead of Iraq. Maybe if Pakistan wasn’t so knee-deep in all of this. Lots of maybes, but at this point I see no good resolution. Whatever good we’ve done for the Afghan people is hardly set in stone, and I see no way to make it so. As soon as we leave, whether now or in ten more years, the Taliban or some other horror will come back. There is no civil society left in Afghanistan. We can’t rebuild it under these conditions.

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                • I have bloody well had it with all this naivete from the usual suspects, mooning around, their eyes rolled up to heaven, opining on grand strategy, making grand pronouncements upon the fruitlessness of future endeavours, as if they had all the facts at hand.

                  The world will only be saved one life at a time.   I’ve had a long enough life and dug the pits into which other people shit in four different refugee camps.   If you think we should allow the Taliban to retake Afghanistan, I cannot gainsay your opinion.   This much I do know for a fact, when the Americans invaded Afghanistan, two million refugees left Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan.   Every other opinion on the subject of who’s the Bad Guy and who’s the Good Guy in this equation is bullshit.   BlaiseP’s Law of Refugees says you can always tell who’s the bad guy by the footprints of the refugees in the dust.   Those footprints always point away from the bad guy and toward the good guy.

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                  • Here’s the thing though,  The Taliban won’t retake Afghanistan.  They may retake Kandahar and other parts of the Pasthun belt around the Durand line (and some northern Pasthun enclaves like Kunduz) but they won’t have the strength to retake Kabul.  They needed full Pakstani support to do it last time, and the fact that nobody was really paying attention. And the fact that no Western government would really support the pre-Taliban Kabul government because it was still nominally Marxist (or at least still had a lot of those guys in power – or at least not hanging from lamposts) This time, though, people will at least be paying attention (even if they don’t really care), and be able to give at least some modicum of support, and moreover now the Pakistani’s have no direct interest in the Taliban retaking Kabul (not even the ISI), because a weak and divided Afghanistan is good enough for their strategic interest.

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                    • The Taliban will attempt to take over Kabul.   They might not succeed but it won’t be for lack of trying.   The Kabul – Khyber Pass road is the nexus of control and if they seize it, Kabul is effectively besieged.   Seizing that road is well within their capabilities.

                      The Kabul regime is just as disconnected from the people of the Hindu Kush as was the Marxist regime of yore.   Kabul’s always been thus disconnected, since it’s not under the control of any one ethnic power or warlord.   In the pushing and shoving for control of Kabul the last time, evicting the Marxists was the least of their problems.   No sooner were they evicted than the warlords began to fight over Kabul itself.  This scenario has a high probability of repeating itself, precisely because Afghanistan is, as you say, weak and divided.   The warlords might be divided but they are not weak.

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                    • Warlording  wasn’t really in Kabul itself  though during the 90’s.  You needed land and estates to do that. 

                      Everyone was expecting the other shoe to drop right after the Soviets left.  The Hazarra (who make up a sizable portion of the Kabul population) were ready to rise up and overthrow  Najibullah, but were ignored by the (still unified) mujahadeen, then the mujahadeen split into what would become (much later) the Northern Alliance and Taliban factions, and so Najibullah stuck around for nearly until three years until the soft coup (that would become the Victory of the Mujahadeen Day).  And that government ran Kabul OK* (but only Kabul) until the Taliban took over in ’96.    

                      And logistically Kabul (now) has enough connections with north of the Kush (and enough people there that vicerally hate the Taliban) to sustain itself. (at Afghan levels of sustainment)

                      *corrupt yes, but what central Asian country isn’t

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                    • Correction – “what would become late the Taliban faction’ is still not very accurate, Taliban growth was organic well after the Soviets left,  that other not-Northern Alliance faction would eventually grow into both HiG and Haqqani.

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              • It is not tu quogue.  You are arguing that things in Afghanistan are better as a result of our involvement.  We are pointing out that they are not.

                Your entire premise is that the US should not have engaged in non-violent negotiations with the Taliban to extradite Osama because of the brutality of their rule.  No one is refuting that the Taliban was an oppressive regime.  But you have yet to substantiate why the course of action you are advocating is better than the alternatives, especially since peaceful negotiation does not preclude efforts to end the genocide.

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              • So let me put a few words in your mouth.   The Taliban went about murdering tens of thousands of civilians.   The Americans have done the same.   Soooo…. if your solution is for the Americans to get out because we can’t stop killing civilians, wouldn’t that imply maybe the Taliban should get out?

                Hmm?

                My entire premise?   My, aren’t we in a particularly condescending mood this morning!    Let’s make a deal, eh?   I’ll make my position and you make yours.  The Taliban will only re-create the miserable status quo ante.

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                • It’d be great if the Taliban left.  But we have proven wildly ineffective at achieving that goal.

                  The conversation above was about how we ended up in Afghanistan in the first place.  Some of us took the position that we could have avoided being involved in Afghanistan as we are AND still achieved our stated goal (bringing Osama to justice) by working with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, but that we chose not to.

                  You responded with: “The Taliban were waging a genocidal war against the Hazara and Tajik at the time.   These are the people we’re going to deal with as a neutral party in this discussion?”

                  Now, you can (rightfully) bash the Taliban’s regime as much as you like.  But none of that changes the fact that we could have gotten bin laden (again, our stated mission) without a 10+ year war.

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                  • More goddamn Buts.    Rhetoric is simply not taught any more.  Leads to weak thinking all round.   We ended up in Afghanistan because that’s where the enemy was.    We’re there because the enemy is still there.

                    Nobody much likes my ideas around here.   I proposed we start with the education of children, creating a cadre of well-fed, educated people who could turn their own country around.    This is a nation in which not one of its citizens has ever known peace in their lifetime.    Working with the Afghan government?   What lunacy.   There was none and hadn’t been for a generation.   The Pakistani government?   More idiocy.   They created the Taliban and harbour it within their borders.   They do wage genocidal war on the Hazara, fact.

                    All this flabby thinking must stop immediately.   Woulda-coulda-shoulda about how we could have gotten Bin Ladin when he fled into the loving arms of Pakistan’s intelligence services is just the height of folly.    This war against Al Qaeda and their compadres in crime will continue for as long as the Cold War.   Best to settle down, put that war in perspective, treat them as criminal enterprises, put this war on a financial diet and hunker down for a long stint.   These bastards aren’t going away soon and neither should we.

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                    • BSK’s assumption, I think, is that if brown people are to be killed then it’s better that brown people do the killing than white people, because that way the white people can pretend that it’s a purely internal matter and none of our affair.

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                    •  BlaiseP I agree that the woulda-coulda should end. We are left now with what Bush (the very minor) handed off to us and what Obama has produced through a few years of pretty much rubber stamping the military’s requests regarding Afghanistan. The big question is the future; what is to be done with the mess in our collective hands now.  I’m hesitant to challenge your opinions on the subject since you’ve forgotten more than I have ever learned about the region no doubt; instead I’ve some questions.

                      -Agreed the Afghans haven’t had a decent government in generations. That given, they now are somewhat stuck with the one we set up when we first arrived (Karzai et all). It appears to me (correct me if I’m wrong) that Karzai et all would really prefer that the status quos continue which is to say we continue shoveling utter mountains of our resources into this particular region so they can embezzle it right back out again. Is this the best bang we could expect to get for our invested buck in terms of humanitarian outcomes? Could the same money not produce larger reductions in human immiseration in other regions that do not have a history of making fools out of foreign powers meddling in the area?

                      -Again Karzai et all seem to like the way things are right now. You suggested structural reforms, decentralization etc… would it not be true that Karzai and his crew would fight this tooth and nail? Having erected this new Afghanistan sort of government should we now topple it? Can we? Do you consider it elected? If we somehow knocked it over would the Afghans elect something better in its place? Or do you think Karzai et all could be induced to simply go along with the reforms you think are best?

                      -The proposals you have seem very long term, generation long in fact. It is harsh of me to ask however I have only a limited understanding of the region; this will be massively draining: do we owe the Afghans this? I know we took a side in a sort of proxy war there after the Soviets invaded and I gather the great powers had been poking about in the area for a good while prior to that. I’m asking mainly for clarity for my own mind: would this be us paying off a moral obligation to the peoples of Afghanistan or would this be mostly humanitarian charity (and if the latter see my first question again)?

                      -Do you think that Pakistan will actually buy into any solution you think is feasible? Should we partition the country? I’ve read that the Pashtun regions would be much better off as part of Pakistan and the non-Pashtun areas would probably be a lot happier as their own state rid of those fanatic Pashtuns? Regardless, Pakistan views Afghanistan as their personal sand box yes? They profit from the current status quos as much if not more than Karzai et all (Karzai at least runs the risk of getting his ass blown up); are we capable of inducing the Pakistanis to detach from the gravy train they’re currently enjoying from us?

                      Thanks in advance for your opinions and I think I avoided any “buts”.

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                    • Bush, bad as he was, isn’t the villain in that.  Zalmay Khalilzad cut Karzai off at the knees when he most needed our imprimatur of legitimacy.   Karzai’s great genius is dealmaking.   We could have coopted most if not all of our previous allies, especially the Haqqani clan, who were once on the CIA payroll, if only we’d let Karzai do what he does best.

                      Karzai is a moody bastard, nobody’s suffered as much as he has in all this.   He’s clinically depressed, everyone knows it.   We’ve treated him with harsh disrespect, demanding the impossible of him.

                      What could we do in this situation?   The most profitable of all political enterprises is to simply go around and ask “Who do you believe could effectively bring justice to you?   If you were robbed on the road, who would be the first person you would talk to about it?”    Take down that man’s name.   Give him some authority.   Ask him who would help him enforce that justice, take down their names.   Build a hierarchy of authority on that basis.    Connect these tiers of authority with military radios, support them logistically, treat them with respect.   Defer to their opinions.

                      Such a network would then form the basis of accountability.   Power varies as the square of distance, so we take some fire or hit an IED out somewhere, we look for the nearest such authority figure and go complain to him.   Hold him accountable for what’s done in his area of operations.   Extend his radius of authority, put him in the intelligence loop, build up his local law enforcement mechanism.    Soon enough, if he gets in trouble with the Taliban, he gets on the radio and we can come in with a dozen rifles to put him back in charge.

                      The aim is to prise open a gap between the Taliban’s reign of fear and the anger of the local population.   I’d make every swinging dick of American provenance read Mao Zedong On Guerrilla Warfare before they set foot in Afghanistan.   I’d put the CIA in charge of this war.   They wiped out the Taliban with a handful of fighters.    If we’d left them in charge of that war and kept the Bush Neocon maniacs out of Kabul, this war would have been over in a few weeks, with an ongoing presence for the foreseeable future.

                      Pakistan will never buy into such a scheme.   Pakistan is defined by what it is Not.   It isn’t India, and that’s all that matters to them.    I have a solution to fix their little red wagon:  back a Pashtun independence movement, centered on Quetta and Kandahar, with a whole contingent of American Muslims writing up the PR for such a campaign.

                      Did you know there are many Pashtun people in India?   They’re called Pathans elsewhere, they’re scattered far and wide.   If we had the good sense to turn the tables on the Taliban, backing a Pashtun state, we would make many friends in the wide world.   Pakistan would be at a complete loss in dealing with such a movement.   Pakistan cannot and will not govern the Pashtuns.  The Pashtuns simply won’t tolerate anyone else, exactly as the Kurds won’t in Iraq.    So do as we did with the Kurds, back their leadership, provide them sanctuary, they’ll turn on a dime if we played the game their way.   It’s all they’ve ever wanted.   I would invoke the august name of Khan Wali Khan .  Pakistan put that good man in jail for many years and neither the regime in Islamabad nor the Pashtuns have forgotten him.   His ghost still haunts the politics of the region and we could do worse than to summon it up.

                      And thank you for asking.   Much appreciated.   My heart aches for these people.   I shall never forget their small kindnesses.   From their great suffering, they took pride in offering me what little they had.    They could be our friends, again.

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          • Beg all the questions you like, Chris.  I really don’t care.   These troubling little facts won’t be countered with cheap tu-quoque and baseless denials.   Denial ain’t rebuttal.   We have excellent reasons to be in Afghanistan and extirpating the Taliban is Reason Number One.

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            • Black and white world?    I spend almost two years in the camps at Jalozai.   I went to Kabul in 2003 to start a woman’s clinic in Kabul, the very first of its kind, and it’s my money supporting it to this day.   I will not be told my view is black and white by someone who hasn’t been there.   The very fucking idea.   I have every reason to believe the Taliban will tear down that clinic and murder everyone who ever worked there.

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            • Capturing Osama bin Ladin?   Surely you jest.   That would have been an interesting idea.   Interpol already had a Red Card on him for years and had been trying to extradite him.   The Taliban, those fine upstanding individuals, had refused to extradite him.

              And you really think the Taliban would have given him over to the Americans?   The AMERICANS?

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              • Read the link above.  The Taliban were willing to extradite him to a Muslim country to be tried in a Shariah-compliant international tribunal, provided evidence of his guilt.  We told them to fuck off… that they don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

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                • Heh, heh.  The shari’ah courts which condemned a seven year old boy?   For crimes committed against Americans and many others?   No, the criminal and his abetters shall have no say on venue.

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                  • Says you.  And now there are upwards of a hundred thousand dead, including many innocent civilians.  That could have been avoided and WOULD have been avoided but AMERICA ANSWERS TO NO ONE.

                    This is such bullshit.  You want to hold up every example of a moral failure by the Taliban or Afghans or shariah courts as evidence for why we should have no involvement with them outside of destroying them and their way of life.  If people point out that our institutions have equally horrid marks on their record, you claim logical fallacy.  You are an apologist, plain and simple.

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                    • WE were asking THEM for something but didn’t want to meet their terms because how dare anyone challenges US.  Or we couldn’t substantiate the case, which would be even more troubling since we went to war based on the presumption that we could.*

                      *Obviously it was proven that OBL was behind the attacks.  But if we couldn’t reasonably prove that case, we were absolutely wrong to go to war at the time we did.

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                    • What’s the question we’re asked again?  What’s this challenge?   Was Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan in any doubt?   When Bill Clinton shot cruise missiles into Afghanistan for bombing our embassies, did the Taliban respond to the Interpol Red Card for OBL?

                      No.

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      • I won’t defend the Taliban’s medieval morality or its crude and cruel religious fundamentalism, Blaise; nor would I view the Taliban’s return to power as a positive, pleasing, or desirable development. Stipulated that other people possess different notions of justice and moral right, and that alternative notions of justice and moral right can lead to results which we enlightened westerners find morally repugnant. Stipulated that the Taliban are simply, purely, objectively, and intractably evil.

        Note, however, that plenty of results of U.S. justice look morally repugnant to other parts of the world. For that matter, plenty of results of U.S. justice look morally repugnant to ourselves. How many actually people whose guilt is genuinely uncertain have been put to death in this country?

        You contend that the Taliban’s cruelty and propensity to engage in atrocity is somehow relevant to our decision about whether to continue throwing blood and treasure over the Hindu Kush. I contend that international policy is not about moral right and wrong. It is about advantage, security, benefit, power. Moral atrocities occur in every corner of the world, at all times. We lack the resources to right every moral wrong across the globe. We should deploy our resources in the manner best calculated to further our own national interests, and whatever moral benefit of the extension of our power that does occur should be viewed as a bonus to, and not the objective of, such an exercise.

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        • Counselor, as you very well know, any sentence which starts with “But” might as well start with “No”, whatever the stipulations might be.     As repugnant as American justice might be, could you possibly stretch your eminently more qualified opinion on jurisprudence to envision a scheme where laws are made with the consent of the governed and not imposed upon them by illiterate cultists?

          You may not believe international policy should not be centered on Right or Wrong.    May I refer you to your previous stipulations as a prima-facie contradiction to that opinion.   We overthrew a regime which gave sanctuary to murderers and air pirates, that is all.   If our policies are not to be guided by the rights of man, I propose we take you at your word and simply annihilate the Taliban in the geopolitical interests of the rest of the world, grown as tired and angry of the Taliban’s violence as we have grown.

          Insanity, we are told, is repeating the same experiment over and over, expecting different results.   We abandoned the Taliban to its own devices once before, ushered out by the equally-noxious Pakistani regime.    What make you believe if we allow the Taliban to rise again, we shall not suffer the same violence again?

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          • We could, I suppose, nuke the entire country and render every square inch of it uninhabitable. That’d be about the only way to be sure. But we’re not going to do that, because even though we’d wipe out the Taliban, we’d quickly generate a much bigger mess than we’re currently in.

            The strategy we have tried to pursue for the past ten years has been annihilation. What has our military been doing in Afghanistan for the past ten years, if not exercising its very impressive power towards the aim of killing the Taliban, soldier by soldier? Despite our considerable and impressive efforts, we have not succeeded in fully implementing this policy. After ten years, I believe we have accumulated enough evidence that we will be unable to do so at any point in the future, at least not without resort to means for which we obviously lack the political will (see above re: nuking the entire country).

            Yes, we very well might endure more violence and hostility from the Taliban should they return to power. But we also endure similar sorts of threats from (for instance) the Islamic Republic of Iran (itself not only an exporter of terrorism, violence, and war, but also a perpetrator of significant moral atrocity) and have found ways to contain, albeit not completely suppress, those kinds of threats originating from that quarter. We haven’t tried containment with the Taliban at all, so far as I can tell. Our pre-9/11 Taliban policy was to play the Northern Alliance, Pakistan and Iran against it in the hopes that Massoud and Dostrum could displace it internally, and our post-9/11 policy has been eradication.

            If you’re going to engage an explicitly amoral, foreign-policy-realist argument on its terms, then are you suggesting that we just haven’t given the policy of eradication enough time to work? Or that we’re going about eradication with the wrong military tactics? I can see the merits of such a claim — I was skeptical about the troop surge in Iraq and I admitted that I was more wrong than right in that skepticism. Perhaps a similar tactical shift in Afghanistan will enable us to better implement our strategy as it did in Iraq. We’ve done a surge there for two years now, so I’m skeptical of that, too, despite the evidence from Iraq.

            Otherwise, you’re probably right that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And we’ve been attempting the use of military force aimed at annihilating the Taliban for ten years and the result has been more or less what exists today, and has existed since about August of 2002 when the extent of the Karzai government’s practical power was established. If we want more of what we’ve got, we can keep on doing what we’re doing right now.

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            • American policy has not been one of annihilation.   Our policy has been one of schizophrenic banging back and forth between various forms of counterinsurgency, nation-building, crime-fighting and hypocritical Sgt.  Schultz “I see noTHING”-ing.

              True story.  I know some of the people involved.   Just after the CIA and USAF bombed the Taliban out of their positions, the US Army inserted an SF team into a Pashtun village.   Now SF’s mission is force augmentation, basically training and arming the local people to fight for their own cause.   They made very considerable headway, coming to terms with that village, making friends, respecting local customs.   So far, so good.

              Then 82 ABN put in a unit, fresh out of Iraq.   They made lots of enemies, kicking down doors, behaving disrespectfully, wouldn’t act in concert with the local people, classic How Not To Manage a Counterinsurgency bullshittery.   The SF linguist got into a big fight with the 82 ABN unit commander.   Guess who won that argument?   Yeah, the newest commander, the rah rah 82 ABN colonel.    The SF just washed their hands of the whole thing.

              Here’s the fundamental problem, Burt, the great unanswered question:   what does Afghanistan mean to the Afghan people themselves?    First, there is no such thing as an Afghan.   There’s a breed of dog with that nomenclature but no human being in Afghanistan thinks of himself as an Afghan.   His ontology is one of family, village, clan and tribe, with some theoretical allegiances to the various forms of Islam thus espoused.   That’s the Realpolitik of Afghanistan.

              We’ve done what every other conqueror has done in Afghanistan, we’ve centered on Kabul and to a lesser extent, Mazar-e-Sharif.    The rest of the country might as well be on another planet, especially the south and east, Pashtun country.    There only one working example of how Afghanistan was effectively governed, Babur, one we might have followed, one we could still follow.

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              • Seems to me we’ve put a lot of energy into the Kandahar region, too. Otherwise, you’ve offered a fair critique of our activities there. As I read it, that demonstrates on a practical level why we aren’t ever likely to be able to pursue a long-term, effective strategy that will result in eradicating the Taliban — we’re always going to have yahoos like the ones you describe from the 82nd planting the seeds of tomorrow’s antipathy in the minds of people we otherwise might be able to persuade to be our friends. More recently, it only takes one of our guys with a bad attitude to kill sixteen innocent civilians and thus inspire hundreds if not thousands of new recruits to join the Taliban. That sort of thing will never end, as long as we are there.

                Hamid Karzai is not a modern-day Babur. I see no reasonable candidates for such a role. Do you?

                Different question, but related to your point about ethnic/religious/tribal fragmentation: If the Pashtuns want to split off and form an independent Pashtunistan, couldn’t we find a way to live with that? Indeed, were it not for the anguish such a thing would cause with Pakistan, might we not cynically prefer political fragmentation of what is today known as Afghanistan?

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                • It doesn’t matter who we put into that situation if they don’t have the loyalty of the local people.   Even if we were to magically improve the Afghan Army like some Baron von Steuben at Valley Forge, the Afghan Army will not inspire loyalty very far from Kabul.

                  The policemen, well, they’re completely corrupt.   If I was in charge of that situation, I’d bring in Islamic scholarship and convene some shura to clean up the police force.   The Taliban, for all its savagery, was remarkably incorruptible:  I see a fine opportunity to bring many of those young men into the fold.

                  I never meant to compare Karzai to Babur, but there are some interesting parallels.   Babur spent a good deal of time on the run from his enemies, out in the remotest parts of that landscape.   So did Karzai.   I believe Karzai is the most promising solution to bedeviled Afghanistan, with the caveat that we let him do his job.    We might not like his solutions but he’s the only one with the credibility to arrive at those solutions.    I might amend that statement somewhat:   if he still has the credibility.    He might not.   He might not, because we’ve besmirched his honor, a serious impediment in that society.

                  Not only could we live with an independent Pashtunistan, I believe it is the only viable option remaining.   We simply must be on the side of the angels in this situation:  we cannot go into the hinterlands of Pashtun territory with some Kabul jamoke acting as a translator.   It’s an open question who offends the local people more:  a bunch of Star Wars American troops or some scrawny Hazara feeb from urban Kabul who doesn’t even speak their language well, trying to communicate between the American troops and the locals.    The Pashtun are fragmented, as Khan Wali Khan observed, because the British and Pakistanis saw fit to divide them.

                  Pastunistan is the best solution for everyone.   Pakistan can’t govern that ground and has largely ceded it to the warlords.   America lacks the troops to adequately provide security in that vast terrain.   The Taliban are Pashtun anyway, they derive strength from opposing the Invading Infidels, including  Pakistani and American and the now-hated Kabul regime’s soldiers.   Kabul can’t govern them.   The crooks and warlords are thriving in the anarchic narco state now developing.   So cut them loose, tell them they have to govern themselves.   Tell them we have always backed the idea of local autonomy and everyone’s sick of the Durand Line.   America didn’t make that line.   Let’s erase it.

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              • Which is why some of pronoucements and prescriptions are so bizzare.  You know better than anyone here how the US Army actually works, yet for your plans to work would require Big Army from an alternate universe

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                • Read Mao Zedong On Guerrilla Warfare for yourself.   You will see how we could manage this situation.

                  There is also a unity of spirit that should exist between troops and local inhabitants. The Eighth Route Army put into practice a code known as ‘Three Rules and the Eight Remarks’, which we list here:

                  Rules:

                  All actions are subject to command.
                  Do not steal from the people.
                  Be neither selfish nor unjust.

                  Remarks:

                  Replace the door when you leave the house.
                  Roll up the bedding on which you have slept.
                  Be courteous.
                  Be honest in your transactions.
                  Return what you borrow.
                  Replace what you break.
                  Do not bathe in the presence of women.
                  Do not without authority search those you arrest.

                  The Red Army adhered to this code for ten years and the Eighth Route Army and other units have since adopted it.

                  Many people think it impossible for guerrillas to exist for long in the enemy’s rear. Such a belief reveals lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops. The former may be likened to water the latter to the fish who inhabit it. How may it be said that these two cannot exist together? It is only undisciplined troops who make the people their enemies and who, like the fish out of its native element cannot live.

                  We further our mission of destroying the enemy by propagandizing his troops, by treating his captured soldiers with consideration, and by caring for those of his wounded who fall into our hands. If we fail in these respects, we strengthen the solidarity of our enemy.

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                    • I first encountered Mao Zedong’s writings in the US Army.   I cannot speak for what goes on now but back in the day, we studied Mao with a vengeance.   I know the US Marine Corps teaches Mao in their officer’s candidate training.    His principles of guerrilla warfare have never been improved on since he wrote them.

                      I can tell you parts of the US Army do abide by his principles for guerrilla warfare, Special Operations Command, as illustrated in that little story about SF and 82 ABN.   It is a great pity our troops have so brazenly violated his principles.   That military commands have not enforced them is a matter of criminal negligence, for these principles can save soldier’s lives and those of the people around them.   The very idea, that we tolerate disrespect to the people in whose name we’re supposedly fighting, well it just fills me with anger and horror.   My command structure knew about Mao and enforced those principles.

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                    • 1) Every mid-grade officer in every branch has plenty of exposure (and required to read the primary sources in phase 1 joint education) to all the big names in history (the most famous being of  course Sun Tzu and Clauswitz, but Mao is normally on the agenda, too)

                      2) I have no doubt that the SF of all branches are very good at low intensity conflict.  But they are good with it because they are able to break off from Big Military and maintain their own resources and more importantly budgets.  Which as you know was done because they were screwed over a whole lot on both the programmatic and operational level when they relied on Big Military for stuff.

                      3) Special forces are by definition small and elite, and there is simply a limit on how much power they have on their own.  At a certain level of effort (and/or sustained level of effort) you need to bring in Big Military.

                      4) The Marines I met in Afghanistan, were, to a person, always S@#% hot.  (The piss video was actually quite surprising to me) The 82nd I found no different than Big Army, because, when you send the entire brigade, you get Big Army.  To be clear, my interactions were all with mid level officers and NCO’s on secure big bases.

                      5) I have very little faith in the ability of Mao to play away games.

                       

                       

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                    • Mao’s forces (calling everything up to Tienanmen ‘Mao’s forces’) were 1-0-2 in the away games – fought to a tie in the away games of the Korean War and (their own brief) Vietnam war, and victorious over Tibet. But are those the precedents we really want to use?

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                    • PLA hasn’t fought a real war in our lifetimes.   They’ve become a corporation.   Well, more precisely, a zaibatsu.

                      Mao is a completely different animal.   He won where everyone else failed.   Mao would work in Afghanistan, another country where, like Mao’s China, warlords were afoot everywhere.

                      As for SOCOM, it seems clear enough to me they’re the only people who have a clue.   The fobbits are beyond redemption.   Get them all into Pashto/Dari courses, weed out the 95% failure rate in the first two months, send the survivors to DLI and back they go to Afghanistan to stay for a good long while to raise up a fighting force worthy of the name. Triple their pay, put them in proper shalwar kameez, hell, they’d be the lords of that miserable land in no time flat and we’d still lower the burn rate of this war by about 80%.

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  3. There were a handful of things we could have done to nudge the Afghan people in a good direction.

    We could have set the poppy farmers up with the various pharmaceutical companies and given them a steady source of income for their opium. There are cultural weapons of mass destruction we could have left lying around (I understand that in the days that followed the fall of the Taliban, the “Leonardo” haircut (from Titanic) was very, very popular).

    As it was, we went for the “my father chastened you with whips, I will scourge you with scorpions!” route… and that story always ends the same way.

    Maybe we couldn’t have made them allies, but we could have avoided a large number of errors.

     

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