The war in Afghanistan has been in progress for almost eight years, two years shy of the former Soviet Union’s losing duration when they invaded the country in 1979. Today, we are finding ourselves in the same predicament as they were some twenty years later, with the only difference being the stakes are much higher with the spreading battlegrounds reaching into Pakistan with its nuclear weapons potentially falling under the Taliban’s control.
Should we be there, yes – but unfortunately we have made the same mistakes the Soviet Union committed in assuring their failure:
- The difficult terrain features Afghanistan offers to foreign armies
- The ability of small numbered Afghan troops to quickly mobilize, strike swiftly and rapidly disperse into the general populous
- Modern military technology is mostly limited to air support supremacy only
- The appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the Afghans.
This last point is perhaps the most important reason of why the war is dragging on and why the U.S. has not been overwhelmingly successful in conflicts such as this before, such as: Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq.
The aforementioned conflicts, like Afghanistan presents itself, are fundamentally based upon religious differences among the populous and invading foreign powers, where political dissimilarities were secondary and ideological dissimilarities were a distant third.
We have all heard the saying “winning the hearts and minds”, which in my opinion is preached but never practiced; we as Americans are told this usually after our military leaders realize the conflict is going to be long and drawn out.
Our picture of the real social and economic situation in the country was insufficiently clear.
History should have been our textbook to use in the Afghan War!
As mentioned when the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979 they in essence installed there own president, Babrak Karmal, as we did with Hamid Karzai with both presidents’ first steps rendering hopes for the problems facing their country being resolved with foreign aid and support. However, nothing new emerged and their policies that could have changed for a better attitude of a significantly increased portion of the Afghan population towards their new regime never did reach or as in today’s situation reach maturity.
Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and the military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people.
Both the Soviet’s and our current approach did not take into account the country’s multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics, such as tribal and religious customs. One has to admit that we as the Soviets essentially put our bets on the military solution while developing a counterrevolution with force.
As always we were acting out of our best intentions, trying to transplant the approach to which we are accustomed onto Afghan soil, and encouraging the Afghans to copy our ways. All of this did not help our cause; it bred feelings of dependency on the part of the Afghan leaders in regard to both the sphere of military operations and economic solutions.
The war in Afghanistan is continuing and our troops are engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out is becoming more and more difficult as time passes.
President Obama is fully committed, as we should be, in winning this war; the reasons are straightforward and simple to understand:
- To stop the spread of terrorism in the Eastern hemisphere and establish a permanent military base within Central Asia from which we can protect both our Middle East and Asian allies and our own vast interests in the region.
- Insure nuclear arms in Pakistan are secure from radicals and groups obsessed in conveying their politically motivated messages of ideological concepts
- Halting the flow of narcotics for worldwide consumption
- Eliminating wide scale corruption in aspects of Afghan society
We must face reality in Pakistan; we have poured billions of dollars into the country with, in my opinion very little to show for, other than a much un-needed amount of political bickering and the simple fact the Taliban is gaining more control of the country than ever before.
Here again is our overall lack of understanding the people within Pakistan and as in Afghanistan talking about “winning the hearts and minds” but doing so in such a way to render us as invaders rather than saviors.
Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all turned around their agricultural communities from harvesting drug producing crops to alternative methods of land usage. This was not an easy task, but accomplished through government sponsored programs and education of the farmers.
Additionally stringent law enforcement was required, not necessarily on the farmers themselves, but more so on the distribution or middlemen and drug lords.
Today, production and the exporting of drugs within these aforementioned countries has been drastically reduced.
Corruption has driven the country since its inception and something that cannot be eliminated by a proclamation or two by the country’s top officials. The elimination of corruption cannot be only approached from a typical top-down or grassroots approach of bottom-up; instead it must facilitate both of the following equally and in conjunction with one another:
- The populous requires an education as to the harmful effects caused by a corrupt government and the benefits received from quick law enforcement.
- Strong and courageous leadership who understands the needs of the populous and willing to enforce or institute corruption laws to protect not only the people but his own position in the government.
An excellent article, authored by Chak Sopheap for UPI Asia, entitled “Cambodia needs anti-corruption culture” details the current corruption problems taking place in Cambodia and the harm it is causing on the Cambodian people. Well worth a read!
What’s my Point:
Lets stop by throwing needlessly money, bullets and bombs at the Afghans and Pakistanis by starting first of all; educating ourselves with the understanding of their culture, traditions and language or give up the tired old line of “winning the hearts and minds” of the people and simply conquer them, which is less time consuming and possibly less costly.
However we as Americans would be bound to rebuild their country in our own image, such as we did after World War II with the countries of Japan and Germany, along with Korea, after the Korean conflict.
I wonder what the international community’s attitude would be towards us, if we conquered Afghanistan and Pakistan? Also, I wonder about the overall cost of rebuilding these two countries?
Reference Documents and Newswire Updates:
Photos by Scott Carrier from Afghanistan. Taken for his Harper’s Magazine article:
Music by Eva Cassidy from her Live at Blues Alley