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The Problem with Afghanistan

This is a discussion on The Problem with Afghanistan within the Geo-strategic Issues forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; I will admit that the President's decision to leave 5,000+ Soldiers in Afghanistan is disheartening. The fundamental problems of Afghanistan ...


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Old November 3rd, 2015   #1
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The Problem with Afghanistan

I will admit that the President's decision to leave 5,000+ Soldiers in Afghanistan is disheartening. The fundamental problems of Afghanistan are simply not being addressed, and pouring money and retaining manpower is, at best, of limited help.

First, we have to remember the recent history of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country defined by its terrain. It has been for millennia, but the most recent shaping history is that of the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain. The two empires raced toward that natural border of Afghanistan, and the history of Afghanistan swallowing British armies is sufficiently documented. What gets less shrift is the Durand Line, which, if it gets attention, is often treated like the Sykes Picot Agreement in the Middle East. Yet no two situations are the same, and terrain is what set the line of Afghanistan. The tribal areas left under first British and then Pakistani control were left there because these were the points at which logistics allowed the deployment of large forces to keep the tribes in line. Any further penetration required extended logistical lines and lines of communication that subject to steady harassment and great expense in keeping open. (Remember this as Pakistan refuses to attack Northern Waziristan and deal with the Haqqani network).

If Afghanistan has taken on the modern moniker of the graveyard of Empires, it is certainly not because the country is unconquerable - it is simply ungovernable. The hodge lodge of ethnicities and tribes bear little fealty to a central government, one that, for most Afghans exists to handle external diplomacy. The few effective central governments were effective because they created a viable National Army, not to dominate, but to through their weight behind various tribes to maintain a balanced coherence. The Iron Emir is the last, and perhaps best, example of this. Lance was the key, not 'governance'.

With the retreat if the Great Game, the situation has shifted enormously. The former Soviet States are happy to send in weapon and other equipment to their proxies and extract opium and other goods from Afghanistan. There is no strong Empire along the Northern border of Afghanistan to keep the tribes in line - and the cross border ties of the tribes facilitate trade that is far removed from the kinds that stabilizes. On the Southern border, the British Empire is no more. The partition of British India into Pakistan and India has left the Southern border of Afghanistan in the hands of Nation that is paranoid about India and believes it 'needs' Afghanistan for strategic depth against India (even as its forays into Afghanistan have faired little better than any other Nations ventures into that cauldron of diversity).

That is what defines modern Afghanistan. The crux of our issues in Afghanistan are two fold, and the 'retention of a rump American force' does little to address either one.

First, there is the rabid corruption. Not only is this wasted money, but the retention of officials that are rapacious in every sense of the world. If the USSR had problem, right from the get go, between Najibullah and Taraki, are exactly the foreshadowing of the difficulties between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Afghan politics has often been a zero sum game, and the grinding process of Afghan governance is a testimony to the grid lock of the two political factions - the grease of corruption moves things along ... but it also allows the rapacious to seize control of lower levels of government. When our strategy relies on bringing government to the people, and those who 'bring government to the people' bring little more than a desire to enrich themselves then we have a problem. Retaining a rump American force does nothing whatsoever to address this problem.

It should be noted that the behavior of these lower government officials are, in many cases, the exact same behavior that lead to the creation of the Taliban in the first place. If the US, and indeed current government of Afghanistan has chosen to rely on balancing tribal factions, that must be contrasted with the approach of the Taliban whose reliance is not on tribes but on religion ... the only regional ideology that crosses tribal lines. It is precisely for these reason that we see them in relatively hostile areas like Kunduz in the North and in a growing expanse in their homeland the South. Again, what is the rump American force going to do here?

Second, and perhaps far more importantly is the military dynamic that is playing out in Afghanistan. It is the same dynamic that plagued the Russians. The tribes in Northern Pakistan have an excess of young, unemployed men. Each year, a new batch of men ages and most have no options. Tribal leaders can either retain a bunch of malcontents, or they can send them North where most will die ad the few that return will be seasoned warriors and an asset to the tribe. It is, quite literally, a win-win situation for them.

As a veteran, I watched this dynamic unfold year after year. The new fighting season was triggered by the new batch of men very often blowing themselves up as they placed their first tactical IED's. Darwinism weeded out the dumb ones pretty quickly. We killed may of the new comers in droves. Sometimes, we even got a few of the seasoned cadre, but this was the rare exception. The next year, the process started all over. A new batch was trained over the winter, and with the thaw of the passes headed North with their cadre. Many blew themselves up initially, many more died in combat with NATO forces. But always a rump survived to come back the next year.

Whether it be the Quetta Shura in the West, the Haqqani Network in the center, of the or Gulbuddin Hekmatyars brutal forces in the East, the same dynamic plays out year after year. With the reduction in NATO forces, fewer and fewer Taliban are killed in the annual cycles and the ability to field greater forces is simply going to increase with each passing year. Pakistan has largely rolled up the Pakistani Taliban (in proof of the Druand line's viability), but they continue to facilitate the process of generating forces to send North.

Our rump force does little or nothing to disrupt this process. The Soviets did exactly the same thing we are doing. Building up a central government, and retaining billions of support. Initially, just like today, there was some success but the central government collapsed. The country descended into warlordism (not for the first time) and the Taliban emerged. We have done nothing to disrupt this continual flow of an power and weaponry in Afghanistan, and our efforts to prod Pakistan into doing it for us have failed (and why would they simply give up on Afghanistan as the strategic depth they believe they need?).

I am not sure what it is we hope to achieve in Afghanistan with this tiny residual force? A viable Afghan government seems as far away as ever. The Afghan Army is plagued by poor leadership, desertion, high casualty rates, a lack of enabling weapon systems (i.e. they are often out gunned), logistical challenges (not the least of which is entrenched corruption), and does not appear to be capable of exerting its influence in a large and increasing portion of the country. That is not good.

Finally, there are those who would view the return of the Taliban (or some other similarly brutal insurgent force) as a disaster. That is not necessarily the case. The Taliban are the direct descendants of the Mujahideen that faced the Soviets in their war. There does not appear to be any Taliban force aimed at striking North toward Moscow. There is also the reality that these groups, when they come out the shadows are vulnerable. If they wish to govern, then govern they must. The well remember what happened in the opening days of the current wars when American B-52's reversed their years of brutal battlefield success in a matter of days. (Its public these days, captured Taliban Soldiers are resentful of Al Qaeda and what it did - all the friends it cost them; the lesson is not lost on the Taliban).

They must come out of the shadows to reach their political goals. When they do, they are truly vulnerable. If the choice is between propping up a corrupt regime or allowing the Taliban to return (either integrated into the governance process or through other means), then we have a choice to make - or I daresay it will be made for us.

I want to offer one final assessment. The Marshall plan cost less money in Europe that was devastated by WWII, and by 1956 those European powers were, if not their former Great Powers, then regional powers capable of not just defending themselves but projecting power in the Suez. That was 11 years. We are 14 years into Afghanistan, and we are still working on fielding a force that can defend itself. the Taliban don't seem to have that problem.

What is our strategic goal in Afghanistan? What is it that we are trying to accomplish? Are our forces really aimed at achieving those goals? I for one cannot see any clear answers to those questions.

Last edited by gree0232; November 3rd, 2015 at 11:31 PM.
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Old November 3rd, 2015   #2
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It's going to be a big blow to the USA administration if the general public understands this failure of epic proportions. The Taliban coming back? But I thought we beat them!

The timing is bad, too, even Iraq has lost control of a chunk of its territory.

Personally, I think they can't afford this embarassment and just keep a few thousand troops there so they can use their Apaches to prop up the Afghan government.
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Old November 4th, 2015   #3
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I cannot fault your analysis and logic. It is sound and coherent. However, I wish to bring up a related point in the form of a question.

"What are the alternatives?"

These modern COIN things are the kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. We can say with wonderful rosy 20/20 glasses 2003's invasion was a mistake and there was no legitimate casus belli.

But was going after al-Qaeda and bin Laden in Afghanistan a mistake? I remember how much popular support there was to hunt the buggers down when I was living in Boston in 2001. It was like a release on a pressure valve to finally have someone else we could blame and go after. Before then, it was a collective sense of guilt that "the planes originated from Boston and we failed to stop them." That felt like a very legitimate reason for invasion.

And regardless of the answer - what else is there which can be done today? Leave Afghanistan to whatever fate has in store for it? Pretend US involvement in shaping events never occurred and thus there is no moral responsibility? Once again ramp up troop levels with a surge?

I ask this honestly. One of my students asked me that question. In every other scenario, we teach our children to take responsibility for their mistakes and do their best to rectify them. But here, as my student cogently put it, because we are unwilling to pay the cost, financial or otherwise, of trying to amend our past actions, we ignore the principle of taking responsibility for those actions and seeing the task through to its end.

My answer then and now is "I don't know what can be done."

Does anyone else have one?
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Old November 4th, 2015   #4
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I am not sure what it is we hope to achieve in Afghanistan with this tiny residual force? A viable Afghan government seems as far away as ever. The Afghan Army is plagued by poor leadership, desertion, high casualty rates, a lack of enabling weapon systems (i.e. they are often out gunned), logistical challenges (not the least of which is entrenched corruption), and does not appear to be capable of exerting its influence in a large and increasing portion of the country. That is not good.



Also as a Veteran,I agree with the majority of your assessment, and don't have a tone to add to the discussion

What I would attempt to answer, IMO, is the "What to we hope to achieve" portion. When the US and allied forces literally deserted Iraq we left a nation ill equipped to defend itself which could be argues lead to the rise of ISIL. I believe we hope to avoid learning this mistake yet again by leaving a US presence behind.

This US force can operate is support of Indig military and provide key backup. Ideally knowing the US is still there partnering, training, embedded, using emojis key combat multipliers can help the Afghan forces to hold their own and bring a level of stability. When we left Iraq, the Iraqi Army totally collapsed in the face of some armed thugs.

Again, IMO, we do not need this to happen again and I believe Imoact if US troops on the ground will be key in preventing it.

That's what we should hope to achieve
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Last edited by Ranger25; November 5th, 2015 at 08:06 AM.
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Old November 5th, 2015   #5
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Iraq had plenty of weapons, other equipment, & men. The collapse was caused by lack of morale & leadership. The government of Nuri al Maliki had removed competent officers & replaced them by incompetent & corrupt cronies of politicians, & removed Sunnis of all kinds & replaced them by Shias. Soldiers weren't getting paid fully, or on time, or at all, & supplies were being corruptly diverted. And then, when the fighting started, the corrupt political appointees simply ran away, leaving soldiers with no leadership, no communications, & often lacking supplies & equipment, such as food & fuel.

What do you expect from soldiers who call HQ & get no answer, & whose officers were last seen hurriedly piling into an MRAP & driving off at high speed?
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Old November 5th, 2015   #6
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Iraq had plenty of weapons, other equipment, & men. The collapse was caused by lack of morale & leadership. The government of Nuri al Maliki had removed competent officers & replaced them by incompetent & corrupt cronies of politicians, & removed Sunnis of all kinds & replaced them by Shias. Soldiers weren't getting paid fully, or on time, or at all, & supplies were being corruptly diverted. And then, when the fighting started, the corrupt political appointees simply ran away, leaving soldiers with no leadership, no communications, & often lacking supplies & equipment, such as food & fuel.

What do you expect from soldiers who call HQ & get no answer, & whose officers were last seen hurriedly piling into an MRAP & driving off at high speed?
I would not expect much either, but my point is in the past, when US/Allied forces were in support or embedded with Iraqi forces they see,pumped to stand up better.

I like no that a small US force (Brigade Plus) would be enough to encourage Iraqi units and fight with more confidence knowing there is a Calvalry to ride in support when needed
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Old November 5th, 2015   #7
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I cannot fault your analysis and logic. It is sound and coherent. However, I wish to bring up a related point in the form of a question.

"What are the alternatives?"

These modern COIN things are the kind of damned if you do, damned if you don't. We can say with wonderful rosy 20/20 glasses 2003's invasion was a mistake and there was no legitimate casus belli.

But was going after al-Qaeda and bin Laden in Afghanistan a mistake? I remember how much popular support there was to hunt the buggers down when I was living in Boston in 2001. It was like a release on a pressure valve to finally have someone else we could blame and go after. Before then, it was a collective sense of guilt that "the planes originated from Boston and we failed to stop them." That felt like a very legitimate reason for invasion.

And regardless of the answer - what else is there which can be done today? Leave Afghanistan to whatever fate has in store for it? Pretend US involvement in shaping events never occurred and thus there is no moral responsibility? Once again ramp up troop levels with a surge?

I ask this honestly. One of my students asked me that question. In every other scenario, we teach our children to take responsibility for their mistakes and do their best to rectify them. But here, as my student cogently put it, because we are unwilling to pay the cost, financial or otherwise, of trying to amend our past actions, we ignore the principle of taking responsibility for those actions and seeing the task through to its end.

My answer then and now is "I don't know what can be done."

Does anyone else have one?
Yes, withdraw - completely.

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Mullah Mohammed Omar is dead. Most of the people in charge of Al Qaeda and the Taliban when they launched their attack on the US are either dead or marginalized. ISIS has surpassed Al Qaeda, and is even spreading in Afghanistan.

Our military objectives are complete. They are done. Our enemies are dead. What is coming out of the Pakistani Tribal belt every year? Is that OUR enemy? Are the corrupt officials tat have completely undermined our policy, not military goals, reference the Afghan state really our allies? Are they really a strategic imperative to this country?

Might it be that Pakistan, India, China, and Russia (not to mention Iran wit the Haraza) have a greater vested interest in the region? Might passing off the sustainment of the Afghan government to the Pakistanis be a better alternative? They already support the Taliban, and they are the ones who consider Afghanistan to be a vital strategic necessity.

Honestly, what are 5,000 - mostly HQ troops - going to do to effect the dynamics playing out in Afghanistan?

Russia left. Why can't we? The government propped up by the Soviets lasted a few years, but the same dynamics played out and eventually it collapsed.

Again, if we are truly worried about terrorist attacks, as opposed to Nation building, then we really have no fear of the Taliban coming back. If they get out of line, a friendly reminder of some low flying B-52's will remind of them of the consequences. Indeed, this is how the British handled the Pashtu in times past. When the tribes got out of line, the Brits lined up the sepoy regiments and beat the ever living hell out of the tribes until they accepted that there were left and right limits to their behavior that would be tolerated - but - so long as they stayed within those limits they could be left alone to do whatever the hell they wanted (which is pretty much what hey want today).

I just don't see what this rump force is going to accomplish or even be capable of accomplishing?
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Old November 5th, 2015   #8
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I am not sure what it is we hope to achieve in Afghanistan with this tiny residual force? A viable Afghan government seems as far away as ever. The Afghan Army is plagued by poor leadership, desertion, high casualty rates, a lack of enabling weapon systems (i.e. they are often out gunned), logistical challenges (not the least of which is entrenched corruption), and does not appear to be capable of exerting its influence in a large and increasing portion of the country. That is not good.



Also as a Veteran,I agree with the majority of your assessment, and don't have a tone to add to the discussion

What I would attempt to answer, IMO, is the "What to we hope to achieve" portion. When the US and allied forces literally deserted Iraq we left a nation ill equipped to defend itself which could be argues lead to the rise of ISIL. I believe we hope to avoid learning this mistake yet again by leaving a US presence behind.

This US force can operate is support of Indig military and provide key backup. Ideally knowing the US is still there partnering, training, embedded, using emojis key combat multipliers can help the Afghan forces to hold their own and bring a level of stability. When we left Iraq, the Iraqi Army totally collapsed in the face of some armed thugs.

Again, IMO, we do not need this to happen again and I believe Imoact if US troops on the ground will be key in preventing it.

That's what we should hope to achieve
Afghanistan is going to collapse. Period. Its just a matter of time. Political transition in Afghanistan is always followed by violence and disintegration, which is exactly what happened after the Iron Emir, a hundred or so year ago. That is the political reality of a diverse country with a zero sum attitude tribal attitude.

Afghanistan is not the graveyard of empires because it is unconquerable (you can fight your way into that country with a garden spade) it is the graveyard of empires because it is ungovernable. The periods of relative clam inflicted by outsiders far little better than the relative calm imposed by insiders.

Our goal is to prevent terrorist attacks, not rework the terrain, physical and cultural, to build a Nation State that does not want to exist.

I see nothing wrong with saying, "You guys want this place? More power to you. If, however, you guys attack us, we will send you our super cool bombers and blow the ever living crap out of any and every one of you we can find without mercy ... until you agree to stop acting like douchebags and playing your own playground where you can handle your problems as you see fit."

There are three stages of insurgency, and the Taliban can perpetually keep themselves in stage II. We can perpetually keep them out of stage III, or, at the very least, blow them out of stage III just as soon as they enter it.

As for Iraq, remember, they had a functioning central government. That our troops gave them an opportunity to restore is what we did. That Al-Maliki wasted the opportunity is no reason to pretend that we can somehow 'save' Afghanistan from a similar fate by ... retaining a force so small and anemic that it can accomplish next to nothing on the strategic and operational front. It will effect the tactical level though, SF teams will continue to drop bombs. And after 14 years, and billions of dollars, we need to seriously be asking ourselves why Afghanistan cannot deploy this capability? Every other Nation around Afghanistan can ... so what gives?

Iraq - dysfunctional as it is, is flying F16's and attack helicopters ... in half that time.

WTH are we doing in Afghanistan anymore?
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Old November 6th, 2015   #9
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Afghanistan is going to collapse. Period. Its just a matter of time. Political transition in Afghanistan is always followed by violence and disintegration, which is exactly what happened after the Iron Emir, a hundred or so year ago. That is the political reality of a diverse country with a zero sum attitude tribal attitude.

Afghanistan is not the graveyard of empires because it is unconquerable (you can fight your way into that country with a garden spade) it is the graveyard of empires because it is ungovernable. The periods of relative clam inflicted by outsiders far little better than the relative calm imposed by insiders.

Our goal is to prevent terrorist attacks, not rework the terrain, physical and cultural, to build a Nation State that does not want to exist.

I see nothing wrong with saying, "You guys want this place? More power to you. If, however, you guys attack us, we will send you our super cool bombers and blow the ever living crap out of any and every one of you we can find without mercy ... until you agree to stop acting like douchebags and playing your own playground where you can handle your problems as you see fit."

There are three stages of insurgency, and the Taliban can perpetually keep themselves in stage II. We can perpetually keep them out of stage III, or, at the very least, blow them out of stage III just as soon as they enter it.

As for Iraq, remember, they had a functioning central government. That our troops gave them an opportunity to restore is what we did. That Al-Maliki wasted the opportunity is no reason to pretend that we can somehow 'save' Afghanistan from a similar fate by ... retaining a force so small and anemic that it can accomplish next to nothing on the strategic and operational front. It will effect the tactical level though, SF teams will continue to drop bombs. And after 14 years, and billions of dollars, we need to seriously be asking ourselves why Afghanistan cannot deploy this capability? Every other Nation around Afghanistan can ... so what gives?

Iraq - dysfunctional as it is, is flying F16's and attack helicopters ... in half that time.

WTH are we doing in Afghanistan anymore?
Great points, let's roll out
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Old December 2nd, 2015   #10
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Hello, my first post and my impressions of the problems of Afghanistan:

Today's problems stem from alliances we made, with Afghanistan's Warlords, in late 2001 that gave us a sweeping victory over the Taliban. We then empowered these Warlords with a veneer of legitimacy and the rule of the gun (gunships, ariel bombing, drones, etc)

ANYONE who knew Afghanistan in the 1990s would know that the Taliban was created and rose to power in opposition to the mis-rule of these Warlords. They would also know of the constantly shifting alliances, interethnic rivalries and tribal disputes.

I can best illustrate this with two examples:

1. Abdul Rasul Sayyaf - Afghan politician, ran for President in 2014
1980s Mujahideen leader against the Russians
1990s Allied to the Northern Alliance he continued to run militant training camps. These camps trained and inspired the Filipino Islamist group Abu Sayyaf (named after himself), trained the WTC 1993 bomber Ramzi Yousef, he mentored the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and sent the assassins who killed General Massoud on 9th September 2001. He was also heavily involved in the rape of Kabul in the early 1990s.
2000s Accepted into Government as part of the Northern Alliance Coalition and to my knowledge has never been held accountable for his War Crimes of the early 1990s or his indisputable links to 9/11.
TodayHe remains a powerful Warlord, politician and power broker in Afghanistan.
2. General Dostrum - Afghan Warlord and current Vice President
1980s Fought with the Russians against the Mujahideen
1990s Fought with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, and spent time in exile in Turkey due to political infighting
2000s Allied to US forces Dostrum was instrumental in the defeat of the Taliban but is accused of many war crimes, including the brutal murder of 1000s of POWs (Dasht-i-Leili massacre). Again he spent several periods in Turkish exile due to infighting and accusations of murder of his political rivals. War crimes investigations of Dostrum were effectively blocked by President Bush.
Today Dostrum is the serving Vice President of Afghanistan
Obviously this is a quick overview but i hope it summarises well why we have failed in Afghanistan -
  • The country is still a training base for extremists, with a man who has far closer links to 9/11 than Bin Laden ever had serving in the Afghan government.
  • Opium production in the hands of Warlords is at record highs
  • There's effectively no law, order or impartial justice system - the country is returning to the conditions that first gave rise to the Taliban in the early 1990s

I've a lot more to say on this topic - all this info is publicly available - and also additional issues i witnessed first hand serving in Helmand in 2012. I'd be very grateful for any thoughts, corrections, clarifications or questions anyone may have.

TQM.

p.s. i'm not a real 'QM' (Quarter Master)!
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Old December 2nd, 2015   #11
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As others here have commented Afghanistan is a mess. The only the that changes here is the date. Bin Laden and Omar are dead, time to leave. Afghanistan is a land- locked country so let the neighbours sort it out and on occasion if B-52s visits are required so be it.
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Old December 2nd, 2015   #12
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As others here have commented Afghanistan is a mess. The only the that changes here is the date. Bin Laden and Omar are dead, time to leave. Afghanistan is a land- locked country so let the neighbours sort it out and on occasion if B-52s visits are required so be it.
Occasional B-52 visits are part of the problem, not the solution. And Afghanistan was fine for most of the 20th century under the monarchy. It was stable, peaceful, and relatively prosperous. It was never a 1st or even a 2nd world country, but it certainly wasn't the bloodsoaked mess it is today.
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Old December 2nd, 2015   #13
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Occasional B-52 visits are part of the problem, not the solution. And Afghanistan was fine for most of the 20th century under the monarchy. It was stable, peaceful, and relatively prosperous. It was never a 1st or even a 2nd world country, but it certainly wasn't the bloodsoaked mess it is today.
If ignoring Afghanistan eliminates the export of their problems l think most people would be happy to do so. Not sure if that is likely though. As for the 1920 to 1976 period, yes it was not the mess we have now, just a few coups due to some progressive types introducing reforms. Let them live in the 6th century, too bad if you're a female though.
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Old December 2nd, 2015   #14
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If ignoring Afghanistan eliminates the export of their problems l think most people would be happy to do so. Not sure if that is likely though. As for the 1920 to 1976 period, yes it was not the mess we have now, just a few coups due to some progressive types introducing reforms. Let them live in the 6th century, too bad if you're a female though.
My understanding is that the 'exported problems' don't originate in Afghanistan, and believing they do is a construct of our Governments.

This pre-9/11 interview gives a very good synopsis of the issues in Afghanistan up to 2000, with an emphasis on Bin Laden's refuge in the country.
(youtube, search "Taliban representative in an interview with Charlie Rose - Part 1/3")

As most of the hijackers were Saudi, the plot originated from Wahhabist controlled Yemen and Bin Laden was in Pakistan within weeks of 9/11, our invasion of Afghanistan strikes me as pointless, misinformed and on blood lust revenge (and mismanaged beyond logical comprehension).

Major General Smedley Butler had it right - War Is A Racket, driven by profit and greed.

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Old December 2nd, 2015   #15
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Today's problems stem from alliances we made, with Afghanistan's Warlords, in late 2001 that gave us a sweeping victory over the Taliban. We then empowered these Warlords with a veneer of legitimacy and the rule of the gun (gunships, ariel bombing, drones, etc)
Apart from supporting the warlords; other problems was a lack of development funding [despite many promises made by various countries; the failure to understand or acknowledge that a lot of ''nation building'' would have to be performed [the U.S. first dismissed the EU's and UN's offer of assistance but later had to request it] - after all this was a country that had been ravaged by decades of war; the lack of a joint policy amongst the various U.S. ''players'' including the State Department, the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development; the failure by Karazi to show any backbone [to be fair it wasn't all his fault - the killing of Afghan civilians for being in the wrong place at the wrong time lost him quite a bit of local support], the role Pakistan played [the Pakistanis had their own interests to watch out for and some of these interests were at odds with what the U.S. insisted Pakistan do] and the shift towards Iraq.

At a time when the Talibs were in complete disarray and when the Afghan population was welcoming the presence of foreign troops; someone made the wise decision to go for Iraq; a strategic folly that played a big part in the later failure on the part of the U.S. to achieve its aims in Afghanistan. Thanks to the shift of focus towards, Iraq the Talibs were able to make their comeback, there was a lack of troops and resources that that were so urgently needed in Afghanistan and the locals [who desperately wanted stability and better economic prospects] slowly started to resent the presence of foreign troops.

The following books [to me] are essential reading -

''Descent Into Chaos'' - Ahmad Rashid

''Taliban'' - Ahmad Rashid

''War Not Peace: How the West Ignored Pakistan and Lost Afghanistan'' - Christina Lamb [the author meets a British officer who offers to set up a washing machine that was donated to an Afghan office in Helmand. The officer was later told not to touch the machine as it was under the jurisdiction of a civilian agency.

''War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan'' - Sandy Gall

''The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East'' - Robert Fisk

''The Lion's Grave'' - Jon Lee Anderson
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