White House Afghan review divorced from war’s brutal reality

By; Michael Hughes  

President Barack Obama today unveiled a self-fulfilling Afghanistan war assessment devoid of any substantial feedback from native Afghans and one wholly disconnected from the objective reality of retrogressing conditions on the ground.

Driven by the ambiguous objective of “dismantling” Al Qaeda, the review fell short of adequately addressing two key reasons U.S. efforts will likely fail – the corruption and illegitimacy of President Hamid Karzai’s government and insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. In addition, physical security has been deteriorating throughout the country despite the administration’s claims to the contrary.

Obama underlined in the diagnostic, summarized on the White House website, that the overarching goal remains defeating Al Qaeda and preventing the region from threatening U.S. security interests in the future.

However, it is widely-held that Al Qaeda has a limited presence in the area and is much more of a threat in countries like Yemen, thus if that is truly the war’s premise it might be fair to conclude: AfPak mission accomplished!

But to most Afghans it seems like our obvious goal is defeating the Taliban – not Al Qaeda – and according to a recent poll a majority of Afghans in the South perceive the war to be an onslaught against Pashtuns while some even believe it’s an attack on Islam.

Matthew Hoh, former State department civilian officer and Director of the Afghanistan Study Group, recently explained why Obama’s rationale for war defies commonsense. Hoh described Al Qaeda as a virtual network of individuals spread out across the globe – a terrorist franchise lacking any of the characteristics common to a formal military organization that could be vanquished via conventional means.

The previous 10-year history of Al Qaeda’s attacks, such as the recent parcel bombs FedExed from Yemen, illustrate the terrorist group’s small-cell, decentralized and individualistic orientation.

Hence, Al Qaeda will not be “disrupted, dismantled and defeated” or affected in the least by the presence of brigade combat teams occupying Southern Afghanistan. It’s illogical to defend against an enemy scattered across dozens of countries by bogging down most of our military resources in one.

Hoh argued that 9 years ago 19 men hijacked four airplanes, yet here we futilely sit in Afghanistan 109 months later with 100,000 troops spending over $100 billion a year in a misguided effort against a movement that is fighting an occupation – not one with designs on transnational jihad.

Obama alleged troop withdrawal will begin in July with the dubious caveat that the scale of said extraction will be contingent upon “conditions on the ground”; meaning one might see a mass troop exodus or the U.S. could potentially be quagmired in Afghanistan until the end times.

Not to mention, at the recent Lisbon conference at the end of November the U.S. outlined a plan to keep forces in Afghanistan until 2014, clearly exposing the obfuscating pretense of a July, 2011 target as nothing more than a laughable political ruse.

The document also unconvincingly claimed that the regime of President Hamid Karzai was committed to increasing transparency, reducing corruption and improving “national and sub-national governance” while the U.S. “supported and focused investments in infrastructure that would give the Afghan government and people the tools to build and sustain a future of stability.”

Yet there is little evidence the Karzai administration has the will or capacity to change its praetorian ways, as the Afghan President continually abuses power and interferes in the prosecution of reprobate government officials while still being perceived by the population as a U.S. puppet who has seized and retains power through patent electoral chicanery.

Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali, with his stranglehold on Kandahar, a province that is the birthplace and spiritual cradle of the Taliban and one he runs like a mob boss, is single-handedly fueling the insurgency according to countless credible tribal sources.

WikiLeaks cables revealed that U.S. officials in Afghanistan and individuals within Karzai’s own cabinet have characterized the leader as paranoid, erratic and corrupt. Juan Cole, another member of the Afghanistan Study Group, rightly wondered why soldiers in the Afghanistan National Army would be willing to risk their lives for such an untrustworthy figure.

It should ignite the outrage of all Americans that our troops are sacrificing themselves in a self-defeating effort on behalf of a government that is a destabilizing force and is the leading factor for the growth of the Taliban movement especially in the last five years.

As written in a New World Strategies Coalition white paper, if it is true, as French army officer and counterinsurgency theorist Roger Trinquier put it, that “the sine qua non of victory in modern warfare is the unconditional support of a population”, and if the U.S. wholeheartedly believes in the most basic precepts of COIN strategy – then Karzai’s very existence as head of state is irreconcilable with capturing Afghan hearts and minds.

Not only is NATO struggling militarily but it’s losing on the development and humanitarian aid fronts as well, due to billions being misspent on wasteful projects, according to Patrick Cockburn, as dollars invested have simply fed a corrupt patronage system while relief workers are getting killed at a record clip.

The recently deceased U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, once pointed out that “our [U.S.] presence is the corrupting force” in Afghanistan as contractors paid by the US government have been paying off the Taliban.

According to Bob Woodward, Holbrooke said that Obama’s 30,000 troop surge in December 2009 would not work. Per The Washington Post, Holbrooke’s last words to his Pakistani doctor were: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”

The review also indicated that the U.S. and Pakistan have “strengthened their relationship” but that strengthening has not led Pakistan to do a thing about militant safe havens in places like North Waziristan and Quetta that inflict havoc upon U.S. operations on the Afghan side of the border.

WikiLeaks reports revealed that U.S. officials believe, supported by U.S. intelligence reports, that no amount of aid will incentivize Pakistan to shift its obsessive focus from India.

And intel assessments have also validated that Pakistan’s intelligence services have continued its covert support for the Afghan Taliban in defiance of U.S. demands and despite Pakistan being the recipient of billions in U.S. aid earmarked for rooting out these insurgents.

General David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and war supporters like Peter Mansoor and Max Boot have been adamantly proclaiming military “progress” has been made against the insurgency and have personally witnessed how the population has been made more secure, which makes one wonder what color the sky is in their world.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an organization which has an up-close-and-personal view of casualties on a daily basis and rarely makes public statements, reported that levels of violence are at the highest they’ve been in 30 years.

2010 alone has been the bloodiest year of the war with nearly 700 foreign troops being killed. Yet civilians have borne the brunt of the casualties. According to the UN, 1,271 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, a 21% increase versus the same period in 2009.

The ICRC has also reported a spike in the number of wounded patients admitted to the main hospital in southern Kandahar which has attended to more than 2,650 patients with weapons-related injuries in 2010 compared to 2,110 in 2009.

Where is the evidence of this so-called progress and what data exists that would lead any rational individual to conclude that Afghanistan is any more secure than it was since the overthrow of the Taliban?

Until something is done about the Karzai government and militant safe havens in Pakistan “conditions on the ground” shall never likely meet U.S. standards to justify a withdrawal of any material proportion.

Furthur, Obama’s report was based on data collated by Petraeus and company with close to zero indigenous input, accounting for its delusional outlook.

Obama advisors are correct in their assertion that the review was not “prescriptive” in nature, but then again how could such an assessment ever produce any meaningful recommendations considering it was derived from skewed perspectives and fantasy?

No analysis on earth akin to the White House’s rubberstamp of Petraeus’s policies will ever lead to coherent solutions, especially one oblivious to certain particulars called facts – regardless the level of inconvenience they might pose to U.S. chimerical aspirations.

 

(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes writes regularly for The Huffington Post and his work has appeared in CNN.com and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History).

NOTE:This is a cross post.

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Comments

  • Portugheis Alberto  On December 17, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you for this, Yasmeen. I hope you can get someone to write about “why” we call it
    “war’s brutal reality”, but for Obama, as well as for all his henchmen and their counterparts in Afghanistan, there is no brutality whatsoever to be acknowledged. Someone should explain why, for all those involved in the “game and business” of war, there is nothing brutal about it. On the contrary, the more people die as a result of warfare,the happier the players are. OK, they’ll claim Al Qaeda/Taliban are “brutal”, but that’s just about it, a necessary rule in the game. They’ll never say who arms and trains Bin Laden’s henchmen and why they “need” them. You could also get someone to write about the silence that surrounds nowadays the Osama bin Laden personae.

  • Dawoodi Morkas  On December 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    General public in America is so twined to the earning of bread that no one gets a chance to really read or listen to the truth or to decimate conclusion of what is being said and who is saying it. The richest society of the world is more poor then the Afghans, who at least have enough food and weapons to kick the Russians out and to beat the butts out of the USA. Can America do such a thing if war came to its door just like the Afghans did? No Sir, Americans would wait for the Pentagon to approve a budget to fight and would want booty out of it for its dead and wounded and for the medals and what goes with the medal before committing to fight!!!!

    • Mir Eijad Ali  On December 17, 2010 at 1:29 pm

      Dawoodi shab,your view is very much touch the fact of the richest society of the world is more poor then the Afghans.

  • Archie Haase  On December 17, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    There was a group of friends I hung out with when I was a young man. There was one who was especially funny. He was very charismatic. He could make people laugh by just looking at them. He was a charmer. But he was also a drinker. As time went on his drinking became heavier and heavier and he was not so amusing anymore. In fact he began to insult those of us who called him on his drinking. He died at 23. They found him dead in his car. He drove off the road and into a tree. He had 3 times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.

    This to me is the same story of religious radicals, Fundamentalist Christian or Al Qaeda Muslim. At first they attract people with their rhetoric, and then with charm. At times when your day went bad they made you feel good. But as time passed their soothing rhetoric became angry, they begin to insult their friends and enemies with the same consistency. I am guessing like my young alcoholic friend they will drive into a tree. My prayers are they do not destroy their countries with them.

  • Laila  On December 17, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Who & What will decide that US has won in Afghanistan?
    I mean , what will it take?
    Human Rights-which USA champions, has been repeatedly been violated,children,women,defenseless people killed.
    Has staying in Afghanistan for a decade made USA more safe,the world more ambivalent towards her?
    Mike?
    Mike?

    • Asjad Raza  On December 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm

      The NATO war in Afghanistan has just become the longest war in U.S. history, a status it seems likely to retain for some time.USA needs to rethink it’s strategy.What’s not worked for 9 years will not work now.
      Do not these clowns understand?

  • Ronald Turner  On December 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Beginning early in the presidential election campaign last year, both candidates asserted that they would increase the heat in Afghanistan. Between 2001 and early 2009, military operation in that country, which so far have accomplished nothing, occupied virtually the entire Bush presidency and burned roughly $200 billion of the US treasury. So far over 500 Americans have been killed, along with 150 allies and thousands of Afghani people. Wounded and traumatized military and civilian personnel number in the tens of thousands. In the Pakistan phase of this campaign, begun late in the Bush term and now started in the Obama term, the US has conducted at least 38 mainly drone raids, killing more than 150 people, few if any of whom are provably terrorists. With that the US is now courting the enmity of 50 million Pushtun people who by agreement with Islamabad rule that region of Pakistan.
    One would think that such a gruesome track record, coupled with the fact that the only result to date is that the Karzai Government controls the capital city of Kabul, while five or more heroin-financed drug lords control the countryside, would raise at least a few questions of utility. But no! Rising costs, declining prospects, and the fact that no outsider has ever won a war in Afghanistan be damned, the war will go on. Americans have a right to know why. Indeed, so does everybody else on the planet.
    The Bush strategy slowly morphed into selected drone and manned flight bombings in northwestern Pakistan, the region known as Waziristan. Although Bush claimed that Pakistan was an American ally, he and his team apparently saw no inconsistency in claiming an alliance while selectively killing the Pushtun people of Pakistan and other regional tribals in the ally’s backyard.
    Obama signed on to this strategy when he authorized a drone attack in Waziristan earlier this week. But the campaign narrative changed; all of a sudden the target was the Taliban, not al Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
    With that shift, the purposes of the war suddenly changed. The US was no longer ostensibly fighting terrorism in Afghanistan. Instead, the Obama mission had become a fight against Islamic fundamentalism.
    Somehow, overnight, the US was thrust back to 2001. The new game is not precisely to throw the Taliban out. It is to keep them from coming back into power. Keeping them out of Afghanistan presumably would also limit the power and freedom of action of al Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
    Just what is in this strategy for us? Let’s look first at what the Taliban had done to deserve this awkward distinction. When the Soviet Union had enough of Afghanistan warfare and withdrew in defeat in 1989, the country experienced about five years of factional in-fighting and change, reasonably defined as political chaos. During that period the Taliban emerged as a force, first by being hired by Pakistan to protect or facilitate traffic through contentious regions like the Khyber Pass, and second by being supported spiritually, politically and financially by fundamentalist religious schools in Pakistan. The Taliban proved very effective, better motivated, organized and supported than anybody else, and they grew quickly as a power center in Afghanistan’s fragmented political environment. Then, in 1996, they took the country away from its US and western supported, but weak, post-Soviet era government.
    The Taliban, under their traditionalist leader Muhammad Omar, qualify as hard-core, strict constructionist Muslims. Among their first actions they forbade any provision of education to women. They also objected to opium and heroin production and shut down the industry throughout Afghanistan. But from a US/western point of view, their main sin on taking over the government in 1996 was to provide a safe-haven to Osama bin Laden.
    In August 1998, al Qaida affiliated terrorists carried out brutal raids on US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In fact, bin Laden’s power base was then split between Sudan and Afghanistan, and that accounts for President Clinton’s bold but largely ineffective US missile strikes on reputed al-Qaida targets in those two countries. The collateral damage, meaning the many civilian casualties, of the Clinton attacks was largely ignored in the US. But it is not unlikely that those two missile attacks were part of the motivation for the 9/11 events.
    For the past seven years the US has known loosely where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida may be. So far, it has spent seven years, nearly $200 billion, over 500 American lives. 150 allied lives, and a good piece of its reputation on an as yet unsuccessful effort to bring them down.
    As of now, for nearly three decades the US has been variously devoted to bringing peace to Afghanistan. That has achieved little so far beyond returning the Afghan countryside to its drug producing overlords and permitting Afghanistan to supply 90% of the world’s heroin. Yet it appears that the safest domestic political course for any but the boldest of American presidents is to continue this useless war.
    However, the consequences of this war are mounting as the US shreds it alliance with Pakistan and goads the Pushtun people into defending themselves. The US simply does not have the military resources to deal with 50 million angry Pushtun people defending themselves at home in one of the remotest places on earth. The correct appreciation is to know not when we have lost but when we cannot win and back gracefully out of it.

  • Qazi Ebadullah  On December 18, 2010 at 2:42 am

    It is becoming obvious from the recent statements emanating from USA and none other than the President himself of the frustration which the American troops are experiencing on ground as manifested by the increase in Drone attacks and covering new terrains. Wars cannot be won by air bombardments alone,in fact this is creating more problems for the Americans as civilian death increases. This is going to be the turning point as Americans have to talk to Taliban and settle the issue with face saving statements such as ‘elimination of Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan but the root cause for their leaving Afghanistan is the dwindling support of the Americans who see it as an occupation and when they leave peace shall prevail although there are clear indications of a possible divide between Pashtun belt and the non-Pashtuns. Support from coalition partners are also weakening and next year may see more pressure on the Americans to leave. The fall out obviously will be felt in Pakistan as Americans will try to make them the scapegoat for their failure by raising the issue of not having done more to contain attacks in Afghanistan from Pak. based Talibans. Obviously there will be the choking of funds committed and leaving once again the country in precarious economic mess and hurting our neighbours both in Afghanistan and Iran for having once again demonstrating to be the lackeys of the unreliable Americans and whilst the Americans may not directly blame Pakistan for their debacle but will certainly want to punish Pakistan and the hanging swords could well be the ‘terrorist networks’ and the ‘nuclear issue’ of falling into wrong hands.
    The sooner Pakistan realizes that economic independence is the key to rid the country from the perils around and that can only happen when the custodians of power wakes up to the rampant corruption all around,work for the uplift of it’s masses with a missionary zeal and in a bi-partisan manner,stop petty bickerings amongst coalition partners and carry the opposition along on major uplift national programmes,can only enable the despondent nation to rally around them to see a prosperous Pakistan

    Qazi Ebad.

  • Javed Chaudhry  On December 18, 2010 at 5:02 am

    Of course, the Afghan war assessment by the American administration will not have any consideration for the Afghan people. After all, the war is not about the people of Afghanistan. It is not being waged for improving the lives of the people of Afghanistan and it is not really about dismantling Al-Qaeda either. How can some thing be dismantled that does not even exist, except as a figment of imagination and a pretext to control the region for political reasons. Those who react and resist the American imperial hegemony are often dubbed as Al-Qaeda. With that definition in mind, of course, the so called Al-Qaeda will be around as long as the US/NATO forces stay put at their aggression against the people of Afghanistan or other Muslims. It is obvious that the Americans are in a rut acting like a dog chasing its own tail. They did the same in Viet Nam but they refuse to learn a lesson from their own misadventures or of others’.

    Javed

    • Portugheis Alberto  On December 18, 2010 at 10:20 am

      Javed,

      You are right and you are wrong at the same time. You start by saying:

      “Of course, the Afghan war assessment by the American administration will not have any consideration for the Afghan people.” THIS IS TRUE, AS EACH COUNTRY LOOKS IN THE WORLD (NOT ONLY U.S.A.) LOOKS AFTER HER OWN INTERESTS. SADLY HERE, IN MANY COUNTRIES, POLITICIANS LOOK AFTER THEIR OWN POCKETS AND THOSE OF THEIR FAMILY AND FIRENDS, BUT NOT THE INTERESTS OF THE POPULATION THEY GOVERN.

      After all, the war is not about the people of Afghanistan. CERTAINLY A GREAT TRUE.

      It is not being waged for improving the lives of the people of Afghanistan ….TRUE
      ….and it is not really about dismantling Al-Qaeda either. ALSO TRUE. IN FACT, NOT ONLY THERE IS NO WISH TO DISMANTLE AL-QAEDA, BUT THERE IS GOOD REASON TO KEEP THEM WELL ARMED (SOMETHING WE’VE BEEN DOING FOR YEARS)

      How can some thing be dismantled that does not even exist, except as a figment of imagination HERE YOU ERR. AL-QAEDA EXISTS. THEY ARE AN “AMERICAN” PRODUCT, SPECIALLY CREATED AND DESIGNED FOR THE PURPOSES OF HELPING THE WHITE HOUSE AND PENTAGON’S IMPERIALISTIC DREAM AND KEEP THE WAR INDUSTRY BUSY AND PRODUCING MONEY.

      YOU SEEM TO IGNORE THE BIN LADEN’S FAMILY BUSINESS, VERY MUCH IN LINE WITH THE BUSH FAMILY AND OTHER CLANS.

      “…… and a pretext to control the region for political reasons.” YES, FOR POLITICAL, BUT MAINLY POWER AND MONEY REASON.

      “Those who react and resist the American imperial hegemony are often dubbed as Al-Qaeda.” THIS IS DONE IN EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, ONLY WITH DIFFERENT NAMES. POLITICS USES THEIR OWN LANGUAGE TO BRAINWASH POPULATIONS, CREATE CHAOS AND THE GROUND FOR WAR AND ITS BUSINESS.

      YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT IT IS NOT ONLY WEAPONS AND AIR-FIGHTERS, ETC. THERE IS MUCH MONEY TO BE MADE FROM SOLDIERS UNIFORMS, RADARS, SPYING EQUIPMENT, TORTURE INSTRUMENTS, REFUGEE CAMPS, ETC, ETC. IT IS “VERY BIG” BUSINESS.

      RELIGIOUS CORPORATIONS ARE ALSO HAPPY WITH THIS MESS. IN TIMES OF CONFLICT, PEOPLE GO MORE OFTEN TO PRAY AND LEAVE MONEY. THERE ARE MORE FUNERAL AND BURIALS, WHICH ALSO MAKES THEM MONEY.

      “With that definition in mind, of course, the so called Al-Qaeda will be around as long as the US/NATO forces stay put at their aggression against the people of Afghanistan or other Muslims.” IF AL QAEDA AND TALIBAN GO, ANOTHER GROUP, WITH A DIFFERENT NAME AND PROBABLY DIFFERENT AIMS, WILL BE CREATED. IF NOT, A WAR WILL ERUPT BETWEEN AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN. THE WHOLE IDEA IS TO KEEP THE “DEATH INDUSTRY” GOING AND FLOURISHING.

      “It is obvious that the Americans are in a rut acting like a dog chasing its own tail.” IT LOOKS LIKE YOU DESCRIBE, BUT THE REALITY IS SADLY DIFFERENT. WASHINGTON BOSSES HAVE A LONG TERM PLAN THEY MUST FOLLOW.

      “They did the same in VietNam….” CORRECT
      “……but they refuse to learn a lesson from their own misadventures or of others’.” ON THE CONTRARY. THEY LEARNT THEIR LESSON VERY WELL, THIS IS WHY THEY ARE NOW IN AFGHANISTAN. THE 67,000 AMERICANS WHO DIED IN VIETNAM ARE OF NO CONSEQUENCE OR INFLUENCE IN TODAY’S POLITICAL AND MILITARY DECISIONS. WHAT IS INFLUENTIAL IS THE FORTUNES BANKERS, CHURCHES, PRESS, OIL COMPANIES, ETC, MADE OUT OF THIS HUMAN TRAGEDY.

      THIS IS “WHY” I CAMPAIGN AGAINST WEAPON RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, MANUFACTURING AND TRADE. AS LONG AS WE ACCEPT THIS AND THE RESULTING ARMED FORCES, ALL OUR EFFORTS TO SEE A BETTER WORLD ARE AND WILL ALWAYS BE, “IN VAIN”.

      Alberto

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  • S U Turkman  On January 17, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    Its a very biased article propagating, what ISI of Pakistan is propagating against USA.
    Hughes calls or declares …
    * … Karzai Government, ‘Illegitimate’ though it has been elected twice.
    * … JehaaDi Sneak Attack Terrorists Infiltrators from Pakistan, ‘Insurgents’.
    * … ‘Al Qaeda has a limited presence in the area’, when its not true.
    * … ‘(US) obvious goal is defeating the Taliban – not Al Qaeda’ – when USA has never said this and US Army remains under constant attacks by Pakistanis, called Taliban.
    * … ‘according to a recent poll a majority of Afghans in the South perceive the war to be an onslaught against Pashtuns while some even believe it’s an attack on Islam’, which is a Lie.
    * … ‘It’s illogical to defend against an enemy scattered across dozens of countries by bogging down most of our military resources in one’, when ‘most of US Military’ is not bogged down just in Afghanistan.
    * … ‘(Karzai Government) being perceived by the population as a U.S. puppet who has seized and retains power through patent electoral chicanery’ which is a Lie.
    * … ‘why soldiers in the Afghanistan National Army would be willing to risk their lives for such an untrustworthy figure?, when its doing this everyday.
    * … ‘It should ignite the outrage of all Americans that our troops are sacrificing themselves in a self-defeating effort on behalf of a government that is a destabilizing force and is the leading factor for the growth of the Taliban movement …’, like Americans do not know, we had dethroned a Pakistan Army-backed Taliban Caliph in Afghanistan. Its like we don’t know, Pakistan Army is behind Taliban infiltration. Its like we don’t know, there have been 2 Elections held in Afghanistan and that country has more stable government that Pakistan Army is running in Pakistan. Like we do not know, Taliban have no right to rule Afghanistan because they are actually Pakistanis and are backed by birth enemy of Afghanistan, the country of Pakistan.
    He has written too much B.S. and it sounds like some ISI Director has written this for him. He has only fixed the language, copied and pasted it.

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