PAUL DUNN: Afghanistan Seems Likely to Become Obama's 'Mission: Impossible'
Imperial British armies failed for over 182 years to achieve hegemony in Afghanistan, fighting three wars in its rugged tribal areas. Can America with NATO support expect to do better?
Some military experts believe that President Obama is committing America to endless conflict there as the colossal Iraq War misadventure winds down. I share that viewpoint.
In April 1978, Afghanistan's ruler, Muhammad Daoud, was overthrown in a military coup and his regime replaced by one aligned to Moscow. Even though the Soviet Union shared a common border with Afghanistan, it was unable to maintain its preferred puppet in power. It used armed might against rugged tribal fighters and lost.
The Soviet defeat was aided and abetted by massive CIA-provided military support, Saudi backing of Mujahedin fighters and assistance from Osama Bin Laden.
During the 1980s, the Saudi royal family encouraged many of its youth to fight "godless Communism" in the Hindu Kush, aggressively promoting Jihad against infidel Soviet invaders. That initial call to arms against the Soviets inadvertently became a continuing call against myriad Western secular powers.
The men who flew into the World Trade Towers were not Afghans but Saudis under the command of a radical Saudi, Osama Bin Laden. He happened to be operating in Afghanistan but could just as well have been in Sudan or Somalia.
Had his attack been launched from any of those countries, we'd not now be in Afghanistan. The Afghans are paying dearly for ever having welcomed him into their country. In spite of his murderous history, he remains popular there, partly because of his remembered role in fighting Soviet influence. His presence in the region has not been betrayed despite CIA efforts and offers of huge rewards.
In 1991, the Soviets and the United States agreed to stop providing support to the various Afghan armies then gearing up for yet another civil war. By 1992, Kabul fell and the Taliban ultimately took control, forming an oppressive Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It was officially recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
After 9/11, it refused to turn Bin Laden over to the U.S. and was defeated, along with forces of al-Qaeda, at Bora Bora. The fanatical and resilient Taliban is again back in action because in Afghanistan, when one war ends another always seems to begin.
The fact that our mission is "officially" a NATO operation provides a modicum of comfort, but NATO forces are limited in number and appear generally unenthused. Europeans are averse to sacrificing their military in these inhospitable Asian regions.
There are disturbing parallels here to Vietnam, where ignorance, hubris and naivet caused the death of 58,000 Americans and 350,000 casualties. In 'Nam, we rarely had vitally needed local popular support. What was basically a war of anti-colonial liberation (to the Vietnamese) American leaders viewed as a counter to the spread of Soviet and Chinese communism. The men we supported were too often corrupt.
In Afghanistan, they're just as corrupt, with the opium trade still unresolved after our eight years in the country. Opium profits fund our enemies, just as cocaine has funded a Colombian insurrection for more than 50 years.
In historically backward Afghanistan income averages a bare $700 a year. Among a population of 29 million, 64 percent are illiterate. Pashtu, Afghan-Persian, Uzbek and Turkmen languages are spoken along with 40 minor languages.
Although Sunni and Shiite Islam are worshiped, the Taliban's pro-Wahhabi fundamentalist Sunni followers oppress Shiites, whom they view as heretics. The Taliban insurrection against the ineffective NATO-supported Karzai government has become more violent and is spreading into the frontier tribal areas of Pakistan.
North Vietnamese and Viet Cong proved formidable and motivated fighters. So too, our enemies in Afghanistan are tough and resilient. They're determined to rid their soil of non-Muslim intruders.
As we leave Iraq, many Muslims who sought Jihad there are expected to enter Afghanistan to fight us. In Afghanistan, a country twice the size of Vietnam, we have only a few brigades. In Vietnam we had up to 500,000 American troops and still couldn't attain victory.
Is there a lesson in all this for Mr. Obama? As George Santayana warned, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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