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Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

There is a very old joke that goes something like this: a man is walking along the street at night when he sees another man on his hands and knees crawling around beneath a street light. He walks over and asks the man, “Did you lose something?”

“Yes,” the man replies, “I lost a quarter.”

“Oh. Well, just where did you lose it?” the first man asks.

“Over there,” the other man says, pointing down the street towards the darkness.

“Well then, why in the world are you looking here?” the first man asks.

The man on his hands and knees just looks up impatiently and replies, “Because there’s more light over here!”

Today, the U.S. military in Afghanistan is in the midst of a major battle. The target of the coalition (mostly U.S.) forces is the Taliban in Helmand province – a Taliban stronghold. The U.S. Marines are attacking with full force and driving the Taliban out of the cities and into the hinterlands of Afghanistan. The idea is that this will allow the Afghan government to exert more control over Helmand. It will also help destroy the opium crop, which is said to be a way the Taliban raise money.

I suppose it is easy to forget, in all the turmoil of war, that it wasn’t the Taliban who attacked the U.S. It was Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  At least that’s what the NSA says, based upon their communications intercepts that preceded the 9/11 attack.

Apparently the people of the Netherlands have come to the conclusion that this war with the Taliban doesn’t make a lot of sense. They are going home. Their sentiments are not much different from a lot of Europeans, and that has Secretary of Defense Gates worried. He says the European anti-war mentality is a danger to peace.

Dick Cheney was right about only one thing in his entire life. When we first got into the war against Al Qaeda he said it would have to be a different kind of war, a clandestine war. He also said we wouldn’t be hearing much about the war because it would be waged in secret. He was wrong about the second part, we hear about the War on Terror all the time. But he was right about the first part – this kind of war has to be different. It’s not the kind of war an army can win. It has to be more like a police action – a secret police action. Maybe a CIA kind of thing or a job for something like Israel’s Mossad.  It’s simply too easy for a nimble organization like Al Qaeda to evade a slow-moving army or the Marine Corps. That has been effectively demonstrated for the last nine years in Afghanistan.  Pretending that the Taliban is our real 9/11 enemy doesn’t help in countering the true threat from Al Qaeda.

The would-be captured terrorist Najibullah Zazi has said recently that he was close to launching a new attack on the U.S. It’s worth noting that his capture had nothing to do with the U.S. Army or Marine Corps or Air Force or Navy.   Al Qaeda is planning more attacks – not spectacular attacks like 9/11, but smaller ones – deadly but smaller.

One must ask: is our attack on the Taliban really an effective way to fight Al Qaeda? The answer has to be: “No”.  The problem we have is that this is the type of fighting our military is trained to do, but warfare has changed and we have not adapted to the change. We still haven’t learned the lesson of Vietnam. You can’t fight unconventional forces in a conventional way. The tactics of World War II, even though they were gloriously successful, just don’t apply here. But, that’s what our generals are trained to do, so we do it.

We’ve been lucky. Our FBI or CIA or some other quasi-police agency caught Najibullah Zazi. However, there are probably others like him: sleeper agents and spies. Infiltrators.  The question our military should be addressing is how to counter these clandestine agents because that is the real military threat we face. The Taliban do not pose an imminent threat to America. We all know are not nice people, in fact they seem to be really nasty people.  But they are on the other side of the world and their primary concern is Afghanistan. Al Qaeda’s primary concern is America. The Taliban is not Al Qaeda, and that is exactly the problem with our defense against Al Qaeda.

We’re like the guy looking for his lost quarter under the street light.

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If there is any country whose political, economic, and religious entanglements resemble the mythical Gordian knot, it has to be Afghanistan.  For centuries that tortured land has been the pathway for conquering hordes entering or leaving what is now called Pakistan and India.  The people who inhabit that land are a genetic stew of European and Asian bloodstreams and they have learned over millenia that it is best to stay out of the way of invading armies, and it is also best to not take sides if you want to survive.  Survival is hard enough in Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest – if not the poorest – countries.  Today Afghanistan is in chaos, a situation that is entirely understandable given its recent history.

It wasn’t so long ago that Afghanistan was a Marxist country and  an ally of the Soviet Union. A group of Muslims were not happy with the Afghan government and began an insurrection in 1975.  The Soviet Army was sent to Afghanistan in 1979 to put down the insurrection (which was supported by the U.S.), but after many years of warfare, the Soviets conceded, and they departed from Afghanistan in 1989.  It is quite likely that some of the military aid the U.S. gave to the insurgents went to a group known as the Taliban and to Osama bin Laden as well.

In the years since the Soviets left Afghanistan the Taliban seized power and created a strict form of an Islamic government.  It was during this time that Osama bin Laden also seems to have lost his liking for America.  We all know the result of Osama bin Laden’s attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001.  It appears that he was able to find support and assistance from the Taliban in the years leading up to 9/11 and it is for this reason that the U.S. in now engaged in a new Afghan War.

This very brief look at Afghan history points out a serious problem with Afghanistan – the key players keep changing sides – including us.  Who is on whose side and why and for how long?  There is ample room in Afghanistan for finger-pointing.  There is plenty of justification for everyone involved to say that they do not trust each other.  To make the situation even more complex, the enemy we say we are fighting in Afghanistan – the Taliban – is not in control of Afghanistan. To make it even more complicated, a lot of the Taliban aren’t even in Afghanistan and never have been – they are in Pakistan.  The problem with the war is that we say we are at war in Afghanistan, but we are not at war with Afghanistan – we are at war with a shadowy group of Pashtun people who call themselves Taliban and a man named Osama bin Laden who is likely to spend the rest of his life living in a cave, waiting for the day when a Predator-launched missile will incinerate him.

At the present time President Obama and his advisors are trying to come up with a strategy that keeps us safe from the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.  The problem is the shadowy nature of both the Taliban and bin Laden.  It is a mistake to say that the problem is the country of Afghanistan or the people of Afghanistan – like poor people everywhere they are mostly concerned with where their next meal will come from.  Most of them couldn’t find the U.S. on a map.  As for the Taliban, it appears that they are very anxious to avoid a protracted shooting war with the U.S. So what do we do?  Do we keep sending in more and more troops?  Can we really expect to defeat the Taliban by sending in another 50,000 or so soldiers?  Can anyone spell Vietnam?  The simple fact, learned from World War II, is that if you really want to take over a country and put down any possible resistance you need a ton of troops – hundreds and hundreds of thousands – maybe even a million.  That’s what works – overwhelming force.  You can’t fine tune the solution – Secretary of Defense McNamara proved that in Vietnam.

We need to remember that our real enemy is Osama bin Laden and his small band of religious perverts.  The solution then is to come to an understanding with the Taliban.  The understanding is this: we are aware that they are protecting Osama bin Laden and we therefore hold the Taliban responsible for any and all actions of bin Laden and his followers – unless they turn him over to us.  We should tell the Taliban that we don’t give a hoot who controls Afghanistan, but we will not rest until bin Laden is brought to justice.  If they don’t want to turn him over, we’ll just continue our Predator attacks forever.  Furthermore, if bin Laden strikes again, it is the Taliban who we will hold responsible, but it is the Taliban who will meet complete and utter destruction the next time. The next time we won’t hold back.  That’s how agreements are made.

It’s called deterrence.  It worked with the Soviets for many, many years.  It worked with China too in the days of Chairman Mao.  Ultimately, we will have to leave Afghanistan, and we will have to have some sort of agreement with the people who inhabit that country – even if they are the Taliban.  It will have to be something like this.  We know we aren’t going to create a mini-USA there. We aren’t going to make a democracy out of Afghanistan. The Afghan people will be whatever they want to be, and they will have whatever religion and values they choose.  We don’t care.

They just need to remember one thing: any future attack on the U.S. by Al Qaeda will result in truly massive retaliation against the Taliban whether they are in charge of the Afghan government or hiding out in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Ronald Reagan said, “You can run, but you can’t hide”.

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The U.S. military is now saying that they don’t have enough troops in Afghanistan to win the war.  This is despite the fact that President Obama has recently made a major increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan, even as we withdraw from Iraq.  The question we need to be asking ourselves about Afghanistan is this: how will we know when we’ve won?  Do we just plan to keep on fighting the Taliban until they get tired and just give up?  Or, do we plan on fighting the Taliban until they have been completely eliminated from the Earth?  Or, do we just want to take and hold the entire country of Afghanistan and make it completely free of any Taliban activity forever?

The reason I ask is that the situation sounds a little familiar – sort of a deja vu sort of feeling.  Now where have I felt like this before.  Hmmm, let me think…  Oh, that’s right.  Vietnam.  (Didn’t they used to spell it Viet Nam?)  Anyway, as I recall, we were fighting worldwide communist domination then, and we had to stop them there because of the Domino Theory.  As it turned out, we didn’t really have a clear idea of how we were going to win that war – and we were playing by a set of rules  that didn’t allow us to invade North Vietnam (despite the fact that North Vietnam was invading South Vietnam via the Viet Cong).  Well, to make a long story short – we lost.  Actually, I think President Nixon more or less declared victory, handed the war over to South Veitnam, and we headed for the helicopters.

They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Albert Einstein similarly said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Now, I understand that the Taliban gave aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda buddies.  As I recall, it was 9/11 that got us into this whole thing.  The problem we have in the U.S. is that we sort of continually take our eye off the ball.  Granted that the Taliban  were friends with Osama, does it really make sense for us to expend so much energy trying to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan? Do we really believe that democracy is some sort of cure-all medication for all the ills of the world?

We are in the process of fighting a guerilla war against a group of tribesmen with our uniformed servicemen while we have an undefined final goal.  Past experience has shown that we are not very good at that kind of war.  Maybe we need to take a different approach.  Here’s what I would suggest:

1. Let’s remember the original goal: find the perpetrators of 9/11 and deal out justice to them.

2. Create an approach to accomplish item #1.  This approach may not be conventional warfare.  Think out of the box.  If you want to catch a small group of people who are hiding out in the hills, maybe it would be better to give up the conventional methods.  Maybe it takes a guerilla to catch a guerilla.

3. Learn a lesson from Vietnam: you can’t prop up a government forever that the local people don’t want.  The local people will ultimately always have the government they want.  For some time it was the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan – this wouldn’t be the case unless the people permitted it.  If they really want the Taliban to govern them, let the Taliban came back. Just let the Taliban know that in the future that they, and the people of Afghanistan, will face truly massive destruction if they sponsor any more attacks against us.  Sort of a “Don’t Tread On Me” message.

4. Use our vast resources to find Osama bin Laden.  If we find him we have won.  If we don’t, we didn’t.

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