President Barack Obama and Congress are wrestling with widening the war in Afghanistan. After eight years of military operations costing US $236 billion, the US commander in Afghanistan just warned of the threat of `failure,’ aka defeat.
Truth is war’s first casualty. The Afghan War’s biggest untruth is, `we’ve got to fight terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them at home.’ Politicians and generals keep using this canard to justify a war they can’t otherwise explain or justify.
Many North Americans still buy this lie because they believe the 9/11 attacks came directly from the Afghanistan-based al-Qaida and Taliban movements.
Not true. The 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and Spain, and conducted mainly by US-based Saudis to punish America for supporting Israel’s repression of the Palestinians.
Taliban, a militant religious, anti-Communist movement of Pashtun tribesmen, was totally surprised by 9/11. Osama bin Laden, on whom 9/11 is blamed, was in Afghanistan as a guest because he was a national hero for fighting the Soviets in the 1980’s and was aiding Taliban’s struggle against the Afghan Communist-dominated Northern Alliance afterwards.
Taliban received US aid until May, 2001. The CIA was planning to use Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida to stir up Muslim Uighurs against Chinese rule, and to employ Taliban against Russia’s Central Asian allies. Most of the so-called `terrorist training camps’ in Afghanistan were being run by Pakistani intelligence to prepare mujahidin fighters for combat in Indian-held Kashmir.
In 2001, Al-Qaida only numbered 300 members. Most have since been killed. A handful escaped to Pakistan. Only a few remain in Afghanistan. Yet President Obama insists 68,000 or more US troops must stay in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida and prevent extremists from re-acquiring `terrorist training camps.’
This claim, like Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is a handy slogan to market war to the public. Today, half of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Anti-American militants could more easily use Somalia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, North and West Africa, or Sudan. They don’t need remote Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks were planned in apartments, not camps.
However backwards and oafish its Pashtun tribesmen, they have no desire or interest in attacking America. Taliban are the sons of the US-backed mujahidin who defeated the Soviets in the 1980’s. Taliban never was America’s enemy. Instead of invading Afghanistan in 2001, the US should have paid Taliban to uproot al-Qaida – as I wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2001.
The Pashtun tribes want to end foreign occupation and drive out the Afghan Communists and drug lords, who now dominate the US-installed Kabul regime. But the US has blundered into a full-scale war not just with Taliban, but with most of Afghanistan’s fierce Pashtun tribes, who comprise over half the population.
This conflict is now spreading into Pashtun regions of Pakistan. Last week, the US Ambassador in Islamabad actually called for US air and missile attacks on the Pakistan’s city of Quetta, where some senior Taliban figures are said to be located.
The US is sinking ever deeper into the South Asian morass. Washington is trying to arm-twist Pakistan into being more obedient and widening the war against its own independent-minded Pashtun tribes - wrongly called `Taliban.’
Washington’s incredibly ham-handed efforts to use US $7.5 billion to bribe Pakistan’s feeble, corrupt government and army, take control of military promotions, and get some sort of control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, sparked a firestorm of anger. Pakistan’s soldiers are on the verge of revolt.
So, too, Washington’s plans to build a 1,000-person fortress embassy in Islamabad, a consulate in Peshawar that will clearly serve as an intelligence base, and the deployment of growing numbers of US mercenaries in Pakistan.
It’s all a neat circle. Washington says it will need more personnel and a bigger embassy to supervise the distribution of the increased aid to Pakistan, and more mercenaries (aka `contractors’) to protect them.
President Obama has been under intense pressure to expand the war from flag-waving Republicans, much of the media, and the hawkish national security establishment. Israel’s supporters, including many Congressional Democrats, want to see the US seize Pakistan’s nuclear arms and expand the Afghan war into Iran. Israel’s hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently identified Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as the main threats to Israel.
President Obama should admit Taliban is not and never was a threat to the west; that the wildly exaggerated al-Qaida has been mostly eradicated; and that the US-led war in Afghanistan is causing more damage to US interests in the Muslim world – now 25% of all humanity – than Bin Laden and his few rag-tag allies. The bombing in Madrid and London, and conspiracy in Toronto, were all horribly wrongheaded protests by young Muslims against the Afghan War.
We are not going to change the way Afghans treat their women by waging war on them, or bring democracy through rigged elections. We are not going to win hearts and minds by imposing a Communist-dominated Kabul regime on pious Muslims, bombing their villages and sending Marines to kick down their doors and violate their homes.
US Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal is demanding 40,000-80,000 more troops. Even this number will not win the war in which Washington cannot even define the terms of victory. The only way out of this morass is through a negotiated settlement that enfranchises and includes the Pashtun and their fighting arm, Taliban.
If the Afghan resistance ever gets modern anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, the western occupation forces will be cut off and doomed. Today, they can barely hold on against the lightly-armed Taliban.
I wish President Obama would just declare victory in Afghanistan, withdraw western forces, and hand over security to a multi-national stabilization force from Muslim nations. Good presidents, like good generals, know when to retreat.