Film review from Major Aghan Humayun Amin. (Spoilers ahead)
Last night I watched a movie named “ Drone” with immense interest.
Drones have been a major part of my research since 2006 when I personally and closely saw some drone strikes while serving as a consultant in Afghanistan and Pakistan. My main client were Canadians and to be specific SNC Lavalin , at that time Canada’s largest consulting company and worlds fifth largest. The movies director is a Canadian citizen which multiplied my interest as Canada sometimes moves opposite United States and has been doing so with varied levels since loyalists fled to Canada after the rebellion of the American Colonies.
The first issue with this movie which could be very hard hitting and a block buster is that it misses the small details , which is a case of lack of common sense and sweeping judgements which were entirely avoidable.
The first image failure occurred when while claiming to depict Pakistans wild west Waziristan region the area filmed and shown was Pakistans biggest city Karachi. To deliver the most unkindest cut of all as Shakespeare would have described it , the first shot titled Waziristan shows sky scraper buildings in Karachi rather than mud houses and totally opposite images for which Waziristan is famous and known. Continue reading “Film Review: Drone”
Review from Major Agha Humayun Amin. I am sure some of Major Amin’s observations will invite comment 🙂
I was very keen to watch this movie and watching it was a big disappointment.
While the movie is low budget , budget by no means could have reduced it from reaching the stature of greatness if the man who made the movie was more intellectually dishonest !
The entire historic context of this movie is drastically flawed and fallacious. The movie conveys a German military in Afghanistan that committed serious war crimes , whereas my personal observations having constructed five clinics in Kunduz in 2004-5 and having been involved in CASA 1000 survey passing through Kunduz province where German military was deployed , leads me to the irrevocable and unflinching conclusion that the German military in Kunduz was the most humane military outfit in entire NATO or non NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan.
Now this was entirely avoidable had the author carefully studied the history of German military record in Afghanistan.
As one who lived in Kabul and travelled extensively I found that Afghans loved no foreign country more dearly than Germany who they lovingly referred to as ”ALMAAN” and Turkey.
The reason was simple ! Both these states simply refused to enter areas where the public was hostile to NATO presence. While it is another issue that the German governments reasons for not doing so were based on pure and simple lack of moral courage or strategic resolution , in not annoying the large Muslim population of Germany , the result was positive, at least in terms of human rights. Continue reading “Film Review: Berlin Falling”
Posted on by Omar Ali - Comments Off on U.S.-Pakistan Re-Engagement; Hamid Hussain
‘Being a friend of the United States was like living on the banks of a great river. The soil is wonderfully fertile, but every four or eight years the river changes course, and you may find yourself alone in a desert’. General Muhammad Zia ul Haq to William Casey 1983 quoted in John E. Persico’s Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA.
In July 2019, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and President Donald Trump met at White House that generated some headlines and as expected from every Trump encounter some controversy. As expected, this news lasted less than twelve hours in United States and 4-5 days in Pakistan. Life has gone back to normal. Positive signs should be acknowledged but Pakistan should not be carried away by euphoria. The good part is that civilian and army leadership does not have trust deficit and not undermining each other. This alone is a breath of fresh air for Pakistan. Continue reading “U.S.-Pakistan Re-Engagement; Hamid Hussain”
This is an old post from Major Amin (from 2017) The article is by Dr D Souza (originally in “Eurasian Review”) and Major Amin’s own comments are in bolded black font.. Now that the Afghanistan exit strategy is in full flow, how does this stand up?
Trump’s ‘New’ Afghanistan Strategy And India-US Strategic Partnership – Analysis
Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia announced on 21 August, was intended to highlight the novelty and surprise elements of a roadmap that purportedly sought little short of the decimation of terrorism. For all that, the ‘new’ strategy, its overheated semantics and studious ambiguity notwithstanding, in reality is but a continuation of the American trial and error method that has kept insurgent aspirations of a victory alive these 16 years since the US intervened in Afghanistan.
THIS IS A VERY MISCONCEIVED ASSERTION BY MS D SOUZA. THE NEW TRUMP STRATEGY IS TANGIBLE , PRECISE , WELL ARTICULATED , WELL SPELT OUT AND NOT SEMANTICS.
FIRST TRUMP STRATEGY HAS FOR THE FIRST TIME SPELT OUT THAT USA IN AFGHANISTAN IS DEALING NOT WITH NON STATE ACTORS BUT WITH A STATE PROXY I.E AFGHAN TALIBAN PROXIES OF THE PAKISTANI STATE.
THIS IS A RADICAL DEPARTURE FROM ABSOLUTE LACK OF MORAL COURAGE OR STRATEGIC RESOLUTION AS EXHIBITED BY BOTH PRESIDENTS BUSH AND OBAMA.
THIS CHANGES THE US OBJECTIVES FROM PUNY THIRD RATE SNUFF SELLERS LIKE BAITULLAH MEHSUD BEING KILLED BY US DRONES TO STRATEGIC TARGETS WHICH ARE STATES AND NOT NON STATE ACTORS.
THE TRUMP STRATEGY AS PUBLICLY RELEASED DID NOT PRECISELY STATE THAT PAKISTAN WAS THE “MAIN ENEMY” BUT ITS CLASSIFIED PORTIONS AS PER HIGHLY PLACED SOURCES STATE THAT PAKISTANI STATE WAS CLEARLY SPECIFIED AS WHAT CARLOTTA GALL COINED ” THE MAIN ENEMY”.
After spending much blood and treasure, has the US learnt from its mistakes? Is the present strategy a break with the past? Or is it a mere continuation of a policy with no defined objectives and outcomes? India must consider carefully its desired terms of engagement for any serious partnership with the US in Afghanistan. Ahead of US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to New Delhi on 25 September, New Delhi needs to use the opportunity to tell Washington of the shortcomings of the present Afghan policy.
THE ASSERTION BY MS D SOUZA THAT THE USA HAS SPENT MUCH BLOOD IS ALSO SEMANTICS AND NOT BASED ON HARD FACTS. AFGHANISTAN WAS OCCUPIED WITH ONLY ONE CIA CIVILIAN KILLED BECAUSE OF HIS OWN RASHNESS AND US CASUALTIES IN 7 YEARS OF PRESIDENT BUSH DID NOT EXCEED 394 . 1400 US SOLDIERS WERE LOST BECAUSE OF SHEER AMATEUR BEHAVIOUR OF PRESIDENT OBAMA WITH ARM CHAIR STRATEGISTS LIKE REIDEL AND OTHERS DURING THE SURGE WHICH WAS APOLOGY OF ANYTHING THAT CAN BE CALLED STRATEGY.
Ambiguities and Novelty
After all the opposition for the war in Afghanistan he unleashed over the years via social media, especially in his election campaign, when push came to shove, Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, elaborated on 21 August 2017 chose the least bad option, the one which would have the least resistance and would provide room for maneuver to match the domestic needs and geopolitical interests. Despite tall claims of having studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle, Trump strategy’s on Afghanistan is neither new nor comprehensive.
New Delhi needs to remain cautious before embracing this ambiguous strategy. Among its many ambiguities, three are especially worth considering:
Kinetic vs Non-kinetic
First, the strategy, apparently scripted by the US military, is not about nation building but kinetic operations, search and destroy by another name. Getting a free hand on the ground with no micro-management from Washington is a victory of sorts for the US generals in Afghanistan. Still, much confusion abounds as to whether the strategy is counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism plus, or an overt reliance on the use of military force. Moving away from the earlier time-based approach to one based on conditions is certainly appropriate. In this, Trump has addressed the error of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who in December 2009 had announced troop surge and exit at the same time. This only worked to insurgent advantage, allowing an approach of ‘waiting out the enemy’.
KINETIC IS THE ONLY THING IN A LAND OF COLD BLOODED ASSASINS WHO WERE PACIFIED BY MONGOLS , MUGHALS AND PERSIANS WITH MASSIVE MASSACRES.THIS IS A SCENARIO WHERE VULGARLY PUT NO ONE ACKNOWLEDGES YOU AS THEIR FATHER TILL YOU LAY THEIR MOTHER. KINETIC IS THE ONLY SOLUTION AND DID WORK UNDER GENGHIS KHAN , TAMERLANE AND BABAR.THE HINDU RAJPUT MUGHAL GOVERNOR OF KABUL CARRIED ONLY A WALKING STICK ! BECAUSE THE MUGHALS UNDER BABAR HAD SORTED OUT AFGHANISTAN.
Yet there is no indication whether the intent is to convert Afghanistan into a new South Korea, where US troops are indefinitely based, or something else. A conditions-based approach is preferable to the mistaken announcement of a time schedule, but there is nothing to indicate what will be done to address those conditions that are fueling extremism and violence. Further, the apparent decoupling of kinetic and non-kinetic elements of the strategy, the military and civilian components, will limit the gains achieved through kinetic operations. Claiming that all of this will be something more than smoke and mirrors is guaranteed, Trump proclaimed, by the application of will. Unlike Obama, he implied, this time the US will fight to win. To point out the sheer profligacy of such a pronouncement seems almost a waste of effort.
MAKING SWEEPING JUDGEMENTS AND DISMISSING A PRESIDENT WHO HAS A STRATEGY WHICH HAS BEEN SPELT OUT IS NOT GOOD JOURNALISM AND THAT TOO FROM AN AUTHOR WHO HAS NOT REALLY VISITED THE ACTUAL BATTLE FIELDS OF AFGHAN WAR.
Role of Regional powers
Second, Trump has not identified any benchmarks and targets for actions. This keeps the expectation bar low but also does not address the basic component of metrics. Neither has he expressed in any clear terms expected steps to be taken by Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or even the US itself. Most importantly, the role of other major regional powers such as Russia, China, Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia remains undefined. Afghanistan’s tragedy lies in the fact that its internal contradictions have been exploited by external powers. Without a regional strategy, the external powers will continue along this path, notably neighbouring Pakistan.
PRESIDENT TRUMPS STRATEGY CLEARLY IDENTIFIES PAKISTAN AS THE CULPRIT AND THE WHOLE STRATEGY IS BASED ON THIS DEMISE. THIS HAS CREATED JITTERS IN PAKISTAN AND THE PAKISTANI ARMY CHIEF AND HIS ISI HAVE BEEN DOING A LOT OF RUNNING AROUND.
Third, every US president is aware of Pakistan’s role and interests in supporting the terrorist groups in Afghanistan. It is perhaps the first time that a US president has stated this publicly, but it is not as though the reality has not hitherto figured into planning. Nevertheless, there it was: ‘Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,’ Trump stated unambiguously. Unspecified was just what coercive instruments could be brought to play to change Pakistan’s behaviour.
Trump’s critique of Pakistan is in line with New Delhi and Kabul’s position on the external support and sanctuary provided to the insurgent and terrorist groups that are the source of Afghanistan’s instability. That Pakistan has been a mendacious ally in the US-led war on terror, sheltering terror groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and using them as strategic assets in Afghanistan, despite the aid of more than US $33 billion being given to Pakistan in the last decade and half for the counter-terrorism cooperation.
HAQQANI NETWORK IS A MINOR PLAYER IN TERMS OF NUMBERS OF US SOLDIERS KILLED. THE MAIN ACTOR IN NUMBER OF US SOLDIERS KILLED IS THE QUETTA SHURA OR THE MULLA OMAR GROUP BASED IN PAKISTANI BALOCHISTAN.
Strategic Partnership in Afghanistan
The sudden recognition by Trump of New Delhi’s concerns needs to be received with caution in view of the role he wishes to assign New Delhi as a strategic ally andfurther develop thestrategic partnership with India. The proof lies in the pudding. Even as Pakistan considers cozying up to China as its safety-valve, the strategy has been welcomed in Kabul and New Delhi. In spite of Trump’s awkward mentioning first of India’s substantial trade benefits from good relations with the US – before elaborating on his expectations from New Delhi ‘to do more’ – New Delhi has welcomed the strategy. It is seen as a nod to the importance of India’s economic and development assistance thus far and an acknowledgement that without India’s soft power, things could be much worse.
Counter terrorism cooperation
Though mentioning the fact that at least 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organisations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world, Trump’s strategy appears geared towards targeting al-Qaeda and the ISIS. If the US is still looking for apolitical settlement with the Taliban, New Delhi will have to make sure that this is done by the Afghan government through an open, inclusive, and accountable process.
Moreover, New Delhi needs to tell Washington that the targeting of terrorists groups cannot be selective and must include groups that are detrimental to India’s security interests, as well. Any robust counter-terrorism cooperation with the US will need to address issues of funding, training, and support provided to these groups.
India has pledged more than US$3 billion for various civilian capacity building, infrastructure and development projects in Afghanistan. This has brought it significant good will among the Afghans. By avoiding a narrow security dominated approach, India is seen as a neutral partner and not a party to the conflict. It is prudent, then, for New Delhi to stay clear of involvement in the kinetic side of the equation, while simultaneously urging the US to play a more meaningful non-kinetic role in institution building and reform.
This goes against the Trump administration’s stated goal of avoiding nation-building, yet any military strategy divorced from building strong institutions of governance and service delivery is unlikely to translate kinetic gains into tangible political outcomes. A mere addition of over 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, where they will bolster the approximately 11,000 American forces already there will not make much impact unless there is a clarity of the mission, rules of engagement and outcome, in addition to building effective and responsive governance institutions.
There is serious possibility that the US is looking to India to perform the non-kinetic component while the US engages in what certain figures feel it does best, kinetics. This would be a thankless position for New Delhi to be in which could entail burden-sharing and risk strategic distortion as concerns its interests.
ALL INDIAN AID WILL GO INTO DUST IF THEIR IS NO KINETIC ENERGY IN THE AFGHAN SCENARIO.
Long drawn out war
Likewise, the role of private contractors in the push to outsource the war; the continued dependence upon warlords, power-brokers and militias for support of counter-insurgency operations; the use of air power as a surrogate for actual engagement, together with inadequate human intelligence (HUMINT) resulting in collateral damage and increase in civilian casualties, all need to be clarified. The potential for New Delhi to be caught in the blowback from Washington’s ill-considered approaches must be considered.
Skeptics are already highlighting that by lumping its Afghan with its South Asia (India and Pakistan) strategy, the Trump administration runs the danger of not only intensifying the India-Pakistan competition but also intensifying regional competition as Pakistan seeks succour from the likes of China, Russia, and Iran. The dangers of such competition, notwithstanding, Pakistan will need to compete with India on the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan which will accrue good will from the Afghans. At the moment, the popular sentiment for Pakistan remains very low.
A weak and unstable Afghanistan has been a primary objective of its predatory neighbours. Leaving to the side the reality that countries like Pakistan are not simply going to give up this quest, regardless of US positions or threats, there is the fundamental necessity for any American strategy that has any hope of success to work towards building a strong and stable Afghan state that will make the subversive campaigns of these neighbours and their proxies difficult.
Institution building and reform
This can be achieved by institution building and reforms in the security, political, economic, and governance sectors. The Trump administration has refrained from making clear long term commitments. The time to do so is now.
In the security sector, there remains a need for better training, equipment, vetting, and policing capabilities, as well as an increase in Afghan airpower capability. The latter element alone, if inadequate, seems all but to guarantee that the gains achieved through kinetic operations will be simply lost.
In the political sector, in addition to revamping the indigenous institutions for peace and reconciliation such as the High Peace Council, reconciled and reintegrated fighters will need opportunities for employment and acceptability as they transition back into society. More importantly, as Afghanistan heads to another round of presidential and much delayed parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2018, respectively, systems, procedures, and logistics need to be put in place to avoid the messy elections outcomes of previous years. These have seriously impacted the credibility and functioning of the Afghan government. Greater decentralisation will help popular participation on the margins. The limits of an overly centralised form of governance of last decade and half are evident.
A legitimate government that delivers to the people the basic services is essential to any hope of victory, however defined. A clean, responsive and accountable governance system under the rule of law is essential to build the trust of the populace and deprive the insurgents of their support. If this seems so much pie-in-the-sky, then there hardly seems any point in being involved. Just what the announced US strategy is to contribute to such an end-state is puzzling.
Prospects for India-U.S. partnership in Afghanistan
If India and U.S. intend to work together in denying these groups and their sponsors any space in Afghanistan, the first step will be to chalk out a comprehensive and long term plan along with the Afghan government to build a strong and stable Afghanistan that will be an antidote to these forces at play and predatory neighbours. The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by New Delhi with Kabul in October 2011, provides a good template. As US adopts a kinetic approach towards Afghanistan, New Delhi will have to spell the conditions for any cooperation to take this strategic partnership ahead.
For New Delhi to partner with US development and aid agencies, such as USAID, there is a need for integrated planning to provide market access for the products produced, accompanied by skill-based training for small and medium enterprises for income generation and boosting domestic production. Continuing instability has enabled neighbouring countries to pour in cheap goods, thus, stunting Afghanistan’s indigenous economic revival and growth.
New Delhi will have to tread carefully in the shifting sands inside Afghanistan and the region. Rather than rushing into the American embrace, New Delhi’s primary objective must be to fulfill its obligations as Kabul’s strategic partner. Trump has sought an honourable and enduring outcome, the contours of which remain unknown. Ahead of US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to New Delhi on 25 September, which will be followed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit, New Delhi needs to use the opportunity to tell Washington of the shortcomings of the present Afghan policy. The Afghans have long looked to a friendly India to play this role of a serious interlocutor. India should step up to the plate commensurate with its rising power status and aspirations.
NEW DELHI WILL REMAIN A MINOR PLAYER IN THE AFGHAN WAR. IT DOES NOT HAVE THE GEOPOLITICAL MUSCLE TO RESTRUCTURE AFGHANISTAN. WHERE NEW DELHI CAN MATTER IS IN CAPACITY BUILDING OF AFGHAN STATE BOTH POLITICAL MILITARY AND ECONOMIC AND IN PRESSURISING PAKISTAN.THE GEOPOLITICAL PART OF RESTRUCTURING IS WHITE MANS BURDEN AND THE USA HAS TO ACCEPT THIS FACT.
AFGHANISTAN IS A US STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO DESTABILISE CHINA AND RUSSIA AND KEEP AN EYE ON PAKISTAN AND IRAN AND NOT A CALAMITY AS PESSIMISTS VIEW IT.
This is an interesting endeavor by a self-styled expert on drones from the University of Southampton in United Kingdom.
I first read about this great expert on drones in a review by one Mr. Phillip O Warlick II of Air Command and Staff College who elevated the book and its author to prophetic heights.
Having witnessed some drone strikes personally and having extensively travelled in the area affected by the so called US drone program I decided to buy this book which was quite a blunder as I now reflect in retrospect.
Following was in response to several questions regarding Pakistan’s regional challenges and current policies.
Kabuki Dance – Pakistan’s Balancing Act
Pakistan’s challenging regional environment has taken some new turns and new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is trying to cope up with these challenges. Government’s major advantage is that it has no clash with the dominant army. In many areas of foreign policy, it has ceded significant ground to the army.
Pakistan is in a difficult spot on three issues. First is rapid pace of negotiations between Taliban and Americans with projected quick withdrawal of American troops, second is isolation of Iran and third is potential entanglement in intra-Arab rivalry with United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia on one and Qatar on the other side. Pakistan is facing these regional challenges in the background of internal political instability and very serious economic downward trend. Part of political instability and associated economic meltdown is due to self-inflicted wounds. Departing from the normal process of check and balance, judiciary and army played an active role in tuning up the system that will have its own set of consequences. It has widened the political gulf and added new fissures.
Regional challenges of Pakistan are directly linked with American policies. We are living in a Trumpian world that has sowed a lot of confusion on all fronts. Every country and non-state player is adjusting positions at such a rapid speed that it is hard to make sense of every move. Pakistan is also caught in this Trumpian world on several fronts.
US policy is in disarray with no coordination between different government agencies. President Trump is using single point agents without full institutional support behind these efforts. In many cases, some power centers of Washington are diametrically opposed to President’s efforts. It is probably right time for withdrawal of American troops from both Syria and Afghanistan. Trump may have realized what Christopher Fettweis wrote in 2008 in his book Losing Hurts Twice as Bad that “bringing peace to every corner of the globe, even those whose stability we have wrecked through our own incompetence, is not necessarily in the strategic interest of the United States”. However, the method in which it is being done has confused both allies and foes. American intelligence agencies are publicly disagreeing with Trump that is unprecedented. In late January 2019, in a hearing at Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence and heads of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) contradicted Trump on security issues. They told the committee that Iran was still abiding by the nuclear deal. Trump had pulled out of the deal stating that Tehran had broken the deal. Furious Trump sent his twitter tirade saying that ‘the intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naïve when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong’. Continue reading “Kabuki Dance – Pakistan’s Balancing Act”
Review from Major Amin: Directorate S –The CIA and Americas Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016-Steve Coll -Allen Lane- Penguin Books-2018-ISBN-978-1-846-14660-2 ISBN-13: 978-1987659184 ISBN-10: 198765918X
A leading US-Israeli Intelligence analyst and operator recently summed up pathetic state of US intelligence operators in Pakistan as following:–
“ They are afraid of their own shadows”
As great powers decline , their quality of strategic judgement and decision making and their operational effectiveness also markedly declines.
Steve Coll’s voluminous and bulky book reconfirms this fact .
The first defect of this book is that it does not contain a single relevant map connected to the subject i.e Directorate S.
On page 12 the writer repeats a false and unsubstantiated claim that CIA pilots had to fly Russian MI series helicopters for Northern Alliance , whereas in reality Afghanistan never had any shortage of Afghan helicopter pilots.
On page 14 the author confirms his absolute lack of knowledge of geography when he fallaciously claims that Panjsher valley slices north towards Tajikistan , whereas in reality Panjsher valley inclines towards Chitral in Pakistan towards the Northeast , ending at Anjuman Pass.
The authors analysis is a clear testament to the fallacious assessments of US policy makers about Afghanistan like on page-17 he discusses Al Qaeda and US policy makers obsession with Al Qaeda.
As a matter of fact Al Qaeda was never the real player in Afghanistan all along . It was a puny group with limited strategic ability. The real players in Afghanistan all along were Taliban supported by Directorate S of the ISI.
This basic US perceptual error repeatedly appears in Steve Colls voluminous narrative and Steve Coll himself is quite confused about it.
Steve Colls factually flawed statements like page-17 where he states “Recalling the miserable fates of Imperial Britain” while referring to Britain”s Afghan wars. Why Coll has to make such baseless statements is perplexing. As a matter of fact all three Afghan wars were a strategic success , the first being waged by a British private company. All three Afghan wars made British strategic position in India and West Asia stronger and created a more stable Afghanistan.I guess it is fashionable in western authors to make such statements about what a terrible place Afghanistan was and is .Continue reading “Review: Directorate S”
Prompted by some discussion on Twitter, a few random thoughts:
The US has spent 100s of billions of dollars in its longest war and Trump has had it and wants out. He is not wrong in regarding this as a colossal waste of money. But Trump being Trump, he will probably end up wasting whatever gains the US DID make in the region in the process. Zalmay Khalilzad may be sincerely interested in a viable Afghanistan, but his boss has neither the interest nor the ability. Without knowing ANYTHING about the various layers of secret planning and execution going on right now, just on general principles (losers don’t get to dictate terms, winners are not bound by promises they made, Trump is an ignorant conman, etc) this is not going to end well. There WILL be blood.
The waste is going to get blamed on “corrupt Afghans”, but really, the Afghan elite (while undoubtedly corrupt in many cases) is not the main actor here. The United States is simply not a very effective imperial power. Much of the corruption is on the US side (contractors for the most part) and all of it is ultimately the responsibility of the imperial power cutting the checks. The US has a frighteningly capable military and a huge war chest. For the US to spend 100-1000 billion dollars and be unable to manage Afghanistan is a tribute to American incompetence, not Afghan resistance or corruption. If they were fooled by Pakistan is it Pakistan’s fault? if they were fooled by Afghans, is it all the Afghan’s fault? Beyond the obvious corruption on the US side there is the issue of ideological incompetence; the US is neither a capable imperial power, nor an innocent spectator with no interest in meddling in far away countries. And somehow its processes are so designed that it is easier to waste a 100 billion per year than it is to sit back and figure out what the aims are, where the carrots and sticks are most likely to work and now to apply them.
The threat of withdrawal is not necessarily a bad idea. There is an obvious moral hazard in this situation, where Afghan (and other anti-Taliban parties, including India, Iran, Russia, China etc) have limited incentive to shape up or step up as long as the US is walking around with a generous checkbook and a tremendous fighting force willing to act on their behalf. In better hands, this might have been exactly the way to make everyone shoulder their own share of the burden.. but these are not “better hands”. Trump has no plan and less interest in any good (or bad) outcome. I find it hard to imagine that this could end up as a US “win”. As a US citizen, I will be happy if it does, but I am not holding my breath.
Pakistan, supposedly the “winner” in this war, will not find victory too satisfying. The Taliban will not take orders (I mean they probably WILL entertain requests to kill X or Y as a favor to us, but they won’t do things they don’t want to do anyway), anti-Taliban Afghans will not roll over and play dead. India will continue to support them and Indian support is not insignificant. Russia, Iran and even China probably do not want a Taliban govt either. Instead of peace, we will have renewed civil war and more violence, not less violence. (Including blowback IN Pakistan). While the US may pay us (directly or more likely, indirectly via Gulf allies) for help in getting out, they will not keep paying once they are out. And they may not leave either. They may stick around to support the rump Afghan regime, and may pay troublemakers in Pakistan. And China will never be as generous as Uncle Sam used to be. Our troubles will not end with “victory” in Afghanistan.
It would have been better to work WITH the US to stabilize a pro-US Afghan regime back in 2002 instead of playing double games. The cost of these games may extend beyond “victory”.
Dead Reckoning is a (fairly new) imprint of the Naval Institute Press that publishes military-themed graphic novels and books (e.g. they have published “All Quiet on the Western Front” as a graphic novel). The Stan is a comic book based on stories collected by two American journalists (autors Kevin Knodell and David Axe) who have spent a long time covering the war in Afghanistan. The only story not based on their work is the opening chapter, which is a comic based on the life and words of former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salam Zaeef. They use this first comic as a capsule history of the background to this war as well as a prediction of its futility and eventual failure. This is the only comic that gives a nod, albeit a minimalistic and relatively simple one, to the “big picture” of the Afghan war and it is a strictly anti-war and anti-interventionist one. The other comics are all about the “little people”, ordinary soldiers, an Afghan interpreter, an Afghan soldier and an Afghan policeman. The last comic is about one of the authors (Kevin Knodell), who may have some PTSD, and his parting words are that “America’s longest war was going to stretch on longer”. Continue reading “Book Review: The Stan”