Afghanistan’s Eighth Anniversary with Another Crumbling Empire

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber takes off on a strike mission against Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, for "Operation Enduring Freedom". DoD photo by Senior Airman Rebeca M. Luquin, U.S. Air Force. (Released) Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:B-1_Bombers_on_Diego_Garcia.jpg
A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber takes off on a strike mission against Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, for "Operation Enduring Freedom". DoD photo by Senior Airman Rebeca M. Luquin, U.S. Air Force. (Released) Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:B-1_Bombers_on_Diego_Garcia.jpg

While no doubt some Afghans will be celebrating the continued, lucrative, presence of another empire in their midst, and the momentary protection offered by armies from 42 nations, others will be celebrating the fact that under their sustained and expanding fire another empire grinds noisily into its eighth year of failure. At the moment, the ever more obstreperous General Stanley McChrystal is making statements such as the one in the image above, suggesting that more occupation troops are needed so that they can look like less of an occupation force. Astounding. Instead of occupiers, they will merely appear in Afghan eyes as tourists with guns, presumably. This is the logic that is being sold by “top brass.” This logic comes from a general whose specializations in Iraq were targeted assassinations, not counterinsurgency; his units engaged in repeated abuse of detainees, not “winning hearts and minds” (source). As for the Obama administration, pledging itself to think about a strategy for Afghanistan does not mean quite the same as pledging itself to think: “I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, “That’s quite clear” (source). Any regime that does not know what it is still doing in another nation cannot afford to slice off parts of its brain and render certain ideas “unthinkable.”

However, that too is to be celebrated, because it is with just this degree of hubris that the empire will more quickly meet with ruin. It is not just McChrystal’s fallacies that will speed empire to ruin, when his boss encourages digging in deeper. Recognizing that after recent major troop increases, oddly enough the Taliban have simultaneously increased their hold over 80% of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has to say: “the Taliban do have the momentum right now” (source). And that really bothers him of course, because leaving now would mean that his enemies will sense a chance “to defeat a second superpower,” and, “what’s more important than that in my view is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda … The notion that they have come back from this defeat, come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States but NATO, 42 nations, is a hugely empowering message should they be successful” (source). So empire is about saving face for empire? The regime confuses itself now, for it was Obama himself who recently said, “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration” (source). Then, as we saw above, his own spokesman says “I don’t think we have the option to leave.” No wonder they cannot decide on the right tactics; they do not know as much as what to say from one day to the next.

There is mounting opposition to the continuation of the Afghan war by majorities of voters right across many NATO nations (including the U.S. itself, the U.K., Canada, Australia, Germany). European public opinion on the whole is in favor of reducing or withdrawing troops from Afghanistan (55% of West Europeans and 69% of East Europeans according to a recent German Marshall Fund poll) (source). In the face of that, all the Obama administration can  offer regarding anti-war protesters such as those at the gates of the White House itself this Monday, October 5, is that: (a) they did not even know they were there (looking outside the windows of the White House is apparently also off limits); and, (b) a condescending, paternalistic dismissal: “I think the president has long believed that whether your opinion is on one side of this issue or the other, that this is the greatness of our country, is that you get to amplify that opinion” (source). In other words, cheer up, America may be just a paper-thin democracy, but that is still far better than the democracy implanted and paid for by NATO nations in Afghanistan (see here).

In the meantime, while Americans debate whether they can afford health care for themselves, the monthly cost per soldier in Afghanistan is $76,870 (source). If any of those soldiers is ever successful in killing a Talib by using a bullet, rather than a bomb, artillery shell or missile (all of which are far more expensive), it costs about $82,500 to kill one Talib, using bullets alone (source). Total war-related U.S. funding for Afghanistan now stands at $223 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. Whatever the U.S. saves from drawing down forces in Iraq is likely to be more than expended in Afghanistan, where the total cost of the war could reach a trillion dollars (source). Almost 1,500 NATO troops have been killed thus far in Afghanistan (source), and the death rate is growing (source).

Coalition military fatalities by month during the Afghan-war. Source: http://www.icasualties.org/oef/ and on Wikimedia Commons at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coalition_military_casualties_in_afghanistan_by_month.PNG
Coalition military fatalities by month during the Afghan-war. Source: http://www.icasualties.org/oef/ and on Wikimedia Commons at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coalition_military_casualties_in_afghanistan_by_month.PNG

As many as 32,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the war since it started (source). This is not counting those who have needlessly died from famine even while occupied by Western forces awash in multi-million dollar contracts and imported luxuries. In fact, for some foreigners, Kabul can even be a “luxurious hidden paradise.”

Source: http://www.icosfilm.net/static/video/050_map.pdf
Source: http://www.icosfilm.net/static/video/050_map.pdf

As the Taliban have spread to the point that there is substantial Taliban military activity in 97% of Afghanistan (source) and heavy activity in 80%, are they promising “global jihad”? No, quite the contrary: “Afghan Taliban say they pose no threat to the West.” What if you do not believe them? “If the Taliban did return to power, I believe we are strong enough to deter them from attacking us again by strong and credible punishment and by containing them with regional allies like India, China and Russia,” said former State Department official Leslie Gelb (source). But surely their Al Qaeda “friends” will take advantage of the return of the Taliban? With a force numbering perhaps as few as 100? As Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones said: “The al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies” (source). Yet, if one asks General David Petraeus, he says repeatedly that there is no al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan (source).

A confused regime, speaking out of both sides of its mouth, admits to having no strategy for winning an unwinnable war, that is also by very far an entirely unnecessary war.

For those interested in copious amounts of background reading, you can download the following PDFs of international press extracts ranging across the topics above, and many more, complete up to 07 October 2009:

Afghanistan: Occupation and Resistance (3.4 mb, 280 pages)

Afghanistan Elections 2009 (3.07 mb, 160 pages)

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11 thoughts on “Afghanistan’s Eighth Anniversary with Another Crumbling Empire

  1. […] Afghanistan’s Eighth Anniversary with Another Crumbling Empire « OPEN ANTHROPOLOGY openanthropology.wordpress.com/2009/10/07/afghanistans-eighth-anniversary-with-another-crumbling-empire – view page – cached tags: afghanistan, COIN, counterterrorism, McChrystal, WHAM, winning hearts and minds by Maximilian Forte — From the page […]

  2. Hi Max,

    Thanks for this analytical summary. There is another interesting analysis of these matters in a recent commentary from Immanuel Wallerstein, “U.S. Internal Politics and its Military Interventions”, 15th september 2009. Quote :

    The Democrats seem to be stuck with the label of being less macho than the Republicans. So it’s very simple. When Obama makes his decisions on these matters, it’s not enough for him to analyze whether or not troop escalation in Afghanistan makes any military or political sense. He worries above all that he himself, and more broadly the Democratic Party, may be labeled once again as the “sell-outs,” the “doves,” the ones who “lost” countries to the enemies – to the Soviet Union in the old days, to the “terrorists” today .”

    And on a slighlty more optimistic (?) note :

    If the United States loses too many more wars, its citizens may wake up to the realization that U.S. military interventions abroad and incredibly large military expenditures at home are not the solution to their problems, but the greatest impediment to U.S. national survival and well-being .”

    Source : http://fbc.binghamton.edu/265en.htm

    Or how war abroad is fought for petty domestic stakes, with NATO client-states following the lead. What a tragic mess (or is it a farce ?).

    I think it is more than a shame that it must take more wars and countless deaths, destructions and waste of riches for the american citizenry to “wake up”.
    It may help a bit if more professional journalists could end up their decades-long and comfortable snap, and start to get the facts straight, that is, to do their job.

  3. Thanks very much Frenchguy. Those are two interesting points from Wallerstein. With the sole exception of Dennis Kucinich, there seemed to be a competition among Democratic aspirants to the nomination as candidate for president in 2008 to see who could talk toughest about foreign policy, from threatening Iran with annihilation (Hillary Clinton), to Obama threatening to bomb Pakistan (which the U.S. actually does right now, using drones). Anti-war Democrats did not openly cringe and demand that their candidates stop doing imitations of the worst neo-con thugs, and that is now their sin. His second point, about losing wars — one has to keep in mind that since WW2, the U.S. has never attacked a country that even came close to its military strength, and still either failed to win (Korea), or lost…its only successes being Grenada, and the abduction of Manuel Noriega in Panama. They also seem utterly incapable of taking two steps without it costing them billions of dollars, a heavy, over inflated, labouring war machine that relies on an obsession with high technology.

    At some point, for as much as people in the West may hate the Taliban, they will have to admit that there is something definitely special about poor villagers who fought off the Soviet Union, and then took on an even mightier military superpower, and ran them both into the ground. This is the complete reverse of the classical modernization theories, and the older cultural evolutionist theses that underpinned them. The Taliban may be the only true post-moderns, for having buried that which proclaims itself as modern, progressive, etc.

  4. “If the United States loses too many more wars, its citizens may wake up…” *yawns*… *sips coffee*… You know, it’s tough work being an American.

    I really shouldn’t have to worry about what’s going on in other parts of the world any more than I care what my neighbors do in their own houses. Unfortunately, America’s global interconnections make me accountable for all kinds of imperialism, some of which I’m probably not even aware of. At least consumer products in a store are things I voluntarily purchase. I could decide not to buy certain products if I don’t like what’s going on at the production end. Taxes, on the other hand, are pulled out of my direct deposit every payday to go to whatever damn cause the government wants to support. The system puts a huge burden of guilt on Americans who just want to live their lives in peace without worrying about what’s going on in other parts of the world.

  5. Stacie, I liked this one: “it’s tough work being an American”! Yes, but cheer up, at least you can still get a Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing positive at all.

  6. LOL, yes, there’s still HOPE. If only I had a $400,000/yr salary I might be able to wine and dine my way up the political ladder before I kick the bucket.

  7. [Oops, I wanted to write “comfortable nap”, not “snap”.]

    Yes, maybe the only true post-moderns. But it is not the first time that an heavily armed giant army gets owned by less numerous poor villagers, and it happened not only in Afghanistan.
    But fore sure, this place is particularly not a good one for an empire. In what was called “Bactria”, Alexander the Great himself tried, but “never successfully subdued the people” (from wikipedia article about “bactria”).

  8. This war is “lost” not because we are overpowered but because we have confused and exhausted ourselves. The Afghan people have become very skilled in letting an enemy destroy itself. They tuck themselves away in mountains becoming difficult to track, and they laugh from above as their enemies run around like chickens with their heads cut off. Obviously the impressive military technology that comes with an even more impressive price tag is making no difference what so ever. The war has far too many problems to list, but there is no problem worse than our own citizens bad mouthing the actual soldiers themselves. The individual solider cannot change the outcome of the war, but those are the ones dying and suffering at the hands of the Government officials who the soldiers will never meet in their entire lives. The war started when I was in sixth grade and I am now a sophomore in college. Between 6th grade and present day, I’ve grown up with best friends and fellow peers who are now fighting over seas. These are kids I’ve shared laughs and tears with and some of them are still kids! For 8 years now, far too many young patriots, both men and women, have given up their lives for a cause that is questionable to say the least. I am against the war 100%, but I will never stop supporting and caring for my fellow young Americans risking their lives in the line of duty. Even though the war seems petty, grueling, and pointless, it is important to remember that no matter how long we are at war, our young patriots continue the struggle.

  9. I agree with most of what you say Tstarz, but I thought this was a little over stated: “there is no problem worse than our own citizens bad mouthing the actual soldiers themselves.” I think there are many worse problems with this war, like citizens not doing enough to bring the war to an end, and citizens still signing up to go fight in the same war. The soldiers are doing a job they chose to do, and for which they get paid for, and they are paid by the taxes of even those very few who bad mouth them as you say. The troops are not sacrosanct. And what applies to one side, applies to the other — so the good citizens would need to also stop bad mouthing the mujahidin resistance who are fighting to regain control over their own country, a cause which American patriots should readily understand, and used to understand when the occupiers were Soviets. I understand that you can better identify with American soldiers because you know some personally, but nobody here is sacred, and certainly not those who volunteer to go fight over someone else’s home.

    I would only say to avoid morbid and macabre celebrations of the deaths of anyone on any side, because it cheapens life.

    As for young patriots who continue the struggle, I hope you are also including those who resist deployment to Afghanistan.

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