Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Other War

We don't hear too much about that step-child of American wars, you know, the one in Afghanistan that was supposed to be all about capturing and bringing to justice those who instigated 9/11, the one that we turned over to NATO once the White House decided it was time to attack and invade Iraq. What little we do hear tends to be upbeat, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's most current assessment. Today's Los Angeles Times has an op-ed piece written by John Kiriakou (a former CIA counter-terrorism official) and Richard Klein (a former State Department official) which presents an entirely different picture.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld says in the current edition of GQ magazine that the war in Afghanistan has been "a big success," with people living in freedom and life "improved on the streets."

To anyone working in the country, there is only one possible, informed response: What Afghanistan is the man talking about?

In reality, Afghanistan -- former Taliban stronghold, Al Qaeda haven and warlord-cum-heroin-smuggler finishing school -- feels more and more like Sept. 10, 2001, than a victory in the U.S. war on terrorism.

The country is, plain and simple, a mess. Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies have quietly regained territory, rendering wide swaths of the country off-limits to U.S. and Afghan forces, international aid workers and even journalists. Violent attacks against Western interests are routine. Even Kabul, which the White House has held up as a postcard for what is possible in Afghanistan, has become so dangerous that foreign embassies are in states of lockdown, diplomats do not leave their offices, and venturing beyond security perimeters requires daylight-only travel, armored vehicles, Kevlar and armed escorts.

Fear reigns among average Afghans in Kabul. Street crime, virtually unheard of in Afghan culture, has increased dramatically over the last three years as angry, unemployed and often radicalized young men settle scores with members of other tribes and clans, steal and rob to feed their families and vent their frustration with a government that appears powerless to help them. Taking a chance by eating in one of Kabul's handful of restaurants or going shopping in one of the few markets left is a new version of Russian roulette.

For U.S. officials and diplomats, Kabul is simply a prison. Embassies are completely closed to vehicular and even foot traffic. Indeed, at the American Embassy, the consular section issues visas only to Afghan government officials. If an average Afghan wants a visa to the U.S., he or she must travel to Islamabad, Pakistan, to apply. To allow Afghans to stand in line for visas at the embassy in Kabul would invite terrorist attacks or attract suicide bombers.

Most Americans, still in shock over the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, approved going over to this tiny country to kick some backside in revenge. Everyone figured it would be a quick and easy war: take down the repressive Taliban rulers, demolish the Al Qaeda training camps, capture Osama bin Laden and his cohorts: a week, maybe two. The Russians figured Afghanistan would be a walk in the park not too long ago as well. They got bogged down and finally limped back home. But, we were told, we're Americans: we're exceptional, plus we have God and justice on our side. A week, maybe two.

Well, it's been close to six years and we still have some troops there, as do our allies in NATO, and things are not going so well. In fact, Afghanistan is broken and longing for the very stability that is being promised by the Taliban we drove out.

By any measure, this remains a "hot" war with a well-armed, motivated and organized enemy. Village by village, tribe by tribe and province by province, Al Qaeda is coming back, enforcing a form of Islamic life and faith rooted in the 12th century, intimidating reformers, exacting revenge and funding itself with dollars from massive poppy cultivation and heroin smuggling. As Al Qaeda reestablishes itself, Osama bin Laden remains free to send video messages and serve as an ideological beacon to jihadis worldwide. The country's president, Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, is in effect little more than the mayor of Kabul.

Heckuva war, George.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a friggin coincidence. The two places that we MUST occupy after 9/11 are located on either side of Iran. The people in charge of our international policy and relations are the same little pin headed dweebs you remember from High School - the same types of losers that did Columbine. Social misfits with obsessive, violent, vengful minds who can't let go of hate. Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al. cannot forget or forgive the Iranian revolution and all the oil revenue that was lost because of it. We will make them and their children's children pay us a thousand fold for their deeds. Who cares about the collateral carnage defending our honor (and strategic profits) costs the world. Those Iranians will sure be sorry when were through with them. Throw another bomb in the class room, Dick. That'll show'em!!

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate this war. It's hitting me personally because they're making my boyfriend go over to Afghanistan. Even as a mechanic, I don't feel secure with the chance of coming home. I know I'm going to be on pins and needles until him, and all the troops come home.

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even though HE's a mechanic*

3:21 PM  

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