Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan. The guerrilla does not rely on a single piece of real estate (in this case Afghanistan) but rather on his ability to move seamlessly across terrain to evade decisive combat in any specific location. Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism is not centered on Afghanistan and does not need Afghanistan, so no matter how successful that war might be, it would make little difference in the larger fight against transnational jihadism.
We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force . . . . [T]o my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”
The war logs also detail:
• How a secret “black” unit of special forces hunts down Taliban leaders for “kill or capture” without trial.
• How the US covered up evidence that the Taliban have acquired deadly surface-to-air missiles.
• How the coalition is increasingly using deadly Reaper drones to hunt and kill Taliban targets by remote control from a base in Nevada.
• How the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.
The documents — some 92,000 reports spanning parts of two administrations from January 2004 through December 2009 — illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001……
The archive is a vivid reminder that the Afghan conflict until recently was a second-class war, with money, troops and attention lavished on Iraq while soldiers and Marines lamented that the Afghans they were training were not being paid.
The reports — usually spare summaries but sometimes detailed narratives — shed light on some elements of the war that have been largely hidden from the public eye:
• The Taliban have used portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft, a fact that has not been publicly disclosed by the military. This type of weapon helped the Afghan mujahedeen defeat the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
• Secret commando units like Task Force 373 — a classified group of Army and Navy special operatives — work from a “capture/kill list” of about 70 top insurgent commanders. These missions, which have been stepped up under the Obama administration, claim notable successes, but have sometimes gone wrong, killing civilians and stoking Afghan resentment.
• The military employs more and more drone aircraft to survey the battlefield and strike targets in Afghanistan, although their performance is less impressive than officially portrayed. Some crash or collide, forcing American troops to undertake risky retrieval missions before the Taliban can claim the drone’s weaponry.
• The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan’s spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary.
So many things could scuttle McChrystal’s plans: a Taliban more intractable than imagined, the fractured nature of Afghan society and, no matter what President Obama does, a lack of soldiers and time. But there is something even worse, over which neither McChrystal nor his civilian comrades in the American government exercise much control: the government of Hamid Karzai, already among the most corrupt in the world, appears to have secured its large victory in nationwide elections in August by orchestrating the stealing of votes. A United Nations-backed group is trying to sort through the fraud allegations, and American diplomats are trying to broker some sort of power-sharing agreement with Karzai and his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.
But increasingly, McChrystal, as well as President Obama and the American people, are being forced to confront the possibility that they will be stuck fighting and dying and paying for a government that is widely viewed as illegitimate.
When I asked McChrystal about this, it was the one issue that he seemed not to have thought through. What if the Afghan people see their own government as illegitimate? How would you fight for something like that?
“Then we are going to have to avoid looking like we are part of the illegitimacy,” the general said. “That is the key thing.”
* Believe it or not, for instance, U.S. commanders in our war zones have more than one billion congressionally mandated dollars a year at their disposal to spend on making “friends with local citizens and help[ing] struggling economies.” It’s all socked away in the Commander’s Emergency Response Program. Think of it as a local community-bribery account which, best of all, seems not to require the slightest accountability to Congress for where or how the money is spent.
American officials have repeatedly warned Mr. Karzai that unless he truly commits to eradicating corruption (including among his own family members), improving governance and institutionalizing the rule of law, there is no chance of defeating the Taliban. Mr. Karzai has repeatedly shrugged off those warnings.
Mr. Obama made the right decision to send another 30,000 troops to help drive the Taliban out of important strongholds. But there is no way to hold those cities and towns without an effective Afghan government (at both the federal and local level) to take over. And after eight years of fighting, more than 1,000 American lives lost and more than $200 billion from American taxpayers spent, Mr. Karzai’s failure to build a credible, honest and even minimally effective government remains the Taliban’s No. 1 recruiting tool.
The rambling speech of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday was alarming. His delusional criticism of the United Nations and governments whose troops are risking their lives by fighting the Taliban complicates the difficult effort to stabilize Afghanistan.
Interviews with diplomats, Afghan analysts and ordinary Afghans suggest that the United States and other Western countries have three options: threaten to withdraw troops or actually withdraw them; use diplomacy, which so far has had little result; and find ways to expand citizen participation in the government, which now has hardly any elected positions at the provincial and district levels.
Threatening to withdraw, which Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the “nuclear deterrent” option, would put the United States and other Western countries in the position of potentially having to make good on the promise, risking their strategic interest in a stable Afghanistan. Few experts think the country would remain peaceful without a significant foreign force here. Moreover, withdrawal could open the way for the country to again become a terrorist haven.
Some Western critics of Mr. Karzai believe that the West has no choice but to threaten to leave.
“There is no point in having troops in a mission that cannot be accomplished,” said Peter W. Galbraith, former United Nations deputy special representative for Afghanistan, who was dismissed after a dispute with his superiors over how to handle widespread electoral fraud and what senior U.N. officials later said was his advocacy of Mr. Karzai’s removal. “The mission might be important, but if it can’t be achieved, there is no point in sending these troops into battle. Part of the problem is that counterinsurgency requires a credible local partner.”
Diplomacy has so far failed to achieve substantial changes, although some analysts, like Mr. Biddle, who opposes the so-called nuclear option, believe that the West should demand concessions before spending any more money on development projects like digging wells and building schools.
“We do millions of things in Afghanistan, and any of those things can become a source of leverage,” he said. “Far too much of what we do in Afghanistan we just do without asking for anything explicit in return.”
In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of
foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth
Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and
vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat
on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His
fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of
authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale
solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process
over program — the point where identity politics converges with
old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I
suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics,
as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway.
So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We
have to do better.
On Saturday morning the long-awaited battle for the walled town began. But as one of Mr. Obama’s own advisers conceded in December, when recounting the arguments that took place in the Situation Room last fall, “it’s not about the battle, it’s about the postlude.”….
In the Bush years, the rallying cry when operations like Marja began was “clear, build and hold.” Mr. Obama has added a fourth step, “transfer.” At the end of the three-month-long review of Afghan strategy, Mr. Obama vowed he would begin no military operation unless a plan was in place to transfer authority promptly to the Afghans.
That plan exists in Marja, at least on paper. Both the Americans and the Afghan military did everything to advertise the coming military strike short of posting billboards with the date and size of the operation. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American commander who persuaded Mr. Gates, and ultimately Mr. Obama, to try his form of counterinsurgency, insisted last week that the “transfer” element of the strategy had been prepared and would kick in as soon as the Taliban fled or were defeated.
“We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in,” General McChrystal said.
The gamble here is that once Afghans see the semblance of a state taking hold in Marja, rank-and-file Taliban will begin to take more seriously the offers that Mr. Karzai and the West are dangling to buy them off. Enticed by the offer of some political role in Afghan society — and a regular paycheck — they will think twice about trying to recapture the town. “We think many of the foot soldiers are in it for the money, not the ideology,” one British official said recently. “We need to test the proposition that it’s cheaper to enrich them a little than to fight them every spring and summer.”
Degree being vizarded,
The unworthiest shows as fairly in the mask.
The heavens themselves, the planets and this centre
Observe degree, priority and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office and custom, in all line of order;
And therefore is the glorious planet Sol
In noble eminence enthroned and sphered
Amidst the other; whose medicinable eye
Corrects the ill aspects of planets evil,
And posts, like the commandment of a king,
Sans cheque to good and bad: but when the planets
In evil mixture to disorder wander,
What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!
What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!
Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
The unity and married calm of states
Quite from their fixure! O, when degree is shaked,
Which is the ladder to all high designs,
Then enterprise is sick! How could communities,
Degrees in schools and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores,
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string,
And, hark, what discord follows! each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters
Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores
And make a sop of all this solid globe:
Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead:
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, an universal wolf,
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.