This week was supposed to be foreign-policy week here at Where Is the Outrage. I did start off well with North Korea then I got sidetracked. Now, let’s take a look at Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a country of approximately the same size as Texas. It’s extremely mountainous and dry. There’s never really been a central government in Afghanistan, as best I can tell.
The Taliban is nothing more than a religious political movement that is made up mostly of ethnic Pashtuns (the major ethnic group in Afghanistan, making up approximate 40% of the population). They took over the central government in 1996 led by a reclusive and rarely photographed leader Mullah Omar. Exactly how they came to power is not important, in my opinion. The fact that they were embraced by many Afghans is important. They were not thought of as outsiders. They did provide basic services including law and order, which many Afghans appreciated.
When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, we did not kill or capture members of the fleeing Taliban government. Instead, we pushed members of the Taliban into the Tora Bora mountains and into Pakistan. Many of the leaders were not captured. We had opportunities in 2002 and 2003 to provide basic services and help rebuild the country. Unfortunately, that was not the focus of the Bush administration. We never really dismantled or engaged the local tribal leaders/warlords. They are the ones who control the power.
By 2004, it was clear that the Taliban was regrouping. We never got adequate control in southern Afghanistan. Because the Bush administration was bogged down in Iraq, we didn’t have adequate troops in Afghanistan to push back against the Taliban surge. One of the biggest mistakes that the Bush administration made was to try to turn over security of Afghanistan to NATO. NATO is no better (and no worse) than UN security forces. Each member country sets up its own rules of engagement. All countries were risk-averse, which was perfect for the Taliban. They were able to engage in the heroin trade in order make money for weapons and food knowing that NATO was not really all that interested in a head-on confrontation.
Without spending an inordinate amount of time discussing the multiple failures of the Bush administration, let’s fast forward to where we are now. We now have a re-energized Taliban organization that is as strong now as it has ever been the last six or seven years. They are embedded in Western Pakistan, the Tora Bora mountains and southern Afghanistan. It is clear that they are making a big push to take over most of the altar country. It is also clear that they will be a safe haven for Al Qaeda. So, here’s what I think I know —
- Al Qaeda and the Taliban are two peas from the same pod
- the Taliban are skilled warriors they have been fighting nearly continuously for almost 20 years
- defeating the Taliban will require a much greater effort than the “Surge” did in Iraq
- we’re going to have to win over the population, not on a city by city basis but instead on a tribe to tribe basis
- we’re going to have to provide basic services — new roads, better agriculture, including irrigation systems
- in order to defeat the Taliban, we’re going to have to be in Afghanistan for some time
- finally, in strengthening Afghanistan, we are strengthening the Pakistani government (remember… they have nuclear weapons)