An Afghanistan Solution
Our situation in Afghanistan is aptly described as a quagmire – we’re stuck there and we’re having trouble figuring out how we will get out of this mess. The starting point for solving this situation is to recognize that there will not be a “good” solution – only a workable one. A workable solution is one that achieves our mission – whatever that is. Let’s start there…
We invaded Afghanistan with singular vision and purpose – to avenge the 9-11 attack by counter-attacking the group we named as being responsible, “Al-Qaeda”. This terrorist group was given safe haven by the Afghan ruling group – the Taliban. Thus, we also attacked the Taliban and removed it from power – or sort of. Having created a leadership vacuum and feeling the idealistic need to replace it with some democratic government, we choose to impose democracy upon the Afghanis. Our mission has evolved as reality has arisen – we’ve neither defeated Al Qaeda nor replaced the Taliban. We refuse to admit that the Afghanis are simply not ready for democratic rule and that we lack the will to stay in Afghanistan long enough for the people to become democratically capable. This is the lesson to be learned from Iraq – only more so here.
We need to return to our original mission: to deny Al Qaeda (or their like) the opportunity to plan and implement further terrorist attacks. If we want to help the Afghanis achieve some form of self-government, we need to view that as a separate mission to be achieved by separate means. That is a much more complicated mission than the primary one.
If we return to our original mission, we can better focus upon the best means to accomplish it. Then we need to get off of our idealistic bubble (that is going to burst eventually anyway) and make some harder long term commitments. But, before we can have a meaningful dialog about the means of achieving our mission, we need to take a realistic look at the situation.
First, the people of Afghanistan are not with us and probably never will be. The only way to change this would be to violate some of our fundamental principles – we would have to govern a religious state with the goal of changing the religion. This would only make us more enemies. The other option is to buy them out. There are only 30 million Afghanis and we’ve already spent over $120 billion there. That’s over $4,000 for every man, woman and child in the country – roughly 20 years income for an average Afghani. We could rest assured that if we offered $1,000 per Afghani for them to leave the country, the vast majority would happily leave. Of course, that’s not how we do things.
We continue to have the naïve notion that merely offering people “freedom” and democratic leadership will excite them into a frenzy of intelligent reform. The Afghanis have no experience with freedom or democratic ideals and lack the education to make sense of them. Even more influential is the long-term indoctrination of the people by their religious leaders creating racism, bigotry, sexism, and anti-westernism. To them, we are infidels and corruptors. The only ones we will win over are the corrupt and the educated, and in Afghanistan there are far more of the former than the later. Meanwhile, we give Al Qaeda and the Taliban the weapons they need to win over the people: we kill innocent civilians, we play into the corruption, and we act like infidels.
Second, we don’t know the “enemy”. When some experts assert that there are only a couple of hundred Al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan, we might think that we’re close to “victory”. But then some other expert will say that about one in three Taliban favor Al-Qaeda and there are millions of Taliban in Afghanistan. That would explain the thousands of insurgents that have kept almost 100,000 US and NATO troops busy. The battle is not with Al-Qaeda, but with anyone who is willing to strap on a bomb and kill anyone else for “principles”. But then, just exactly what are we doing with our missile carrying drones and indiscriminate airborne bombings?
The enemy we’re fighting is much bigger and broader than Al-Qaeda and is not limited to Afghanistan. Our war is against all extremist (or fundamentally extreme) Muslims who believe that it is their right and duty to rid the world of infidels – especially Israelites and Americans. The battlegrounds of choice for us are all those places where these extremists can gather, train, build bombs, and plot terrorist actions. Of course, this could be almost any Mosque anywhere in the world.
Since we cannot do battle there, we choose to deprive these extremists of their safe havens and we’ve put Afghanistan at the top of the list. But then, once we made Afghanistan unworkable for them, they simply moved across the border into Pakistan. Now that the Pakistanis have begun to make life more difficult for the militant extremists, they will probably look for new places to operate from – Iran, Kashmir, or Tajikistan. There is little doubt that they can easily find sympathizers in many Islamic countries.
We should ask some basic questions before we choose our methodology:
Why do Al-Qaeda and the militants stay in Afghanistan?
Where do they get their weapons – and how?
What would it take to keep them out of Afghanistan?
The key to the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda is drug money and one reason they want to stay in Afghanistan is drug money. Drug money makes up 1/3 of the total Afghan economy and the drug business creates a two tier society: Afghans in the drug business have an average income ten times higher than the national average. The drug lords of Afghanistan hold the power in most of the country and they want a poor and ignorant workforce easily manipulated with the “drug of the masses”. Our biggest mistake in Afghanistan has been tolerance for the drug agri-culture.
It is odd that there has been so little attention paid to the sources for weapons used by the insurgents. We have put great effort into tracking their funding and not enough into tracking their weapons. Clearly, it is impossible to stop the flow of rifles and machine guns into the region. But RPGs and other more sophisticated weapons cannot be as easily procured. Those who provide our enemies with weapons (Iran) should also be treated as enemies. One area where we should focus more attention is the Iran-Afghanistan border and the transport routes between these countries.
If we want to keep Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan there is only one option: remove their incentives for being there. This creates a somewhat paradoxical situation because our presence is one of the reasons for them to stay. In effect, we give them an easy target. We fight on their “home field” where they have all the advantages. We can never win a war where one man can place an IED costing $50 where it is likely to destroy a $1,000,000 vehicle and/or kill several Americans. The most amazing thing is that the guys at Al-Qaeda figured this out long before we have.
We have made the mistake of thinking that the locals so greatly appreciate our being there that they will accept our mistakes (killing civilians) and overlook the simple truth that we are occupying their country. Even if our motives were/are pure –which is not certain – we haven’t convinced the majority of Afghans. Indeed, the majority of Afghans believe that their lives were better before we wasted tens of thousands of dollars per person fighting a losing battle where hundreds of our soldiers were killed.
If our goal in Afghanistan is to rid the world of a safe-haven for terrorists, all we need to do is isolate it. It’s already isolated – geographically. We can control all flights in and out of the country, making it hard for terrorists to move. If they have to travel to Iran to fly elsewhere, they may as well operate from there. We can monitor activity from space and with drones so that the establishment of any kind of terrorist training facility would be too risky. With a secure “island” of a large base where the only flights in and out of the country are allowed, we can reduce our costs, save lives, and accomplish our security related goals.
If the Afghans want independence, they can ask for it AND take some of the necessary political and social steps that would make it possible. Thus far, they haven’t and so long as we carry on as we have, they won’t.
 See the story in the Washington Post, 11-11-2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/10/AR2009111019644.html
 Aka – religion.
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