More on "The Wrong War" in Afghanistan

Thanks to friend Dirk van Nouhuys for the link, and to the Washington Post for making it available in the first place. Here follows a carefully considered argument from much deeper knowledge of Afghanistan for what I was arguing, much more cursorily, in my note yesterday.

According to this former US Foreign Service officer, the US is merely a bit player in "a 35-year old civil war" between "urban, secular, educated and modern Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional," the latter being the main backing of "the Pashtun insurgency." The US military presence, backing a notoriously corrupt and non-Pashtun government and sending Afghan troops of other ethnicities to attack in Pashtun territory, simpy gives that insurgency greater legitimacy as Pashtun tribesmen see it. Here is the pdf. of Hoh's letter:  John Hoh's letter of resignation (10 September 2009)


Book Review - The Wrong War - By Bing West - NYTimes.com

West argues, pretty convincingly according to this review, that "counterinsurgency" in Afghanistan is a sinkhole for American and other allies' lives and money, producing no permanent results. This is because the Afghans — ready to take any assistance the US is willing to offer — won't do anything on their own to fight the Taliban. They'll let the foreigners do everything. As reviewer Dexter Filkins writes, West's
solution, tacked on to the final pages of the book, is to transform the American mission to one almost entirely dedicated to training and advising the Afghan security forces. Let the Afghans fight. “Our mistake in Afghanistan was to do the work of others for 10 years, expecting reciprocity across a cultural and religious divide.”
But, Filkins reminds us,
Nine years of training and investment have created an Afghan Army fraught with the same corruption and lack of cohesion as the rest of the country. As it is, the Americans are now pouring more resources into the Afghan security forces than ever before. At best, the Afghans are years away from taking over the bulk of the fighting. And even that is a very fragile hope.
Book Review - The Wrong War - By Bing West - NYTimes.com

Let's think about this, before we give up all hope. And lets look longer (back into history), wider (to other countries in conflict today), and deeper (into the details of this same country, Afghanistan, today). Is this culture of dependency real and really widespread, everywhere where there are US or other allied troops? And if so, how did it get created, and what would it take to reverse it?

Looking back into Afghan history, "culture of dependency" is not what it suggests. No country has a fiercer history of resisting invaders. Nor does that history, pre-Taliban, suggest that reactionary, anti-urban and anti-modern fury is inevitable or even normal.

What would be normal is suggested by all that has been happening in North Africa. Tensions, conflict, even civil war (as in Libya), but not passivity of the urban, more modern (more tolerant and more plugged-in) population against the benighted rural forces.

Given half a chance, the people with more knowledge of the outside world and with more varied experience of their own, people who if they haven't traveled at least have known foreigners and know something about customs and laws and consumer habits in other countries, will fight for these things that they define as freedom. But in Afghanistan they haven't been given half a chance, not even as much of a chance as the semi-isolated population of Libya. The foreigners they've known have not given them a model to imitate in their own way, but a foreign rule. The Soviet invasion, the US-encouraged civil war which was basically a war of the rural tribal leaders against Kabul, and then the US invasion have traumatized what would have been the modernizing forces, showing that whatever it is they may start to build is likely to be destroyed. And today, they can't forge for themselves the same kinds of freedoms the US holds dear until they get free of the US.

"Training the Afghan security forces" may be a hopeless mission. But for the US and allies to stay on as security forces themselves is even less promising. Like the people of Egypt or Tunisia or Libya or anywhere else, the Afghan people are going to have to come up with their own solutions to balance tribal, religious and urbanizing forces and to stabilize their country. But until the foreign forces get out, they have little incentive to try.