When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains.

After the defeat of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of its forces in 1989, Afghanistan collapsed into civil war.  From that appalling war the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, emerged victorious.  Then the Taliban provided a home for Osama bin Laden.  Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group then truck-bombed two American embassies in East Africa and attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.  The Clinton administration kinda-sorta wanted to do something about the problem.  However, Americans weren’t ramped-up for war at the time; the head of the CIA wasn’t sure that it was OK to kill foreign terrorists; Pakistan saw the Taliban as a useful client[1]; cruise missiles were problematic because flying them across Pakistan into Afghanistan might trigger a Paki-Indian nuclear war by mistake, so you had to tell the Pakis about the attacks and the Pakis told Bin Laden; the U.S. military despised Bill Clinton, so they didn’t work hard at providing the dough-head with options; and drones were just a twinkle in the eye of weapons designers.  So, the Americans did nothing effective.  Then came 9/11.[2]

Virtually none of the original conditions now apply.  Americans now are perfectly content to blow up suspected Islamist radicals; drones have advanced massively in number and capacities; no American regards either Afghanistan or the Pakistan’s “tribal regions” as a “No Go  Zone”; any thinking person regards Pakistan as an enemy state; and—as under Bill Clinton—the American military wants to limit the range of choices presented to the president.   Now Americans can strike at radical Islamists with a free hand.  Why not just say 2017 is not 2001?  What are we to do?  Why send troops?  Get.  Out.  Yet the recent war-plan announced by President Trump takes little account of these –perceived only by me?—realities.

Well, what about the blown-up Buddhist statues because radical Islamists object to the physical representation of deities (icons) and to polytheism?  What about the ban on televisions (for the same reason they blew up the Buddhist statues)?  What about the women in blue burkas falling down in the street because they can’t see where they’re going?  What about the “honor killings”?  What about the sodomized young boys because sometimes that how men with guns roll?  Sucks to be them.  But it sucks to be an American soldier.  Just one percent of Americans do military service. (Lots more put yellow ribbons on the trunks of cars and the tail-gates of pick-up trucks.  So, that’s a help, I’m realize.)  Even so, for whom and for what do we ask American soldiers to fight?  For oil companies?  For feminist ideals of how all women should be treated?  For hetero-normativity?  So we don’t have to say we lost a war?

Why aren’t people in the streets over this issue?  They were when I was a kid.[3]  Four decades later, the same generation appears indifferent to a war shrouded in puzzles.  (OK, some of them are exercised over transgender bathrooms and Confederate monuments.[4])  Where is Congress on the war?

Where does South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) fit in America’s national security strategy?  Where does it rank in comparison to Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East?  What happens if we “lose” Afghanistan?  What would we get out of “winning” in Afghanistan?  What would constitute “winning”?  IDK.  I’m just one guy.

[1] They still do.

[2] See: The Report of the 9/11 Commission.

[3] Truth in packaging: I wasn’t one of them.  Never occurred to me.  OK, Seattle in the Seventies was a time machine: take you back to the world of Ward and June Cleever.  Really, it was just shy and contrarian me.

[4] Republicans hold the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and 34 state governorships.  It seems unlikely that these sorts of issues offer a path to a Democratic majority.

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Carlotta Gall on Afghanistan

The British had an empire all over the world, so both British journalism and the British intelligence service had an unusual reach. Many of the empire-builders, journalists, and intelligence officers were willing to go where others feared to tread. Henderson Alexander “Sandy” Gall (1927) grew up on a rubber plantation in Malaya, went to school in Britain, and then went to work for a series of news agencies. He reported on the Suez Crisis (1956); the Hungarian Crisis (1956); the Congo Crisis (1960-1963); the Vietnam War (various times, 1965-1975); the Six Days War (1967); Uganda (where he was arrested by Idi Amin’s police in 1972 while reporting on the expulsion of the Indians); and the Yom Kippur War (1973). Along the way, Gall did some work for MI 6, the British intelligence service. He slowed down a bit for a decade to work as the news presenter on a television show and to have a family. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 he went there to make a series of documentaries about the “mujahideen” fighting against the Russkies.

His daughter, Carlotta Gall (1971?- ) is a chip off the old block. She went to Cambridge University, where she “read” Russian and French, then got an MA in International Relations and Journalism. This provided her with a launching pad to become a reporter for the Moscow Times, covering the war in Chechnya (1994-1998). She briefly covered the Caucasus and Central Asia for the Financial Times and the Economist (1998-1999), then went to work for the New York Times. For a couple of years Gall covered the wars attending the break-up of the former Yugoslavia (1999-2001). Then she went to Afghanistan to cover the American war against the Taliban and al Qaeda (2001-2013). Now she is supposed to be covering the Middle East, but the Times sent her hot-foot to Ukraine when trouble cooked-off there.

Right at the moment (September 2014), she is best known for her book The Wrong Enemy.[1] Based on her years of reporting in and deep knowledge of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gall argues that Pakistan is the force driving the Taliban in its fight against the Americans. The Soviet invasion of Pakistan put a hostile state on the western border of Pakistan. Both the Americans and the Pakistanis involved themselves in supporting the “mujahideen” resistance to the Soviets. When the Soviets left in 1989, so did the Americans. The Pakistanis stayed. Soon, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) aligned itself with the Taliban, the victors in the civil war that followed the Russian defeat. Briefly, after 9/11, Pakistan aligned itself with the Americans who overthrew the Taliban as part of their hunt for Osama bin Laden. When, after several years, it became apparent that the Americans would not be leaving Afghanistan any time soon and appeared to be creating their own client-state in Kabul, the ISI re-entered the fray by reviving the alliance with the Taliban. The chief culprit here has been Pakistani General Ashfaq Kayani, who headed the ISI from 2004 to 2007, and then became chief-of-staff of the army in a country with a long history of military intervention in politics. Under Kayani’s direction, ISI armed, trained, and directed the Taliban in a war that has killed 2,300 American soldiers, 1,100 other foreign soldiers, and somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 Afghans.

Why haven’t the Americans recognized that they are fighting “the wrong enemy”? Possibly because the ISI is good at hiding its hand. Possibly because of long-standing deficiencies in the CIA. Possibly because the incompetence and corruption of the Karzai government is so much easier to see. Possibly because it would be difficult to explain to the American people.

[1] Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).