The New Forgotten War

Some might argue that a “just war” is oxymoronic but after 9/11, the Afghanistan war was, in my view, a just and righteous engagement. I felt the same way about the Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait. As the Northern Alliance hooked up with our forces, it appeared we were on the way to accomplishing our goals in Afghanistan and our campaign seemed to have been perceived as a success. Reinforcing this perception, our policy makers and spin meisters told us we have nothing more to fear since al Qaeda and its sponsoring regime, the Taliban, were now gone, and the country had a new, pro-Western government. Unfortunately, the facts manifestly suggest otherwise.

All of a sudden, news about Afghanistan is moving from page 8 to page 4 in the newspapers. All of a sudden, the related Google sites have increased. All of sudden, journalists from the front are reporting that the war is intensifying. What started as a righteous and justified action after 9/11 has become what some are calling a half-hearted war. Despite spin to the contrary, we have failed to crush the Taliban and al Qaeda, nor have we rendered their ideology–Islamic totalitarianism–a lost cause. Instead, the Bush administration’s reluctance to fight more decisively, if not ruthlessly seems to have increased the enthusiasm of jihadists.

The proof is in the pudding. As this piece is being written, the U.S military is quietly carrying out the largest military offensive in Afghanistan since our troops invaded that country in 2001. “The Taliban has made a comeback, and we have the next 90 days to crush them,” said a senior U.S. Military official. The offensive, “Operation Mountain Thrust,” involves almost 11,000 U.S. Troops and is focused on four southern Afghanistan provinces.

“Comeback,” Indeed. The Taliban has re-emerged and its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, remains at large, probably in Pakistan where our soldiers cannot operate. Armed with a storehouse of lethal weapons, the Taliban and al Qaeda soldiers have renewed their offensive. Boosted by money from the drug (opium) trade and recruiting fighters, they are fighting fiercely to regain power. In recent weeks they have mounted a string of suicide and rocket attacks against American and NATO forces; in fact, more U.S. Troops have died in Afghanistan in the last 18 months than did during the height of the war. Taliban forces have besieged several southern provinces and officials estimate that in some, the number of Taliban is far greater than that of the police and Afghan National Army. Taliban are even said to walk boldly through villages brandishing Kalashnikovs.

How can it be that four years after the war began, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are once again becoming a serious threat? Well for one thing leaders such as Mullah Omar “do not exert power the way a military general does,” Seth Jones, an analyst for the California-based think tank RAND Corp., wrote in the spring edition of the journal Survival. Instead, they leave “tactical and operational” control to local cells, “which act as franchises.” As we learned after 9/11, Al-Qaeda operates in the same way.

Clearly, the loose alliance opposed to the Karzai government and the U.S-led reconstruction has not been destroyed nor has its spirit been crushed. With moral fortitude, It as regrouped and launched a bold comeback for any of number of reasons including, but certainly not limited to the following:

1) First and foremost, the seemingly endless (and, for many, questionable) war in Iraq has distracted the U.S from the difficult job of suppressing the Taliban and rebuilding Afghanistan. Iraq has sucked up resources and money that could better have been deployed to Afghanistan.

2) The rules of engagement are terribly unclear and confusing. In this regard, some argue that victory in Afghanistan calls for two things: a) that we had to destroy the Taliban by focusing exclusively on capturing or killing them and B) that we had to ensure that a non-threatening, non-Islamic regime take its place. But others contend we must be more strategically tentative and pursue Taliban fighters only if we simultaneously show “compassion” to the Afghans. They add that our purpose in being in Afghanistan is not to superimpose our style of government on the Afghan people. Adding to the confusion, some counties allied with the U.S in Afghanistan will fight; other will not.

3 The Taliban know that Afghans citizens are not likely to risk their lives to support the Karzai government, which many view as corrupt. Afghanistan’s current problem may be as much about the the weak institutions of the government as it is about the strong enemy.

4) The insurgents have found a safe haven in Pakistan, remaining beyond the reach of Afghan and international security forces. Ostensibly, the Pakistan government’s pro-Taliban policy changed under U.S. Pressure after 9/11, but the key word is here is “ostensibly,” and Karzai knows this all too well.

The Insurgents seem to be betting that the West doesn’t have the political fortitude to remain for the long haul. However, it Is submitted that deploying troops to support President Hamid Karzai’s government and keeping them there is, I believe, a sacrifice worth making. After all, 9/11 demonstrated what happened the last time the world community abandoned Afghanistan. Whatever philosophical road we follow and no matter how we reconcile our rules of engagement, It’s time for the Bush Administration to pick up the pace (and “Operation Mountain Thrust” is a good start). At the least, we owe that much to our soldiers who are fighting there. Afghanistan must not become a forgotten war.

“Too bad we didn’t get distracted with other adventures. Think how Afghanistan ‘could’ have been the shining light of democracy in the Middle east. Alas, if only they had more oil.” Posted on the web on June 20, 2006 at 4:22:53 PM by someone named kharma


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