CM – We never did what was necessary in Afghanistan

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U.S. Army Soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division return home from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan on December 8, 2020 in Fort Drum, New York.

John Moore / Getty Images

Al Pessin

All the American fears and blame associated with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s lightning march into Kabul are the excruciating scramble of a people not used to losing wars.

It is painful and angry to see how Afghanistan is going under for the very people we have displaced there. And repressed. It’s a country where the United States has spent $ 2.26 trillion for 20 years, and most importantly, has lost more than 2,300 of its bravest and most admirable sons and daughters – and tens of thousands more are suffering from life-changing physical and mental injuries. </ But it is important to realize that we are suffering this pain now because we were not ready to do what was necessary to get any other result. Four presidents, 10 congresses, two political parties – all of us.

The Americans have greatly underestimated the power of Afghan culture. The idea that the Afghan people would certainly embrace American-style democracy and freedoms was attractive. This was, after all, the 21st century when even Afghanistan, one of the least developed countries on earth, entered the modern world. That was hubris. Certainly there are some Afghans whom we would describe as enlightened on this point. But their number is small and has not grown as the American planners had hoped.

When I was a reporter for Voice of America a dozen years ago with an American four-star commander in a cinder and stucco desert building far away Sat with a gathering of Afghan tribal sheikhs, we were assured that this was an important moment. The sheikhs embraced the American presence and brought their people with them. This has been called cultural sensitivity. The sheikhs may have really welcomed American money. Who doesn’t want a new fountain or a satellite phone? They could also have objected to some Taliban excesses and tried to black eye the mullahs – a setback on the battlefield or a loss of face, or both. Perhaps the sheikhs were even willing to stay with us if the wind had continued to blow. But it didn’t work.

And that brings us to the second undeniable fact. The United States has never been ready to pour the resources into Afghanistan that might have held the line long enough to effect real change. Even at the highest levels, the number of US troops never approached what our own counterinsurgency doctrine said to secure every corner of the country and take away the space for the Taliban to rebuild and grow.

At the same time, the political leadership continuously expanded the mission, from the defeat of the Taliban and the removal of the threat posed by al-Qaida to the apparently lofty goals of building Afghan security forces, roads and schools, establishing a centralized democracy and increasing and protecting rights of Afghan women and children. Much of it has been denounced by some American politicians as unnecessary “nation building”. But as on the military side, the numbers spent on these targets never reached what experts said were required for the mission.

Under these conditions, the successes of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan could only be fleeting. The distraction and consumption of resources of the wars in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 and in Syria from 2013 to today did not help but were not the only factors, probably not even the most important.

A parade of dedicated and well-meaning US commanders and of the patriotic troops who served among them had to do their best. That resulted in a decade-long whack-a-mole game amid an ever-changing threat profile, changing politics and priorities in Washington, official reports that broadened the meaning of « overly optimistic », and a sharp decline in interest and support among the Das American people and their elected representatives in Congress and the White House.

The speed of the Taliban’s advance this month greatly facilitates the US failure. But a few more troops and a little more time, which some kept demanding, would not have changed anything. The best we can do now is to be done: an emergency operation to get our diplomats out and seek to save our closest Afghan allies and their families. We may never know what happened to these once cooperative sheikhs.

Could we have done it if we had just done things differently? Would we have sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers over 10 years or more, along with the losses and costs involved? Wouldn’t we have had more ambitious goals? Or rather modest? Repeatedly, our elected leaders answered « no » to these questions. And that was before the Pentagon’s current narrative of the « shift in strategic priorities. »

Which brings us back to Fact # 1. Even if we had been fully committed to the conflict, we could have convinced the majority of the Afghan people to change their culture in a timely manner to become self-sustaining as an American-style democracy, or something close by, with security forces strong enough to protect it? Saying yes is more hubris. To say no is to admit that the effort was doomed from the start and the withdrawal is long overdue.

There aren’t any great lessons here, just the ones we should have known: Be very careful about foreign wars , do not expect them to be easy, adjust the resources to the goals, take into account the local culture, get out as soon as possible. As obvious as these teachings are, they are difficult for the United States to follow.

This is what it looks like and feels like to lose a modern American war. Washington is not on fire. Most Americans’ daily life does not change. Those are the benefits and dangers of being involved in war half a world away.

Losing is hard. Heartbreaking. But that happened. We have to admit it, own it, and maybe learn from it. Unfortunately, that last part is dubious.

Al Pessin reported on the Pentagon from 2005 to 2011 and is the author of the military espionage thriller Sandblast, set in Afghanistan, the first in a series by Kensington Publishing.

NEXT STORY:

John Allen: Biden must reverse his decision to leave Afghanistan

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