Afghanistan, once a stable, proud and peaceful nation, has been at war since 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded. The Soviet Union left in defeat, after losing 15,000 soldiers, in 1989. Civil war set in, followed by the take-over of Afghanistan by the ruthless Taliban. In 2001, after al-Qaeda had used Afghanistan as a base of operations for its attack on the United States, the Bush administration launched its invasion of Afghanistan. American and NATO involvement in Afghanistan has been no more successful than the Soviet Union's. This series of articles chronicles the war, with most recent pieces first.
Eight American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2009, in a daylong battle in Nuristan province near the border with Pakistan's tribal areas, where the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements are holed up. The American press is calling the Taliban's attack on an American outpost "bold" and "persistent." But there was nothing particularly unusual about it other than the unusually high, for Americans anyway, death toll. From the perspective of insurgent history it was war business as usual.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has plenty of time for interviews and appearances before think tanks to sell his demand for an additional 40,000 troops in Afghanistan--but no time for Congress. The general's rogue act earned him a reprimand from Barack Obama.
Iraq war costs may be declining. But Afghan war costs are rising sharply. It's not a wash: the United States' overall war costs are still increasing, as they have virtually every year since 2002. Can the U.S. Treasury sustain the open-ended spending?
On Sept. 3, 2009, in the far-north Afghan province of Kunduz, near the border with Tajikistan, a U.S. F-16 jet called in by German NATO troops bombed what appeared to them to be a fuel convoy the Taliban had hijacked. They were right about the hijacking. The convoy was expected by NATO forces. Taliban fighters took it over. They were wrong about the victims. About half the 90 victims were civilians.
This isn't the way to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
George Will in August 2009 became the first mainstream conservative to call for a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. "So, instead," Will concluded, "forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
Afghan men have won the "right" to starve their wives should they refuse to obey sexual demands. The new law, according to Human Rights Watch, also "grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers. It requires women to get permission from their husbands to work. It also effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying 'blood money' to a girl who was injured when he raped her."
Baitullah Mehsud was the Pakistani Taliban's senior leader and one of the most feared men in Pakistan. He was killed in August 2009. But reports of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders' death have often been premature. When they've been confirmed, they've just as often proved less than consequential. There's always another beheading-mad leader glad to step in the role. No one had heard of Mehsud before 2005. No one has yet heard of his successor, or of Osama bin Laden's successor. The one reliable certainty is that there will be successors.
The grim numbers that used to attach to casualty reports from Iraq from 2004 to 2008 are now attaching to monthly reports from Afghanistan. At least 75 American and coalition soldiers were killed there in July 2009 (39 of them American, 22 British), by far the highest single-month tally since the Afghan war began in October 2001. The closest single-month figure to that toll was in June 2008, when 46 coalition soldiers were killed.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, Zbignew Brzezinski, as President Carter's national security adviser, wrote a memo that asked the Leninist question: "What is to be done?" Brzezinski's answer was to shape a decade of America's secret war against the Soviets by way of the Afghan mujahideen. It was also to shape three decades of blowback that would do incalculable damage to regional security, cost American, Afghan and other lives by the tens of thousands, lead to a nuclear-tipped Pakistan and a Taliban-tipped Afghanistan. Brzezinski does not give good advice. But he's still at it.