Afghan War

Here is my analysis of how the Afghan war went down.

Prior to 9/11 the US et al were hoping for a Northern Alliance victory (the Northern Alliance didn't beat women with sticks etc) but without really interfering in their war against the Taliban (note that America had actually agreed, as one of the conditions for getting the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan, that it would not interfere in the internal affairs of Afghanistan).

Then out of the blue, 9/11 happened. The natural instinct was to nuke Afghanistan off the face of the planet. But logic and compassion kicked in and the appropriate response was to find out WHY they did it and THEN nuke them off the planet if we didn't like the answer.

In order to find out why they did it, we needed to break open freedom of speech. At this stage, all we wanted to do was talk, and see whether the Afghans really wanted to be enemies. We suspected that they didn't, otherwise the Taliban wouldn't have needed to be a dictatorship and suppress freedom of speech. But in the initial phase, we weren't trying to force the Afghans to do anything, so we didn't want a war with the Afghan people. Afghans are well-known for digging in their heels against invaders, and that is what we wanted to avoid.

So the goal was to topple the Taliban without provoking a war against the Afghan people. The Taliban of course were saying that the Americans were just like the Soviets. The strategic thing for the Americans to do was to avoid having the Afghans think that the Americans were invading them. The way this was accomplished was to just assist the Northern Alliance to victory, and sort of pretend to be too scared to land on the ground. The Taliban were routed as the Northern Alliance swept to victory in a brilliant campaign, with the Americans barely getting their boots scuffed.

Now that the Taliban had been replaced by the Northern Alliance, the next goal was to basically defeat the Northern Alliance, as Rabbani was just another dictator, and was from a minority ethnic group, and we didn't want to alienate the major sect, the Pashtuns. So now we needed to get the Pashtuns back into power. Basically democracy would sort all this out, but we needed to get the Northern Alliance to relinquish power peacefully, to avoid having to go to war with them. We presumably would have gone to war with the Northern Alliance if they hadn't agreed to doing this. But the best use of resources was to try to use diplomacy to get them to stand down.

After much arm-twisting, the Northern Alliance agreed to allow Karzai to be president instead of Rabbani, while the minority Tajiks took over defence, interior and foreign affairs! We needed to protect Karzai from Fahim's goons. While still trying to avoid a war with anyone at all! The Northern Alliance reluctantly agreed to allow an international force into Kabul to protect Karzai. 5000 troops (all that Fahim would agree to) from the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) were allowed in. Once again, the US had been very careful to avoid accusations of a US invasion. The ISAF had no Americans in it, and was limited to Kabul. Fahim was allowed to think that he was still the goon-in-charge, and in some ways, he was.

Throughout Afghanistan, the Afghan people knew that they were being semi-oppressed by the Northern Alliance, not the US, and not even the ISAF. Which is exactly what we wanted them to think (and it was true, also!). If they wanted to fight someone, they needed to fight the Northern Alliance, not the US. The US then set about hunting down the Taliban and Al Qaeda, deftly avoiding coming into conflict with the Afghan people, who were treated as neutrals in this conflict. The US also set about training a new Afghan National Army (ANA). Fahim was very upset about this. Getting the ANA to replace Fahim's goons was the goal, but it was not known whether this could be done without having to go to war with the Northern Alliance (or even parts of the Northern Alliance, such as Ismail Khan in Herat).

Almost unbelievably, the US managed to pull this off. Through deft negotiations, the Northern Alliance was disbanded, all heavy equipment was transferred to the ANA, ISAF was expanded way beyond 5000 troops, NATO took over command of the ISAF, ISAF was spread over the whole of Afghanistan. Basically the end result of a NATO invasion had taken place, but without opening a warfront with either the Afghan people or the Northern Alliance, and without the history books writing that NATO conquered Afghanistan - instead, the Afghan people freed themselves. It was complete and utter brilliance. Democratic elections were held, cementing Karzai into power, and Fahim was finally kicked out of his Defence Minister position, so there was no longer a threat of coercion against Karzai by a warlord.

Some people still remember Karzai as the "Mayor of Kabul", which was sort of true in the beginning. But at the end, he was indeed President of Afghanistan. It just took a while to get the armed forces loyal to him. Now the armed forces are unquestionably loyal to the state, not a warlord. Just as was required to set up a normal democracy. And everything worked. There was nothing genetically wrong with the Afghans that prevented them from being able to handle democracy. There was no basis to the theory that democracy couldn't be installed by force of arms. The Afghans had no desire to be enemies of the US or support terrorism.

Another thing that the Afghan war did was invalidate the theory that people can be bombed into submission. Afghanistan actually came pre-bombed. It was total rubble. And yet, the Taliban were not submissive. The US could have bombed random civilians (ie terrorism), but the Taliban were brutal on the civilians themselves. Once again, the US had no options. It couldn't do anything to the Afghans that the Taliban hadn't already done to them. The Taliban didn't represent the Afghan people and therefore it can't be punished by attacking the country as a whole. This is a lesson to be learned if Iran chooses to nuke the US. There is NO RESPONSE. Nuking Tehran in response would actually just be murdering a whole lot of OUR ALLIES being held hostage by the Mullahs. Just as the Afghans are mostly our allies too. And the ones that aren't, are being killed by our Afghan allies.

Today the situation is simple. Afghans are being trained up so that they can take care of their own country, and be loyal to their citizens, protecting their rights. A very light footprint of foreign forces is in Afghanistan. The US has made good use of non-US foreign troops, especially to make clear to the Afghan people that the foreign troops are just a form of international aid, they are not there to subjugate the people. All the foreign countries are independent actors. The US isn't forcing them to be there, and is not forcing the Afghan people to do anything at all. The US didn't force the Afghans to put in their constitution that the Afghan president must be a Muslim. They came up with that by themselves. Hopefully with the freedom of speech that our soldiers have opened up we can get the Afghans to drop such religious bigotry some time in the future. But at this point in history it is not strategic to open a warfront with the Afghan people to try to ram western standards down their throat. We can reevaluate this policy at a later date, after we've got some feedback. For now there are far more important things to do.

Also, Afghanistan set a particular gold standard in warfare. If ever we have a civil war, or can artificially jump-start a civil war, it only takes a small number (about 200 special forces) of foreign troops to be able to win, when you have complete air supremacy. The trick then becomes whether or not we can jump-start civil wars in the future. Can we get part of the armed forces of a foreign country to split off and call in the US for help? That is the point we want to reach. Where all military people in the world are aware that if they want to overthrow a dictator, the US always stands ready to assist them to certain victory.

US policy in Afghanistan should be to continue providing assistance that the Afghan government asks for, preferably via NATO rather than directly to the US. See if Afghanistan wishes to join and is eligible to join NATO's Partnership for Peace, with a view to eventual membership. See what impact freedom of speech and democracy has, and just monitor it. There is no obvious danger in Afghanistan at the moment. The Taliban are vastly outnumbered and outgunned and it is simply bizarre that they could fantasize about overthrowing Afghan's democratically-elected government. But they're not alone. People all over the world think that the Taliban are a genuine threat rather than a complete joke. It will probably be years before the rule of law regarding opium is able to be enforced. As much as possible we want Afghans to be the ones enforcing that rather than foreigners.

Avoiding a conflict with the Afghan people remains the highest priority. NATO probably needs to stop bombing people's houses. Get the Afghans to take care of these problems. NATO forces will probably be upset about being lame ducks, essentially not allowed to do anything more than observe, but that's just bad luck. Karzai and Waheed have both reported that this heavy-handed bombing is not appreciated by the Afghan people and NATO should not continue to test the Afghan people's patience. Everyone's going to be sorry if the Afghan people suddenly decide to turn on the foreigners. It is a conflict that must be avoided. There should be sufficient Afghan forces available such that NATO can stop being the ones who inadvertently kill Afghan civilians.

UPDATE: The above is my rationale but there is evidence that Bush is not that smart. He inexplicably paused the bombing and gave the Taliban a chance to hand over Osama Bin Laden. It would have been disastrous if the Taliban had actually accepted that offer. As it was, it was a slap in the face to our Northern Alliance allies that Bush wasn't committed to helping them to victory, and a slap in the face to the Afghan people that Bush didn't care about their freedom. So hats off to the Taliban for doing the right thing! And SHAME ON YOU BUSH.

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