Posted by: Kevin | September 7, 2006

Afghanistan and the Problem of not Enough Cure



First, Take a moment to read some excellent writing on this subject by Sideways Mencken’s here (cross-posted here) and here.  Check out the Donklephant link if you want to read my rant in the comments section.  Still with me, OK here goes.


Last time I had to take antibiotics (sinus infection, get your mind out of the gutter), my doctor gave me some very simple advice.  Take this entire prescription.  Don’t stop as soon as symptoms disappear.  Otherwise the infection will come back stronger and we’ll end up having to put you on stronger antibiotics.  The point is, take enough medication the first time or risk having a bigger problem.


Wonder what he’d have to say about this?  We applied a cure to the Taliban / Al Qaeda infection in Afghanistan.  By dropping thousands of bombs and working extensively with regional warlords we hoped to clear this infection.  The initial returns were good.  The Northern Alliance was able to overrun Northern Afghanistan, with significant coalition air support, before most of the coalition foot soldiers even arrived.   By December of 2001, the last Taliban stronghold of Kandahar had fallen and a provisional government had been established.

The problem is we didn’t apply enough of a cure.  The total coalition presence in Afghanistan was generally less than 20,000 troops.  As a result we worked extensively with local militias in order to achieve our goals.   This allowed those militias to retain control in their regions, without them having to submit to the authority of the central government.  It also made it more likely that Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders would be able to take advantage of the conflicted loyalties if these militias and escape capture (this is conjecture, I admit).  Lastly, and now most importantly, we relied on Pakistan to seal their border with Afghanistan.  Something they were unable, or unwilling, to do.  The infection survived and developed tolerance to our cure.

In the Spring and Summer of 2002, the Taliban and Al Qaeda began establishing strongholds in the remote tribal regions of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We played whack-a-mole in Afghanistan with some success but there was nothing we could do about Pakistan.  By the late summer Al Qaeda in Pakistan had regained enough strength to launch cross border raids into Afghanistan.  The Taliban also regained strength in Pakistan and by the summer of 2003 they were able to establish significant bases throughout the tribal regions.  By 2004, this led to clashes with the Pakistani army.

Now in 2006, Pakistan has been forced into a humiliating cease-fire with the Taliban and the various tribes of Waziristan.  They have ceded any rights to govern that area to the Taliban and even paid a substantial sum of money to end the fighting.  So the Taliban and Al Qaeda again have a base of operations in central Asia.  This time it’s one we can’t touch without completely compromising Pakistan’s king sovereignty.  The Taliban is also working very hard to work their way back into Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan is still unable to stand on it’s own without significant foreign backing. 

Presidents Musharrah and Karzai after a candid discussion of who is more screwed.

To sum it up, we failed to wipe out the Taliban.  We failed to eliminate Al Qaeda from Central Asia.  Our effects resulted in the Taliban and Al Qaeda increasing their presence in Pakistan and establishing a stronghold their.  The patient, Afghanistan, is still sick and unable to effectively fend for itself.  I don’t know how much cure we’ll need now but it’s going to be a lot more expensive and painful than our first attempt was.



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