2014 is drawing ever closer, but the United States is no nearer to assuring victory and stability in Afghanistan than it was in 2003. Here are the reasons that Afghanistan is now an un-winnable war.
- The corruption in local and national government is staggering. The corruption in Afghanistan is about much more than politicians skimming from government funds. It’s mostly about failing to uphold laws in exchange for political and monetary favors. While performing the duties of DIA intelligence analyst in Kabul Province in 2010, I traveled to Musahi District, just south of Kabul, with the Nebraska National Guard 1-134 Cav Scouts. The local police chief in Musahi spoke a good game, promising to stand up against corruption and fight the insurgency. We found out later that he brokered deals in order to keep the peace in his district. All politics was indeed local, thus the chief had no romantic thoughts of “national security”. He allowed insurgents to move into his district and cache weapons and supplies meant for attacks on Kabul. Meanwhile, Musahi looked perfectly peaceful. And who could blame him in the end? At one point we learned from one of the chief’s subordinates that local police located an insurgent weapons cache in the district and took some Guardsmen to the location where several weapons turned up. The chief grew enraged when he found out that his policeman gave us the location of the weapons. He knew how this would appear to the insurgents; like he’d stabbed them in the back. After a couple of cache finds, the Haqqani Network decided to teach the police chief a lesson. A suicide bomber drove a Vehicle-borne IED (VBIED) from Logar Province into Musahi. After circling the police chief’s building and finding no access because of a newly built stone wall, the bomber detonated in from of a new district center, shearing off the front of the building and leaving a huge crater. Miraculously no one was killed. The vehicle had passed through a checkpoint up the road, but the police officer failed to search the vehicle. From that point on, the police chief glanced nervously out his window whenever a vehicle engine revved outside the station.
The above picture shows me and a National Guardsman approaching the Musahi District Center before the bomb exploded.
Here’s what remained of the district center after the bomb.
Even when Musahi law enforcement did its job, there was no guarantee Kabul would comply. One time the National Guardsmen arrested two men on a motor cycle in Musahi. One man’s hands tested positive for HME (Home Made Explosives) and the other man had a cell phone with hundreds of photos of known insurgents on it. The day after these men were arrested and sent to the detention center in Kabul they were released from jail with no bail or trial. A man inside the Kabul government brokered their release, likely for a promise from the Taliban that they’d leave him alone.
- The Afghan Security Forces (ANSF) cannot be trained to an adequate level in a reasonable amount of time. My anecdote about the Musahi district center is demonstrative of many of the problems in Afghanistan. Even where the ANSF is present, it lacks the discipline and equipment to effectively fight a determined insurgency. The tea and pillow, Laissez-Fair attitude prominent in Afghan culture does not lend itself to aggressive law enforcement and security. Moreover, the technical, legal and bureaucratic intricacies of future advise and assist teams have not been worked out, despite the fact that these teams are set to deploy in early 2013. Fundamental questions such as: What happens when Afghan security forces refuse to deal with insurgents that pose a threat to American forces? The primary difference in advising as opposed to partnering is supposed to be in the power of suggestion: US advisers suggest possible courses of action, but it’s up to the Afghans to act on them. If the US chooses to take no action against known insurgent High Value Targets in order to maintain GIRoA primacy, the US is in effect sending its troops to a slaughter. But if American forces target insurgents who pose a threat despite the protests of Afghan officials, then the mission is no longer merely advise and assist. There seems no easy answer in this regard.
- The Taliban already has Kabul in its back pocket. There is no Kabul “Green Zone”. Insurgents, spies and assassins stalk the streets of Kabul and haunt the halls of parliament. Much of the national government has likely brokered closed doors deals with the Taliban. Those who refuse to play the Taliban’s game are assassinated. The Kabul police are not adequately equipped to stop suicide bombers. It is my assessment that the only reason Karzai is still alive is because he’s already cut deals to stay alive and in power. His protesting against American night raids mirrored what I saw in Musahi: The insurgents want the night raids to end because they are effective, so they force political leaders to denounce them under threat of force or bartered deals for local peace. The politicians intentionally incite the Afghans about night raids and this legitimizes a Taliban agenda. While in Kabul, myself and other analysts from the Combined Stability Operations Center (CSOC) visited a Kabul and met with former Afghan Prime Minister, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai. A warm, genuine man, Ahmadzai assured us that the Taliban had learned their lesson. According to the former PM, the Taliban knew it’d “gone too far” and that if they were allowed back in to power, they’d tame their actions. Ahmadzai even offered to host a meeting between Taliban and my group. Apparently it was that easy for this politically connected man to invite the enemy’s of America in for a cup of tea. We all declined, imagining a suicide vest-clad Talib tipping back his cup as he pressed his detonator….
The author( left) and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai (center) in Kabul, 2010.
- The insider threat. Finally, a wave on attacks against coalition forces by Afghan security forces have all but destroyed the partnership between NATO and Afghan troops. Recently, NATO halted outright partnered patrols with Afghan security forces. With an impending draw down of troops this year, things will only get worse for advise and assist teams as insurgents will gain increased freedom of movement and ability to stage for attacks in ways not previously witnessed. Whereas most of the large attacks of the past were planned for in Pakistan, it may become possible with decreased American troop presence, for the insurgents to prepare large scale attacks much closer to their intended targets. And advise and assist teams themselves will become very vulnerable to attack with fewer maneuver elements to protect them. All in all, this bodes ill for the future of Afghanistan.