May 14, 2008

I am continually bothered because no one talks about Afghanistan anymore. The Bush administration almost never brings up the subject and the American media almost never write about it.

Some crazy fanatics crashed planes into the New York City Twin Towers and the Pentagon killing thousands of people. The word “9/11″ was added to the American lexicon. We were told America is now at war with “terrorism.” These crazy fanatics were led by a 6′4″ Saudi Arabian named Osama bin Laden. This tall man was shown over and over on TV in a crouch shooting a weapon or walking with a staff and wearing some kind of turban. Those who followed bin Laden were said to be members of an organization called al-Qaeda. The followers were described as members of a radical Islamic movement obsessed with the violent obliteration of any European/American presence in the Mideast.

What al-Qaeda exactly was or is remains in dispute. A British documentary filmmaker said the “movement” is primarily an American invention. The word was first brought to the attention of the public in May 2001 during the trial of the individuals accused of in 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa. Bin Laden was tried in absentia. They needed to establish a criminal organization in order to charge him Under the Racketeer Influence and Corruption Organizations Act (RICO.)

The name al-Qaeda seems to have first appeared with a different spelling (al-Quida) in a 1998 Executive Order issued by President Bill Clinton which identified al-Qaeda as one of several organizations associated with Osama bin Laden. It appears al-Qaeda is much more loosely connected and Osama’s biggest card was his personal wealth and access to other wealth to provide financing to those coming to Afghanistan for training.

A description of these people as part of a radical Islamic movement elevates their position to a higher level than it deserves. Their belief system is so over-the-top it is rejected by most Muslims even though the majority of Muslims in the Mideast oppose the occupation by the “infidels.” The views of al-Qaeda are so “out there” that they remind me of the Rastafarian so-called religion created as an anti-colonial back to Africa belief system that said the deceased King of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie was divine, came from the lineage of David, fulfilled a biblical prophecy and was the earthly representative of God.

In late 2001 American and British military forces invaded Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden and the others responsible for 9/11. It was called Operation Enduring Freedom. The invasion destroyed al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and overthrew the ruling Taliban government for harboring and refusing to turn over Osama bin Laden.

These fanatics were eventually cornered in the Afghanistan mountains, within the centuries old elaborate cave systems. Massive bombs were dropped on Tora Bora and al-Qaeda’s back was broken causing them and the Taliban to retreat. I have a lingering image of Osama bin Laden riding off on a donkey on a mountain trail never to be seen again.

I have no idea where Osama is and apparently American Intelligence and spy sources have no idea either. Cedric the Entertainer says Osama is the best “hide and seek” player in the world. I wonder if this tall Arab is not living on the top floor of the hotel in Pakistan or Indonesia instead of a village on the Pakistan border with Afghanistan.

Since Osama bin Laden vanished, for the most part so has Administration discussion and journalist reporting. The jewel in the crown of our war on terrorism is now a whispered acknowledgment that we need to increase our presence so I decided to see what I could find out about Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country in Central Asia that is on the way to most of the dominant cultures and powers in the world. The country ironically is a little smaller than Texa. It is bordered by Pakistan, Iran, China and three countries formally part of the USSR.

In the Middle Ages Afghanistan was part of the Mongolian Empire created by Genghis Khan. Eventually an Afghan tribal warlord conquered the country and over the next centuries different warlords connected by kinship controlled the country. Eventually, Afghanistan became a colony of the Empire of England, (Pax Britannica, where the sun never set.) In 1919, independence from Britain colonial rule was achieved but stability was not. A left-wing Marxist group took control of Afghanistan in the 1970s. They imposed a number of reforms including the cancellation of the mortgage debt of the tenant peasants who were required to give one half of their crops annually to the landowner. A literacy program was adopted to respond to the fact that over 90% of the population was illiterate. Forced marriages of women was prohibited. Compulsory free education for women was adopted. Increased health care and the building of hospitals in remote areas was introduced.

This Marxist government was never very strong and a civil war to overthrow them from power began shortly after they took over the government. In 1979 the Soviet Union sent 100,000 troops to help prop up the tottering government during the civil war. Elements in the Kremlin, in keeping with the last vestiges of the Cold War, were paranoid that the United States would try to destabilize pro-Soviet Muslim countries in Central Asia and wanted to establish anti-Soviet bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan to replace those lost when the pro-American dictator the Shah of Iran was dethroned.

The United States assumed its traditional “ Cold War” position opposing the Soviet Union and the governing Marxist regime. In doing this we supported the ultra-right conservative mujahadden. This included supporting the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which by the way used the reforms the Marxist government had imposed to improve the lives of Afghan women as one of the reasons to topple the Marxist government in the civil war. Pakistan, Iran and a number of Saudis supported the mujahadden. The United States supplied military weapons to Pakistan, who in turn supplied these weapons to the ultra-conservative civil war fighters. (This became the secret government operation that was the focus of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s war” with Tom Hanks.)

After 10 years of fighting the Soviet troops left Afghanistan. This was seen as a Cold War victory and we quickly lost interest in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. Fighting between various tribal warlords took over. Other factions which ultimately became the Taliban developed a politico-religious force that took control of the country. The Taliban became a treacherous and brutal regime which controlled the country for seven years. Many human rights were violated, women were banned from jobs and forbidden to attend schools or universities and left wingers were systematically killed. They also provided safe haven to militant Muslims to establish terrorist training camps. The only positive thing I can think of that was done by the Taliban is that poppy flower growing for opium was virtually eliminated.

President Carter’s security adviser Zbigniew Brezinski admitted to a French reporter that the United States had engaged in a clandestine program of assistance to the enemies of the Soviet Union and the Marxist government in the civil war. When asked if he regretted supporting the ultra-conservative Islamic guerrillas and giving advice and money to future terrorists. Brezinski responded by saying it was more important to history to be part of the collapse of the Soviet empire than having helped create the Taliban.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack the United States invaded Afghanistan to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist camps, capture Osama bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban government. Missiles were launched, massive bombs dropped, airplane sorties flown an elite troops landed. In a few weeks the back of Al Qaeda and the Taliban was broken and their leadership slipped away to parts unknown.

Thereafter, based upon reasoning and assertions that were, at best, facile and, at worst, almost evil, the Bush administration decided the war on terror required an invasion of Iraq.

An election was held in Afghanistan and a returning ex-patriot Hamid Karzai was elected president. I watched a woman being interviewed by Bill Moyers recently who was establishing a business in Afghanistan and she said that Karzai was the only democratically elected government person in the life of an average Afghan citizen on a “ day to day” level. At times my own sense is that a the closest thing to democracy in Afghanistan is the area directly around Karzai which is protected by his military bodyguards.

After the war on terrorism moved to Iraq, Afghanistan was left in a somewhat unusual military situation. There are two operations. One operation is led by the NATO International Security Force (SAF) which includes more than 43,000 troops from 40 countries including more than 15,000 American troops. There is a second military operation led by the United States which is known as Operation Enduring Freedom with another 11,000 American military troops. So at the time of the shift to Iraq there were about 28,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

The government and the media reports that more than six years after the invasion, the Karzai government controls only 30% of the country. The Taliban controls roughly 10% while the majority of Afghanistan’s territory and people remain under tribal control.

The Pentagon recognizes that American involvement in Afghanistan has to be increased. A few months ago a Pentagon spokesman testified that the American troop level will be increased by 4000 soldiers to a level of at least 32,000 by the end of the summer.

It is difficult to believe that any military increase or “surge” as it was called in Iraq will accomplish very much. I read an interview of a Russian officer shortly after the American invasion. He had fought in the 10 year Russian occupation of Afghanistan while the Russians tried to keep the Marxist government in power. This Russian officer said the Americans could never win a land war in Afghanistan. He said you can’t win a land war when your opponent is someone who when you put a pistol to a fighter’s head and pull back the trigger, he looks back at you in the eyes and says “ praise Allah.”

This article took a long time and turned out to be an “Afghanistan 101″ piece. Since I began, additional troops have been sent to Afghanistan and increased military action media reporting has occurred.

  1. Reading this reminds me of my old room mate. That guy was one of the smartest people I know, but he was a little beatnik for my tastes though. Anyways I enjoyed reading this, thanks. Will give me something to talk about when I see him.

  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.