Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Afghanistan - where do we go from here?

Let's face it, we aren't making friends in Afghanistan. Let's pause a moment to remember why we are there.

Days after 9/11, the FBI concluded that it had been planned by the terrorist group al Qaeda which was, at the time, headquartered in Afghanistan. At the time Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban and we asked them to turn over al Qaeda. They refused and threatened us. So we invaded and overthrew the Taliban. Our only beef with the Taliban was that they were sheltering al Qaeda. Granted, they were oppressive, especially to women, but other governments have done worse and we haven't bothered to overthrow them.

It turned out that the Taliban was very weak. A few weeks later and the Taliban had vanished. So had al Qaeda.

We assembled a government and make promises about building Afghanistan a proper infrastructure. Then we pulled the army to go attack Iraq.

In the interim, the Taliban reassembled and began counter attacking.

In 2004, the Democrats complained that President Bush had taken his "eyes off of the ball" and that Afghanistan was where the real war against terror was taking place. After the success of the Surge in Iraq, both candidates in the 2008 election promised to do the same in Afghanistan. After being elected, President Obama did authorize a surge although it was less than what the military requested and it had a politically-inspired end date.

The Afghan surge did not go so well. Things worked out in Iraq because the surge coincided with the Awakening movement - the realization that the members of al Qaeda who had gone to Iraq to fight the Americans were not really the friends of the Iraqis. Nothing like that has happened in Afghanistan. Instead, the Afghans are increasingly seeing the Americans in an unfavorable light.

The drone war hasn't helped. Drones have become Obama's favorite weapon but it is hard to prove that the group you killed with a drone-based missile was really a group of terrorists.

Plus we expanded the war into Pakistan where the drones are really a touchy subject. This got trickier when we invaded their country in order to kill bin Laden.

Obama had trouble with his commanders. One had to resign after an article indicated that his private opinion of the President was less than enthusiastic. He does not get along with the President of Afghanistan, either. Neither man trusts the other.

The events of the last couple of weeks have made our position even worse. First, it came out that some holy writings including copies of the Koran were included in papers that were burned. This is understandable when you realize that the troops doing the burning cannot read Arabic.

Then a disturbed soldier committed an unthinkable act and killed a number of civilians, mainly women and children.

So, where do we go from here? Al Qaeda is long-gone. The Taliban controls a good bit of Afghanistan. We are trying to protect a government that we consider corrupt long enough to equip an Afghan army. It is questionable if this army will ever be strong enough to stand on its own and if we will be able to trust it if it can.

Our fight started out against al Qaeda but morphed into a fight with the Taliban.

We are not winning any friends by staying but if we leave we will seem weak.

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