|Watch where you're pointing that thing, willya?|
There is an often-ignored truism that wars are easier to get into than they are to get out of, and Afghanistan is emblematic of that truth. While a persuasive argument could be made post 9/11 that there was a case for an American military response against the Taliban regime (bearing in mind that an equally persuasive case could be made against such a response), it has been many years since there was a coherent and rational argument for the occupation of that poor, blighted place. Hence the vague, circular justifications provided by the Obama administration for the massive death and suffering brought about by a huge, pointless foreign military presence. But wait, you say - Obama's a smart fellow, surely he must have a reason why he doesn't just withdraw the troops and end the madness. And you'd be right, he does: Politics. The cost and casualty rate is low enough that the political risk of maintaining the American presence, however futile and delusive it might be, is much lower than the risk of withdrawing the troops. Like the arbitrary excesses of the TSA, the American occupation of Afghanistan serves to significantly inoculate the administration against responsibility for any further attacks on US soil. And of course, it is a rare case where Obama's political opposition, with their historical love for foreign military action, has no real basis to challenge his position on Afghanistan.
From the slowly rusting and eternally distracted "Homeland", the American and NATO presence in Afghanistan appears endless, ponderous and unchanging - a brutal exercise in military futility obfuscated by layers of disingenuous political doublespeak. But this is a false perception. Military occupations, like all huge undertakings, evolve through a series of stages and processes, and the NATO presence in Afghanistan seems to be entering a new and important phase. From pitched battles to guerrilla war to IEDs, the opposing forces - much more than just the oft-cited "Taliban", these are in many cases tribal fighters resisting foreign occupation, just as their fathers and uncles did twenty five years ago - have sought to maximize their asymmetric capabilities against the Americans massive advantages in firepower and mobility. And now, with a poor and desperate population fed up with a seemingly endless foreign occupation of their home, we are seeing a sharp increase in the most destructive of all possible attacks - the so-called "Green on Blue" attack.
The stated American exit strategy is to build up a powerful and effective Afghan security force from an ethnically disparate and illiterate pre-industrial population. They get training in small unit tactics, weapons and explosives, overland navigation and battlefield first aid. The officer corps gets even more extensive training in areas like leadership, intelligence, communication and logistics. The plan requires that millions of Afghans receive this sort of training, so no matter how low your estimate of enemy infiltration is, there is no doubt that we are providing significant expertise to the very people we are fighting. And when you take into account the millions of others who have a non-combat support role either at the NATO bases and installations in country or within the Afghan force structure itself, you realize that our entire presence is at risk of attack from within. Indeed, just yesterday, all NATO troops were ordered to keep a loaded weapon with them at all times, even in bases and rear areas.
It's hard to imagine the toxic and destructive effect of these attacks. When you consider that the primary remaining mission for American and NATO forces is the training and development of an effective Afghan security force, you have to wonder how that mission can possibly be carried out in such a poisoned atmosphere of fear and distrust. Will Americans require the Afghan recruits to train with unloaded weapons? Will even more Afghan trainees, exasperated and aggrieved by the cautious suspicion and even outright hatred of their counterparts, desert to the insurgency? How can the Americans succeed in building an effective indigenous security force while an active insurgency is encouraging its fighters to infiltrate and cripple it from within?
These attacks seem to signal that the end game has arrived. With a deeply corrupt national government that has no power outside of Kabul, an insurgency that has broad and unfettered support from neighboring Pakistan and a population that knows nothing but war and occupation, the NATO occupation was not a promising endeavor in the first place. But now, with even our Afghan "allies" regularly turning their weapons on the foreign troops, any semblance of partnership and coordinated effort is well and truly gone. In a war zone where your allies are your greatest threat and something so innocuous as a loaded magazine or a live grenade can be in the hands of a lethal enemy, nothing of any value can be accomplished. For the Obama administration, the political imperatives remain unchanged, but for the Americans, their NATO allies and the Afghan people, it's just more years of brutal, grinding futility.