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The War is Lost: Another Perspective on the Afghanistan War
By Frank Brodhead
I started the Afghanistan War Weekly several months ago because it seemed important to learn more about how the war was being fought on the ground, and what was the impact or what were the results of the military and civilian programs being put in place.
My conclusion so far is that the war, from the US point of view, has been lost. Not just that the war is in trouble, but that from a military and political point of view, things have gone so badly that they cannot be turned around, even with more time and resources.
I think this conclusion is important because the "war is lost" perspective or slogan addresses the likely future moves of the war managers in a way that our current slogans and perspectives do not.
Our antiwar slogans or perspectives now broadly include:
The war is immoral; it kills civilians
The war is not a good response to terrorism; it is making us less safe
The war is expensive; we need the money to build real security at home; and
The war should be ended through negotiations asap.
None of these slogans engage the war itself. We have added little new to our perspectives or our criticisms of the war since Obama’s decision at the end of 2009 to escalate the war. We need to take a closer look at the war itself. Two developments make this especially important.
First, the official US war aim for Afghanistan has changed. Leaving aside nebulous claims about building democracy, etc., until recently the US goal was to kill or eliminate Al Qaeda. But recent reports state that the number of Al Qaeda activists in Afghanistan has fallen probably below 100.
The war managers have responded to the declining usefulness of the Al Qaeda-in-Afghanistan threat by updating the US goal. Now our goal is to make military and political conditions in Afghanistan such that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups cannot use Afghanistan as an operating base in the future.
The war managers have refocused or rebranded the programs of their strategy for Afghanistan to meet this revised goal. For example, now they say that they will make Afghanistan Al Qaeda-proof by creating a legitimate government, eliminating widespread corruption, building an effective Army and National Police Force, and establishing reconstruction and jobs programs that will win hearts and minds. They have plans to wean farmers off of opium production, and encourage lower-level Taliban to defect to the government.
These programs are things that the antiwar movement needs to learn more about, things that were not on our radar before "the surge."
Second, Petraeus and the war managers have signaled that they need more time beyond President Obama’s July 2011 deadline. This position has found support in Congress and the mainstream media. Recently, President Obama and his war managers have backpedaled on the deadline, saying that the "drawdown" will be based on conditions on the ground, that the actual number of troops withdrawn will be small and incremental. It appears that Obama is losing control of the war to Petraeus and his associates.
In short, the antiwar movement will need to confront the Petraeus and the war managers by showing Congress and the country that the US programs for winning the war in Afghanistan are dead as a doornail, that the war is lost and can’t be fixed.
While there is not enough time for details about the war disaster, I will just mention that in recent weeks US government representatives have reported that the Afghanistan corruption campaign can't go forward because it would destroy the government, that the US/NATO forces have now "secured" fewer provinces and districts in Afghanistan than was the case a year ago; that official reports of success in training the Afghanistan Army and Police are fraudulent and nothing is really working; that the program for low-level Taliban defection has attracted only a handful of customers, and that the recent election shows a strong drop in voter participation with no lessening in election-day fraud. Each of these "Rumsfeldian" metrics for measuring how the war is going is strongly negative.
Overall, a basic problem with the current strategy in Afghanistan is that the US does not have the manpower and resources to achieve their objective of controlling the country. Troops from other NATO countries are on their way out, and US soldiers now in Afghanistan or soon to be sent there have already completed several tours of duty and cannot be asked to do more. Reinforcements are nowhere in sight.
To conclude: Now that the attack on Kandahar is officially underway, and with the likely prospect that the war managers will ask for more time – even more years – to accomplish their military mission, I think it's important for the antiwar movement to pay close attention to military developments on the ground in Afghanistan. It is simply immoral to allow the killing of US soldiers and the people of Afghanistan to go on when, in terms of the US war aims, the war is already lost.