Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 15, 2021 5:26 pm

Afghanistan was never winnable

Filed under: Reality: It works,Say a prayer — Lex @ 5:26 pm

The news from Afghanistan today in the wake of the American troop pull-out is grim: The Taliban have taken the national capital, Kabul. The U.S. has dispatched 2,500 Marines and soldiers to assist in the evacuation of U.S. Embassy personnel and dependents. Meanwhile, Afghan soldiers and political leaders are surrendering to the Taliban or fleeing to Kabul in hopes, probably vain, of being evacuated by the U.S.

Anyone who was around for the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 knows how this is going to go. I was around for it, not least because my ninth-grade health teacher, Larry Byers, had served a tour in Vietnam and had, arguably, an extracurricular interest in what was going down. He devoted several of our classes to watching TV news about the North Vietnamese advance on Saigon and the hurried American attempts to abandon the place, rather than on the regular health curriculum. Neither I nor, so far as I recall, any other boy in that class felt cheated.

So what puzzles me today is why so many people who were around for the fall of South Vietnam didn’t see this coming.

The reason the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001 — or at least the reason the government gave us — was that the Taliban in Afghanistan was protecting Osama bin Laden, who had, with a lot of Saudi help and money, planned and launched the 9//11 attacks. So, on the surface, it seemed logical to go in and pursue bin Laden and his Taliban protectors.

Thing is, the Taliban were mostly the same guerillas the U.S. had armed to try to expel Soviet invaders during the 1980s. They succeeded, but that didn’t mean they were U.S. allies. For all that, Afghanistan remained very tribal, with only a loose central government. The best the U.S. could have hoped for, the only thing that might have had a chance of looking like a victory, would have been to pop into the country, kill or capture Osama bin Laden, and pop right back out, letting the devil take the hindmost.

That is not, of course, what happened.

Bush allowed bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora in 2001 by sending Afghan units after him instead of well-trained, well-supplied U.S. military units. And with that escape went any chance of anything that the U.S. could point to as a victory in Afghanistan. Bush should have evacuated the country then and there.

His next best option was to take that time to work with Afghanistan to try to stand up a competent Afghan army and national police force. Whether that was doable under any circumstances was arguable at best. It clearly was never going to be doable if, after occupying Afghanistan, the Bush administration and the military immediately turned their attention and resources to the invasion of Iraq (under the, shall we say, mistaken belief that Iraq was preparing to use weapons of mass destruction). I’m not sure when soldiers on the ground first decided that the war was unwinnable, but they definitely had by the time bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan — more than a decade before we finally withdrew.

This is going to be awful for the Afghan people, particularly women and girls. But it’s too late for us to mount a military offensive to drive the Taliban back into hiding. America has along since tired of fighting this war — both service members and the public at large, except for some of the generals, who, remember, have been lying to us for years about how that war was going. No, the time for doing something passed long ago.

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