Winning… in Afghanistan?

Another question on Facebook provided more fodder for this blog and more thoughts on Afghanistan…

Finally, some quiet time.

Ok, I am working with Word again, so this may run a bit long.

Do you think conflicts like Afghanistan are winnable? I mean the broader “win.” The win where they stop stoning rape victims, figure out things like public utilities, etc. I really don’t know. […] When I reflected on what I wanted to say, I realized “winning” is entirely subjective. What a win means to me and you, are going to be a hell of a lot different that Joe Six Pack in Afghanistan. I don’t know that he and I could ever reach a similar starting point.

Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure what our original mission goal was. I’m not kidding. Broadly kill bad guys, but for the country itself, I don’t know. Maybe a better question is should we even attempt whatever brand of nation building that was?

None of that really gives you anything to sink your teeth into. So, broadly, do you think we can use the military to nation build successfully? We all know the main goal was to put as many of them on the wrong side of daisies as possible. The rest? That’s where my question of “win” comes from. Secondly, should we even try?

My opinion is the term “nation building” comes into play when we have to sell military violence to the masses; changing the very fabric of the country will prevent any future military actions

“We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.” This is a quote from Sir John Glubb’s The Fate of Empires – a very interesting and cautionary read. Much of my own blog has turned into what a friend referred to as a sort of “philosophy” mixed in with my own personal ideas and observations. Over time, I have strayed from the contemporary idea of historical studies and into the ideas of motivation and national will. Finding the RAND study National Will to Fight – Why Some States Keep Fighting and Others Don’t was fortuitous in that it addressed the one easily overlooked, yet vital, component of conflict – those who fight and their motivations.

So, with that being said… there are many factors which go into the idea – our idea – of victory, and the fact that what is a “win” to one is a Pyrrhic victory to their opponent. You brought up an excellent point about when the question of what the original goal was for us to go to Afghanistan in the first place.

In my opinion, the war was lost as soon as we poorly defined the cause of the war to begin with. At the beginning of the month, I wrote “Cynical Optimism” – my own reaction to the peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban. Not too long after that, it was business as usual with the conflict as the attacks continued (read: big effing shock to Afghanistan veterans of all nationalities).

AH-64 departing Kabul International Airport, 9Nov2004. (Source: author)

Were we there to oust the Taliban? …To kill Usama Bin Laden? …To bring American-themed democracy? We lost the focus under the idea that we had to do something after 9/11, and the conflict gained a momentum of its own, guided by changing strategies and the obligation to not have wasted the money and irreplaceable lives that are still part of the ever-running meter. What began as vengeance turned into reconstruction to prevent the foundations of anti-Western sentiment, which morphed into political mill stone securely lashed around the necks of military and civilian leaders, which became a lesson NOT to be repeated after our withdrawal from Iraq, and into the hideous one-night stand that might only be escaped from by gnawing one’s arm off quietly.

Paul brought up an excellent observation: that victory, “socially and politically will take a lot of education, coordinated international pressure and time.”

The reality is that we have neither the social and political education, pressure, and – most importantly – time. We have elections every four years, with the last three presidents remaining in office for two full terms each. We have Senators who have been in office since I was one and a half years old (Patrick Leahy – 3Jan1975), and Congressmen who have been in office since before I was born (Don Young –  6Mar1973); yet, the partisan bickering never seems to result in any coherent direction on Afghanistan. Nor do we seem to care much – despite the 2018 voter turnout being the highest since 1914, it would seem that identity politics is becoming more of a trend rather than coherent foreign and domestic policy.

Back to Afghanistan and the idea of “winning” and everything that we consider terms for victory… Nation building has worked before – Japan, Germany, South Korea… maybe – to some extent – Iraq… but nation building is a complicated and involved process. When done wrong – our own post-Civil War Reconstruction, post-First World War Germany – the repercussions of those mistakes gain more power with each reverberation.

Using the military for nation building is a horrible idea – there is a drastic difference between the short-term destruction and long-term planning which required deliberate consideration… like the 50-yard dash versus the Boston Marathon. So, what is needed is governmental and civilian financial and industrial elements to enter the scene… once the fighting has stopped and safety can be guaranteed for those processes and efforts to begin.

Note that key phrase: “once the fighting has stopped and safety can be guaranteed.”  Not happening in Afghanistan any time soon… and it hasn’t been the case for a long time. This brings me to the inevitable “should we even try?”

The Arg – or Presidential Palace – Kabul, Afghanistan, 27Dec2004 (Source: author)
The Arg – or Presidential Palace – Kabul, Afghanistan, 27Dec2004 (Source: author)

As mentioned before, this is now a difficult situation for any political or military resolution either way. We cannot go back to 2001 and start from a convenient “save” when we started to get the idea that the situation was going to become untenable… so where to now?

If I had that answer, I would be standing on desks in D.C., London, Paris, Russia, wherever.

What I might see happening is that we will eventually find a way to extricate ourselves from the quagmire that Afghanistan has become… only to have to return in a decade or so when the echoes reverberate within the region. If not us, then it will be some other major player who thinks that they are impervious to the lessons of Alexander the Great, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and the U.S.

Can we “win?”


Should we keep trying?


3 thoughts on “Winning… in Afghanistan?

  1. I actually have a plan to defeat the Taliban, but no one will do it as it requires the killing of every man, woman, and child in every Taliban village we find and the eradication of said village to the ground. Leave one Taliban alive to tell the others Do that about 4 or 5 times to demonstrate our resolve and ability to be every bit as ruthless as they are and you might see some results.

    As far as everything else goes: bin Laden? Took YEARS after the original assault. Rebuild Afghanistan? Hah! The Philippines has more of a national identity than any so-called “Afghan”, and the Philippines has 150 languages and 1,000 dialects scattered over 1,000 islands! Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pashtuns, Pashai…hell these people don’t even cooperate in their one TRIBES, sometimes not even in their own FAMILIES..and you think you’re going build a “nation” out of this?

    The end game I see is us pulling out, repeat of the what happened after the Russians pulled out, us getting blamed for it….blather, rinse. repeat.

    The only thing I learned about Afghans is they’re loyal as long as they get paid, and sometimes not even then. you can’t trust them. As far as I’m concerned, they can rot in their own little self made shit hole and I’ll give them as little thought as I can manage….


    1. This was part of past considerations – the idea of re-engaging in a type of warfare that hasn’t been seen in quite a while and even was part of the discussion in the comments for one of the previous posts.
      I think that such brutal measures would only provide even more fuel to the fires of anti-American ideologies which groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban – after all, they know how to win their audience and inspire the next generation of insurgents…


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