Thursday, August 12, 2021

Terror in Afghanistan

 Over the past couple of weeks, the Taliban has been on a roll, seizing more and more territory from the Afghan government.  They have almost all the provincial capitols now.  Today, Herat and Ghazni fell and Kandahar is falling.  The civilian population is in a panic.  Those that can, are fleeing to Kabul, but that may just be delaying the inevitable.  The US Embassy is sending almost everybody home as fast as possible.  They're not calling it an "emergency evacuation" yet, but that's what it really is.  They're moving diplomatic operations to a US-controlled area at the Kabul airport.  And the Pentagon is bringing in 3,000 troops to ensure the safety of the evacuation.  I saw a report that many diplomats expect Kabul to fall within 90 days.  Personally, I think it will be much quicker, probably not even a month.

I'm of two minds about this.  On the one hand, we've been propping up the government for twenty years now.  We screwed up early on when we took our eye off the Afghan ball and decided it would be great to invade Iraq.  The Taliban saw that we weren't really all that interested in Afghanistan and decided to get their band back together.  Meanwhile, anyone in any Afghan position of power used it to enrich themselves as much as possible.  Graft was built into the system.  If there's one thing the Afghans learned, it was to grab as much as possible when you could because you never knew when the Americans' largesse would end.

They had a reason to feel that way.  Bush and Obama didn't really seem to know what they wanted.  They'd engage and ramp up, then announce they were ramping down and would soon be out, only to ramp up again.  Those of us who went there did our best to try to make it work.  However, when I left in 2012, I was not optimistic.  A government built on graft was not a good bet for longevity.  Still, we poured a lot of money and a lot of effort into giving the Afghan government the tools we believed were necessary in a modern world.  The one thing we couldn't give them was a sense of mission, a common purpose.  And the government we propped up didn't have that.

The Taliban did.  As other insurgent operations over the centuries have proven (see U.S. War of Independence, Viet Nam, and the Cuban Revolution, for examples), a few guys with substandard weapons and a commitment to a cause can beat established powers.  So when Donald Trump announced that we were pulling out for good, and damn the consequences, the Taliban saw their opening.  Although negotiations continued, the announcement that we weren't going to play anymore signaled the Taliban to just wait us out.  Then Biden confirmed the pullout.  So the Taliban stepped up their game and now they're on a deadly roll.  The government we have propped up for 20 years was never strong enough to hold their own, would never be strong enough, and this result was inevitable.

So: on the one hand, if this was inevitable, it's time to cut our losses and let the inevitable happen, right?  We can't impose our way of government on another country if it's not a good fit.  It's an Afghan problem and can only be solved by Afghans.

Then there's the other hand.  The Taliban is as brutal, inhumane, animalistic, and criminal as any pariah regime that has ever existed.  They're even more brutal than the Nazis.  Beheadings, rape, kidnapping, and destruction of lives and property are the standard way of doing business.  People are dying, right now, as I write this, and probably as you read this.  

I have a friend who is an Afghan.  He served with the Special Forces and Navy SEALS as an interpreter in some brutal fights.  He earned a Special Immigrant Visa and came to the United States, then earned a Masters degree from Georgetown University.  He went to Afghanistan earlier this year to get married, then returned to the US to work and begin the paperwork to bring his bride.  She, his family, and her family are in Herat.  And Herat was just taken by the Taliban today.

That's the "other hand": the personal cost that our pullout is inflicting on real people.  Right now.

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