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Why Remain in Afghanistan?
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The White House is pushing hard to keep a significant number of American soldiers in Afghanistan contrary to President Barack Obama’s earlier pledge to have then all out by the end of 2014. As the United States President has demonstrated himself to be a habitual liar that failure to connect promises made in 2008 with promises broken in 2013 should surprise no one. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is resisting the effort, insisting that no such agreement be ratified until April of next year, which he well knows would be too late as the United States likely will accelerate plans to withdraw from the country completely by the end of 2014 if there is no agreement by January. Karzai, who will be leaving office next Spring and is undoubtedly looking forward to a comfortable retirement in Dubai in close proximity to the bank accounts holding all the money he stole, is quite likely relying on a continued US presence no matter what agreement is reached. Beyond that, he is playing off his various constituencies in Afghanistan in an effort to make sure that he and his family have a base of support after he leaves office – he knows that agreeing to a long term deal with Washington is unpopular and it is useful for him to appear to be a patriotic Afghan by demanding no more raids on Afghan homes and a framework for peace talks with the Taliban.

The White House’s official explanation for why the United States has to remain in Afghanistan goes something like this: al-Qaeda is still based in nearby Pakistan and is a threat that has to be dealt with. It is most practical to do so from bases inside Afghanistan, using drones and special ops resources. A small residual military presence could man the major US base at Bagram and several other drone bases around the country while helping to secure US diplomatic facilities in the capital Kabul. There are also a number of small CIA bases in Afghanistan as well as technical collection sites along the Iranian border that acquire signals intelligence relating to Iran, but they are relatively insignificant in the calculus being made regarding continued presence in Afghanistan.

As the remaining army units will not have the ability to initiate any major ground operations, the residual military force will be tasked with protecting the other components of the American presence that will not be leaving, which means the CIA facilities which operate the drones and also the diplomatic mission. The CIA bases, for both security and cover reasons, are generally embedded in military facilities, which would have to change. But the broader argument for remaining to protect those who are not leaving is somewhat shaky as the CIA will undoubtedly retain a robust armed presence inside Afghanistan and is fully capable of monitoring Pakistan while continuing drone operations. Indeed, it is more capable at those two tasks than the military because it also has a significant presence inside Pakistan itself.

The US Embassy in Kabul and whatever Consulates remain open will undoubtedly employ thousands of armed contractors as a security force, as the Baghdad Embassy did when the US Army left Iraq. For what it’s worth, all the redevelopment schemes, which have wasted billions of US taxpayer dollars will essentially be abandoned no matter what the outcome of negotiations to stay as the Embassy will not be able to maintain them without a security bubble and the NGOs that are involved will return home when the situation deteriorates, as it surely will no matter what agreement is reached.

A secondary reason for staying, which is only cited occasionally, is to protect the Afghan government itself, with US troops serving as an on-demand Praetorian Guard to keep the government from falling either to the insurgents or to other internal dissidents. Major General Robert Scales, desperately seeking and finding five somewhat overlapping reasons for staying the course that would appeal to his FOX News audience, has predicted that if NATO forces leave the country it would result in “total chaos,” akin to Iraq after the American withdrawal. American soldiers would therefore be seen as the antidote for chaos, unanticipated blowback from the policies in place over the past twelve years that have permitted the creation of the world’s most corrupt government in Kabul.

Americans who are not engaged in the groupthink that prevails in White House and inside the Beltway circles should be asking themselves whether any of the reasons being provided to justify an enduring US presence in Afghanistan make sense. Foremost is the argument about the threat coming from al-Qaeda in neighboring Pakistan. The group has, in fact, been devastated by US and Pakistani military action of various kinds since 9/11, culminating in the reported killing of Osama bin Laden. The most recent 2012 State Department annual report on terrorism hardly reveals a powerful and implacable enemy. It states that “The al-Qa’ida (AQ) core, under the direction of Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been significantly degraded as a result of ongoing worldwide efforts against the organization. Usama bin Laden’s death was the most important milestone in the fight against AQ, but there have been other successes – dozens of senior AQ leaders have been removed from the fight in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Ilyas Kashmiri, one of the most capable AQ operatives in South Asia, and Atiya Abdul Rahman, AQ’s second-in-command, were killed in Pakistan in 2011. AQ leaders Abu Yahya Al-Libi and Abu Zaid al-Kuwaiti were killed in 2012. As a result of these leadership losses, the AQ core’s ability to direct the activities and attacks of its affiliates has diminished, as its leaders focus increasingly on survival.”

In reality, American cross border operations for the past five years have concentrated on attacking the Taliban in Pakistan, a group which has no agenda or even capability to carry out terrorist acts in the United States. So the threat of the return of al-Qaeda is more speculative than real. Would the United States actually be safer if it commits considerable resources to strike the al-Qaeda remnants in Pakistan? It would be difficult to make that case, particularly when genuine and lethal al-Qaeda affiliates have shifted their operations to places like Yemen, East Africa, Iraq and, increasingly, Syria.

So it does all comes down to propping up the Afghan government as it is now clear than no one believes that the constantly reengineered Afghan army and police are capable of defeating any opponent. Those who support that objective might argue that the presence would be temporary, i.e. taking only the time required to train local security forces to give the government breathing space to reform itself. Well, that training process has been going on for more than ten years already and is broken beyond repair. Foreign soldiers training Afghan troops carry their weapons, wear body armor, and limit their actual contact with their “allies” because they know the recruits cannot be trusted let alone relied upon. And government corruption is so institutionalized that reform is a fantasy.

Even in a worst case scenario of a Taliban takeover, no Afghan government would dare reinstall al-Qaeda as it would invite instant and massive retaliation from the United States. Because remaining in country will not lead either to government reform or national security in 2014 or any time thereafter, the intention of staying on to maintain the existing government is a fool’s game, with no real end in sight and no real objective beyond preserving the status quo, kicking the Afghanistan can down the road yet again for whoever becomes American president in 2016. The Afghans themselves clearly believe that the Taliban will somehow become at least part of their government in the near future, so it is perhaps time that Washington come to the same conclusion and cut a deal so it can stop wasting American lives and treasure on a losing cause.

A final possible reason for staying in Afghanistan is more-or-less invisible, and that would be Washington’s saving face for having killed thousands of people and wasted hundreds of billions of dollars. It would be to maintain the Obama fiction that Afghanistan is somehow a “good war.” An abrupt pullout will make it all look like another major foreign policy failure, a perception that will surely have a political fallout for 2016 after the American people realize that they have yet again been conned, as they finally concluded regarding Iraq. So I guess it all comes down to the art of obtaining power and keeping it, both in Washington and Kabul, which is not a very good reason for continuing a war that should have ended in 2002.

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  1. I suspect that there is a linkage here with the mentality of World War I. Once you pour considerable resources into an effort, it is hard to stop doing so. If, like the French, you have killed off a considerable fraction of a generation of your young men, how do you stop, and admit that it wasn’t worth the sacrifice in the first instance.

    A massive part of the problem with our involvement in Afghanistan was the ridiculous Neo-Conservative narrative that kept it going. Our entry should have been a simple punitive expedition aimed at the extirpation of Al Queda. We bungled that andgot preoccupied with the Neo-Con project of creating a democratic central government where such was neither understood or desired. We heard about education for girls and the elevation of women. We heard about democratic elections and civil society projects. None of this was destined to work or have any relevance to our mission.

    So after a decade beating our heads against the Afghan wall we are still looking for ways to stay on. A true leader would go to the American people and say, look folks, these people are so primitive that we just need to wash our hands of them and come home. Or to paraphrase Bismarck, ‘Afghanistan Isn’t worth the life of a simple National Guardsman.’

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    there’s the opium

    it’s been proping the empire up for a hundred and fifty years

  3. Didi says:

    Mr. Giraldi. One look at the map of the region tells me why “we” will remain militarily in Afghanistan. Where else in the region can “we” have land bases for drones etc. with a minimum of grief? Syria? Iraq? Egypt? Iran? Pakistan? Saudi Arabia? Jordan? Lebanon? Yemen? Oman? Bahrain?

  4. BMG says:

    It’s all about defense contracts and Halliburton. The countries are lost to us and there is no possible strategic position to defend.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    this essay is entirely predicated upon the narrative of US involvement in afghanistan being based on retribution for the events of 9-11, and the ensuing GWOT that has provided the basis for adventures throughout the middle east, north africa, etc. what of that other narrative, however, the one that involves control of energy resources — particularly natural gas — and the delivery of said resources in a way that benefits and empowers the west, and disadvantages and weakens the positions of russia and china? convincing evidence exists that the bush/cheney administration wined and dined the taliban prior to the invasion, in the hopes that they would or could protect LNG pipelines envisioned to cross afghanistan, and when the taliban came to be seen as unwilling or unable to work with the resource barons of the west, the were replaced by former unocal executive karzai and his corrupt minions, who would — for a price, of course — be amenable to… whatever. perhaps all such notions are now seen as essentially unattainable, and so the US’ goals have morphed to more pedestrian ones. if so, it would be a first for a great power desperate to prove its continued relevance in a world which is rapidly slipping from its grasp.

  6. rwe2late says:

    Check the map:
    _____________ _____________________ ___________
    | | | | | |
    | | | Afghanistan | | CHINA |
    | IRAN +++++++ ++++++++++++++++++ + ++++++ |
    | | | (Pipelinestan) | | |
    | ___________| | ____________________ | |__________|

    It’s still all about the design of US leaders and the institutions and organizations they head and represent
    to gain full spectrum military and economic dominance of the world’s resources, markets, and finances.

  7. No one, including Giraldi, mentions the oil pipeline the big companies are slavering to build connecting Central Asia (aka Exxonistan) with India and the sea.

  8. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Every commenter except the first one and the author of this treacle understands what US Foreign Policy is about.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    The reason for the US staying in Afghanistan? ‘Valuable minerals’ were discovered there according to the press just before we pulled our troops out of Iraq & sent them over to Afghanistan. Could this simply be imperialist exploitation? Or am I being too cynical?

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “…he [Karzai] knows that agreeing to a long term deal with Washington is unpopular…”

    Karzai may think it’s unpopular but, if he does, he’s as disconnected from reality as our esteemed leaders in the U.S. As I type this, I’m sitting in Kabul where I’ve been working regularly since early 2008. I have a fair number of very good Afghan friends and colleagues with whom I’ve developed enough trust that they tell me what’s actually on their minds (as opposed to what they think I want to hear). Surprisingly, even to me, is that the general run of Afghans want to see the U.S. stay.

    Compared to the three-plus decades of chaos and destruction, there is hardly anybody, with the exception of the die-hard Islamic fundamentalists, that want to hazard a return to those days. They know how much they get jerked around right now by Pakistan, Iran and, yes, even India, and know in their hearts how much worse it will get if the U.S. leaves. And it won’t be only those three countries that will bedevil Afghanistan. China and Russia will be more than happy to join the fray.

    It’s important to note that the Afghanistan of today is dramatically different in many ways from what it was in 2001. In 2001, the country might as well have been in the deepest, darkest middle ages in comparison to almost anywhere else in the world. While things are very far from great today, everyone from the local merchant in the bazaar to the Kuchi nomad herding his sheep out in the sticks talks to friends and family over cellphones or goes to internet cafes and talks with aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters in Germany, Canada, Pakistan, the U.S. and wherever else over Skype. The Samsung Galaxy 4S is the hot, must-have smartphone and everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – either has or aspires to have a used Toyota Corolla. Chevy opened a Chevy-run dealership in Kabul several months ago and just this past week opened a second one in Mazar-e Sharif, a city in the north along the border with Uzbekistan.

    When I first came in 2008, there was only one supermarket worthy of the name in Kabul. Today, a chain has established 7 outlets in the city and is now even offering its own rewards card. There are a grand total of six airlines offering daily or twice-daily service from Kabul to Dubai, including Emirates which just started service last week. International carriers include Emirates, Turkish, AirIndia, FlyDubai, Spicejet, and Air Arabia. Turkish plans to begin service soon from Istanbul to Mazar-e Sharif.

    My point is that, despite the portrayal in most mainstream media of Afghanistan as a country overrun with suicide bombers and wild-eyed Taliban, the majority of folks here just want to be able to live their lives in relative peace, have decent work, some money coming in, food on the table, clothes for the kids, a roof over their heads, and, gee, maybe even decent roads, 24/7 electricity, safe drinking water, adequate education, and health care that doesn’t take a sick person and make him or her even sicker. In short, they just want what everybody else everywhere wants and they absolutely don’t want to see anybody trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

    Yes, the situation in Afghanistan is tough and no one here would disagree with that basic reality. But people also recognize that the manipulations, chicanery, corruption and lies perpetrated by their elites and government leaders are the same kind of bull shoveled by the truckload by elites and government leaders around the world. They recognize that the American people are not to be confused with their government. It would do the American people well not to confuse the Afghan people with their government either and to realize that the picture painted in the media by pundits, “experts,” and other assorted “very serious people,” isn’t necessarily reflective of truth on the ground.

    You’ll notice I deliberately didn’t speculate on the motives or “national interests” that might be behind the U.S. wanting to stay. Suffice it to say that the “Great Game” with Afghanistan – a landlocked, strategic, mineral, natural gas and potentially oil-rich country – as the pawn, is still very much afoot.

  11. All of the above, or perhaps none. I think Phil hit it when he alluded to groupthink. See also wikipedia, Abilene paradox.

  12. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    For the Heroin of course!!
    The Taliban had nearly completely stopped the flow of opium from Afghanistan under penalty of death.
    There were stories on web financial sites, stating that the majority of the “cash” flows through the Worlds’ Banks during the “crash” of 2008 was drug money.
    When you stop the flow of drug money, the Banksters always find a way to start another Resource War to start it back up again.

  13. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    this discussion is pathetic

    afghanistan is about the passage of gas, oil from central asia to te indian ocean outlets and keeping our fingers on it–and the staggering bonus of control and profit from the drug trade sources in afghaistan

    just as suria is about the passage og natural gas from qatar tc to the mediterranean outlet which would lessen rissias energy hold on western europe–assad would block it for his ally, russia—the opposition would permit the pipele to go thru syria


  14. Hey You says:

    With the USA empire being a welfare/warfare state, what else can a person expect during the last days?

  15. Big Bill says:

    Of COURSE the run-of-the-mill Kaboolians want the US to stay, Mr. Cruz! My goodness! If I were in their shoes I would too!

    The hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars Obama pours into the country every year funds a Kaboolian life style that would otherwise be utterly impossible.

    And now that we protect the dope growers and heroin refiners with American blood we insure that wealth pours in through the drug industry as well.

    Surely you are not surprised that your friends in Kabul don’t want us (or rather our money!) to leave, are you? Not really?

  16. shafiq says:

    USA became a super power because of the sacrifices of the mujahideen of Pakistan and Afghanistan when they defeated USSR in 1980s.The devastated Afghanistan during these ten years was left alone without any economic aid to resettle the war torn country.It is due to these very Mujahideen that dozens of Central Asian and East European countries got independence.These countries too did not bother to look kindly towards their liberators.When the Afghan war lords could not join hands to establish an efficient government,aPIOUS organization called TALIBAN under the leadership of a simple saint like person establiblished a government which was the most popular govt ever in Afghanistan.The previous misgovernance by the war lords vanished instantly and a voluntry Rule of LAW and justice prevailed in the country.The devastated governing structure and the primitive society of Afghanistan and the lack of capable and experienced administrators proved to be a handicap.But the world powers specially USA and European Countries ,instead of helping this valiant nation EVEN REFUSED TO RECOGNISE THE TALIBAN GOVERNMENT . This hostility is not understandable because if they did not recognise Taliban Govt ,who else did they think were the legitimate govt?This was not the only hostile act of the world powers but the beginning of the atrocities commited against this poor nation.To get one man OSAMA BIN LADIN, USA came and occupied a whole country.And four dozen developed countries lined up to rape Afghanistan continuing doing so for a dozen years.And yet the rape is not over THEY ARE THINKING VERY HARD HOW TO CONTINUE OCCUPYING AFGHANISTAN FOR EVER FEARING THAT MULLA UMAR MAY NOT RETURN TO HIS COUNTRY.And that Angel of a man,inspite of world wide :propaganda of his misrule and babarism and billions spent to bribe the Afghans:MULLA UMAR STILL CONTINUES TO BE THE MOST POPULAR LEADER IN HIS MOTHERLAND.If any drop of Morality is left in the conscience of USA and NATO COUNTRIES they should talk to the Taliban,coduct fair elections in Afghanistan,and leave stock and barrel,followed by generous aid to rebuild this devastated country.Karzai will no dout leave Afghanistan but there will be peace.It is unfortunate that the Financial support to Afghanistan is being used as a bait or ARM TWISTING INSTRUMENT.Factually it is the right of the people of Afghanistan to be helped,because their current plight is due to USA and NATO country,s highhandedness.They deserve to be helped under all cicumstances.

  17. ‘Awaiting moderation’ – since Dec. 14?

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