The United States of America attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. The US policy called the Bush Doctrine stated that the US would not distinguish between Al Qaeda or the nations that harbored them. With the stated military objective of capturing Osama bin Laden, removing the Taliban regime and destroying Al Qaeda, the US began Operation Enduring Freedom. The United States is still in Afghanistan. President Obama has decided to increase the level of US forces in the country, with the objective of “contributing to the security of the Afghan people and to stability in Afghanistan.” The President goes on to state that he has no actual plan for Afghanistan, only that it will require our team to “put together a comprehensive strategy that will employ all elements of our national power to fulfill achievable goals in Afghanistan.”
So our military men and women continue to be in harms way for an undetermined period of time and an undetermined mission, over 7 years since they got there. An objective of providing security to the people of a nation sounds a lot like a military police force, which brings into question the proper use of our military forces and whether this mission is providing for the common defense of the United States. It also raises the ugly specter of occupation, which has a long track record of failure throughout the history of man.
I believe the President and his team of advisers could learn a lot from the former Soviet Union after their disastrous military escapades in Afghanistan. After more than 9 years of occupation, they were forced to retreat in defeat, having been beaten by a rag tag group of armed civilians who would not tolerate being occupied by a foreign power. The Soviet military first entered Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government to help provide security for the people of Afghanistan and assist in quelling the rebellion. Sounds eerily familiar does it not?
The Soviet Union would go on to establish a friendly government in Afghanistan and bring in more forces to provide security. At their peak, the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan averaged over 100,000 personnel. The resistance came from the local populace, tribal factions run by warlords. They were opposed to the presence of the godless communists in their country and would fight them with ambushes, landmines, and terrorist attacks. During the height of the resistance, as many as 600 terror attacks were documented over the course of a year. Other countries opposed to the Soviet occupation provided aid to the rebels in the form of weapons and cash. The United States was among the nations providing assistance as we felt the Russian presence in the Middle East was against our national interests in the region. Out of this conflict, Al Qaeda was born. Saudi born Osama bin Laden brought his money and influence to Afghanistan to fight against the occupying infidels. And the US of A helped him. We provided Stinger shoulder fired anti-aircraft weapons, which took a heavy toll against the Russian helicopters.
As the war in Afghanistan dragged on, support at home in Russia waned. A new leader took power and sought to bring an end to the Soviet presence there. They tried to have their military take a more passive role, and hand over defense of the country to the Afghan forces. Sounds familiar again does it not? The rebel forces continued their attacks until at last the Soviets began to withdraw their forces. Over 14,000 Soviet soldiers lost their lives, with more than 400,000 becoming ill with hepatitis and typhoid fever.
You would think the Afghan people, tired from battle and proud in victory would find a way to live in peace after the Soviet withdrawal. You’d be wrong, as civil war continued in Afghanistan for years. After years of struggle, the communist government left over from the Soviet occupation fell to the rebels who established a governing council to run the country. This didn’t last long as the Taliban marched into Afghanistan and took control of the country. Osama bin Laden was able to work closely with the Taliban government and find a home for his Al Qaeda operations. From here he plotted his attacks against the United States.
As I stated in my opening paragraph, our mission when we invaded Afghanistan was to capture Osama bin Laden, take out the Taliban regime and destroy Al Qaeda. You could argue that we accomplished one of the three as we did remove the Taliban from power, however they have reformed since then and are now part of the insurgency there against us and the current Karzai government.
Taken in its totality, I believe we can easily draw out some prospects for any kind of success in Afghanistan. The Soviets proved that even an occupying force of 100,000 military could not secure the country against rebellion. One could argue that other nations would not support the rebels against us as we did against the Soviets. But can you be sure of that? Is it inconceivable that there may be some foreign governments willing to back their fellow Arabs against an occupying force of Americans? What could the President’s “achievable goals” be in Afghanistan? If our hope is to turn Afghanistan into a thriving democracy, that would be quite a tall order. After all, the Afghan people have known nothing but war and rebellion since the late 1970’s. An entire generation of people were born into war, and grew into adulthood in war.
To date, 657 Americans have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and over 2,700 have been wounded. Escalating the war there will certainly bring more casualties, and more costs. Until we know what the “achievable goals” are, there is no way of estimating costs or the number of soldiers it will take to complete the mission. Afghanistan could become a pit into which the United States throws its young men and women to be wounded or killed, and spends untold sums of borrowed cash. Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.