The stated goal of George W. Bush was the capture of Osama, his supporters and the overthrow of the Taliban regime. It is evident that after six years, these goals have not been accomplished.
The actually physical damage and casualties to the US in the World Trade center destruction was fairly insignificant in comparison to the number of people killed in auto accidents in the US each year (42,000) or the carnage in Afghanistan between 1979 and 2001 (1.5 million). However, it had great symbolic value to Al-Qaida by portraying the US as vulnerable despite their great power. When Uncle Sam gets a bloody nose in a sucker punch, it strikes back.
Zbigniew Brzezinki, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser got his wish for the Soviet’s “Vietnam” in Afghanistan. The contracting out of a cold war battle on Afghan lands to Islamic fundamentalists had the ironic result of training Osama bin Laden who has turned on his former allies by bombing in New York and resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One can speculate that if Osama bin Laden did not exist, would there be a war in Afghanistan today? The answer is probably not. Human rights or mistreatment of citizens alone in any country around the world have not caused the US to intervene. The driver for intervention is always commercial concerns, whether it is oil, or bananas or nationalization of US interests. The US supported the Taliban on their road to power and it could have removed them by supporting the opposition. Likely, they could have convinced the Taliban to accept a pipeline.
The media machine went into overtime after 9/11 to ensure that the case for intervention in the Middle East was built. In fact, since the Bush administration came to power, there was significant interest in deposing Saddam Hussein. Orders were given to the intelligence community – find a Saddam Hussein / Al Qaeda link. A new Homeland security department was created. Threats of anthrax were discovered. Speculation about dirty bombs abounded and the atmosphere of fear allowed freedom of political movement.
The removal of the Taliban sounded like a simple plan for the most powerful nation in the world. The US government ordered Pakistan to stop shipments of arms and other supplies to the Taliban after the destruction of the Twin towers. The northern alliance, now called the United Front, became the “boots on the ground” for the US plan. They didn’t want to repeat the Soviet mistake.
The Taliban, under bombing attack, retreated to the Kandahar region and the leadership eventually took to the hills of Pakistan for safety. The American general Tommy Franks refused to commit American troops to cut off their retreat and as is traditionally done, they bought their way through the warlord’s lines. On January 30, 2002, the US announced the defeat of the Taliban. Mullah Omar and Osama, from their cave in the hills or elsewhere, perhaps didn’t hear the news and have kept on fighting.
In this poor land, there are several realities. Money can recruit an army from the large numbers of desperate young men. Money can buy your way out of prison, or stop the destruction of your poppy crop. Money can allow your opium to cross the border without inspection. Most of the money in Afghanistan comes from narcotics exports, from foreign aid and from countries wishing to mold the government of the day to their will – United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, and India. The alliances between ethnic groups are constantly changing as the flow of money or power changes. A former Taliban commander now becomes a Karzai supporter. In an impoverished land, the only constant is the search for survival.
The US soon lost interest in the Afghan war when the Taliban melted away. The real prize was Iraq with its potential for oil production increases. Dick Cheney’s task force on energy predicted shortfalls in world oil supply in coming years. The privatization of that oil and US control would ensure that future US energy problems are reduced. The transfer of human resources to the Iraq project allowed the stated goals of destroying Al-Qaeda to slip away. NATO was strong-armed into playing a role in the security of Afghanistan when the US had visions of Iraq dancing around their head. Canada had played its independence card once in refusing to support the US invasion of Iraq. You don’t refuse “the Don” (Uncle Sam) twice and expect to trade with them.
Hamid Karzai, named the interim president, and elected president in 2004, had worked closely with the US government in the past. He is a member of the majority Pashtun tribe. His excellent command of the English language and good public relations skills have been valuable in obtaining support in the West. His family had been in government circles in the past and he formed part of the Taliban government for a short time. His father was assassinated in 1999, likely by the Taliban. In 2006, Karzai told the UN General Assembly “You have to look beyond Afghanistan to the sources of terrorism and destroy terrorist sanctuaries beyond” referring to Pakistan frontier areas. His government has been described as “cautious” and “seeking to build consensus”. He has survived several assassination attempts.
The Taliban gradually regrouped and have been fighting a guerrilla and terror war using bases in Pakistan hill country in winter, with spring offensives. Some of the tactics are -assassinations of people cooperating with foreigners, IED’s, suicide bombers, and direct attacks where they are superior in force. With the security situation poor, reconstruction efforts have been less than required to build hope for the future.
Now six years later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants NATO countries to increase their contribution of troops willing to do the “heavy lifting” and presumably some dying. Do we properly understand the problems causing this lack of progress?
The next article reviews the impediments to peace.