Time to rethink Afghan strategy

Are the Taliban now a force as strong as the US and Canadian military?   You may find this idea a little strange at first and is perhaps an unfair comparison.  Observed without emotion, we know that the conflict has lasted seven years – that’s longer than WW2 and almost as long as the Soviets persisted during their excellent Afghan adventure.  It has cost roughly $170 billion to the United States, probably $20 billion for Canada and who knows how much for the other NATO countries.  One might counter-argue that the leadership of the war effort has been utterly incompetent or perhaps that the concept of bringing change to a medieval land had little merit from day one.

The initial goal seemed to be quite simple.  Capture Osama Bin Laden and destroy al-Qaida, consisting of perhaps a few dozen leaders.   When that didn’t happen, we started down the nation-building road, while we waited for OBL and Mullah Omar to come back on the bus from Pakistan.

Viewed on most levels, the mission is failing and many thinkers admit that the solution is not the military option.  Security on roads and the countryside is poor, production of opium is higher than the global demand, and the Khyber Pass supply line is through Pakistan, an ally of questionable fidelity.   Recently, 145 trucks bringing military supplies through the Khyber Pass were destroyed.  Most imports follow this route.   The conflict has put Pakistan into a dangerous state nearing implosion.

According to a recent think-tank report, the Taliban has a permanent presence in 70% of the country.   Unfortunately, the Karzai government is perceived to be corrupt and ineffective. “The Taliban shake us down at night and the government during the day”, according to a story told to a former NPR reporter living in Kandahar, Sarah Chayes.

Meanwhile back in Iraq, the US invasion did not achieve its stated or hidden objectives and the military will be withdrawn in the next 16 months by a new administration.   Since no superpower likes losing two wars in a row, Barack will send a 30,000-troop surge into Afghanistan to counter the inroads that the Taliban have been making.  In addition, there are plans for a larger Afghan national army.  Based on experience to date, the Taliban won’t defeat NATO forces militarily.  NATO’s aerial detection and interdiction of massed guerilla attacks has often proved deadly for the Taliban.  However, small groups can attack weak points, and with IED’s and suicide bombers, will disrupt civil society to a great extent.  In the final analysis, the Taliban doesn’t have to win.  They just have to outlast the occupiers and make the effort very costly.

So what is likely to happen in coming years?  It appears that Obama has adopted the Afghan war of George Bush.  According to a former CIA analyst Ray McGovern: “If Obama gets this wrong, Afghanistan will be his Vietnam.”   He won’t see a great deal of enthusiasm for increasing the ante in this poker game from NATO countries.  With sufficient arm-twisting, some countries may fall in line.  Canada has said that it’s out of Afghanistan by 2011.   In the end, the US will leave without achieving its goals.

As futile and costly as this experience has been, the waste pales in comparison to that incurred by outdated military thinking that continues within the US military, and by extension, in Canada.   In a book entitled “America’s Defense Meltdown”, co-author Chet Richards, argues that the roughly $600 billion dollars that the US annually spends on it’s military provides less security each year.  He suggests that nuclear weapons preclude a conventional war with either Russia or China.   The problem is that the military-industrial complex is building increasingly expensive and complex weapon systems for a conventional war that will never be fought.

The book, http://www.cdi.org/pdfs/AmericasDefenseMeltdownFullText.pdf , a free download from the Internet, would be helpful reading for our political leaders and interested citizens in trying to understand the complexities of national security issues.  Prime Minister Harper appears poised to follow the US down the road to massive defense expenditures.  Perhaps a strategic review of our real national security requirements would be in order.

It is evident from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts that national security doesn’t have to cost a great deal of money.  I doubt if the budget for the Taliban is over $100 million a year.

To return to the question posed earlier… When the US and allies leave Afghanistan in a few years without a democratic leader in place and little else to show but thousands of civilians and soldiers dead, who will have been the stronger or most intelligence force?

Our young brave soldiers seem to be so often betrayed by the most idiotic of concepts sold to us by our odious political leaders.

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