Call it a mantra, a litany, or a to-don’t list, but the drip, drip, drip of Afghan disaster and the gross-out acts accompanying it have already resulted in one of those classic fill-you-in paragraphs that reporters hang onto for whenever the next little catastrophe rears its ugly head. Here’s how that list typically went after the Los Angeles Times revealed that troops from the 82nd Airborne had mugged for the camera with the corpses or body parts of Afghan enemies: “The images also add to a troubling list of cases — including Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban bodies, the burning of Korans, and the massacre of villagers attributed to a lone Army sergeant — that have cast American soldiers in the harshest possible light before the Afghan public.”
That is, of course, only a partial list. Left out, for instance, was the American “kill team” that hunted Afghan civilians “for sport,” took body parts as trophies, and shot photos of their “kills,” not to speak of the sniper outfit that posed with an SS banner, or the U.S. base named “Combat Outpost Aryan.” (For Afghans, of course, it’s been so much worse. After all, what Americans even remember the obliterated wedding parties, eviscerated baby-naming ceremonies, blown away funerals, or even the eight shepherd boys “armed” with sticks recently slaughtered by helicopter, or any of the “thorough investigations” the U.S. military officially launched about which no one ever heard a peep, or the lack of command responsibility for any of this?)
When a war goes bad, you can be thousands of miles away and it still stinks like rotting cheese. Hence, the constant drop in those American polling numbers about whether we should ever have fought the Afghan War. Yes, war strain will be war strain and boys will be boys, but mistake after mistake, horror after horror, the rise of a historically rare phenomenon — Afghan soldiers and policemen repeatedly turning their guns on their American “allies” — all this adds up to a war effort increasingly on life support (even as the Obama administration negotiates to keep troops in the country through 2024).
In the Vietnam era, when a war went desperately wrong for desperately long, a U.S. draft army began to disintegrate into rebellion and chaos. In Afghanistan, an all-volunteer “professional” army may instead be slowly descending into indiscipline, stress-related trauma, drug use, and freak out. The simple fact is that defeat, however spun, affects everything in countless, often hard to quantify ways.
In war, as in everything else, there is, or should be, a learning curve. In the Afghan War, as TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse points out, the U.S. high command, the Pentagon, and the White House remain stuck in a rut at least four decades old. There should be some command responsibility for that, too.
I agree with Tom (above) and feel that what Johan Galtung has observed demonstrates what the USA media is not telling us about the D.O.D.’s unwillingness to move forward and properly move out of Afghanistan.–KAS
JOHAN GALTUNG: Well, it’s the coalition of the unwilling, you see. They know perfectly well that—I mean, I talk with them, I talk with many, and I’ll tell you the result of my talking with Taliban. They know that it is a lost cause, they have no chance at all. You have to understand what kind of country Afghanistan is. As Taliban tell me, it’s a very, very decentralized country, 25,000 very autonomous villages, and let us say six to eight nations, depends on how you count it. And I remember when we in Transcend, an NGO for mediation, had our first effort there in February 2001, long before 9/11. Then, I was asking myself, “What country does this remind me of?” which I always do when I mediate. And the answer was Switzerland. Switzerland is the model. Switzerland is a very federal country with very high autonomy down at the local community. Let us say they have 5,000, not 25,000; they have four nations, not six or eight. And Swiss policy is to be neutral, non-aligned, and to be a very, very deep federation. I think Afghanistan’s future will be heading in that direction.
The Taliban tells me that this is a very Muslim country. “We hate secularism. We hate people coming, trying to win hearts and minds by digging wells and giving us water not blessed by Allah.” I think, of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Afghanistan may be among the countries with the highest percentage of Muslims. To win heart and minds through secular activity is a nonstarter. It has been from the beginning.
Now, in addition, they hate Kabul as an overblown, over-bloated kind of capital carrying the illusion of a unitary state. It isn’t. And I think that they would prefer to see a very small center of the country and very high level of autonomy.
In addition, they are sick and tired of being invaded. It started with Alexander the Great. You know, this is the place where he became Alexander the Small. And they were invaded by the Mongols, three times by the Britons, one time by the Soviets, and now by the U.S.-led coalition, as you said, NATO forces. So, for them, this is also a war to fight being invaded, the war to end wars.
And finally, very important, the Durand Line drawn by the British Empire through Pashtun territory, 40 million Pashtuns, maybe the highest minority in the world which doesn’t have a state. They don’t recognize that line at all. They are not foreigners crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan. That’s some kind of Washington illusion. They’re in their own territory, Pashtun territory. Now, how do solve that one? Pakistan is not going to give territory to Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not going to give it to Pakistan. You solve it by having a Central Asian community, making the border irrelevant. So, Central Asian community, a deeply federated Afghanistan, neutral, non-aligned, with security forces cooperating from OIC and the United Nations Security Council, I guess that’s the future.
Now, I’m sitting here in the U.S., a country I love, and it’s so sad to see that the U.S. sees only enemies everywhere, instead of putting its wonderful minds to solving the conflict. They could sponsor a conference, without running it, to explore a Central Asian community, non-alignment and things of that kind. And they could cooperate with Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, China, in doing so, somewhat less India because there the concerns about Kashmir come up. Why does the U.S. have to see enemies everywhere and always react violently? The solution is at hand. It’s not at all complicated.
And these people, Taliban, they don’t want to kill people in the U.S. They want to preserve their own autonomy and be themselves. And they’re struggling for that. I must say, when I talk with them, I find them rational. Sometimes their Muslim terminology is difficult for me to understand, but I find it very easy to talk with them. I have more difficulties getting good contacts in Pentagon and State Department. That is where the doors are closed. But I had contact with a U.S. general. It was stopped, for some reasons that somebody higher up may know. Found him very intelligent, very sensitive, very compassionate, too.