Damned by Riches: How Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth Undermines NATO Mission

June 27, 2012 by

It is like something out of a movie: deep in the archives of a war torn country a team of intrepid scientists discovers forgotten maps leading to buried treasure. Fantastical as it seems, such a scene played out in 2004 when American geologists found a cache of charts in the Afghan Geological Survey’s library dating from the days of Soviet occupation. Returned to the library after the NATO invasion, these Russian charts were protected in geologists’ homes through the tumultuous 1990s’ and for good reason.

Afghanistan: Why a ‘Limited-Win’ is Sustainable

June 18, 2012 by

Rising disenchantment with the “good war” in Afghanistan ultimately stems from the unrealistically high expectations set by NATO in the early years of the conflict, as well as a rising degree of frustration at the lack of tangible, sustainanable progress. Afghanistan was always going to be an impoverished, conflict-ridden, landlocked, and fractured country; it was never going to be the Switzerland, or even the Philippines, of Central Asia.

The U.S. & The Afghan Train Wreck

April 16, 2012 by

The recent decision by the Taliban and one of its allies to withdraw from peace talks with Washington underlines the train wreck the U.S. is headed for in Afghanistan. Indeed, for an administration touted as sophisticated and intelligent, virtually every decision the White House has made vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been a disaster. On Mar. 15 the Taliban ended preliminary talks with Washington, because, according to a spokesman for the insurgent organization, the Americans were being “shaky, erratic and vague.” The smaller Hizb-i-Islami group followed two weeks later.

Lessons Hidden in Afghanistan

April 10, 2012 by

What should be striking about the reported news out of Afghanistan lately is the extent to which the headlines have been about tragic, non-military events. Korans were defaced and a U.S. servicemember is suspected of murdering seventeen Afghan civilians. These acts have both had a profound, negative impact on U.S.-Afghan relations and, by extension, have put our troops and our mission in Afghanistan in greater jeopardy.

On Power and Delusions of Grandeur

March 18, 2012 by

First the video of United States Marines urinating on bodies of Afghans who had been killed. Then the revelation that copies of the Quran had been burned at Bagram Air Base, which also serves as an American prison camp in Afghanistan. Nearly thirty Afghans and several NATO troops died in the violent reaction. And as I mentioned in my column of March 4, the BBC Kabul correspondent described these events, and the violent public reaction to them, as the tipping point for NATO in the Afghan War.

Following Shooting in Afghanistan, Overall Question is Whether the Mission is Doable

March 12, 2012 by

The shooting of 16 Afghan civilians on Sunday by a U.S. soldier and the Koran burning on the Bagram air base several weeks ago have American officials questioning whether these two events will make it next to impossible for coalition forces to carry through with the mission as planned until 2014, when the U.S. is expected to leave Afghanistan. Several hundred Afghans descended on Camp Belambay in Kandahar to protest the incident which replicates a similar pattern of Afghans generally protesting a foreign presence in the country. Similar protests erupted after the burning of the Koran at the Bagram air base and an Afghan intelligence officer killed two Americans officers at the Interior Ministry in Kabul at the end of February.

Revealing the Obvious

February 12, 2012 by

The conflict in Syria continues to take lives on both sides in what increasingly looks like a civil war. The bloodshed in Homs has captured most attention in recent days, but we should not forget violence in the capital Damascus and other Syrian towns, under government control, where lives have been lost and a climate of fear prevails. Twenty-four hour news coverage means unlimited hunger for detail, factual, exaggerated or invented.

Taliban Attack in Kabul Kills 13 American Soldiers

October 29, 2011 by

In a rare attack in the Afghan capital, and one that further demonstrates the precarious security gains in Afghanistan, 13 American personal and 4 Afghans were killed when their convoy was attacked on Saturday. In the attack, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, an American armored vehicle, a Rhino, due to its immense size and armored plating, was rammed by a suicide car bomber. The attack, the single deadliest in Kabul since the war began, follows two other high profile attacks on NATO headquarters and the American Embassy in the Afghan capital last month.

Rethinking Afghanistan After a Decade

September 19, 2011 by

Reading what I wrote about Afghanistan a decade ago reminded me of how much my understanding of the role of war and hard power in upholding security for the nation and the world has changed. Actually, it seems clear to me that my views on Afghanistan back in 2001 were an exception to my general skepticism about Western interventions in the non-Western world, a view formed during ten years of opposition to the American role in the Vietnam War. At the time, with the Al Qaeda attacks so recently seared into my political consciousness, and some anxiety that more attacks of a similar kind were likely to follow, it seemed logical and helpful to adopt a war strategy as part of an overall effort to disrupt the mega-terrorist capabilities to inflict further harm either in this country or somewhere else on the planet.

The Afghanistan War in the Mirror of the Tet Offensive: When ‘Defeat’ Became ‘Victory’

August 14, 2011 by

On January 31, 1968 the combined forces of North Vietnam (DRV or Democratic Force of Vietnam) and the NLF (National Liberation Front) launched a spectacular series of attacks throughout the contested territory of all of South Vietnam. As many as 100 Vietnamese cities and towns were simultaneously attacked, 36 of 44 provincial capitals were captured, and the impregnable American Embassy complex in Saigon was penetrated. These attacks were all repelled in a few days, with the Vietnamese taking huge losses, 37,500 estimated deaths, which came on top of 90,000 lost soldiers in the preceding months.

Afghanistan: U.S. and Pakistan Seek to Reinforce a Border That Was Arbitrary to Begin With

August 2, 2011 by

If there are general rules of war, certainly one of them is: “Do not fight in places that the Rand McNally three-dimensional map puts lots of bumps.” Kabul, Afghanistan-American and allied forces in Afghanistan are strengthening a layered defense along the border with Pakistan to seize Haqqani network militants as they try to make their way to Kabul to carry out spectacular attacks, according to senior military officers. — New York Times, 8/1/11. Okay, New York Times, time for a little geography lesson, with a few bits of history thrown in.

Robert Gates Offers A Blunt Assessment

June 21, 2011 by

Robert Gates, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, is scheduled to retire at the end of the month. On the heels of his impending retirement he has not been shy about advocating for continued U.S. engagements in Libya and Afghanistan and warning against the dangers of gutting the Pentagon budget. “I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” Gates told NEWSWEEK during his last trip abroad as head of the Pentagon. “It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time.”

Afghanistan: The War Enters its 10th Anniversary

March 12, 2011 by

The war in Afghanistan has lasted for nearly ten years and shows no sign of abating. Furthermore, the Afghan War has the dubious distinction of being America’s longest conflict surpassing U.S. involvement in Indochina. However, military progress has been made in wrestling significant portions of the country from the Taliban and eliminating Al Qaeda elements. Despite these gains there is widespread doubt that the war can be successfully brought to a conclusion. What gains have been made are increasingly tenuous and any military successes could be reversed once some American troops begin to leave in July 2011 as scheduled.