"Nearly 250 years later [after US independence], American foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq is driven by an idea so inscribed in the American psyche that it amounts to a syndrome: Cast off the tyrannical leaders, then citizens and leaders alike will band together to bring about that freedom a tyrant's presence precluded. It happened in America; surely it will happen elsewhere. Thus our war of liberation, to free Iraq of its King George III.... In both Afghanistan and Iraq we have won the war, but we stand in danger of losing what we won because our foreign policy suffers from the King George Syndrome. Freedom is neither a spontaneous nor a universal aspiration. Other goods captivate the minds of other people from other lands, order, honor, and tribal loyalties being the most obvious. And because these other goods orient these peoples no less powerfully than freedom orients us, we are apt to be sorely surprised when people who are liberated turn to new tyrants who can assume order; to terrorists who die for the honor of their country or Islam; and to tribal warlords whose winner-take-all mentality is corrosive to the pluralism and toleration that are the very hallmarks of modern democracy.... Our wars of liberation will breed illiberal aspirations, and rather than standing back with incredulity when this happens, we had better give plenty of thought beforehand to the fact that the tyrants we depose will be preferable to the chaos a liberated people will initially endure; that honor is still the currency of value in the Middle East, more so than goods and services; and that affiliations of blood are immensely more important than the sovereignity of the individual citizen." -- historian Joshua Mitchell in the Washington Post, August 10, 2003, quoted by Michael Scheuer
"As a people, Americans have a heritage to be proud of and one that is worth defending with their children's lives. It is not, however, a heritage whose experiences, heroes, wars, scandals, sacrifices, victories, mistakes, and villains can be condensed, loaded on a CD-ROM, and given to non-Americans with an expectation that they will quickly, and at little expense, become just like us. This is a debilitating fantasy of how the rest of the world and its peoples live and work. Far worse, it shows a profound ignorance of America, one that mocks those who fought and died, resisting tyrannical monarchies and churches, secession, foreign rule, slavery, segregation, discrimination, the union of church and state, and a thousand other issues for which blood was shed to fuel the incremental but still incomplete perfecting of American democracy. Thus, as Americans today confront bin Laden and militant Islam, they must recognize that the solution to this conflict can never be a painless, quick transformation of the Muslim world to a Western-style democracy." -- Michael Scheuer
"I believe the war in Afghanistan was necessary, but is being lost because of our hubris. Those who failed to bring peace to Afghanistan after 1992 are now repeating their failure by scripting government affairs and constitution-making in Kabul to portray the birth of Western-style democracy, religious tolerance, and women's rights -- all anathema to Afghan political and tribal culture and none of which has more than a small, unarmed constituency. ...[W]e have allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to regroup and refit. They are now waging an insurgency that gradually will increase in intensity, lethality, and popular support, and ultimately force Washington to massively escalate its military presence or evacuate. In reality, neither we nor our Karzai-led surrogates have built anything political or economic that will long outlast the withdrawal of US and NATO forces. Due to our hubris, what we today identify and promote as a nascent Afghan democracy is a self-made illusion on life-support; it is a Western-imposed regime that will be swept away if America and its allies stop propping it up with their bayonets." -- Michael Scheuer
In one sense, Afghanistan resembles Vietnam: its populace had been waging war against foreign occupiers for decades before an American boot ever hit Afghan soil. Afghanistan has a long and bloody history of occupation and resistance. In December 1979, the Soviet Red Army invaded the country, overthrew its government, and installed a puppet regime; the battle to retake Afghanistan was fought for over a decade by both native Afghanis and fervent Muslims from around the world eager to defend a Muslim country against a foreign infidel. The country suffered greatly during that war, with most of its infrastructure either completely destroyed or crippled almost beyond repair, nearly 2 million Afghanis dead, over 5 million forced into exile in Pakistan or Iran, and millions more displaced within the country's borders. Throughout the resistance, the Afghani people clung to their religious and cultural way of life, based on tribal and clan affiliations and the tenets of Islam.
The US should have been prepared to deal with Afghanistan in October 2001. The US had a strong intelligence presence in the country since the CIA and, to a lesser extent, the US military assisted the mujahedeen in resisting the Soviet occupation forces in the early 1980s. The CIA ran the largest, most expansive, and most costly intelligence operation in American history in Afghanistan in support of the Muslim insurgents. State Department and Agency for International Development (AID) officials worked closely with Afghanis in implementing US-friendly economic, social, and humanitarian policies. The US had scores of experts familiar with the numerous Afghan tribes and clans, and many contacts within the various factions and militias. Most importantly, US experts knew that there was no possibility of ever installing a US-style centralized democracy in Kabul, and to try would end up, after a long, arduous period of bloody resistance, with a Pashtun-dominated Islamist government that would mirror the Taliban in everything but name.
Yet, to CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, it is astonishing that almost nothing was done to prepare for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan using this intelligence and network of contacts. Scheuer quotes Bob Woodward's Bush at War in noting that the Bush administration used what is called the "Tenet Plan" for invading Afghanistan -- a plan that would play well in the US, relying on lots of cash and using native Afghan militias to bear the brunt of the fighting against Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. The total failure of the strategy, Scheuer notes, "shows its planners' complete lack of comprehension of Afghanistan's tribal, ethnic, and religious realities." Instead of using the US intelligence community's considerable resources, the Bush administration trotted out "senior intelligence officials" to claim that the US did not have the people to provide information and advice. Scheuer believes that the "leaks" were to prepare the American people for eventual failure in Afghanistan, and to give themselves an excuse to use when failure became undeniable.
After providing administration officials with detailed after-action studies of the huge failure of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, a senior Russian official bluntly told CIA officials in September 2001, "I have to say that you're going to get the hell kicked out of you" in Afghanistan. One US official responded with macho posturing more suitable to a frat boy cheering a war film: "We're going to kill them. We're going to put their heads on sticks. We're going to rock their world." In part because of brash, strutting idiots like this particular official, the US has failed to learn any of the lessons imparted to them by its Soviet counterparts, failed to learn from its own experience with supporting the mujahedeen, and seems bent on repeating the failures of the Red Army in Afghanistan, at perhaps even more of a cost in blood and treasure.
Scheuer believes that the US choice to ally itself with the Northern Alliance, a militia force cobbled together from disparate elements of Afghan tribes and clans, and coming off of a resounding defeat at the hands of the Taliban, was possibly the worst choice of ally the US could have made to act as their proxy in Afghanistan. The Alliance was held together almost solely by the charisma and personality of its leader, Ahmed Shah Masood, who had carefully crafted his image in the European media of a poet and scholar turned reluctant warrior. By September 1, 2001, the Northern Alliance controlled little more than 5-10% of the country, its fighters had no stomach for further combat with the Taliban, and even the people of Afghanistan, weary of endless fighting, were beginning to come together in reluctant support of the Taliban leadership, seeing a possible end to the pervasive banditry and warlordism suffusing the country and the possibility that they might be able to live out their lives in some kind of peace, even if it be under strict Islamic law. Then, on September 9, Masood was killed, assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives masquerading as journalists. Professor Michael Doran writes that Osama bin Laden had Masood killed in order to decapitate the Northern Alliance and render the outfit useless for the Americans that would ready themselves to invade Afghanistan after 9/11. No clear leader emerged from the second tier of warlords and bandit chiefs that made up the rest of the Alliance's leadership, but the Alliance was saved from disintegration when the Americans scrambled to reinvigorate long-dormant ties with Alliance leaders and partnered itself with Alliance forces to invade Afghanistan, kill off the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership, and reshape Afghanistan into something besides an Islamist state that openly supported terrorism.
This did not happen, regardless of the fawning, slack-jawed coverage provided by the American media. In reality, American forces won a single battle largely with the use of Tajik and Uzbek militias, took over the capital of Kabul after the Taliban leadership "abandoned" the city, and installed a fragile government dominated by Tajiks and Uzbeks and headed by Hamid Karzai. In the extreme short term, the Taliban seemed ousted and the terrorists on the run. The reality is far different. The country is dominated by Pashtuns, who relentlessly oppose the Karzai government; Karzai's government has so little influence outside Kabul that essentially Karzai is little more than the mayor of the capital city. Scheuer dismisses US planning for an Alliance-dominated takeover, comparing it to street urchins trying to produce a Broadway-quality play. In essence, US planners "winged it" in Afghanistan, going in with virtually no plan and playing the takeover and retrenchment of Afghan society by ear. The US cozied up to the worst criminals and thugs in the Alliance, including the Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum, perhaps the most hated man in Afghanistan, who had endeared himself to the Pashtun citizenry by having his tanks run over trussed-up prisoners and setting prisoners -- men, women, and children -- on fire.
Kabul itself is anything but a representative Afghan city. It is far more ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan than any of the other cities and villages that dot the Afghan landscape. But the television images from Kabul, of cheering citizens celebrating the "downfall" of the Taliban, provided all the proof that the Bush adminstration needed of the "liberation" of Afghanistan and the defeat of al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters. Westernized Afghanis, in the extreme minority of their country and with little influence outside of Kabul, give American viewers the idea that Afghanistan has been virtually pacified, the Afghan people have united behind the Karzai government to chase al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters from their positions of power, and as a result, the US is much safer from possible terrorist attacks than it was before the Afghanistan offensive. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Karzai's government is completely supported by the US, and has virtually no influence outside the Kabul city limits. The Taliban was never defeated -- it merely withdrew to its centers of power throughout Afghanistan, reformed, and is once again resurgent in Afghan politics and culture. The Taliban never gave up control of wide swaths of the Afghani countryside, and is consolidating and extending its influence once again, slowly and inexorably drawing a noose around Kabul and Karzai. The US military presence in Afghanistan, half-hearted at best, is the only thing propping up the Karzai government.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks on US and Alliance military outposts have stepped up dramatically since 2003, even as American pundits wrote in 2003 that al-Qaeda's back "may finally have been broken," "the mystique of the [Taliban] guerrilla" has finally been "shattered," and the likelihood of US soldiers ever fighting al-Qaeda and Taliban opponents on the battlefield is remote and receding every day. Instead, as the Christian Science Monitor told anyone who would listen in May 2003, the Taliban is "regrouped, rearmed, and well-funded...ready to carry on a guerrilla war as long as it takes to expel US forces from Afghanistan." General John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command, confirmed in November 2003 that daily combat operations in Afghanistan are "every bit as much and every bit as difficult as those that go on in Iraq."
The US is also conveniently forgetting that, for the most part, the widely disparate and mutually oppositional Afghan resistance forces that chased out the Soviets managed to put aside their differences to cooperate in hounding the Red Army and its governmental puppets out of Afghanistan. The average Afghan mujahedeen fighter is proud, nationalistic, tribalistic, and almost xenophobic; foreigners will never be tolerated for long, either as outside occupiers or, as in bin Laden's case, outsiders providing leadership and support. Afghans, by and large, have little use for Islamist ideologues telling them how to fight and who to support. Even the native Taliban leadership, largely made up of fanatically Islamist Pashtuns, is only grudgingly supported by the far less extremist populace, even though most of the populace is Pashtun and, resultingly, "kin" to their Taliban leaders. But all of this internal dissension and strife has been put aside to unite in the face of American occupation, just as it was in the 1980s against the Soviets. And then as now, bin Laden was a welcome ally in the fight against foreign occupation. Even key Northern Alliance leaders have a strong comradeship with bin Laden, as with Alliance leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who sponsored bin Laden's re-entrance into Afghanistan in 1996 and supported the Taliban's refusal to turn him over to the US or any other country. Even Masood, assassinated by al-Qaeda suicide bombers, said in 2000 that bin Laden was a valued and trusted ally in the fight against the USSR. Sooner or later, the Karzai government will fall and an Islamist, Pashtun regime openly supportive of Islamist revolution and terrorism will reign in Afghanistan. And the US will be back to square one.
As a side note, Scheuer notes that the common wisdom permeating American planning for Afghanistan -- that almost any Afghan militia can be bought with enough money and resources -- is false. More precisely, they can often be bought, but they don't stay bought. One story told by Bob Woodward recounts the tale of an Alliance leader being given $500,000 in ten one-foot stacks of hundred-dollar bills, with the promise that "there was more money available -- much more." Scheuer writes, "Afghans will always take your money, but afterwards they will do what you want only if they were going to do it anyway." They took the CIA's donations in the 1980s to fight the Soviets because they were fighting the Soviets anyway, and the money and arms helped immensely. But the billions of dollars in bribes, payments, salaries, armaments, and supplies provided to the Afghans by the US, Saudi Arabia, and others have not bought an iota of loyalty, nor have they been able to sway the Afghan militias from their stated course of throwing out the foreign occupiers and retaking their country for themselves. Bought Afghan hirelings routinely allowed Taliban forces and key leaders to escape undeterred. In the battle of Tora Bora, Alliance fighters stepped aside and allowed Osama bin Laden to leave the cave complexes and enter Pakistan. though they knew full well that the Americans wanted bin Laden more than anything.
And speaking of Pakistan, that government has always cooperated, in one fashion or another, with the Pashtun Muslims, because Pakistan is far more secure with a Pashtun Islamic government in power next door. Pakistan's three main goals in this theater have been to keep the Hindu Indians at bay, to secure a nuclear weapon, and to keep a friendly, Pashtun regime in place in Afghanistan. Currently, all three of those goals are either achieved or in reach. Hence, the idea of Pakistani cooperation with the Americans to chase al-Qaeda Islamists out of the Afghan and Pakistan mountain ranges, and the installation of a secular government in Kabul, has always been illusory. The chaos and warfare that reigns in Afghanistan is not to Pakistan's liking; for their border with Afghanistan to be secure, Pakistan wants a friendly regime similar to that of the Taliban in place. The Pakistanis will ensure that this happens no matter what the desires of their "ally" the United States may be. -- Michael Scheuer
The Taliban was nothing like a traditional nation-state government, with centralized authority and a traditional military force. It always operated like an insurgency, even when it controlled 85-90% of Afghanistan. It never moved its base of operations to the putative capital city of Kabul, but remained in Kandahar, where it wielded governmental-like power over almost all of the country while continuing to operate as an insurgency under constant threat of reprisal from its enemies. When the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, Taliban forces did, indeed, battle American forces for control of key cities, but when those cities were lost, as they were certain to be, the Taliban did not collapse as a traditional government would, but merely faded back into the towns, villages, and countryside of Afghanistan, shielded by sympathetic tribes, clans, and families. In some ways the offensive actually worked to strengthen the Taliban, because it was no longer responsible for providing goods and services to the Afghan people. After the offensive and the installation of the US puppet regime, the Taliban, as the defense-issues website Stratfor.com observed in November 2001, became "stripped to their ethnic and ideological core, intact, with most of their arms and equipment.... The Taliban are now prepared to adopt a strategy that is more amenable to their tactical strength and resources." The US failed to root out the Taliban from their dispersed centers of power, unwilling to face up to the high American and Afghan civilian casualties such an endeavor would inevitably cost. -- Michael Scheuer
Although it is likely that bin Laden and the Taliban had already begun to disperse its forces well in advance of 9/11, in anticipation of reprisal from the United States, Scheuer believes that the three-week delay between the attacks and the Afghan offensive gave both sets of forces valuable time to further disperse their fighters and conceal their supply and weapons depots. Thousands of al-Qaeda and Taliban soldiers went to ground in Afghanistan, Iran, and especially Pakistan; some were sent to other Central Asian countries or back to their home nations, sometimes through Turkey or the Persian Gulf states. Both organizations used their longstanding ties with the Pashtun tribes in eastern and southeastern Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan, to keep escape routes open, using methods developed decades and even centuries before by the various tribes and factions of the region. An article in the Arab journal Al-Neda by al-Qaeda expressed the organization's thanks "in particular to the Afghan and Pakistani tribes, which opened their arms and houses, and gave us priority over their sons and relatives in food, drink, dress, and shelter.... Why not, after all it was the lofty mountains of these tribes on which the British Empire was smashed."
The Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters who stayed behind and fought the Americans did so by the choice of their leadership. They picked their battles and fought effectively. After debriefing dozens of American military officers who had fought in Afghanistan, Professor Stephen Biddle wrote, "against hard-core al-Qaeda opposition, outcomes were in doubt [for US forces] even with 21st century US apr power and American commandos to direct it." It seems likely that the two major battles in Afghanistan, at Tora Bora and Shahi Kowt, were delaying actions meant to let other fighters get out of Afghanistan. The Tora Bora battle gave insurgents three weeks to cross unmolested into Pakistan, and the March 2002 battle at Shahi Kowt gave insurgents another three weeks to cross over large stretches of Afghanistan's border into Pakistan without hindrance. Since the March 2002 fighting, the US has done little to combat al-Qaeda or the Taliban inside Afghanistan, with the US forces' presence devolving, unwillingly, into a police action. Claims from Bush administration officials and various generals that the Taliban had been routed and the only thing left to do was eliminate the "last remnants" of resistance are absolutely wrong, as evidenced by the escalation, beginning in the summer of 2003, of fighting by Taliban, al-Qaeda, and former mujahedeen forces against Americans in Afghanistan.
There is no agreement on how many Taliban and al-Qaeda forces were killed in Afghanistan, or even how many were there in the first place. In March 2003, al-Qaeda leader Sayf al-Adil said in Al-Neda that the organization had around 1900 Arab mujahedeen, of which around 350 were killed and 180 wounded. US intelligence officials told US News and World Report that in June 2003, al-Qaeda's membership was down to around 180. In June 2003, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that around 18,000 al-Qaeda trained fighters were still at large. In August 2003, the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee reported a conservative estimate of around 17,000 al-Qaeda fighters dispersed around the globe. And in that same month, al-Qaeda scholar Rohan Gunaratna estimated that the organization had around 4000 fighters in October 2001, of which only 800 remain. What the truth is, no one knows, perhaps even the al-Qaeda leadership. It is equally impossible to tell where the truth ends and disinformation and propaganda begin. "God willing, the enemy will be taken by surprise every now and then because it knows very little about its enemy/the mujadid," wrote Abu-Ubayd al-Hilali in Al-Ansar. "The reason for this is that the enemy's old traditional culture about the jihad groups will not help it to understand this new generation, the generation of victory and liberation, God willing." As a result, American generals reported that each battle or skirmish with al-Qaeda was "the last," and the American media being what it is, the reports of each "final battle" to put an end to the al-Qaeda menace were reported faithfully and without worrying about contradicting the reports from weeks or even days before, to the amusement of al-Qaeda reporters like Hilali.
The US was fully aware that Afghanistan is surrounded by nations friendly, to one degree or another, with the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan -- yet did little to close the borders with any of those states. As a result, as Scheuer writes, "the coalition's hammer had no anvil to strike. We pushed south and the enemy either went home to rural villages or crossed on of the open borders to safety." It took twenty months for US forces to begin attempting to seal the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Between that allowed dispersal, the reorganization of Taliban forces in small towns, villages, and rural areas throughout Afghanistan, and the recruitment of new soldiers to replace those fallen or captured, the Taliban's insurgency against the occupation forces of the US and the coalition has just begun. -- Michael Scheuer
Because of the rigidly Islamist Taliban, many fellow Islamists, particularly those in al-Qaeda, view Afghanistan as the only truly Muslim country. Afghanistan is seen as the center of the struggle against the West, and therefore, as Hamid Mir wrote, "is one of Islam's immortal battles." Authors Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin wrote in their book The Age of Terror, "A core tenet of al-Qaeda's strategy is that radical Islamists must gain control of a nation. Holding a state, in their view, is a prelude to knocking over the dominoes of the world's secular Muslim regimes.... The craving for territory is one reason al-Qaeda carries out its own terrorist attacks and supports so many national insurgencies." Though it is a myth that al-Qaeda desires to "undermine Western civilization in its entirety," as a January 2003 article in the New York Times claimed, it is bent on reclaiming the countries once ruled by Muslims as part of its defensive jihad. The last country that was at the Muslim world's center was Turkey, before the British pulled down the remnants of the Ottoman Empire in 1924.
Al-Qaeda wishes to use Afghanistan as the center of a new "caliphate," a state that would be governed under Islamic law, or sharia. Even better, the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is at least something of an Islamic scholar, a requisite for a nation to be the center of a new Muslim state. Afghanistan is also the site of the only real Muslim victory over the West in almost eight centuries -- the routing of the Soviets from the country. The defeat of the Red Army holds enormous symbolic and emotive power among Islamists and Muslims alike, and remains a powerful recruiting tool for Islamist organizations such as al-Qaeda. America never grasped, either in its media or its policies, the real meaning of the eviction of the Soviets from Afghanistan, its sparking of what is now called the Islamic awakening. "More than any other event," Scheuer writes, "the shock of the Afghans' victorious jihad restored the belief of Sunni Muslims that, if God is willing, anything is possible."
Bin Laden welcomed the US invasion of Afghanistan. Not only would it make targets of US soldiers, but it put the US military inside the only Islamic nation ever successfully defended by Muslims in modern history, in a resurgent victory reminiscent of the come-from-behind battles won by the Prophet Mohammed himself. While most Westerners know virtually nothing of the history behind the Muslim caliphates, this history is a constant topic of conversation and examination by Muslims. "Muslims feel that they participate collectively and individually in the consequences of past events, in a way largely absent from Christianity (but more present in Judaism)," writes journalist Stephen Schwartz in his book The Two Faces of Islam. Bin Laden predicted that, if God was willing, history would repeat itself in Afghanistan with the US ultimately defeated and humiliated. In the eyes of bin Laden and many Islamists, the US offensive in Afghanistan is the latest in the historical series of Christian Crusades against the Muslim world. He describes Afghanistan as the vanguard and the shield of Islam against the US, just as it was against the USSR. Far from being over, Scheuer writes, the battle for Afghanistan has barely begun. -- Michael Scheuer
"Our hubris in regard to Afghanistan, to take one example, was and is breathtaking. While the UN and the US-led coalition have made strides toward improving everyday life for a portion of the Afghan population -- in terms of health services, potable water, schools, and ordnance disposal -- these undeniable, even heroic gains have not changed the status quo in the country. Afghanistan's tribal-based society remains ethnically riven, plagued by foreign intervention, and in a state of war; it is a state, moreover, in which the tide of war is rising, not ebbing." History teaches that Afghanistan is quite easily invaded and occupied, but virtually impossible to conquer; the Afghani militias, clansmen, and tribes, hardened by centuries of battling a variety of foreign invaders and one another, always fight with a doggedness, tenacity, and viciousness unparalleled by any Western military force in modern history. Days after the 9/11 attacks, eminent historian Sir John Keegan wrote a column for London's Daily Telegraph advising the US and Britain that if they intended to attack Afghanistan, they needed to remember that while efforts to conquer and dominate Afghanistan always fail, limited punitive expeditions designed to achieve specific objectives or to modify Afghan governmental policies had a record of some success. "Russia, in 1979, made the mistake the East India Company made in 1839. It tried to impose a government in Kabul. Putting its own man in place was easy. Keeping him there proved the difficulty.... Limited campaigns aimed at penetration, aimed simply at inflicting punishment, can succeed, as long as the punitive forces remain mobile, keep control of the high ground and are skillful at tactical disengagement."
But in October 2001, the US made the same mistake as the British and the Soviets. Paul O'Neill, the former Bush treasury secretary, reported to the US press that his talks with Afghani puppet president Hamid Karzai had given him so much reassurance over implementing a secular democracy that he believed one key element of bringing Afghanistan into the US-dominated circle of nations would be to build "a five-star hotel in Kabul, which would be useful to the economy." Needless to say, Kabul is not yet a tourist destination for vacationing Europeans and Americans. General Tommy Franks gushed in January 2003, "Have you thought about the work that was done for the day after the Taliban was no longer in power, and how magnificent that job was? ...We have experienced the beginning of a democratic process." In May 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a visit to Kabul putting the stamp of American approval on the "Afghan miracle." "We are at a point," Rumsfeld stated, "where we have clearly moved from combat activities to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstriction activities. ...The bulk of this country today is permissive and secure. It's clear that this is the case by the fact we see people returning from across the globe in large numbers, voting with their feet saying the circumstance here is something they want to be part of and that's a good thing.... You feel the progress, the energy in the streets, the kiosks, the active people, cars moving around, children are out in the street again. It's a measure of progress, the success taking place here." Of course, the fact that Rumsfeld didn't dare leave the confines of the government offices in Kabul for fear of being killed did not impinge either on Rumsfeld's almost-insanely optimistic statements or the media's breathless reporting of his statements.
Rumsfeld then announced the implementation of eight small "Joint Regional Teams" made up of less than a hundred US soldiers and Special Forces teams and civil affairs troops. Their job was to help Afghanistan "transition from combat sweeps to 'stability' operations." "Though these teams will be armed with assault rifles," observed the conservative Weekly Standard, "their most potent weapons will be their calculators, tape measures, and laptop computers. They will act as middle men -- and women -- to help get contractors in and construction projects going for local villagers." Three years later, fighting rages across Afghanistan except in the city limits of Kabul, and these teams have been hardly able to put down their weapons long enough to unspool their tape measures and boot up their laptops. No matter. "The first year of the present war has been a spectacular success," wrote historian Victor Davis Hanson in the Wall Street Journal. Hanson said, wrongly, that "Pacification is increasingly turned over to security forces and international development officers." Even historian Bernard Lewis fell for the hype, writing in August 2002 -- again for the Wall Street Journal -- that "Today with minimal help from the US, a central government [in Kabul] is gradually extending its political and financial control to the rest of the country and dealing more and more effectively with the maintenance of order."
Like the historians Hanson and Lewis, who should have known better, analysts for three of the most influential military and political journals in the West were even more stunningly wrong-headed in their take on Afghanistan. "Operation Enduring Freedom has been, for the most part, a masterpiece of military creativity and finesse," Michael O'Hanlon wrote in Foreign Affairs in May 2002. "On the whole...[it] has been masterful in both design and execution. ...More notably, the US effort helped quickly galvanize Pashtun forces to organize and fight effectively against the Taliban in the south, which many analysts had considered a highly risky proposition and CENTCOM itself had considered far from certain.... Convincing the Pashtuns to change sides and fight against the Taliban required just the right mix of diplomacy, military momentum and finesse, and battlefield assistance from CIA and special operations teams." William Hawkins wrote in the US Army War College's Parameters in the summer of 2002, "US forces could attack Afghanistan with impunity. The only real challenge was the remote geography and lack of existing agreements with neighboring countries regarding basing rights. The military victory over the Taliban rabble looked easy because it was. ...The campaign in Afghanistan in contrast [to the US campaign in Serbia] was an exercise in decisive warfare.... Winning decisively has been defined as the ability to march on an enemy capital, with the intent of overthrowing its regime." And in February 2002, Anthony Davis wrote for Jane's Intelligence Review, "Yet within a single week in early-mid November , the USA's coalition had all but won the war.... The totality of that defeat undercut any possibility of a Taliban reversion to organized guerrilla resistance in their southern heartland.... [T]here is no doubt that US military planners were fully aware of the lessons of Russia's Afghan quagmire and concerned to avoid a protracted military engagement." All three reflect what Washington's political elite wished the Afghan situation to be; all three are spectacularly wrong.
Instead, Scheuer writes that the US is damned in Afghanistan no matter what it does. If it pulls out, the Taliban and al-Qaeda once again assume control of much of the country, the civil war against the Masood-less Northern Alliance resumes, and the Kabul government falls. If the US stays, the terrorist and insurgent attacks against US forces will continue to escalate and likely triumph no matter how many American troops are committed, as the Russians found to their sorrow two decades before. Scheuer also predicts that such a military commitment will ensure the terminal destabilization of the Pakistani government of Pervez Musharraf, most likely to be replaced with an Islamist government far more friendly to the Taliban and to al-Qaeda than that current fence-sitting regime. "Afghanistan is our tar baby and we are stuck fast," Colonel David Hackworth wrote in May 2003. "Too bad the policy-makers who put our soldiers at risk didn't brush up on their Brit/Soviet/Afghan History 101 beforehand." "Democracy must be earned and learned," wrote former CIA operative Ralph Peters. "It cannot be decreed from without. In a grim paradox, our insistence on instand democracy in shattered states...is our greated contribution to global instability." -- Michael Scheuer
"We thank God that the Afghans with such small power and such poverty are confronted by America, which is a powerful force. It is coming with all of its force to confront the Afghans from the East to the West. In response, we, Afghans, also thank God that [the United States] is standing against us.... If America make[s] aggression on our country, we are ready with all our resources. Our children, praise be to God, are also ready. We, with love, want from Almighty God that America comes to our territory." -- Taliban radio broadcast, late September 2001, quoted by Michael Scheuer