7 years, 5 months ago
Briefly revisiting Matthew Hoh’s arguments against involvement in Afghanistan, he (perhaps unwittingly) parrots the talking points of the political left.
I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan. If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy Western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons. However, again, to follow the logic of our stated goals we should garrison Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
There are so many errors in judgment and contradictions in this brief diatribe that it’s difficult to know where to begin. There is another version in the same family of objections to counterinsurgency in the tribal areas of Afghanistan, this flavor being best described by Tim Lynch when he states of COP Keating at Kamdesh:
This is a perfect example of the attrition warfare mindset which is ingrained in most of our military officers. Owning the field of battle post fight is a measurement of success in conventional military operations. It is irrelevant in the context of a counterinsurgency. The only relative measurement of success is how much of the population is on your side. In the battle for FOB Keating the population was never on our side – they were apparently the ones who attacked us – so why were we even there in the first place? I don’t know the answer but will bet a months pay that we are soon out of Nuristan Province. As I have said many times before the instability in Nuristan is financed by gem smuggling syndicates which is an Afghan problem. We have no solutions to offer the Nuristani people except to leave them alone which is all they want anyway.
Well, not exactly. The COP was there to interdict the flow of fighters from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and Tim should be interested in doing that since he believes that al Qaeda is safely garrisoned in Pakistan and will never be allowed in Afghanistan again (to be fair, Tim is not allied with Hoh in his advocacy of complete disengagement from Afghanistan, but the arguments are similar enough that they must be addressed together).
But do you see the contradictions here? On the one hand, the real al Qaeda / foreign fighter problem is in Pakistan (or so it is alleged), and our focus should be there rather than Afghanistan. On the other hand, when it comes to being deployed in Afghanistan (including along the Pakistani border), the question arises “why are we in Afghanistan to begin with?”
The conversation on Pakistan versus Afghanistan presupposes that the Durand Line means anything, and that the Taliban and al Qaeda respect an imaginary boundary cut through the middle of the Hindu Kush. It doesn’t and they don’t. If our engagement of Pakistan is to mean anything, we must understand that they are taking their cue from us, and that our campaign is pressing the radicals from the Afghanistan side while their campaign is pressing them from the Pakistani side.
Advocating disengagement from Afghanistan is tantamount to suggesting that one front against the enemy would be better than two, and that one nation involved in the struggle would be better than two (assuming that Pakistan would keep up the fight in our total absence, an assumption for which I see no basis). It’s tantamount to suggesting that it’s better to give the Taliban and al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan as Pakistan presses them from their side, or that it’s better to give them safe haven in Pakistan while we press them from our side. Both suggestions are preposterous.
This isn’t about nation-states and imaginary boundaries. When we think this way we do err in that we superimpose a Western model on a region of the world where it doesn’t apply. This is about a transnational insurgency, and it’s never better to give the enemy more land, more latitude, more space, more people, more money, and more safety. Any arguments to this effect are mistaken at a very fundamental level.