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    South Asia
     Mar 9, 2007
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A catalogue of errors in Afghanistan
By Michael Scheuer

Afghanistan is again being lost to the West, even as a coalition force of more than 5,000 troops launches a major spring offensive in the south of the country. The insurgency may drag on for many months or several years, but the tide has turned. Like Alexander's Greeks, the British and the Soviets before the US-led coalition, inferior Afghan insurgents have forced far superior Western military forces on to a path that leads toward evacuation. What has caused this scenario to occur repeatedly throughout history?

In the most general sense, the defeat of Western forces in

Afghanistan occurs repeatedly because the West has not developed an appreciation for the Afghans' toughness, patience, resourcefulness and pride in their history. Although foreign forces in Afghanistan are always more modern and better armed and trained, they are continuously ground down by the same kinds of small-scale but unrelenting hit-and-run attacks and ambushes, as well as by the country's impenetrable topography that allows the Afghans to retreat, hide, and attack another day.

The new twist to this pattern faced by the Soviets and now by the US-led coalition is the safe haven the Afghans have found in Pakistan. This is the basic answer to why history has found so many defeated foreign armies littering what Rudyard Kipling called Afghanistan's plains.

The latest episode in this historical tradition has several distinguishing characteristics. First, Western forces - while better armed and technologically superior - are far too few in number. Today's Western force totals about 40,000 troops. After subtracting support troops and North Atlantic Treaty Organization contingents that are restricted to non-combat, reconstruction roles - building schools, digging wells, repairing irrigation systems - the actual combat force that can be fielded on any given day is far smaller, and yet has the task of controlling a country the size of Texas that is home to some of the highest mountains on Earth.

Second, the West underestimated the strength of the Taliban and its acceptability to the Afghan people. When invading in 2001, the West's main targets were al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and Taliban leader Mullah Omar and their senior lieutenants, and because the operation specifically targeted a group of top leaders, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was not sealed, and so not only did the pursued troika escape, so did most of their foot soldiers.

Those escapees are now returning in large numbers, and are better armed, trained and organized than on their exit. It seems likely, in fact, that the force being fielded by the Taliban and their allies - al-Qaeda, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, among others - is at least equal in number to the coalition.

Furthermore, the membership of the force is not just a few Taliban remnants and otherwise mostly new recruits; rather, they are the veteran fighters that the coalition failed to kill in 2001 and early 2002. The Taliban forces are not new; they are the seasoned, experienced mujahideen who are - like former president Richard Nixon in 1972 - tanned, rested and ready to wage the jihad.

Western leaders in Afghanistan are also finding that many Afghans are not unhappy to see the Taliban returning. Much of the reason lies in the fact that the US-led coalition put the cart before the horse. Before the 2001 invasion, the Taliban regime was far from loved, but it was appreciated for the law-and-order regime it harshly enforced across most of Afghanistan. Although women had to stay home, few girls could go to school and the odd limb was chopped off for petty offenses, most rural Afghans could count on having security for themselves, their families and their farms and/or businesses.

The coalition's victory shattered the Taliban's law-and-order regime and, instead of immediately installing a replacement - for which there were not enough troops in any event - coalition leaders moved on to elections, implementing women's rights and creating a parliament, while the bulk of rural Afghanistan returned to the anarchy of banditry and warlordism that had prevailed before the first Taliban era.

Making matters worse was the fact that many of the actions the coalition did successfully undertake - especially elections and

Continued 1 2 

Shadow boxing on Pakistan's border (Mar 7, '07)

Taliban fire off spring warning (Mar 6, '07)

Pakistan makes a deal with the Taliban (Mar 1, '07)


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