While he isn't the most careful fact-checker* on the net, Mike Whitney pulls together a useful synthesis of the current situation and prospects for the Afghan war:
The military [both Afghan and foreign] is limited to "hit and run" operations. The ground belongs to the Taliban.* E.g. Whitney also writes: "Khost has fallen into the hands of the Afghan resistance just as it did before the Soviet Army was defeated in the 1980s." Khost is not under the control of Taliban fighters in the same way that several districts in Kandahar province are (see this blog entry extracting from an interview with Sarah Chayes). On the contrary, US military commanders were recently touting their counterinsurgency successes in Khost and the east, though Afghanistan uber-expert Barnett Rubin gracefully rebuts that notion. In any case, Khost, a tiny province with an important US military base in it, is far less part of "Taliban country" than are other areas of Afghanistan, especially in the south.
Michael Scheuer, former CIA chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station, made this statement at a recent conference at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC: "Afghanistan is lost for the United States and its allies. To use Kipling's term, 'We are watching NATO bleed to death on the Afghan plains.' But what are we going to do. There are 20 million Pashtuns; are we going to invade? We don't have enough troops to even form a constabulary that would control the country. The disaster occurred at the beginning. The fools that run our country thought that a few hundreds CIA officers and a few hundred special forces officers could take a country the size of Texas and hold it, were quite literally fools. And now we are paying the price." ...
Author Anatol Lieven put it like this in an article in the Financial Times, "The Dream of Afghan Democracy is Dead": "The first step in rethinking Afghan strategy is to think seriously about the lessons of a recent opinion survey of ordinary Taliban fighters commissioned by the Toronto Globe and Mail. Two results are striking: the widespread lack of any strong expression of allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership; and the reasons given by most for joining the Taliban -- namely, the presence of western troops in Afghanistan...
Lieven is right. The occupation and the careless killing of civilians has only strengthened the Taliban and swollen their ranks. The US has lost the struggle for hearts and minds and they don't have the troops to establish security. The mission has failed; the Afghan people have grown tired of foreign occupation and support on the homefront is rapidly eroding. The US is just digging a deeper hole by staying.
By every objective standard, conditions are worse now than they were before the invasion in 2001... security is non-existent and malnutrition is at levels that rival sub-Saharan Africa. Afghanistan not safer, more prosperous, or freer... The Karzai government has no popular mandate nor any power beyond the capital. The regime is a sham maintained by a small army of foreign mercenaries and a collaborative media which promotes it as a sign of budding democracy. But there is no democracy or sovereignty. Afghanistan is occupied by foreign troops. Occupation and sovereignty are mutually exclusive...
It is not even clear that women are better off now than they were under Taliban rule. According to Afghan Parliament member, Malalai Joya: "Every month dozens of women commit self-immolation to end their desolation... More Afghan civilians have been killed by the US than were ever killed by the Taliban.....The US should withdrawal as soon as possible. We need liberation not occupation." ... (link)
As for Khost in the time of the mujahiddin: Areas outside of Khost city hosted jihadi training camps (see Burke, Al Qaeda; also Matinuddin, Taliban Phenomenon) though the important government garrison there was not taken by mujahiddin until 1991 (see Rubin, Fragmentation of Afghanistan).
Addendum (from comments):
Professor Marc Herold writes:
I would be very cautious aboyut relying upon commentary of Sarah Chayes who has shown to be an avid supporter of the U.S. military in genberal terms and of some of Karzai's henchmen in the Kandahar area. Chayes is a charter representative of "feminism as imperialism" (phrase from the marvelous article in The Guardian some time ago by Katharine Viner at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/sep/21/gender.usa ). US and pupper Afghan forces largely remain confined to the huge Camp Salerno base. They exit only with heavy ground and air support. In effect, Mike Whitney is correct that the Khost region is under de facto resistance (not "insurgent" or "militant") control.Dave Markland said...
Marc W. Herold
Thank you very much for your interest.
I can assure all readers that EVERYONE is quoted with caution on this blog, from Chayes to Cheney, Bush to Barakzai to Barnett Rubin.
On Chayes: It is true that Chayes has expressed (critical) support for the occupation, which puts her in the company of a very big chorus of liberal opinion - journalists and academic specialists, etc. though that seems to be changing. (Here, we might speak of 'liberal imperialists' or 'humanitarian imperialists' such as Bricmont writes on.) However, I know of no source which questions her ability to accurately report on the matters I quoted her on. Note though that I quoted Chayes pretty much 'against interest', as a lawyer might say.
As for Whitney and the question of Taliban presence in Khost, his assertions are likely an uncredited citation of Asia Times reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad. Anyone who is familiar with Shahzad's reports knows that they are widely taken with a rather large grain of salt - which is a good thing for Shahzad's longevity. If his reports were uniformally true, he would long ago have been killed by Taliban operatives for giving away their strategies and troop movements. Much of what he reports is unverifiable and should be carefully considered as his anonymous sources obviously have political and strategic goals to promote. However, I would be deeply grateful to learn of any evidence that corroborates Shahzad's assertions.
My quibble with Whitney stems from the acknowledged existence of territories where Taliban commanders have appointed officials such as judges and mayors. Such is apparently the case just outside of Kandahar city in Nakhonay, which recently faced "Taliban reportedly enforcing their own laws and using the area as a staging ground for operations" (Smith, Globe and Mail, July 2). Also in northern Kandahar province (as Chayes asserts) and northern Helmand a similar situation is said to exist. This is not widely said to be the case in Khost.
The question raised as to what term to use - militants, resistance, etc. - seems to me uninteresting. I know of no useful legal or technical definitions for these terms, though I'd be grateful to learn of any. It seems obvious that each word on offer has its shortcomings. In any case, it seems to me our focus should be on somewhat different matters related to our actions and what the consequences are of same.