What Was Accomplished in Afghanistan?

The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan was justified in large part by highlighting the plight of women under Taliban governance. Within the first weeks of the campaign, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Cherie Blair helped spearhead a highly-effective propaganda effort to convince the public that the U.S. and the U.K. were engaged in a moral war—one which was fundamentally about human rights rather than merely advancing geopolitical or security interests—thereby necessitating a massive ground invasion and state-building enterprise to transform Afghan society, rather than a more limited venture to  dislodge and degrade the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Of course, the U.S. bore significant moral responsibility for the plight of Afghan women, given the central role that the CIA played in sponsoring mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the Cold War—before, during, and after the Russian occupation. Leaders trained in these programs would go on to found the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda—groups which were not only responsible for the widespread oppression of the Afghan people, but also for planning and executing the suicide bombings of September 11, 2001.

And so, the moral implications of the war were extraordinary: had Operation Enduring Freedom been successful, it would have not only liberated Afghan women, but avenged 9/11—and in the process, helped to rectify a particularly dark chapter in U.S. foreign policy. And this, it was held, would go a long way towards winning the “hearts and minds” of people around the world.

Unfortunately, the mission was not a success, and most of the promises made at the outset of the conflict, particularly with regards to women’s empowerment, have failed to materialize. In response, insofar as they talk about Afghanistan at all, policymakers have attempted to claim that the primary U.S. interest in the country is, and always has been, about denying a foothold to the Taliban and other extremist groups—although even by this measure, the campaign has been a failure.

Nonetheless, this revisionism cannot be allowed to stand. We must evaluate America’s longest war according to the terms by which the occupation was justified–improving the status of Afghan women. And by this standard, the war must be condemned in the strongest terms: according to the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), it is impossible to verify whether any of the U.S. investments in Afghanistan have benefitted women at all.


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Al-Badghadi: Jihadist Provocateur

ISIS distinguishes itself from other jihadist organizations, particularly its progenitor al-Qaeda, by positioning itself as the group that will do what other groups are unwilling or unable to do. There is a clear dialectic wherein other terror organizations will commit an a heinous act that receives widespread media coverage; ISIS will then try to divert the international spotlight to themselves by surpassing their rivals in terms of depravity or scale—especially if it is an act which al-Qaeda condemns as being unfit for mujahedeen. Examples:

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Gen. Petraeus Must Face Justice

The U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have recommended felony charges against David Petraeus for giving classified information to his biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell. While not a crime in itself (because Petraeus was retired from the military at the time the scandal broke), the affair put Petraeus, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, at significant risk of blackmail. He resigned from the CIA in 2012 shortly after the relationship became public.

The scandal came to light after Broadwell abused her proximity to Petraeus, threatening to use her CIA connections to make a perceived sexual rival, Jill Kelley, “go away” (mafia style); this spurred an FBI investigation. Federal investigators then stumbled upon classified documents in Broadwell’s possession, allegedly provided by her Petraeus, with whom they discovered she was having an affair. According to the New York Times, Broadwell may have even gained access to her lover’s government email account during this period. Given his position at the head of U.S. intelligence operations, the magnitude of such a breach, if confirmed, would be immense.

Yet U.S. lawmakers tasked with overseeing intelligence failed to even question Petraeus about his misconduct. Shortly after the scandal broke, Petraeus was summoned to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but lawmakers limited their questioning to the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And over the course of this inquiry, they did not even ask how Broadwell gained access to highly-sensitive details about the Benghazi attacks (to include confirming the location of CIA blacksites), which she mentioned in a speech at the University of Denver just before the affair came to light.

Instead, the vice-chairwoman of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the White House last week not to press any charges, claiming the general “made a mistake [and] has suffered enough” because of it.

But it is not clear how, or even if, he has suffered. Continue reading “Gen. Petraeus Must Face Justice”

A Metacriticism of the U.S. Drone Program

“Before we can talk about what is ‘effective’ we have to talk about what the goal is of using military force at all. Is it to make Americans safer? Is it to keep Afghanis, Pakistanis or Yemenis safe? What’s the goal?  The question of being ‘effective’ – if you’re asking do drones work to kill people? Absolutely. Does that help anyone? That is a different question; we need to start with that.”
Phyllis Bennis, Director of the Institute of Policy Studies


“I’m really good at killing people.”
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Barack Hussein Obama, reflecting upon the U.S. drone program


Among critics of U.S. foreign policy, there is a particular fascination with Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones. While primarily used in Pakistan and Yemen, the United States has also deployed armed drones in the theaters of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Somalia—using them for surveillance  across much of the world, including within its own borders; America has been relying upon  unmanned systems since the Vietnam War, although their use and capabilities have increased exponentially under the Obama Administration.

Due to the secrecy of the programs, there has been little reliable data on the UAV campaigns until recently; this has not prevented many from airing bold and largely unsubstantiated claims regarding the program and its effectiveness. However, to their credit, largely as a result of these activists’ persistence some reliable data is beginning to emerge. Unfortunately, most criticism of the UAV campaigns remains ill-conceived and misplaced:

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Afghanistan Faces a Post-Modern Security Crisis

So far in 2012, NATO forces have seen a 45% increase in “insider attacks” against coalition forces by their Afghan security counterparts, accounting for more than 18% of the total 2012 NATO casualties. Beyond the loss of life, these attacks have had a devastating impact on the trust and cooperation between NATO and Afghan forces, threatening the integrity of the overall mission, including the coalition’s plans to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014. Earlier this month, NATO suspended joint operations with the Afghan forces and ordered their personnel to carry loaded weapons at all times.

Who are the perpetrators of these attacks? Typically, average Afghan soldiers who joined the security forces in “good faith,” hoping to serve their country, earn a stable paycheck, etc. NATO estimates that only 25% of these “green on blue” attacks are the result of Taliban infiltration or co-option of Afghan security forces.  What can we say of the other 75%? Their good intentions are precisely the cause of their angst.

Their uniforms, initially a source of personal and national pride, also identify these soldiers as being on the “same team” as the drones, as Karzai and his corrupt and unpopular government, etc. These Afghan forces find themselves fighting primarily against their own countrymen, side-by-side with U.S. forces who often harbor orientalist, racist or anti-Islamic sentiments (although at times they are merely culturally ignorant/ insensitive).  These forces have also committed a host of atrocities, war-crimes, and sacrilegious acts in Afghanistan over the last decade, many of which have gone essentially unpunished. While these crimes by American forces are largely glossed over in U.S. media as rare “bad-apples” or cases of PTSD (if they are covered, at all), they are disturbingly ubiquitous and are ever-present in the Afghan consciousness.

The nature of the “insider attacks” is very telling: there is no apparent tactical intent— the shooters simply target any and all coalition forces within range.  There is no attempt to prioritize “high-value” targets, to interrupt delicate missions or to destroy critical infrastructure. The acts are totally nihilistic; the perpetrators want to die— in fact, that is virtually all they want. Shooting the NATO forces is a symbolic means of shooting themselves, of targeting that aspect of their identity represented by their uniforms through an action which negates the impulses which led them to enlist (nationalism, a sense of self-worth or identity, the desire to provide for and protect their loved ones, etc.). And their symbolic suicide typically and appropriately culminates in their actual death through coalition retaliatory fire.

What can be done to reduce these incidents? Coalition forces cannot create any kind of deterrence strategy, as the perpetrators want to die. They cannot remove the motivations for their death-wish, either: they do not have the time or resources to cease drone strikes, purge domestic corruption, or dramatically change the culture/composition of the U.S. forces.  It will be challenging enough to build the necessary force-levels, infrastructure, etc. by 2014 while maintaining pressure on the Taliban. Similarly, NATO does not have the ability to eliminate collateral damage or rogue atrocities, as these are simply realities of war.

From a tactical point of view, the United States is essentially in a Catch-22: the only solution to this problem is to pull coalition forces out of Afghanistan. However, they must first ensure the Afghan forces can provide some measure of stability after said withdrawal. In order to accomplish this, they will need to recruit even more of the local population into the coalition forces. However, as many of these “average Afghans” will be ill-equipped to deal with the aforementioned identity conflicts, we should expect “insider attacks” to become increasingly prevalent (the purer the motivations of these recruits, the more prone they will be to disillusionment/nihilism). This will further erode trust and confidence between the NATO and Afghan forces, interfering with the coalition’s ability to properly train these new forces they are recruiting. And so, the situation may perpetuate itself ad infinitum, or the coalition may be forced to abruptly abort the mission in Afghanistan, essentially handing the country back to the Taliban.


Published 9/22/2012 by SISMEC.