Afghanistan, Again?

Still smarting from the role the USSR played in helping North Viet Nam overcome US military efforts in South Viet Nam, forcing an American withdrawal from the country, ultimately leading to a unification of the country under Communist rule, ten years later the United States (through the CIA) armed the Mujahdeen, a rag tag group of rebels in Afghanistan with shoulder-launched anti aircraft weapons known as Stingers. The Mujahadeen up to that point had been losing terribly to the Soviet military, which had come into the country to prop up a leftist puppet regime in the capital city of Kabul. The Communist regime in Kabul was secular, allowed smoking and drinking and education for women. But, it had also closed down the mosques. (You know, that old "Religion is the opiate of the masses" thing.). This may have been fine with a few well-heeled elites, merchants and shopowners in Kabul, but throughout the rest of the country what was going in the capital city was very unpopular. The women were decadent, debased and the young men there, debauched and sinful. And the government was fully supported by foreigners who were now running roughshod across the interior raining death from the skies, confiscating land and harassing, arresting or executing anyone suspected of being in league with the Mujahadeen. So, the Soviets were hated and the US had a perfect chance to really hurt their efforts at expansionism in the Near East. Long story short, the Mujahadeen prevailed, the Soviets were forced to leave the country, the Afghan president was seized by the Mujahadeen, dragged from the palace and hung from a lamp post in downtown Kabul. One of the young revolutionary leaders, a man named Osama Bin Laden was seen as a hero and someone to watch.

Soon, the Mujahdeen morphed into the Taliban, took over Afghanistan, installed Sharia Law, effectively pulling their country all the way back to the Middle Ages and developed a close tie with Pakistan, which was alright with the idea of conservative, neutral Sunni nation on its northern border acting as an effective buffer against the now new Russian Republic. Thus secure, Pakistan could now turn its full attention to dealing with the one country in the region it absolutely, positively does not trust - India.

Meanwhile, devout Muslim Osama Bin Laden claimed to have grown outraged at the deal the King of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's native country, had made with the United States to build US military bases on Saudi soil. Some of these bases were apparently on or near land of deeply religious significance. And when neither the Saudi government nor the US President and Secretary of State at the time saw fit to remove the bases, bin Laden joined with other devout Islamists to form a guerrilla group known as Al Qaeda. After committing several acts of terror against Western people and interests, President Clinton struck back with cruise missiles, targeting and destroying Al Qaeda training camps. Bin Laden had to find some place for his people to operate in relative safety.

At first the US couldn't find him, but satellite images finally identified training camps in Afghanistan. Bin Laden had used his former ties with the Mujahadeen to arrange a deal that would allow him to train his operatives deep in the interior of the country, away from prying eyes (he thought). The US, through diplomatic efforts, tried to have the Taliban, already world pariahs for a lot of other reasons, expel Al Qaeda, but the Taliban stalled.

Then, 9-11 happened and when the Taliban still refused to hand Bin Laden over, well, we all know what happened after that. And that brings us to the present.

The Taliban have been resurgent and today control nearly forty per cent of the countryside, and they are steadily recruiting among disaffected young men angered by an economy that is failing, corrupt officials getting richer by the day and the prospect of more of the same for the forseeable future.

Meanwhile, the United States finds itself now supporting a corrupt unpopular president whose rule extends no further than Kabul and it is seen as an occupier who has been killing and destroying for seventeen years without let-up. Meanwhile, Pakistan - remember them? - is pissed because the US overthrew their ally, the Taliban and elements in the Pakistan military and intelligence community have not forgiven the United States for flying Navy Seals into the country to kill Bin Laden. And, Oh, did I mention that the Russians are now arming the Taliban against American backed Afghan soldiers, no doubt with the promise to not interfere with the Taliban ever again should they regain power in Kabul. And what better protection for Russia's southern borders than a wholly neutral and friendly Afghanistan living, as it no doubt will, in the Middle Ages?

So now, our current President, taking the advice of his generals, wants to send more US troops into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, who remain more popular in the countryside than the government the US supports. Everyone knows this is an impossible task, that there is no adequate military solution and that a now seventeen year war can easily turn into a twenty-year war - or longer.

The only way out of the dilemma is the very one that is the most distasteful and likely the most politically impossible to contemplate, but it is the only one that makes any sense under the current circumstances: The US will have negotiate a deal with the Taliban, allowing them to power in Kabul. In return the US will withdraw in return for a promise, on paper of course that neither Al Qaeda, ISIS or any other terrorist entity, Islamist or otherwise, will be allowed to exist, train or otherwise occupy space in Afghani soil, now or into the future. One thing the Afghans may be known for, is that they keep their word once given.

Can such a negotiation actually work? Who knows? But, what is clear the policies of the past seve

nteen years have not. Time to try something different. Yes, I know that such a deal, with its requirement that the US withdraw without a clear military victory is anathema to the politicians and their sense of American honor. But, how many Americans must continue to die for a President's sense of honor?

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