October 07, 2011

Afghanistan: Are We 'Achieving the Objective' While Losing The Longest War in U.S. History?

October 7, 2011 marks the ten year anniversary of our involvement in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. History. So, one full decade, many lives and a few trillion dollars later, are we winning?

Yes. Kind of. Well, it depends on how you define victory. Says military analyst Dr. Andrew Exum, who led troops in Afghanistan and was an adviser to General McChrystal. He acknowledges the circular nature of the conflict there.

"The policy objective the president has is really not that much different from that of President Bush, which is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda," says Exum.

But "paradoxically, we could lose the war in Afghanistan," Exum explains, and still achieve the two presidents' policy objectives of defeating al Qaeda. How, you might ask, is that possible? Well al Qaeda's not the only player in the game.

"Success looks like al Qaeda central collapsing. The problem is, do we then have other transnational terror groups" who have been fueled by the past ten years of conflict?

That's what losing looks like, but winning isn't a lot more heartening. A positive outcome in the conflict, according to Exum, would be a "negotiated political settlement" that's the result of a "reconciliation" with insurgent groups like the Taliban. But that's arguably what we had before the war in Afghanistan: an uneasy peace with the Taliban.

Maybe we should have capitalized on that uneasy peace before going to war. According to Tulsa World, David Walters, the former governor of Oklahoma, was having back channel talks with the Taliban two years before 9/11, that could have "led to Osama bin Laden's expulsion from Afghanistan."

"I realize we cannot live our lives constantly asking 'would've, could've, should've' questions, but failing to capitalize on the Taliban overtures from Afghanistan in 1999 proved to be a world history-changing failure by our government."

Major General Paul Eaton, who served in Iraq and now works for a think tank in Washington D.C., says the reason that progress is slow in Afghanistan is that our diplomatic efforts have been MIA. "We are not going to kill our way out of this problem," Eaton says.

Eaton claims that since World War II, the U.S. has had a history of getting involved in wars where the outcome is uncertain and victory is indefinable. He points to Korea, which is still unresolved after the Korean War of the 1950's. "We've agreed to the existence of North Korea and South Korea [but] a state of war persists"

Eaton says we need a more regional approach where we get everyone to the table who has a vested interest in the outcome of the war in Afghanistan: Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Turkey. He says Turkey is an especially key player that we should be talking to because they're a Muslim country with a "western approach to doing business."

Well, I asked him, why haven't we been able to get those countries to the table?

He said "you'll have to ask the secretary of state that question." I tried, but Clinton wasn't picking up.

So are we winning in Afghanistan? Exume says "We have had a tremendous amount of success over the past 18 months against al Qaeda senior leadership."

But he's also concerned that the last decade of war has radicalized groups in Pakistan and beyond. So would that be like... the operation was a success but the patient died?