Afghanistan as dangerous as Iraq

This is grim. As we continue to spread liberty and freedom (or at least to spread the meme about it) the actual scene on the ground is pretty scary. From liberated, free Afghanistan.

It began last summer.

On a July morning, Taliban gunmen shot dead the province’s most powerful cleric as he walked to the main city mosque to lead morning prayers. Five months later, they executed a teacher at a nearby village school as students watched. The following month, they walked into another mosque and gunned down an Afghan engineer working for a foreign aid group, shooting him in the back as he pressed his forehead to the ground and supplicated to God.

This spring and summer, the slow and methodical siege of this southern provincial capital intensified. The Taliban and their allies set up road checkpoints, burned 20 trucks and slowed the flow of supplies to reconstruction projects. All told, in surrounding Helmand Province, five teachers, one judge and scores of police officers have been killed. Dozens of schools and courts have been shuttered, according to Afghan officials.

‘Our government is weak,’ said Fowzea Olomi, a local women’s rights advocate whose driver was shot dead in May and who fears she is next. ‘Anarchy has come.’

When the Taliban fell nearly five years ago, Lashkar Gah seemed like fertile ground for the United States-led effort to stabilize the country. For 30 years during the cold war, Americans carried out the largest development project in Afghanistan’s history here, building a modern capital with suburban-style tract homes, a giant hydroelectric dam and 300 miles of canals that made 250,000 acres of desert bloom. Afghans called this city ‘Little America.’

Today, Little America is the epicenter of a Taliban resurgence and an explosion in drug cultivation that has claimed the lives of 106 American and NATO soldiers this year and doubled American casualty rates countrywide. Across Afghanistan, roadside bomb attacks are up by 30 percent; suicide bombings have doubled. Statistically it is now nearly as dangerous to serve as an American soldier in Afghanistan as it is in Iraq.

This is a long, intesne historical article that looks at the ups and downs the Afghan people have endured since the 1960s. The fall of the Taliban in 2001 was definitely an “up” time, and their hopes soared. What a pity that we couldn’t commit the resources to enforce our victory and keep the Taliban on the run. It’s far too simplistic to say that the reason was our distraction in Iraq. As this article makes clear, there were many factors, such as the backwardness of many of the people, the absolute worthlessness of the nation’s “army” and the rampant rise of corruption. Our failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq resuilted from a dismal lack of understanding of the culture of those we liberated, and a uniquely American belief that simply by implementing elections and drafting constitutions we’d have democracy and freedom. Sort of like Democracy in a Can – just add water and stir.

Remember all that hope after the Taliban’s fall, when women removed their burkas and it seemed Afghanistan was a true example of our ability to liberate the world’s oppressed? Would that it could have been so simple. What we have now is such a tragedy, one has to wonder if it was ever worth it.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Richard, “meme” is a new word for me. I like it though.

September 5, 2006 @ 8:48 am | Comment

“Sort of like Democracy in a Can – just add water and stir.”

I think we have to be careful with statements like the one above. I don’t think anyone in the US government honestly believes democracy works everywhere. There are many countries in the world that do not mimic the US structure, but yet maintain their stability.

Unfortunately, as America, it’s impossible to help rebuild a country with anything but a democracy! How would the world view America if we went in there and set-up a centrally controlled government instead? Even if those people were highly-qualified and capable of getting their country on track, we’d be accused of setting up a puppet government!

That said, I understand the point you’re making here, just think it may be a little too extreme.

Also, Afghanistan was worth it. Even if the current structure fails today, it’ll give a new generation hope for the future.

September 6, 2006 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

Was Afghanistan worth it?

Hello? Al Qaeda had free reign in the country, what did you expect us to do about it?

September 6, 2006 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

The problem with Afghanistan was not the American intervention – I agreed with that. It was that the Bush Administration immediately turned its attention to Iraq, withdrew the sorts of special forces needed to stabilize the country, and, oh yeah, catch that dude…what was his name again? Obama? You know, the one who organized the WTC attacks.

Maybe the problems in Afghanistan were too intractable to be solved by any foreign intervention – but god knows a half-assed effort like the one put on by BushCo wasn’t going to do the job.

September 6, 2006 @ 11:53 pm | Comment

If the Taliban win it back, or if it becomes yet another hotbed of terrorism and death, we have to ask whether it was worth it. I was fully supportive of this mission, assuming it wouldbe carried out intelligently. Once again, Bush fucked it up for the reasons Lisa cited, as well as our lack of consideration of local culture.

September 7, 2006 @ 12:25 am | Comment

LH, Bush really does seem to believe in the “democracy in a can” idea. It’s all he ever preaches – the world’s ills will be solved by free elections. Unfortunately, when the free election give power legally to terrorist organizations or enemies of Israel, Bush is curiously silent.

September 7, 2006 @ 12:27 am | Comment

It is to early to declare Afghanistan a failure. For example, five years after the start of the Korean War the pundits in America in 1955 could have looked at South Korea as a failure because the country was not democratic, a communist insurgency was raging in the south of the country that was taking many lives, civil unrest and protests, a belligerent North Korea still killing GI’s on the DMZ, and communism was overall on the rise. Things weren’t ideal but the US was committed to South Korea just like we need to be committed to Afghanistan.

It really wasn’t clear that South Korea was a success story until the 1970’s. It will take 20 years before we can make a decision on Afghanistan if it was worth it.

Something else that isn’t being looked at is that with the increase in coalition casualties the Taliban are even taking a greater loss in their man power. They kill a handful of coalition soldiers will kill hundreds of thiers. The coalition is doing riskier operations to get into the mountain hideouts to crush the Taliban. These riskier operations mean a greater loss of life. Frankly it is encouraging that NATO forces are actually participating in these operations as well. It is a statement to their resolve to bring stability to Afghanistan.

September 7, 2006 @ 1:26 am | Comment

Hah, “free elections”? Too bad he doesn’t apply that principle in America!

September 7, 2006 @ 1:26 am | Comment

Iraq’s democracy without USA’s control will be a failure.
Saudi’s autocracy with USA’s control will be a success.


September 7, 2006 @ 8:49 am | Comment

Seriously, I’m not attempting to flame this discussion, but what should the US have done? I’ve not seen anyone grant us insight here, only criticize the government’s current way of doing it.

And to Richard, you’ve proved my point about democracy not working immediately for all countries. You’re probably right, they might vote in a terrorist leadership…but what should the US have done? Should we have gone in their and set-up a regime capable of delivering stability to Afghanistant at the expense of the freedom they thought they had won? If they had done that, this thread would actually be about America invading countries to set-up governments that SERVED their interests.

Many mistakes were made, that I don’t deny. Let’s just realize, as America, we succeed because of our democracy but can at times be hindered by it.

September 7, 2006 @ 10:17 pm | Comment

We should have done a bit more research in advance, and we should not have trumpeted Afghanistan as a great success as we did prematurely. It was just another example of that much-ridiculed can-do American attitude that leads us to catastrophes again and again.

September 7, 2006 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

Seriously, what should we have done? I’m not disagreeing with you, just trying to understand what could have been done.

September 9, 2006 @ 12:38 am | Comment

I am not a military strategist or foreign policy expert, and I make no claims to having a better solution. It’s like when the wingnuts point to Iraq and ask what we would do to fix it, my response is, “I don’t know how to unshit the bed. But I know who shit the bed.”

September 9, 2006 @ 5:13 am | Comment

You clean the sheets and bed. Or you buy new ones.

September 10, 2006 @ 1:39 am | Comment

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