There is an outstanding report on Afghanistan in The Times today by Anthony Loyd. But what a continuing tragedy this godforsaken country and western involvement in it is.
The driver of the post 9/11 military action in Afghanistan was revenge against Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. But the bringing to justice of this terrorist and his brutal gang required the defeat of what was effectively the de facto government of a sovereign state – the Taliban. America showed it had learned nothing from Vietnam and the developing failure in Iraq. Overwhelming military power is not enough to beat guerrilla armies that disappear overnight into the jungle or the desert hills.
Negotiations with the likes of the Vietcong or the Taliban (there are many other examples in history) always end in failure. The military structure of rebel armies is different to that of conventional national forces. The latter are subject to political control to start with. We knew where we were in 1918 and 1945 – our enemy, political and military, had been defeated. The same does not apply in Afghanistan. Whilst ostensibly legitimate political governments were put in place in Kabul the Taliban didn’t go away. They took a long term view knowing that their time would come again. And it has.
The hard truth is that the West does not understand Afghanistan. The culture and ideology of the people is singular and not open to the entreaties of a western government or diplomacy. Charging blindly, guns blazing, into a conflict between competing parties none of which you understand had fatal consequences. As in Iraq the defeat of conventional forces was straightforward. The defeat of guerrillas as impossible as the task of winning hearts and minds.
America has an arrogant belief that might is right – and it certainly has plenty of might. But the reality is that the use of this might in modern times, in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been an unmitigated disaster. Time to go.