Afghanistan Exit Strategy: “Fight, Talk, Build” Working (for Fight, Anyway)

Training exercise in Kandahar using helicopter from Afghan Air Force, September 17, 2011. (Army photo)

As the US stumbles around, trying to find its way out of a country it has occupied for over ten years, the path “forward” remains as murky as ever.  Just under two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was chosen as the point person for introducing the new US catchphrase “fight, talk, build” that is meant to describe US strategy in the region.  As I noted at the time, the US seemed to completely miss the irony of using the country’s chief diplomat to introduce a new strategy that is based on the concept of shoot first and ask questions later.

We learn in this morning’s Washington Post that the US strategy of attacking the Haqqani network on both sides of the Pakistan border before starting serious efforts to hold talks with them has only increased the frequency of attacks from them.  As the remarkable passage from the Post below illustrates, the US had to endure no fewer than five large, high profile attacks from the Haqqani network before considering the possibility that the attacks could be a return of “fight” for “fight” and an attempt to improve the Haqqani position for later negotiations rather than the laughable early suggestion from the US that by resorting to more spectacular attacks, the Haqqanis were demonstrating that they had been weakened significantly:

This official and others acknowledged that the success of the strategy, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has described as “fight, talk and build,” depends on a positive outcome for several variables that currently appear headed in the wrong direction.

On Saturday, insurgents staged a suicide bomb attack in Kabul that killed at least 12 Americans, a Canadian and four Afghans. A similar truck bomb attack Monday left three United Nations employees dead in the southern city of Kandahar.

The attacks were the latest in a series of spectacular insurgent strikes that have made reconciliation seem remote. In September, the Pentagon blamed the Haqqani network for a truck bombing of a combat outpost west of Kabul that wounded 77 U.S. troops and for an assault by gunmen on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

A week after the embassy strike, a suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is in charge of reconciliation negotiations for the government.

U.S. officials have said they were unsure whether the attacks were a reflection of insurgent military weakness, a rejection of talks or a burst of aggression designed to improve the militants’ negotiating position — similar to the escalation of U.S. attacks on the Haqqani network.

That bit at the beginning should not be overlooked: the success of the “fight, talk, build” strategy “depends on a positive outcome for several variables that currently appear headed in the wrong direction.”  Mechanisms for reversing the current direction of these variables are not presented in the article.

Meanwhile, the first in a series of “conferences” has gotten underway in Turkey, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai meeting directly with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Parallel meetings between the two countries’ top military officers are also taking place. Clinton had been scheduled to join the conference tomorrow, but her trip was canceled yesterday, apparently because of her mother’s ill health (Update: there are reports on Twitter that Dorothy Rodham has died).  It looks as though the US feels talking can wait, as no replacement for Clinton at the conference has been announced.

While the Obama administration begins to think about preparing to maybe get the Pentagon perhaps to agree to withdraw a few more troops out of Afghanistan,  we see the terrain being softened a bit more for the eventual realization that all of the US efforts  and investments in “training” Afghan forces are destined for failure.  It appears from this article that David Petraeus, who is touted in the press as responsible for training when it is described as being successful, will escape blame for the failure in Afghanistan because William Caldwell is described in the article as having “overseen all NATO training in Afghanistan for the past two years”.  In true Petraeus fashion, the slate for the previous eight years is not just wiped clean, but ceases to exist.  Petreaus’ name does not appear in the article.

There is one truly refreshing bit of honesty that breaks through into the Reuters piece on training of Afghan troops:

But senior U.S. military officials admit that money has not always been spent in the wisest ways.

“We have received an awful lot of money from the U.S. government. We need to use it differently now,” said U.S. Army Major General Peter Fuller, deputy commander for programs and resources within the NATO training mission.

Another U.S. official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the mission was buying up high-tech equipment to satisfy Washington, while more basic needs were ignored.

Yup.  “Training” Afghan forces turns out to be nothing more than an exercise in further lining the pockets of military contractors and the lawmakers who benefit from their lobbying.  With that driving force in mind, efforts to achieve a true exit from Afghanistan will face fierce resistance in Washington.

8 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    I hereby break my bmaz-induced EW silence one time only for an important announcement that might interest JW and others.

    Under the radar, with zero publicity, there will be a “conference” in Istanbul tomorrow including many nations not to seek peace but to rubber-stamp a continuation of an endless war that the people don’t want, a war that shows no hope of success, a war that is destabilizing the whole region and causing tremendous casualties.

    What led up to this war ratification? State:
    “. . .the first kind of significant multilateral event that helped lead into this was the event on New Silk Road, the particular economic issue, which was co-chaired by the foreign ministers of Germany, Afghanistan, and then by Secretary Clinton. . .”

    All for money. War is a racket.

  2. alinaustex says:

    Jim White @ 2
    Will the PRC be part of the Istanbul conference ?
    And is there any operational link between the Haqqqani network and the car bombs that Turkistani Islamic separatist set off recently in Cashgar ?
    Any chance that the PRC will get permmision to have military bases in the FATA ? If the PRC does have a military presence in Pakistan to degrade the Turkistani insurgents will this help or hurt the Haqqani networks ability to attack ISAF ?

  3. John Rogers says:

    Hey, what’s this talk of ever leaving Afghanistan?!

    If we leave, who will protect the Trans Asian gas pipeline that’s the real reason we’re there?

  4. Kathleen says:

    And while the US is pulling out of Iraq, trying to ‘fight, talk, build” in Afghanistan…Marc Ginsberg pushing for a military intervention in Syria

    “Disptach from Cyprus: The beleaguered opponents of the Assad regime have dispatched an urgent “SOS” to the international community pleading for help to stop the slaughter in Syria’s cities at the hands of Bashar al Assad’s security forces.”

    Ginsberg stillpushing the = “Clean Break Securing the Realm”
    Securing the Northern Border

    Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by:

    striking Syria’s drug-money and counterfeiting infrastructure in Lebanon, all of which focuses on Razi Qanan.

    paralleling Syria’s behavior by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces.

    striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.

    Israel also can take this opportunity to remind the world of the nature of the Syrian regime. Syria repeatedly breaks its word. It violated numerous agreements with the Turks, and has betrayed the United States by continuing to occupy Lebanon in violation of the Taef agreement in 1989. Instead, Syria staged a sham election, installed a quisling regime, and forced Lebanon to sign a “Brotherhood Agreement” in 1991, that terminated Lebanese sovereignty. And Syria has begun colonizing Lebanon with hundreds of thousands of Syrians, while killing tens of thousands of its own citizens at a time, as it did in only three days in 1983 in Hama.

    Under Syrian tutelage, the Lebanese drug trade, for which local Syrian military officers receive protection payments, flourishes. Syria’s regime supports the terrorist groups operationally and financially in Lebanon and on its soil. Indeed, the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon has become for terror what the Silicon Valley has become for computers. The Bekaa Valley has become one of the main distribution sources, if not production points, of the “supernote” — counterfeit US currency so well done that it is impossible to detect.


    Negotiations with repressive regimes like Syria’s require cautious realism. One cannot sensibly assume the other side’s good faith. It is dangerous for Israel to deal naively with a regime murderous of its own people, openly aggressive toward its neighbors, criminally involved with international drug traffickers and counterfeiters, and supportive of the most deadly terrorist organizations.

    Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan “comprehensive peace” and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting “land for peace” deals on the Golan Heights’.

  5. Bob Schacht says:

    I have marveled over the resistance of FoPo “experts” on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to a careful consideration of the British in those countries– especially Iraq. According to the Wikipedia,

    The British Mandate of Mesopotamia was a League of Nations Class A mandate under Article 22 and entrusted to Britain when the Ottoman Empire was divided in August 1920 by the Treaty of Sèvres following World War I. …

    The civil government of postwar Iraq was headed originally by the High Commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, and his deputy, Colonel Arnold Wilson. British reprisals after the murder of a British officer in Najaf failed to restore order. British administration had yet to be established in the mountains of north Iraq. The most striking problem facing the British was the growing anger of the nationalists, who felt betrayed at being accorded mandate status.

    And, guess what? There was oil involved!

    Before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the British-controlled Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC) had held concessionary rights to the Mosul wilaya (province). Under the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement — an agreement in 1916 between Britain and France … delineated future control of the Middle East ….

    Beginning in 1923, British and Iraqi negotiators held acrimonious discussions over the new oil concession. The major obstacle was Iraq’s insistence on a 20 percent equity participation in the company; this figure had been included in the original TPC concession to the Turks and had been agreed upon at Sanremo for the Iraqis. In the end, despite strong nationalist sentiments against the concession agreement, the Iraqi negotiators acquiesced to it. The League of Nations was soon to vote on the disposition of Mosul, and the Iraqis feared that, without British support, Iraq would lose the area to Turkey. In March 1925, an agreement was concluded that contained none of the Iraqi demands. The TPC, now renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC), was granted a full and complete concession for a period of seventy-five years.

    The British Mandate only lasted about 12 years, after which the Brits tried to extract themselves from Iraq while leaving a friendly government in place (exactly what we’re trying to do in both Iraq and Afghanistan). Accordingly,

    Britain imposed a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq and defined the territorial limits of Iraq without taking into account the politics of the different ethnic and religious groups in the country, in particular those of the Kurds and the Assyrians to the north. During the British occupation, the Shi’ites and Kurds fought for independence. Iraq also became an oligarchy government at this time.

    Although the monarch Faisal I of Iraq was legitimized and proclaimed King by a plebiscite in 1921, nominal independence was only achieved in 1932, when the British Mandate officially ended. Establishment of Arab Sunni domination was followed by Shi’a unrests in the south, reaching a scale of rebellions in 1935-1936, which were brutally suppressed.

    So, how did this friendly government work out? During WW-II, Iraq briefly had a pro-Nazi government. After the war,

    …in 1948, massive violent protests, known as the Al-Wathbah uprising broke out across Baghdad as a popular demand against the government treat[y] with the British, and with communist part support. More protests continued in spring, but were interrupted in May, with the marshal law, when Iraq entered the 1948 Arab-Israeli War along with other members of the Arab League.

    In other words, the friends that the Brits tried to leave in charge when they left Iraq didn’t last long. And the government that we have been propping up in Kabul probably won’t last long, either: We have not been able to get rid of the Warlords who ran most of Afghanistan before the US helped the Northern Alliance defeat the existing weak government of Afghanistan, and then walked out after helping American citizen Karzai ascend to the leadership of his native country, Afghanistan. No wonder Karzai behaves in a nervous manner: He knows that when we “leave,” it is unlikely that he will be spared. Many of the corrupt ruling class in Afghanistan are preparing their Swiss bank accounts against the day when they will have to leave quickly.

    I fear that it will not be long before the Republicans attack Obama for “losing” Iraq, and then Afghanistan.

    Bob in AZ

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