Edward Girardet writes: The American-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan is proving to be a failure. Against the advice of experienced diplomats, aid workers, journalists, and other analysts at the time, Washington’s decision to invade the country in October 2001 in a “war on terrorism” ignored basic realities as well as history. A top-down military approach exhibiting often astounding hubris hindered efforts to implement a more modest—and savvy—long-term development strategy that could have ameliorated a conflict that was already in its twenty-second year when U.S. and coalition forces intervened. It has been a costly thirteen-year involvement in lives and resources, with very little to show in the way of resolving Afghanistan’s problems. America’s war in Afghanistan may be as undistinguished as the failed Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989. Everything now depends on the ability of the Afghan army, police, and militia to hold their own—and whether the country will succeed in producing a thriving economy based on its own sweat and with a credible, broad-based political system.
Given the overwhelmingly artificial nature of Afghanistan’s post-2001 economy, which has enriched more than a few U.S. security companies plus various Afghan politicians, warlords, and other members of the privileged elite, military downsizing is bound to be devastating to Afghan pocketbooks. In 2011, at the height of Operation Enduring Freedom, as Washington dubbed its involvement, the military occupation of Afghanistan, run by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), stood at over 140,000 troops operating out of 800-odd bases throughout the country. Kandahar in the southeast, Bagram north of Kabul, and Camp Bastion in Helmand had become three of the world’s busiest military airfields: they handled hundreds of daily transport flights to Europe, the Middle East, and offshore aircraft carriers, as well as helicopter sorties against the Taliban and other insurgents.
By the end of 2013, the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) incorporating forty-eight foreign armies, mainly from NATO, but also from countries such as Australia, Tonga, and Jordan, was well under way. Troops and equipment were being flown out daily, while ISAF and related military organizations had terminated most logistical contracts with private local and foreign companies. An indication of just how dependent Afghanistan had become on outside funding, this put more than 100,000 Afghans out of work and eliminated crucial income for up to two million dependents. [Continue reading…]