Newly confirmed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s first trip to Afghanistan turned into a fiasco. Just hours after his arrival in Kabul on Saturday, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Afghan Ministry of Defense. At least 10 people were killed. Another suicide bomber followed suit near a joint Afghan-American checkpoint in the eastern province of Khost, killing nine, including eight children and a policeman. On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of collaborating with the Taliban. Hagel, who left the country without accomplishing anything, had two words for reporters who inquired about the challenges he faced. “It’s complicated,” he contended.
Two additional attacks that bookended Hagel’s visit offer great insight into such “complications.” Last Friday, an American civilian contractor was killed and four collation troops were wounded, two seriously, when three men wearing Afghan Army uniforms stormed the gate at Forward Operating Base Tagab in the northern province of Kapisa and began firing. The attackers were subsequently killed. On Monday in Wardak province, two American troops and three Afghan policemen were killed when an Afghan policeman fired on them while they were visiting the station.
The term used to describe such insider attacks is “green-on-blue” violence. In its prevalence, it has become a symbol of the bankrupt strategy of “building trust” among Afghans (who will supposedly defend their country against Taliban forces after we leave) by putting Americans side-by-side their predictably deadly “allies.” In 2012, 52 coalition soldiers were killed promoting such trust.
Yet as a thoroughly corrupt and thoroughly ungrateful Hamid Karzai indicates, building trust is a pipe dream. Karzai’s disdain for America is both well-known and recurring, and his outburst during Hagel’s visit emphasized that reality. On Sunday, he contended that America and the Taliban have a mutual interest in destabilizing Afghanistan, insisting that the two aforementioned terror attacks were part of a clandestine collaboration designed to show that international forces must remain in-country after their combat mission ends in 2014. “The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014. They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents,” he said.
Karzai has also criticized policies U.S. officials consider vital to our mission there, including an increasing reliance on Special Ops forces, and American input into the vetting and release of battlefield detainees. Karzai considers both policies to be violations of Afghan sovereignty. As a result, Karzai has banned Special Ops forces from operation in the Maidan Wardak province, claiming they have tortured and killed villagers in the area, one seen as crucial to defending the capital of Kabul.
Karzai also criticized America’s slowness in transferring Bagram prison to Afghan control. “As soon as it takes place, we know there are innocent people in these jails, and I will order their release, as much as I am criticized for it,” he said last Wednesday. That speech put in doubt a previously negotiated understanding of how the institution’s prisoners would be handled following the transfer. As a result, the transfer was cancelled on Saturday, during Hagel’s visit. On Sunday, a joint news conference between Hagel and Karzai was also cancelled because of another security threat. The two met privately, and Hagel said they had “a very direct conversation.”
U.S. officials, stunned by the timing of Karzai’s criticisms, weren’t sure whether they were timed for Hagel’s visit or simply an outburst of “unfortunate” political pandering. Yet they were sure such disagreements will be ongoing, complicating the withdrawal of American combat forces by 2014.
There are currently 66,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and while combat forces are scheduled to be completely withdrawn next year, somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 residual forces will be left behind to further assist Afghan security forces and conduct counter-terror operations.
Hagel and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, insist Afghan forces remain committed to defending their own nation and are “on target” with regard to taking over national security later this summer. “The Afghans are in the lead, the Afghans are bearing the brunt of the fighting in Afghanistan right now,” Dunford told reporters. The General also dismissed suggestions that Karzai’s criticism reflects a deteriorating relationship between the two nations. “We do not have a broken relationship, we do not have a lack of trust,” he said.
Hagel also sought to downplay the friction between the two nations. “I was once a politician,” Hagel told reporters traveling with him. “So I can understand the kind of pressures–especially leaders of countries–are always under.” He also insisted the eleven-year-old war effort remained “on the right path.” “You look over the past 11 years, it’s pretty dramatic, what’s happened in this country,” Hagel told reporters on Sunday. “Yes, a ways to go. Yes, challenges. Yes, issues. Yes, differences. But I don’t think any of these are challenges that we can’t work our way through.”
This rose-colored view was dismissed by Atiqullah Amarkhel, a former Afghan Army general and a military analyst, who saw the cancellation of the prison transfer in far more sober terms. “[Karzai’s] prestige as president was degraded in the eyes of the public by the Americans’ refusal to hand over responsibility of the prison to the Afghans,” he said. “I think it drives him crazy when he sees it’s not happening. It also shows a deep sense of distrust between two onetime allies. To the public, it means all the power is with foreigners,” he added.
Mohammed Natiqi, a political analyst based in Kabul, explained Karzai’s rationale for banning Special Ops forces from operating in the Maidan Wardak province. “He has realized that Taliban will play an important role in the post-2014 Afghanistan,” Natiqi said. “And by banning night raids, airstrikes and criticizing Americans and NATO forces, President Karzai is trying to win over the Taliban and other insurgent groups.”
In other words, Karzai is playing both ends against the middle for reasons that are glaring obvious to anyone who has followed America’s schizophrenic counter-insurgency policy, one that has consisted of “winning Afghan hearts and minds” even as American soldiers were afflicted with rigid rules of engagement, victory became irrelevant, and a scheduled departure date of American combat troops in 2014 virtually assures the nation will once again fall under the control of the Taliban’s Islamist hard-liners.
An article in Sunday’s Washington Times about the Obama administration’s constant changing of commanders in Afghanistan, now totaling five different leaders in less than five years, inadvertently revealed the fatal flaw of America’s current military philosophy: we have substituted “stability” for victory. Retired Army General McCaffrey Barry, who played an integral part in removing Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991, alluded to this reality. “We should have kept a team of senior people together in Afghanistan for five years at a time,” he told The Times. “What kind of medium-complexity business would continually shuffle the leadership? All this turnover at the top had a detrimental effect on the broad direction of the war.”
The “broad direction of the war”? The Taliban government was ousted from power in December 2001 — four months after 9/11. It has taken America another eleven years to turn that victory into the politically correct debacle of nation-building that has brought us to the verge of defeat, even as 2,181 American service members have paid the ultimate for protecting the likes of Hamid Karzai and his kleptocratic regime, and for attempting to cultivate Jeffersonian democracy in a country that had never experienced anything remotely resembling it.
Somewhere along the line we forgot that our principal mission was protecting American national security. If that had remained our primary goal, and the Obama administration had actually fought to achieve it, we might have completely eliminated the key terrorist training center in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, instead of using drones to conduct surgical strikes that are promoted as noble efforts to prevent civilian casualties, but that in reality elevate the interests of the enemy over those of U.S. combat troops. We might have made the war against Islamic terror the kind of unrelenting hell that breaks the will of our enemies, as opposed to the half-hearted effort that encourages their patience.
“If you want to stay beyond 2014, all of you separately need to sign agreements with the Afghan people,” Mr. Karzai said Sunday, responding to the idea that NATO allies will comprise much of the residual force left behind after the U.S. withdraws next year. “Limited numbers, in a location we chose and under our conditions and framework, with respect for our laws, our sovereignty, our traditions and culture.”
If Karzai believes that the U.S. has failed to exhibit this deference in our current engagement, he would hate to see American power at work fighting to actually win a war. But that is in fact the problem. Why would any Afghan take American resolve seriously when neither Chuck Hagel nor President Obama will do anything other than express their dismay regarding Karzai’s charges while endlessly repeating their love and good-will toward Afghanistan and its people? In that regard, White House Secretary Jay Carney didn’t fail to disappoint. “Any suggestion the United States is colluding with the Taliban is categorically false,” Carney declared. “The United States has spent enormous blood and treasure for the past 12 years supporting the Afghan people … in the effort to ensure stability and security in that country. The last thing we would do is support any kind of violence, particularly involving innocent civilians.”
Hagel was equally obsequious. “I told [Karzai] it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything,” Hagel said. “I think he understands where we are and where we’ve been and hopefully where we’re going together.” The Obama administration’s objective now is to maintain this facade of collaboration until 2014. By the time Afghanistan fully unravels, it will be someone else’s responsibility. Few will think to ask by then why so many lives were squandered in service to the managed failure of the Left’s “good war.”
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