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Grey Havoc

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Now I'm not normally one for strong language but I'm sorely tempted in this case.

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2013/12/11/simple-question-on-afghanistan-leaves-officials-stumped/
 

Stargazer2006

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Grey Havoc

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This is not likely to end well at all.


 
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Archibald

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"by 11 september" - can't you pick another day of the year that also happens NOT to be the attacks anniversary ?
There is no need to give bad ideas to terrorists, really ! Also avoid December 7, well, you know...
 

Grey Havoc

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Oh, it will definitely come back to haunt Biden and co. And then some.
 

UpForce

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Frankly, Afghanistan cannot be "built" in any sense a citizen (or an elected leader) of a democratic country could recognize. It's a very different kind of "melting pot" with tribal and medieval traditions embroiled in continuous external meddling and invasions; rooting out the post terrorist attack incarnation of international islamic terrorism was understandable but the origins of the problems we went in to address never were primarily Afghan per se. Landlocked and nestled between Iran, Pakistan, China and a whole lot of other "-stans", the strategic location alone couldn't be more diversely challenging (and frustrating).

I don't know what will happen in the long term. I'm dubious about anyone being able to know; if any form of recognizable government that is willing to even half-way constructively engage with the rest of the world endures/emerges/evolves it shouldn't be left to its own devices, as pretty much happened after the Soviets left the area. If this transition is handled with any semblance of decency there will also be a rather large Afghan diaspora. It will consist of those whose lives would be severely affected or directly at risk for collaborating with the "west", dispersed (and hopefully well integrated) around the world's democracies which might to a great degree change the dynamic of the area; most likely over decades, not years.

Also, many in the U.S. and Europe now have a deep understanding of the local cultures and languages, skills that shouldn't go to waste even if applied through softer power means. For us, I guess, this is more of a reframing of a challenge, from a singular, myopic and unreflective one to a wider, hopefully more considered, outlook. We must learn from history, not get lost in it.
 

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Given that it was the contractors that were keeping a lot of things going, that seems more than a mite premature.
 
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Grey Havoc

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UpForce

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A very good read. Pakistan's role in all this has been at times baffling, confounding, to quote the above author "perfidious" and frankly at times just plain enraging. When viewed regionally and as an entity, it really also is on another scale to Afghanistan in its capacity to act destructively. In some senses the dynamic between the two countries (and I'm using the term "country" loosely) rhymes if not resembles that between China and North Korea. Afghanistan is the "official" staging ground of actions that run counter to democracies' interests but are somehow beneficial to the opaque elites of Pakistan. Of particular note here is Pakistan's closeness to Saudi Arabia and of course the issue of nukes.

Where I would perhaps take slight issue with "cdrsalamander's" tone is his under the breath intent on avenging Pakistani bad actors' deeds on the whole country. The vast majority of the population has no real stake nor say in the elites' actions and if at all possible, should be insulated from being used as leverage even as they have been primed through decades for exactly such a role. As we're retreating from Afghanistan the usual actors have already almost reflexively reverted to absolutely heinous brutality, performatively perverse violence. The more indiscriminately the world's democracies have to address these issues by force, the cosier the autocrats are in drawing parallels to the brutality and "benefits" of their own rule and in claiming that nothing ever truly changes.

Pakistanis do have vast, varied and constructive relationships through the world. Ham-fisted polarization would sever that vast tapestry at vast human cost (you know, the kind we like to think matters to us). In the long term though I doubt our highly consciously selective and compartmentalized ignorance will suffice.
 

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NYT (May 14, 2021): "Spy Agencies Seek New Afghan Allies as U.S. Withdraws". Obvious Afghan partners seem to be thin on the ground, the effort more haphazard than one might hope for. Strangely enough NATO allies, after twenty years, apparently have trouble aligning efforts, falling back to whatever remnants of old alliances and contacts there were before being directly involved. Besides, these sorts of things being plastered all over front pages while they're ongoing isn't exactly subtle.

I don't particularly appreciate the framing in the article's ingress though. ("The move signals an acknowledgment by Western intelligence agencies that they are preparing for the likely collapse of the central government and a return to civil war.") The central government cannot "collapse" whence they had not much influence to begin with, which is to say most of Afghanistan geographically speaking. The civil war, or rather, continual skirmishes and provocations continuing politics by other means between different ethnicities, factions and groupings wasn't exactly put on hold, it's just that NATO (and occasionally UN and NGOs) became the focal point of fire.

As alluded to before, the US's interests seem to be particularly ill served by previous reliance on Pakistan's state clandestine services and paramilitary connections. It's impossible to tell from the outside whether any kind of reliable visibility into whatever Taliban is these days can be established through there. Let's just say the view from Abbottabad won't get anyone's hopes up.
 

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To me the pull out from Afghanistan is quite obviously a need to re-position/re-deploy forces for potentially bigger, more important things to come. The players involved no longer need to be tied down by a backwater sideshow...
 

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Oh, it will definitely come back to haunt Biden and co. And then some.

No doubt. On the other hand, the US-led intervention in Afghanistan has a been a failure for quite a few years, going all the way back to the Bush administration. Arguably, an earlier foreign intervention (and a second foreign country's reaction to that intervention) resulted in the birth of al Qaeda and the Taliban.
 
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Arjen

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A backwater sideshow to the world, the main event for the Afghans. Foreign meddling by neighbours and others has not helped.
 

GTX

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A backwater sideshow to the world, the main event for the Afghans. Foreign meddling by neighbours and others has not helped.
Not denying that but when viewing the reasons behind the pull out unfortunately the lives off those on the ground don't rate any consideration. The harsh reality of geopolitics.
 

Arjen

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I fear you are right.
 

UpForce

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In Axios's continuing series "Off the rails" documenting events in the previous White House between Nov 3, 2020 and Jan 6, 2021 Jonathan Swan happens to be reporting on what I'm struggling to even charitably call "policy" on Afghanistan. It sheds at least some light on the state of affairs the Biden administration inherited.

Episode 9: Trump's war with his generals, May 16, 2021, Axios

On Nov 9, 2020 a rather curt note was sent directly from the Oval Office, eventually for the acting SecDef, instructing the armed forces to "(g)et us out of Afghanistan" (alongside "Iraq", "Syria", "Africa" and a complete withdrawal from "Germany"). This haphazard attempt followed four years of the Pentagon advocating for more resources while more rogue characters pushed proposals like turning the intervention into a kind of for-profit privatized effort.

Nothing much had come of anything as responsibility for any decisions was constantly being delegated down the command chain and barring that, commands weren't given. Never shy of making things personal between leaders of any stripe though, in the spring of 2020, the former president did have an unprecedented phone conversation with Taliban's leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The accounts that Swan could elicit of what was said on that call vary widely.

It's only in the waning days of 2020 when the administration was becoming its most devoid of seasoned professionals that a more unrestrained, unilateral instinct - including Afghanistan - took over. Even so, as the acting SecDef on receiving the imperially short and devoid of details list essentially balked at the prospect of withdrawing with only weeks to spare he was rather summarily fired.

His replacement, aided by a slew of other last minute but to-obviously-remain-brief appointments in Pentagon, then set out to essentially seek the best "withdrawal bargain" he could achieve. Even as available logistics were a limiting factor a chaotic (and what to most career military must have seemed pointless) drawdown from 4500 to 2500 troops was basically stumbled upon. In a manner already characteristic of the former administration about the flow of these decisions, NATO allies and Congress weren't being consulted or briefed in advance.

The state of play facing the Biden administration was essentially having a threadbare tripwire force on the ground. The trouble with tripwires in a place like Afghanistan though, is that there are "trippers" aplenty who can remain mostly secure in the knowledge that the country's borders only contain NATO/US forces while they have a range of essentially safe escalation options. While wider conflicts in the area remain possible, I can't remember anyone suggesting Afghanistan as an advantageous strategic position to face and seriously take on those threats.

Forget the now laughably undeniable Russian forces in their "polite green men" guise that could threaten, say, Ukraine or the Baltics: The role of Pakistan's ISI in the Taliban is opaque at best, Russia's notorious GRU unit 29155 seems to be operating at least not-quite-yet-actionably in the area (the issue of bounties on US troops), Iran has no dearth of paramilitaries to choose from, and so forth. Corrupt entities, however hard it is do define those in the prevailing context, have also benefited from the attention of foreign interventionists and the occasional attrition of their ostensible compatriots.

As said, I don't profess to know what will happen and in what time frame. But build on this we must, with whatever remains, hopefully much more consciously than before.
 

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"America Will Have to Reckon With Its Cynicism About Afghanistan", by Elliot Ackerman (author, a former Marine and intelligence officer who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan), May 16, 2021, The Atlantic.

Makes the case for a continued military presence on moral and humanitarian grounds. It remains to be seen if the Biden administration yet has to revisit its decision; requires a fundamental rethinking of priorities and methodology anyway and the very hard task of delivering substantially greater amounts other than "hard" security as well. Bad actors in Afghanistan have shown no qualms in going after, and indeed preference when presented with of, soft targets. State Department has of course been largely AWOL for the past four years so one might start there.
 

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One wonders how much of this decision to withdraw was forced by the previous administration's commencement of a withdrawal.

There is a lot of failure to go around in the US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are well and truly bipartisan disasters.

As for Pakistan? While the Pakistanis I've met and worked with include some of the nicest people I've ever met, I'd not trust their birth country's government's intelligence agencies farther than I could throw Nanga Parbat, if that far. If nothing else, witness where Osama bin Laden was living when he was found and killed.
 
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