6,000 Days

George K
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George K
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March 11th, 2018, 9:04 pm #1

A War without an Objective, 6,000 Days In
wrote:It would be helpful to know just what is America’s interest in Afghanistan.

George Will

‘The war is over.”
— Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Afghanistan (April 2002)

“I believe victory is closer than ever before.”
— Vice President Mike Pence in Afghanistan (December 2017)

With metronomic regularity, every thousand days or so, Americans should give some thought to the longest war in their nation’s history. The war in Afghanistan, which is becoming one of the longest in world history, reaches its 6,000th day on Monday, when it will have ground on for substantially more than four times longer than U.S. involvement in World War II from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day (1,346 days).

America went to war in Afghanistan because that not-really-governed nation was the safe haven from which al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks. It was not mission creep but mission gallop that turned the intervention into a war against the Taliban who had provided, or at least not prevented, the safe haven. So, the United States was on a mission opposed by a supposed ally next door — Pakistan, which through Directorate S of its intelligence service has supported the Taliban.

This fascinating, if dispiriting, story is told in Steve Coll’s new book Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There cannot be many secrets about this subject that are not in Coll’s almost 700 pages.

He reports when General Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, “A senior Army officer in Washington told him, ‘Don’t build [Bondsteels],’ referring to the NATO base in [Kosovo] that Rumsfeld saw as a symbol of peacekeeping mission creep. The officer warned McChrystal against ‘anything here that looks permanent. . . . We are not staying long.’ As McChrystal took the lay of the land, ‘I felt like we were high-school students who had wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.’” It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels, some almost as long as a football field, that were thought to be created by and for terrorists, U.S. officials learned that they were an ancient irrigation system.

A decade ago, seven years after the war began, on October 7, 2001, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the U.S. objective was the creation of a strong central government. When he was asked if Afghanistan had ever had one, he answered without hesitation: “No.” Which is still true.

Years have passed since the time when, years into the war, U.S. military and civilian officials heatedly debated “counterinsurgency” as contrasted with “counterterrorism,” distinctions that now seem less than crucial. Coll says of military commanders rotating in and out of Afghanistan annually, “The commanders starting a rotation would say, ‘This is going to be difficult.’ Six months later, they’d say, ‘We might be turning a corner.’ At the end of their rotation, they would say, ‘We have achieved irreversible momentum.’ Then the next command group coming in would pronounce, ‘This is going to be difficult . . .’” The earnestness and valor that Americans have brought to Afghanistan are as heartbreaking as they are admirable.

For 73 years, U.S. troops have been on the Rhine, where their presence helped win the Cold War and now serves vital U.S. interests as Vladimir Putin ignites Cold War 2.0. Significant numbers of U.S. troops have been in South Korea for 68 years, and few people are foolish enough to doubt the usefulness of this deployment, or to think that it will or should end soon. It is conceivable, and conceivably desirable, that U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan, lending intelligence, logistical, and even lethal support to that nation’s military and security forces for another 1,000, perhaps 6,000, days.

It would, however, be helpful to have an explanation of U.S. interests and objectives beyond vice-presidential boilerplate about how “We will see it through to the end.” And (to U.S. troops) how “the road before you is promising.” And how the president has “unleashed the full range of American military might.” And how “reality and facts and a relentless pursuit of victory will guide us.” And how U.S. forces have “crushed the enemy in the field” (or at least “put the Taliban on the defensive”) in “this fight for freedom in Afghanistan,” where Bagram Airfield is “a beacon of freedom.” If the U.S. objective is freedom there rather than security here, or if the theory is that the latter somehow depends on the former, the administration should clearly say so, and defend those propositions, or liquidate this undertaking that has, so far, cost about $1 trillion and 2,200 American lives.
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xenon
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March 11th, 2018, 9:19 pm #2

This whole exporting democracy thing isn’t going too well.
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Mikhailoh
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March 11th, 2018, 9:21 pm #3

What alternative do you suggest? The reason there is still a central government in Afghanistan is due to our presence. Should we withdraw the Taliban will simply take it back and it will once again be a haven for radical Islamists.

South Korea would not be the prosperous nation it is without the US guaranteeing its sovereignity either.
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xenon
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March 11th, 2018, 9:29 pm #4

Military is one side of the equation. The other side is having the moral high ground.

Right or wrong - it’s a matter of perception from the people on the ground living there. How do they feel about America? A reliable ally looking out for their interest?
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ivorythumper
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March 11th, 2018, 9:37 pm #5

I have no idea why were are, or ever were, in Afghanistan.
The dogma lives loudly within me.
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Mikhailoh
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March 11th, 2018, 9:51 pm #6

xenon wrote:Military is one side of the equation. The other side is having the moral high ground.

Right or wrong - it’s a matter of perception from the people on the ground living there. How do they feel about America? A reliable ally looking out for their interest?
Not what I asked. We are there now and have been since 2001. What do you suggest we do now? What would be the consequences of that action for the people of Afghanistan?

We now have 14,000 troops there, with an expected 1,000 more this year. That is not a huge presence and I think calling it a war at this point is a bit misleading.

Still, the question remains. Three presidents now have not seen fit to withdraw. i think there must be a reason for that.
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xenon
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March 11th, 2018, 9:53 pm #7

You break it you bought it. Pump up manpower and investment. Show your commitment to making it right long term.

Education, nation building. The full nine yards.
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MainerMikeBrown
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March 11th, 2018, 9:57 pm #8

If the U.S. military stays in Afghanistan, we'll lose even more brave men and women.

And if we leave, the Taliban will take over once again.

So for America, it's darned if you do, darned if you don't.
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Davis
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March 12th, 2018, 2:34 am #9

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan there was quite a bit of press regarding the atrocities they committed. It was big news in the US, might have been the most extreme case of Sharia Law implemented to date.

What we are doing now is a great question and many probably don’t remember the way it was.
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Copper
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March 12th, 2018, 3:02 pm #10


Wouldn't it be great if Mr. Trump stepped up and claimed Afghanistan?

Make it the 51st state, elect a couple (of) new senators and get on with it.

The Confederate soldier was peculiar in that he was ever ready to fight, but never ready to submit to the routine duty and discipline of the camp or the march. The soldiers were determined to be soldiers after their own notions, and do their duty, for the love of it, as they thought best. Carlton McCarthy
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jon-nyc
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March 12th, 2018, 3:03 pm #11

35MM Muslims with US citizenship. I’m sure that’s what you want.
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.
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Copper
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March 12th, 2018, 3:12 pm #12


Give them an obamacare card and an IRS Form 1040.
The Confederate soldier was peculiar in that he was ever ready to fight, but never ready to submit to the routine duty and discipline of the camp or the march. The soldiers were determined to be soldiers after their own notions, and do their duty, for the love of it, as they thought best. Carlton McCarthy
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xenon
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March 12th, 2018, 3:16 pm #13

$560 GDP per capita. Someone’s getting subsidies.
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Larry
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March 12th, 2018, 3:19 pm #14

It's one of the sh!thole countries.

Flatten it with a few H bombs and leave in uninhabitable for the next 2,000 years and be done with it.
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xenon
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March 12th, 2018, 3:23 pm #15

Wouldn’t the people who died there on the mission beg to differ? Price of freedom?
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Larry
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March 12th, 2018, 3:26 pm #16

You mean our men? Why would any of our men die dropping bombs on their sorry asses?
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xenon
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March 12th, 2018, 3:32 pm #17

I’m talking about American servicemen who have died there over the past decade and a half trying to make it a better place.

Also - nuking a country full of mostly regular people will solve the problem of terrorism right? Or if not that, then you get some sort of sense of revenge?
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Larry
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March 12th, 2018, 3:43 pm #18

Then let's make it a better place. Blow it to hell and make it uninhabitable. Then it will be a better place.
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Davis
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March 12th, 2018, 3:58 pm #19

I think we went into Afghanistan because of the economic shock that 9/11 created. How much did that cost and what is worth to protect against that? The situation with Iraq I think greatly contributed to the world wide ISIS threat. What is it worth to protect against that?

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xenon
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March 12th, 2018, 4:00 pm #20

You have the solution right above your post, Davis. Nukes.
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