Okay, so Afghanistan is finally big news. All we need to do now is learn how to describe the war — and avoid the semantic pitfalls we stumbled into in Iraq. A few suggestions:
- Stop calling the Taleban “resurgent”. By all accounts, they made their comeback in 2004. Just because most of the Western media paid little attention to it doesn’t mean it’s still news in 2008.
- Reinforcing your troops is not a “surge”. “Surge” is a political term coined by the Bush Administration to put a positive spin on its decision to send additional combat brigades to Baghdad and its environs in 2007. In itself, it means nothing, and it certainly isn’t a strategy. It’s inadequate even as a crude way of describing an escalation, as 30,000 troops — or 12,000, as in the case of Afghanistan — can hardly be called a human flood.
- Not everything is “U.S.-led”. The Western war effort in southern Afghanistan, and around Kabul, where yesterday’s fighting took place, is led by NATO’s ISAF, not the U.S. The alliance’s leadership is part of the problem, as is the overall lack of a streamlined command, and it doesn’t go away by mischaracterising the situation.
- Stay the hell away from the Iraq analogy. For starters, Kabul isn’t Baghdad; the problems don’t emanate from there, and you don’t win this war simply by amassing your forces in the capital. In fact, there isn’t one single place you could deploy reinforcements and expect to make a difference, unless you can spare 30,000 troops for each of the contested provinces. Secondly, you’re dealing with a deeply entrenched indigenous insurgency, not some pissed-off smugglers you can bribe to not shoot at you. And third, you can’t trust your back-up — most of ISAF isn’t ready or willing to fight a real war.
- Not everyone is “Taleban”. Convenient as it may be, using politically motivated shorthand to portray your enemy isn’t wise in the long run. For example, do we know for sure that Tuesday’s attack in Surobi was carried out by the Taleban and not, say, Hekmatyar’s HiG? This isn’t nitpicking — you need to know exactly who you’re fighting against, particularly in asymmetrical conflicts, where the tactical landscape changes almost daily.