Archive for December, 2009

The United States won the war in Afghanistan in 2002. That’s right — seven years ago. How do I know? Because Bernard Finel says so. He even quotes some other dude as saying basically the same thing:

This war should have been over the moment we disposed of the Taliban.

Fellas. It was. And that’s exactly the problem. The U.S. had 5,200 troops in Afghanistan in 2002. It still had only 15,200 troops in 2004 when the insurgency was already picking up steam. The United States, as is its wont, considered the war won and the job done when it wasn’t. That is why we are where we are today.

Just in case this is somehow difficult to grasp, let me repeat: The United States hasn’t been fighting a full-scale war in Afghanistan for the past eight years. It had a light military presence in the country for seven years while its enemies regrouped. Because it neglected Afghanistan and failed to commit what was needed and finish what it had started, it is now in an unsalvageable situation. No amount of “we-chased-the-Taliban-away-and-destroyed-al-Qaeda’s-camps-and-we-won-we-won-we-won” fantasising will change this fact.

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Although Obama didn’t specifically say much about anything in Tuesday’s speech — in comparison, Bush’s January 2007 address read like a Petraeus PowerPoint — we did get a few numbers:

  • 30,000. The number of extra troops to be sent to Afghanistan. It may be inadequate in terms of commonly used counterinsurgent/civilian ratios for COIN campaigns, but compared to Bush’s Iraq “surge” it’s a massive increase in troop strength — close to 50 percent. Not only will it have a profound social impact in the U.S., it will be very visible on the ground and affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Afghans. Unfortunately, it will also generate huge media interest in the West, leading to a parallel surge of bad reportage and stupid punditry.
  • 18. The number of months until the start of drawdown. Also known as “a year and a half”. Incidentally, also the number of months Obama allocated for his promised Iraq withdrawal. While this time frame has nothing whatsoever to do with Afghanistan, there is nothing arbitrary about it either. Simply put, it is the longest period of time a politician can describe in a difficult speech using months instead of years without sounding like a slimeball.
  • 6. The number of years the U.S. neglected Afghanistan, according to Obama. Also the number of House Republicans who opposed authorising Bush to invade Iraq.
  • 2011. Year of the promised “responsible transition” of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Also the year of U.S. pullout from Iraq. Also the year of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Also the year of Canada’s announced departure from Afghanistan. (The Dutch will leave in 2010. The German mandate expires the same year.) Also the year when Obama will start preparing for his re-election campaign. Also the year when, according to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the world will end.

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Christian pretty much said it all, but let’s not forget the human dimension:

During a nationally televised address Tuesday, a visibly tired and worn President Obama informed the country that he was going out for a pack of cigarettes and would be back in 10 minutes or so.

At press time, it was already getting dark and he had not yet returned.

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