President Barack Obama’s decision to inject 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan and along the Pakistan border will increase the Islamic backlash to Western style interventionism and create a continuing call for troops. This will delay, or obliterate, his promise that troops will leave within 25 months.
The President understates the difficulties of training Afghan security forces. In part the problem is related to the illiteracy of the population. Only 28 % of the adult population can read and write. Even today there are only some 160,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers. This is one quarter the size of Iraq’s security services and they are tasked with bringing order to a country that is larger and more populous than Iraq.
Further, the President reported that doubling the ranks of the Afghan army is important because Afghans trust their army more than any other institutions. This trust is highly doubtful since he also announced that the U.S. will be completely out by January 2012. Therefore, it’s unlikely that many will trust an alley knowing that they will be left to the whims of Al Qaeda or the Taliban once the U.S. and NATO leaves.
All-in-all, the President, politically, has put forth mission accomplishments that cannot be met. Thus, he leaves the issue open for increasing troops structures in the future.
Obama wants the public to believe that Afghanistan is not another Vietnam. However, both Vietnam and Afghanistan are prime example of military instigated mission creep. Further, both Lyndon Johnson and Obama have made the mistake of listening to the military. Vietnam, for example, grew from 16,575 in 1963 to 184,314 in 1965 and 543,400 by 1969. The 1969 numbers did not include an additional 76,500 in Thailand and those off-shore. The U.S. and its allies have close to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan now. Another 30,000 brings the total to 130,000 not counting Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal provided Obama with two options for containing the Taliban-led insurgency and stabilizing Afghanistan. A medium-risk option called for between 40,000 and 45,000 U.S. forces. A best chance option calls for 80,000. However, the Army counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all out campaign in a country with Afghanistan’s population would require about 600,000. McChrystal knows that but only asked for what he thought he could get away with. This is a typical mission creep strategy. In addition, supporting the Army at that levels would require a draft.
Its a stretch to suggest that U.S. or NATO troops deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Pakistan will either destroy or pacify either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban primarily because their strategic assumptions are incorrect. The President has been led to believe that: 1) terrorism can be confined to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and 2) Afghans security and military forces will improve.
The first assumption is problematic since terrorism is a crime that occurs far too often, in many forms and many places. Therefore, it cannot be confined to a single group, a specific religion or any specific entity. It pops up in many places, at different times, and is more often than not, a dynamic of extremist right wing religious ideologies.
The State Department currently lists 45 organizations as foreign terrorist groups that are located throughout the world. In addition, the Federal Bureau of Investigation terrorist watch list is estimated to include over one million names. While the watch list is probably bloated and includes innocent travelers as suspected terrorists, it nonetheless, classifies terrorism as a crime of global reach.
The significant number of organizations, and individuals, point to their influence around the world. Therefore, it is folly to think that eliminating or pacifying Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will end, or even significantly reduce, Islamic, or any other fanatic form of terrorism. According to counter-terrorism author Dale C. Eikmeier, “ideology”, rather than any individual or group, is the “center of gravity” of Al Qaeda and related groups.
Islamic terrorist acts have included airline hijacking, kidnapping, assassination, suicide bombing, and mass murder. The most prominent act attributed to Islamic terrorism is the hijacking of commercial passenger airliners and their use on September 11, 2001, in the United States. These acts cannot be eliminated by declaring war on the ideology and chasing terrorists across the worlds land mass with limited military forces and support funds.
Further, the military, the President, Neoconservatives and certain elected officials are ignoring middle east history. Afghanistan is a country at a unique nexus point where numerous Indo-European civilizations have interacted and often fought. Through the ages, the region has been home to various people, among them the Aryan (Indo-Iranian) tribes, such as the Bactrians, Arians, Arachosians, etc. It also has been conquered by a host of people, including the Median and Persian Empires, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, Turks, and Mongols. In recent times, invasions from the British, Soviets, and most recently by the United States and their allies. In addition native entities have invaded surrounding regions in Iranian plateau, Central Asia and Indian subcontinent to form empires of their own.
Most importantly, Muslims regard their religion as the completed and universal version of a monotheistic faith revealed to many times and places before, including, notably, to the prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Islamic tradition holds that previous messages and revelations have been changed and distorted over time. Western ideology will not change such cultural thinking no matter how many troops are deployed.
In addition, Western ideology is completely at odds with Muslim ideology, which, by the way, is held by approximately 1.66 billion peoples in the World today. That is more then 24 % of the 6.87 billion of the worlds population. How many of those holding extreme religious ideologies of any kind are extreme and prone to terrorism is anyone’s guess.
Singling out the Taliban as a target for military aggression, is misleading and problematic. More specifically, the Taliban is overwhelmingly Pashtun. The Taliban cause was spawned by the thousands of Pashtun madrasahs (Islamic teachers) of the Deobandi movement.The Pashtuns are the world’s largest (patriarchal) segmentary lineage ethnic group. The total population of the group is estimated to be around 42 million, but an accurate count remains elusive due to the lack of an official census in Afghanistan since 1979. There are an estimated 60 major Pashtun tribes and more than 400 sub-clans. In addition, and this is important, Pashtuns comprise over 15.42% of the 25.6 million Pakistanis. That’s approximately 4 million Pashtuns in Pakistan alone. How many of these are terrorists, again, is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, weeding the wheat from the chaff amongst millions of people and hundreds of tribes and clans spread out over 249,984 sq mi (647,500 km²) of landlocked mountainous country and chasing them in and out of Pakistan 803,940 km2 (340,403 sq mi) of varied climates and topography, while they hide among 180 million potential protectors, is a task of nearly impossible proportions.
In 1968, the anti-U.S. Forces in Vietnam only measured about 520,000 far below the numbers the 42 million Pashtuns potentially facing forces in Afghanistan.
By-the-way, Pakistan is a nuclear nation. Therefore, continuing a war against the Taliban cannot be considered without addressing the nuclear option. And the nuclear option cannot be discussed without involving India, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Of course, there are all those other pesky countries in the region that might be concerned about a nuclear option. Like the Russia Federation and China.
While the administration and neocons put forth the case that nuclear forces in the hands of Pakistan Taliban terrorists is a possibility, it is not. For years, India has stopped Pakistan from using a nuclear option. And if they don’t the Israelis, Russia, NATO and China will. This is all part of the cold-war mutually assured destruction (MAD) which has been in place for decades.
What about al Qaeda? For all practical purposes, Al-Qaeda is kaput. But, it never was that much to start with. Al-Qaeda is more a network of multinational, and stateless fundamentalist Sunnis. It is, like the Taliban, dedicated to a religious cause. But unlike the Taliban its numbers are relatively low. In 2006, it was estimated that al-Qaeda had several thousand commanders embedded in forty different countries. However, as of 2009, it is believed no more than two hundred to three hundred members are still active commanders.
According to the BBC documentary “The Power of Nightmares,” Al-Qaeda is so weakly linked together that it is hard to say it exists apart from Osama bin Laden and a small clique of close associates. The lack of any significant numbers of convicted al-Qaeda members, despite a large number of arrests on terrorism charges, is cited by the documentary as a reason to doubt whether a widespread entity that meets the description of Al-Qaeda exists at all. Therefore the extent and nature of al-Qaeda remains a topic of dispute. Nonetheless, by the end of 2004, the U.S. government proclaimed that two-thirds of the most senior Al-Qaeda figures from 2001 had been captured and interrogated by the CIA: Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiriin 2002; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003; and Saif al Islam el Masry in 2004. Mohammed Atef and several others were killed.
In the final analysis, terrorism is a world-wide phenomenon that requires constant vigilance and improvements in criminal justice approaches across the world. But chasing criminal terrorists with a military force from nation state to nation state is a non-starter and makes any discussions about eliminating them silly and idiotic.
For further information see: ACLU watchlistDeobandiEikmeieri, Dale C., “Qutbism: An Ideology of Islamic-Fascism,” From Parameters, Spring 2007, pp. 85-98.Islamic Population MadrasahNationmaster: afghanistanNeoconservatism.The economic consequences of the Vietnam WarUnknown News, “Casualties in Afghanistan & Iraq.” Victory in Vietnam: The Official History of the People’s Army of Vietnam.
Michael Manford McGreer is author of: “No Harm, No Foul, Bio-terrorism in the 21st Century.