US airstrikes in Afghanistan like the one that killed over 100 civilians last week have reached all-time destructive highs. According to Air Forces Central, US warplanes dropped a record 438 bombs in Afghanistan during April. The number of dropped bombs has increased steadily over the past few months, and just yesterday, Gen. James Jones claimed the US will continue conducting airstrikes despite President Karzai’s admonishment that these bombings are counterproductive, turning Afghan civilians against the United States. Yet as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to deteriorate, Congress will decide this week whether to approve $94.2 billion in supplemental wartime spending.
Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan like retired Corporal Rick Reyes are meeting with members of Congress early this week, urging them not to approve this massive supplemental wartime funding bill until more critical questions are answered about the war. We still don’t know, for instance, how the Obama administration intends to prevent increases in US airstrikes and military presence from becoming recruiting tools for Taliban extremists or al Qaeda terrorists. We still don’t know how the administration will be able to stop military escalation from further destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Nor has the administration been forthright about benchmarks or an exit strategy, or whether funding more war will hamper US economic recovery.
What we do know is that right now, President Obama appears to be following the failed policies of his predecessor in Afghanistan. The Carnegie Endowment’s Gilles Dorronsoro recently wrote that while Obama’s strategy does promise more resources and the chance for a civilian surge, “when considered as a whole, this supposedly ‘new’ strategy amounts to little more than recycled policy from the late Bush years; it is a waiting strategy without any credible long-term objectives. Unfortunately, those who have so far a clear, well coordinated, and coherent strategy are the Taliban.” This grim assessment follows Dorronsoro’s earlier findings in Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War, which concluded that the increased military presence in Afghanistan has directly contributed to the Taliban insurgency, and that withdrawing troops would allow us to focus on tracking down any remaining al Qaeda terrorists who have since fled across the border into Pakistan.
Dorronsoro’s sentiment was echoed by Graham Fuller, a former CIA station chief in Kabul and a former vice-chair of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council. Fuller delves into all the reasons why Obama is “pressing down the same path of failure in Pakistan marked out by George Bush,” concluding:
Only the withdrawal of American and NATO boots on the ground will begin to allow the process of near-frantic emotions to subside within Pakistan, and for the region to start to cool down. Pakistan is experienced in governance and is well able to deal with its own Islamists and tribalists under normal circumstances; until recently, Pakistani Islamists had one of the lowest rates of electoral success in the Muslim world.
But U.S. policies have now driven local nationalism, xenophobia and Islamism to combined fever pitch. As Washington demands that Pakistan redeem failed American policies in Afghanistan, Islamabad can no longer manage its domestic crisis.
The Pakistani army is more than capable of maintaining state power against tribal militias and to defend its own nukes. Only a convulsive nationalist revolutionary spirit could change that — something most Pakistanis do not want. But Washington can still succeed in destabilizing Pakistan if it perpetuates its present hard-line strategies. A new chapter of military rule — not what Pakistan needs — will be the likely result, and even then Islamabad’s basic policies will not change, except at the cosmetic level.
In the end, only moderate Islamists themselves can prevail over the radicals whose main source of legitimacy comes from inciting popular resistance against the external invader. Sadly, U.S. forces and Islamist radicals are now approaching a state of co-dependency.
It would be heartening to see a solid working democracy established in Afghanistan. Or widespread female rights and education — areas where Soviet occupation ironically did rather well. But these changes are not going to happen even within one generation, given the history of social and economic devastation of the country over 30 years.
Al-Qaida’s threat no longer emanates from the caves of the borderlands, but from its symbolism that has long since metastasized to other activists of the Muslim world. Meanwhile, the Pashtuns will fight on for a major national voice in Afghanistan. But few Pashtuns on either side of the border will long maintain a radical and international jihadi perspective once the incitement of the U.S. presence is gone. Nobody on either side of the border really wants it.
What can be done must be consonant with the political culture. Let non-military and neutral international organizations, free of geopolitical taint, take over the binding of Afghan wounds and the building of state structures.
If the past eight years had shown ongoing success, perhaps an alternative case for U.S. policies could be made. But the evidence on the ground demonstrates only continued deterioration and darkening of the prognosis. Will we have more of the same? Or will there be a U.S. recognition that the American presence has now become more the problem than the solution? We do not hear that debate.
We must heed the analyses offered by Dorronsoro and Fuller, and tell Congress not to condone the administration’s disastrous military strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You can sign Brave New Foundation’s petition and stand behind vets like Reyes by urging Congress not to authorize another dime in military spending until we have a better understanding of what’s at stake in this war.