[The Rude Guy Podcast #59 July 15, 2009]
This is Rich Zubaty, the Rude Guy. Its time for us to learn something about Afghanistan. I just saw the movie Kite Runner. Best movie I’ve seen in decades. But it made me remember, we have now had U.S. troops in Afghanistan for 8 years, twice as long as World War Two, and two years less than Vietnam So…I ordered a half dozen library books on Afghanistan and started reading. Which is what I do, and what this podcast is about. While you’re off doing your job, working to pay your rent, I’m living in my car so I don’t have to pay any rent, which gives me the time to go to the library, to learn about things, and then make podcasts about them, for you. Here’s what I found out.
Afghanistan. A country the size of Texas, is one and a half times the size of Iraq, with a million more people. Afghanistan is cut in half by the Hindu Kush mountains running east to west, with the capital city of Kabul, and the Bagram air base, plopped down on the main north/south pass through the mountains.
Estimated population: 32 million
Afghani soldiers: 140,000
U.S. and European “coalition” troops: 60,000
Total allied troops: 200,000
Taliban enemy combatants: 20,000
Stop right there.
20,000 Taliban… 200,000 well-equipped modern soldiers are fighting 20,000 guys with rifles and pickup trucks? For eight years? Twice as long as World War Two?…In a nation of 32 million people, which has supposedly been held hostage by these 20,000 extremists, for what? 15 years? That makes one Taliban for every one thousand six hundred Afghani people. In military circles it’s the rule of thumb, that it takes one soldier per forty people, to control a population. In other words, in Afghanistan, there are 40 TIMES more people, than the Taliban soldiers could effectively control. Yes, the Taliban used to run the country until we kicked them out. But the Taliban were never militarily in control. They led by religious example.
Sixty years ago Chairman Mao said: war is not a military act, war is a political action. Which means, if the people are not on your side, you can never ever win. No matter how much territory you take in the daylight, at night it reverts back to the enemy. If the people perceive you as invaders, you can never ever win. In this war, in Afghanistan, the Taliban are not the foreign invaders…WE are. We can never ever win.
The Afghani people do not trust us any more than they trusted the Russians. They view us as blue-eyed, black-skinned foot soldiers of a bastard religion. Careless, ruthless imperialists, who want to use their country as a military camp, and air base, to control the oil and gas of the Central Asian Republics, just north of Afghanistan.
The main thing we’ve achieved in Afghanistan is to drive the Taliban across the border into Pakistan and cause the evacuation of over a million Pakistanis from the Swat Valley. Total military fuck up.
There is no military solution to the war in Afghanistan, because the war in Afghanistan is not a war. Like Vietnam, it’s a police action, fought house to house, through the kitchens and back yards of a hostile population.
Only the Afghani and Pakistani people can win this conflict. Our new commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, wisely said: we have to get the Afghani people on our side. Unquote. He’s right, but this is eight years later. What the hell have we been doing there for the last 8 years? Pissing off the locals, killing their moms and sisters in accidental air strikes, and creating yet more maddened Taliban recruits. It’s the same disastrous policy that made it impossible for us to win in Vietnam. The locals hate us.
We need to supply the Afghanis with whatever they need to fight the Taliban, help them rebuild schools and hospitals and irrigation systems, declare victory, and get the fuck out. Right now! The sooner the better.
But hey! Who cares about the Afghanis? Fuck them. The real question is. What’s happening to us? What’s this war doing to us?
We pay $775,000 dollars per year, to keep one US solider in Afghanistan. Three quarters of a million dollars, per soldier, per year.
Obama just shoved through a $105 billion dollar supplemental spending bill to pay for our two wars. We spend $185 Billion dollars a year on war.
Of that we lose 40 to 50% of our money to sleazy subcontractors. Middle men of middle men of middle men, who do nothing for the war except pass along contracts and profiteer from them.
The long term cost of the Afghan war has been estimated to be $3 trillion dollars, according to Linda J. Blimes, author of…. the Three Trillion Dollar War.
And here’s what really sucks…we’ve just been told that Obama’s health care plan will cost too much: one trillion dollars over ten years. That’s $100 billion dollars a year. But we’re paying $185 billion dollars a year for war in Asia.
In other words, we can either have health care for all Americans, or unwinnable and unending war in Asia.
It’s a no-brainer. Why are we even arguing about this? Stop the war now and give us health care. Period.
We cannot win this war. Afghanis have been defeating, or outlasting, foreign invaders, for thousands of years. First came the Aryans from Central Asia in 1500 B.C. Then Cyrus the Persian from modern day Iran, then Alexander the Great from Macedonia, just north of Greece. Then the Kushans from Western China who brought Buddhism. Then more Persians, the Sassanians, who practiced Hinduism. They were defeated by the Islamic armies in 637. In 1200 came the Mongol Genghis Khan, pillaging and raping. Then his descendant Tamerlane, who actually brought learning and culture and 100 years of peace to Afhanistan. On the back of this dynasty, Babur built up the Moghul Empire, which ruled India, from Kabul, until he moved the capitol to Delhi India in the 1500s.
In the early 1900s came the British, who tore down some minarets, and marched whistling through the streets for a few decades, then left. In 1979 came the Russians, who shot mullahs, and pissed in Mosques, for just over nine years, until they went home in 1989.
In the 1980s rogue CIA chief Bill Casey, induced the U.S. government, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to fund guerilla, training-camps, in Afghanistan, to train anti-Russian, Mujaheddin freedom fighters. These guerilla training-camps drew recruits from all over the Muslim world. Thus we CREATED the international Islamic terrorist menace, we are now so determined to destroy.
And when the Russians finally left, we, the good old USA, who had been funding the Afghani rebels, to fight the Russians, to the tune of one billion dollars a year, we, suddenly reduced our aid to…zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. The USA had vowed to, quote “fight until the last Afghan” unquote, to get even with the Russians for Vietnam. But then when the Afghans actually won, and the Rooskies left behind a shattered, battered, destroyed country…we did nothing to help them rebuild. Nothing. By then we were too busy with the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.
So…in the absence of any central government, Afghanistan was carved up by a dozen vicious warlords — former mujahideen freedom fighters — who grew opium, and raped and plundered the local people. And then, in 1994, a group emerged from Kandahar, to stop the abuse. They were hailed as Robin Hoods, saints, heroes. They called themselves “the Mosquitoes of Islam”. Everyone else called them, the Taliban. The Students of the book of God.
One day Taliban founder, mullah Omar, former Mujahideen, who had lost one eye to a Russian bullet, was sitting quietly at home praying, when a neighbor rushed up and shouted, “Omar, Omar! The gunmen of the local war lord have taken away my daughters. Shaved their heads and forced them to be whores for the soldiers. They’re only 13 and 14!”
Omar and 30 of his friends, took their 16 rifles, shot up the soldiers’ camp, hung the war lord from the barrel of a tank, and brought the girls back home.
“What can I do to repay you?” asked the father of the girls.
“Nothing,” said Omar. He wanted neither reward nor credit. He asked only that the villagers help him set up a system of Islamic justice, to replace the jungle rule of warlordism, which was the legacy left behind by…us. The legacy caused by being abandoned, by the Americans.
Said Omar, quote “We were fighting against Muslims who had gone wrong. How could we remain quiet, when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor?” unquote
A few months later two war lords got into an armored tank fight over a boy they wanted to sodomize, and some hapless bystanders got accidentally blown to hamburger. Omar’s group freed the boy and killed the war lords. And then, public appeals started to roll in, for the Taliban to help out in other local disputes. The Taliban got a Robin Hood reputation.
In the beginning, all Taliban decisions were guided by Koranic principles favoring openness and consensus. Sometimes debates would go far into the night before a decision was made.
But this all changed after a defeat at the northern city of Mazar-I Sharif. Taliban prisoners were thrown into deep wells. Hand grenades were thrown on top of them. And then bulldozers filled in the wells. Nice guys, these soldiers of the Northern Alliance.
Other Taliban were locked in shipping containers in the hot sun, until they suffocated to death from heat and lack of oxygen.
Then, to streamline military command, power was concentrated in Mullah Omar, and the Taliban got mean. Really really mean. Skinning their captives alive. Stoning women. Recent Afghani history is a nightmare of human suffering and degradation.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Sunnis, were the main supporters and funders of the Taliban. Iran, the Shiites, and the atheist and/or Christian orthodox Russians, were the main opposers.
When Al Qaeda — who had been invited to stay in Afghanistan by the Taliban — was accused, probably falsely, of bombing U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the USA put pressure on the Taliban to hand over
Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. But they wouldn’t do it. He was a guest of their country who had helped liberate them from those atheist Russians. So…under U.S. pressure, official Saudi support stopped, but, private Saudi billionaires continued to fund the Taliban.
Let’s make something clear. Taliban are not Al Qaeda. Taliban are local Afgani mullahs. Islamic priests. Al Qaeda is an international revolutionary organization with cells in 50 countries. Al Qaeda is made up of Filipino Muslims and Indonesian Muslims and Chechnyan and British Muslims, and lots of Arabian and Egyptian Muslims.
Al Qaeda IS a threat to the USA. But it is ridiculous, to assume that if we kill them off in Afghanistan, we’ve got them. They have 49 other countries to operate from. The 9/11 World Trade Center bombings were planned in Hamburg Germany. Not Afghanistan.
On the other hand, the Taliban are NO direct military threat to the USA. They couldn’t even keep the electricity running in Kabul, how are they gonna deliver a thermonuclear device to Houston?
However, Taliban support for opium poppy cultivation drove up the heroin addiction rates in neighboring Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Russia… and New York.
Moreover, fanatic fundamentalist Islam, has leaked into Pakistan and caused havoc in the SWAT Valley. I guess that’s Pakistan’s payback, for trying to fuck up Afghanistan, by funding these Afghani extremists in the first place.
Yes, the Taliban must be confronted. But the only thing that will work is for them to be isolated by neighboring Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, AND for European nations like France and Germany and Turkey to get more solidly in on this. Those countries are in much more immediate danger than America is. But they’re not getting bent out of shape over this situation, or hastily jumping into the ring. They KNOW what a quagmire Afghanistan is. Let the dumb Americans fight it, is how they look at it.
Our best hope is to form alliances with Iran and Russia. That’s right! Iran and Russia. The traditional Shiite and Russian Orthodox bulwarks against Sunni expansionist extremism.
The 50-some Afghani tribes want to be autonomous, but they all want to remain Afghanis. Of 300 proposals, submitted from the tribes, for how to rule Afghanistan, not one suggested partition or secession. None of these feuding tribes wanted to break up the nation.
Most likely, the Afghanis would go for beefed up security in the provinces, and the return of their former Shah, their king, within a constitutional monarchy. A national leader with a great deal of moral and inspirational power, but not much direct power. Like the Queen of England. Or the King of Thailand.
We need to give the Afghanis schools, and hospitals and safe drinking water. Things that the Taliban didn’t even bother with… because international aid groups were already doing that. We need to give them weapons and support for fighting the Taliban, but we can’t do the fighting for them. We need to butt out. 8 years, with nothing to show for it, is long enough.
Though the USA did not send money and arms directly to the Taliban in the 1990s, it encouraged and supported Pakistan and the Saudis in doing so. Why? We hated Iran, the country where our CIA, overthrew the first democratically elected government in the Muslim world, decades ago, and installed a shah, another fucking king.
Why did we do that? Why do we do anything in Western Asia?
Oil. Oil and Pipelines. Turkmenistan, just north of barren Afghanistan, has HUGE amounts of oil and natural gas. Our corporations want to drill and transport these, via pipelines, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Arabian Sea for international sales. However, Iran wants the pipelines to go through Iran, to Turkey and Europe, so it can tax them, and create political leverage with Europe. Russia wants the oil and gas of its former Soviet Republics, either to come to Russia or, to go nowhere else for the time being. China, sitting at the end of a narrow corridor on Afghanistan’s far eastern border, would no doubt love to get that oil and gas for itself.
So make no mistake about it, it’s still about oil and gas. With the usual side-spectacles of Muslim extremism, corporate double-dealing, militarist fear mongering and political backstabbing. UNOCAL, the Union oil company of California, was the biggest original corporate supporter of the Taliban, and even got the U.S. government to help curry favor with the Taliban, in hopes of getting them to sign a pipeline contract. Taliban ministers even visited George W. Bush’s Crawford Texas ranch and showed willingness to trade the pipeline, for official U.S. recognition of their government. The feminists flipped out because of the treatment of women in Taliban Afghanistan, but it looked like the deal would go through. Until the bombings of 9/11 changed everything.
My point is we cannot win this. Not alone. And the reality is, we don’t actually have a dog in this fight.
Let’s look at the worst case scenario. The Taliban take over Afghanistan and then Pakistan. Holy shit. Now they’ve got the bomb. Who are they gonna bomb? Montana, like most Montanan’s believe? No, first India, then Iran, then maybe Russia or China.
Do we want this to happen? No, absolutely not.
But can we stop it alone. No…absolutely not. Not by ourselves. With the USA, and its token European allies, fighting Pakistan’s and India’s and Iran’s and Russia’s, and even Europe’s, battles for them, we can never prevail.
The facts are in. The Afghani people don’t like Taliban rule, which is not really Islamic at all. It’s mostly tribal interpretations of the Koran, as seen through the eyes of an isolated minority culture. No music? No dancing, even at weddings. No TV? No kites? Men must have full beards. Women must be clothed from crown to toe, with only tiny eye slits to see through. This is not Muslim or Afghani tradition. Indeed, Afghanistan is the birthplace of Sufism, the whirling dancing dervishes, the poetic and mystical branch of Islam.
From 5000 years ago, until the Taliban conquest in 1995, Herat, a city in far western Afghanistan, near Iran, was a center of art and poetry and philosophy and architecture and astronomy and religion. The modern day women of Herat spoke French as a second language. 2000 years ago, Bamiyan, west of Kabul, was the center of Indian Buddhism, and an important stop on the silk route, from Europe to China. In other words, when our ancestors in Europe were living in caves wearing animal skins, these people were dressed in cotton and silk, building 80-foot high statues, and mapping the sky with Arabic numbers, not Roman Numerals. And the goat-herding Taliban are telling them they cannot dance or make music. It won’t last. And it’s not our fight. We have to equip them, but THEY have to fight it.
Or else we’ll be there forever. Like Korea.
Academic observers have argued that our mission in Afghanistan is hampered by: a lack of agreement on objectives, a lack of resources, lack of coordination, too much focus on the central government at the expense of local and provincial governments, and too much focus on Afghanistan, instead of the entire region.
Putting more troops in Afghanistan, is more likely to produce increased Afghan resistance, even from non-Taliban. As history has shown us.
When President Barack Obama was searching for his own strategy for the war, at a meeting with Defense Secretary [Robert] Gates, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon, the president specifically asked, “What is the end game?” in the U.S. military’s strategy for Afghanistan… Their answer? “Frankly, we don’t have one.”
Frankly we don’t have one? Eat my shorts. This avalanche of bullshit has got to end. Get our troops out right now.
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