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April 16, 2009

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i just watched that last night! why do i not watch frontline more often? i thought the south korea/internet addiction piece was good too

Agreed that it's a pretty bad situation all around. But since you're on the topic of woulda/coulda/shoulda, why didn't you say that you wished Pakistan's ISI hadn't started the Taliban in the first place.

Nixon: mostly because I'm writing more to Americans. I wish that they hadn't started it, that they hadn't encouraged it, that the ISI was firmly under civilian control, and a lot of other things. I thought about adding something like: I'm not saying America is solely responsible for this mess, etc.; just thinking that there are so many things we might have done better.

Plus, as I said, if we hadn't had to worry about the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, we would have had a much easier time pressuring the Pakistanis to deal with the Taliban. We lost a whole lot of freedom of action on that one.

If Donald Rumsfeld had not been so eager to show how few troops he could use in Afghanistan, we would not have had to rely on Afghan and Pakistani troops to block the passes.

I don't think it is obviously true that we would have had that much more success using our troops.

If the al Qaeda leadership had not fled into Pakistan

You mean: If we hadn't herded al Qaeda into Pakistan.

If the US had not decided to fund the Islamic extremists in Afghanistan because they were "anti-Communist" without bothering to think: "Hey, the women of Afghanistan do actually deserve to be educated and treated more as equals, less as slaves: perhaps we should consider the needs of 50% of the population of Afghanistan over our own neurotic need to be anti-Communist". Maybe we shouldn't fund and train the Islamic extremists."

If the US had not abandoned Afghanistan to go off and have a war in Iraq.

If the US had thought to do something in the 1990s other than stand back and go "ugh, nasty Islamic extremists!"

If the US had not attacked Afghanistan for revenge for 9/11.

If the US had not abandoned Afghanistan to go off and have a war in Iraq.

If the US had not kept its main focus on Afghanistan on bombing, kidnapping, and running a concentration camp at Bagram Airbase.

If President Obama's idea for closing down Guantanamo Bay had not been to expand the concentration camp at Bagram Airbase.

If...

There are a lot of ifs. It would be good if the US, rather than focussing on beating up the Islamic extremists who are the official enemy, and letting the Islamic extremists who are the official allies run the country, were ... you know, taking a little responsibility for the decades of damage done to Afghanistan by the US.

"If the US had thought to do something in the 1990s other than stand back and go "ugh, nasty Islamic extremists!" "

--Hey, since we've had almost a decade to think of the missed "opportunities" to avoid Afghanistan's deterioriation in the 1990s, what brilliant thing do you suggest the U.S. should have done then to make it better that would not have resulted in:

a) Just an early version of what we're doing now.
b) A Somalia 1993 scenario where humanitarian intervention is tried and fails.
c) A Somalia-Ethiopia 2006-style proxy mess.
d) A Sudan type situation, where you give aid but local forces override any humanitarian efforts at will

I'm not sure that the U.S. really even *was* totally absent from aid and diplomacy towards Afghanistan in the 1990s. Whatever it might have done was unnoticed though because there was no headline-generating military aspect and no noticeable presidential rhetoric. Would adding either of those things in the 1990s have really helped?

Unarmed humanitarianism and diplomacy gets robbed or taxed by the local bullies.

Armed humanitarianism and diplomacy means you end up killing and coercing frequently as well as having your own people killed and being forced to make compromises for your own security.

We could have prevented that.

I'm guessing you have a reason for having said that. Do you have some notion of how we might have prevented that?

9-11 changed everything.

Hussein did 9-11.

Thus....

Slarti: well, we had the leadership of al Qaeda at Tora Bora. We used a lot of Afghan troops, and also relied on Pakistani troops to cut off the passes. We did this because Donald Rumsfeld, for reasons best known to himself, had decided first not to send enough troops to Afghanistan, and second that not enough of those troops who were there should be sent to Tora Bora. (I can see wanting to minimize our general footprint in Afghanistan; I cannot see not having enough troops for something like this.)

Somehow, mystery of mysteries, the al Qaeda leadership made it past the Pakistani troops. Most sources I've read suggest that this was non-accidental. I respect jrudkis' knowledge of the situation, but also think that our troops would have done a better job, had we had enough of them to rely on them to guard the passes out of Tora Bora.

what brilliant thing do you suggest the U.S. should have done then to make it better that would not have resulted in:

US conduct during the Soviet-Afghan conflict; we actively encouraged fundamentalist extremism as a proxy in the war against the Soviets. Big mistake.

When the Soviets left, we did nothing to fill the vacuum. As a result, Afghanistan became a lawless state controlled by crime bosses. After more than a decade of being robbed and pillaged at will, it's little wonder Afghans saw the Taliban as a gift.

Slarti: well, we had the leadership of al Qaeda at Tora Bora. We used a lot of Afghan troops, and also relied on Pakistani troops to cut off the passes. We did this because Donald Rumsfeld, for reasons best known to himself, had decided first not to send enough troops to Afghanistan

Getting troops into Kabul is not all that easy, hilzoy. Getting them formed into anything resembling a barrier in terrain that's roughly as smooth as the Continental Divide in Colorado is also difficult.

Could it have been done, without telegraphing to the point where bin Laden could have just walked out in advance of our efforts, anyway? I don't know. Possibly some military authority somewhere has written on this topic, but I haven't seen it.

Sometimes it is better to have events surface that impart knowledge regarding the truth of things even when the events themselves may seem to operate to one's detriment. We (the US) should not now have delusions regarding how large segments of Pakistan's population thinks or feels regarding western enlightenment cultural values versus extremists Islamic religious values. This helps us to understand why we must be very careful in our relationship with Pakistan as a nuclear capable ally while we provide military and other financial assistance.

I consider the second guessing to be misplaced.

This is fascinating.

Getting troops into Kabul is not all that easy, hilzoy

There were 1200 Marines less than 80 miles away.

Moreover, BGEN Mattis had some 4,000 Marines in-theater that he wanted to deploy to Tora Bora--but was turned down.

Getting them formed into anything resembling a barrier in terrain that's roughly as smooth as the Continental Divide in Colorado is also difficult.

It's a neat image but it obscures the truth. The fact is The trails in and out of those mountains are known; that's where your troops deploy.

Plus, as I said, if we hadn't had to worry about the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan, we would have had a much easier time pressuring the Pakistanis to deal with the Taliban. We lost a whole lot of freedom of action on that one.

I think this is what bugs me most of all. How does Bin Laden and Zawahiri hiding out in Pakistan, with the protection or at least connivance of the ISI, result in the US having to treat Pakistan with kid gloves? Why the hell haven't we found some combination of carrots and sticks to get the ISI to hand them over?

Having helped break it further though it is ethically and morally imperative we help fix it.

I'm concerned by what I see as an increasingly loud drumbeat we "cut our losses" and leave. That's what happened in 1986 with terrible consequences still being felt today.

One of the first steps is creating an economy that can support infrastructure. And that runs smack into our War On Drugs hypocrisy.

Instead of doing this:
http://unitedagainstislamicsupremacism.wordpress.com/2009/03/31/us-pushes-new-opium-policy-in-afghanistan/

... we should be doing this:
http://www.cfr.org/publication/15117/bhattacharji.html

... to bootstrap a real economy that can within a generation begin to undermine the influence of religious radicals and drug warlords.

There were 1200 Marines less than 80 miles away.

1200 marines to cover 50+ miles of border. That'll work. bin Laden reportedly had about 1000 Taliban with him.

The fact is The trails in and out of those mountains are known; that's where your troops deploy.

Possibly. You'd have to get a local, though, to tell you where the trails are. I'd guess there are a lot of trails, and you don't know which one(s) bin Laden will be using. How far down do you divide your forces? To what extent can you rely on locals to help you rather than actively hindering you?

It could have been made to work with the troops that were there, had we known where bin Laden was to begin with. If we'd known that, the troops at hand could have been effective, I think.

The 4000-troop thing was in hindsight a mistake. If we had indeed some vague notion where bin Laden was, and that idea has been vigorously disputed, they ought to have been used to capture him.

Gotta agree with slartibartfast here.

Rumsfeld may indeed have wanted to test his light and fast war-fighting theories in Afghanistan, but then again, maybe he said that because he couldn't conduct the fight any other way. It's not easy to move soldiers and gear half way around the world and put them in the right places (Kabul? Kandahar? Tora Bora? All three? Kandahar first, then Kabul?) Once all that's been sorted out, get it started in three weeks and get it done in eight.

This is actually just one of the manifestations of the same mistake we keep making in Afghanistan: not putting in the resources needed to take advantage of the opportunity.

Ironically, our last actual success in the region was the Soviet-Afghan War -- when the afghans at the end were still divided on how to rebuild their country, the Soviets had been defeated militarily in a costly war, likely making the peaceful end to their influence in Eastern Europe all the more likely.

But then we simply let Afghanistan fall off the radar screen -- not following through with any kind of humanitarian assistance, development aid, or diplomatic attention. And in this void, the Taliban took power.

We made the same mistake when we gave the job of capturing the murderer of 3000 Americans to the Northern Alliance.

We made it again when we invaded Iraq without putting in the man power necessary to do the job where it was actually needed. And we did it still when we tried to fight the war from the air, and civilians paid the price.

So, with respect, the problem was not that we sought to accomplish something in Afghanistan -- hurting the Soviet Union was as worthy 20 years ago, as denying Al Qaeda a base of operations is necessary today -- but that we sought, far too often, to do it on the cheap...

And that, time after time, we thought our task was at an end, the situation over -- when, as history shows, it's never over.

Also, I really like Observer's point -- I'm a little hesitant in saying I support it, but it makes a lot of sense, and it doesn't get made often enough.

You'd have to get a local, though, to tell you where the trails are. I'd guess there are a lot of trails, and you don't know which one(s) bin Laden will be using.

That's why we have persistent ISR. It's not too difficult to pinpoint a group of several hundred moving over largely uncovered terrain.

That's why we have persistent ISR.

Sure, that's why we have it. But did we have it back then, in place? We had a number of Predators back then, but I have no idea if we had them in place, with operators.

No country likes having another country launch air strikes on its population.

This was the argument I heard Israel's supporters make for why the Gaza invasion was so necessary. I would be curious to hear one of those folks explain why drone attacks on Pakistan are kewl.

Slarti is correct that catching OBL was not a done deal. It was, however, what we went to Afghanistan to do. If we didn't send enough folks to give it the old college try, then that is a problem. There are no certainties in warfare, but that is not a defense for not doing one's best.

I seem to recall evidence that, by the time of Tora Bora, we were already ramping down with an eye to our Iraq adventure.

But did we have it back then, in place?

Yup. We had E-8 JSTARS, RC-135s, U-2s, EP-3s and UAVs in the field. That's how we knew AQ elements were grouped at Spin Ghar and the White Mountain ranges.

If Donald Rumsfeld had not been so eager to show how few troops he could use in Afghanistan, we would not have had to rely on Afghan and Pakistani troops to block the passes.

It's a lot more nefarious than that. At that time, the CIA was in charge of the operation in Afghanistan, not DoD. The CIA asked DoD for reinforcements to seal the deal, and Rummy refused to send them, because he wasn't the one in charge. See Bush's War, Part One, Chapter 4.

That, in and of itself, is sufficient cause to try Rumsfeld for treason, IMO.

There's a book "Jawbreaker" by a former CIA officer who on scene at Tora Bora that testifies to tgirsch's comment.

It tells how they monitoring OBL's communications and indicated even OBL thought he was a goner.

I just cancelled my last trip to Pakistan .....

And I'm normally pretty nonchalant about security threats.

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