by SWJ Editors
Counterterrorism and Military Occupation
by Dr. Bernard I. Finel, Small Wars Journal
The American presence in Afghanistan is sustained by a very straight-forward rationale. We were, after all, attacked on 9/11 by al Qaeda which at the time was operating with impunity under the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Given that history, allowing the Taliban to reestablish itself in Afghanistan seems self-evidently unacceptable. After all, history suggests a direct linkage between Taliban control of Afghanistan and the most devastating terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
But, as with many seemingly straight-forward rationales, the logic of the argument dissipates under more careful scrutiny. While the lesson of 9/11 suggests that giving terrorist groups a safe haven is a recipe for disaster, the lesson of the military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 demonstrates the inability of occupying forces to stamp out the kinds of networks that can support attacks on the scale of 9/11 or much worse.
The essay will make four interrelated points. First, the attacks of 9/11 though spectacular in consequence, were simple in execution. Second, the IED networks that have proliferated in Afghanistan and Iraq are orders of magnitude more complex than the portion of al Qaeda that planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. Third, there is no conceivable tactical or strategic approach to military occupation that could plausibly eradicate groups capable of attacks as unsophisticated as those of 9/11. Fourth, as a consequence, of all the possible rationales for a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the counterterrorism argument is demonstrably the weakest.