Small Wars Journal

15 Years in the Afghan Crucible

15 Years in the Afghan Crucible by Carlotta Gall, New York Times

There is an end-of-an-era feel here these days. Military helicopters rattle overhead, ferrying American and Afghan officials by air rather than risk cars bombs in the streets. The concrete barriers, guarding against suicide attacks, have grown taller and stronger around every embassy and government building, and whole streets are blocked off from the public.

It has been 15 years since American forces began their bombing campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on Oct. 7, 2001, and sometimes it feels as if we are back to square one, that there is nothing to show for it.

The recent American military drawdown has been drastic — from over 100,000 troops a few years ago to a force of 8,500 today. Thousands of Afghans have been made jobless as bases and assistance programs have closed. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Taliban are on the offensive in the countryside, threatening to overrun several provincial towns and staging huge bombings here in the capital.

Afghan forces have been bearing the brunt, suffering unsustainable casualties. Communities talk of hundreds of coffins returning from the front line. Civilians have suffered no less — thousands of families have been displaced anew by fighting, and aid workers warn that their access is deteriorating. Business executives have been leaving, selling off their property, and whole families have swelled the refugee columns heading to Europe.

The political mood is shifting, too, as Afghans sense the declining American influence and start casting around for new patrons or renewing old alliances. The politicking is intense: “Hot, very hot,” as a former minister described the political climate.

For Afghans, and for many of us who have followed Afghanistan for decades — I have been visiting the country since the early 1990s — the times are reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year occupation. The Communist government and army that the Soviets left behind survived only three years before they were overthrown by the mujahedeen in 1992…

Read on.


The U.S./the West, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, and much like the Soviets/the communists, in the Old Cold War of yesterday, sought to transform Afghanistan -- and indeed much of the Rest of the World -- more along our different (but both "modern"/think: secular) political, economic, social and value lines.

Herein, both of these entities (the Soviets/the communists then; the U.S./the West today) believing that this would -- at these late dates in the current era -- be something of an easy "sell."

What was not anticipated, and indeed what was not appreciated, was that the local populations -- of these targeted states, societies and civilizations -- often (a) had no idea what "modernity" (either version) looked like, (b) had no idea what "modernity" (either version) was based upon and required and, once they did find these things out, (c) had absolutely no interest in trading their sacred and preferred way of life, their sacred and preferred way of governance and their sacred and preferred values, attitudes and beliefs for.

For the Soviets/the communists then -- and the U.S./the West now -- these "transformational"/"convert the heathen" efforts would, thus, have to be undertaken more by force.

(So much for the reality, the power and the appeal of modern "soft power"/"universal values" -- either the Soviet/the communist's version back then and/or, indeed, our modern western version today.)

Thus, a decade-plus after initiating these forced "convert the heathen" initiatives, neither the Soviets/the communists then, nor the U.S./the West today, had/have produced sufficient "converts" to make the continuation of these particular "convert the heathen" projects viable/sellable -- either to their own populations, to their own populations' government representatives and/or, indeed, to the respective national leadership themselves.

What about the massive amounts of "material" support provided by the invading great nations seeking to "transform"/"convert" Afghanistan, et al., more along their alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines?

Simply the wrong (and, actually, often counterproductive) approach when -- the "conversion" matter at-hand -- is more properly understood in "spiritual," rather than "material," terms?

Q: What about the "contain the terrorists" arguments/responsibilities of the U.S./the West today?

A: Likely to have been much more gravely harmed -- rather than be much more tremendously helped -- by our continuing "convert/modernize the heathen" projects/approach; both in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

What I always find peculiar about left wing ideologues (anyone at the New York Times) is they easily connect human development programs in Afghanistan with waste but can not apply the same standard to America and its never ending war on poverty.
The political landscape is volatile perhaps worse than I ever witnessed as a voter. The characterizations of Trump are out of control. He is most recently accused of losing a billion dollars, without any reflection on whether or not he recouped his losses. This comes from the Clinton campaign ad makers. One could ask how much money was unaccounted for from the Department of State when she left, I read a figure pegging it at 5 Billion and we still do not know if it was ever accounted for. We also know her budget for alcohol to be served at state functions exceeded all expectation.
My point isn't to make a choice between Hillary and Donald but rather on what is expected of the private sector and contractors as opposed to Government expenditures.
Quite frankly I get the impression this NY Times writer would not have considered it waste if instead of contractors it was wasted on government union employees. That is a constant at the NY Times.
I can not fathom why anyone would take that partisan socialist left wing fish wrapper seriously anyways.