jezail.org 02/07/20 – Some years ago, this writer, having carried a rifle in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, found myself at a think tank conference advocating that the US should get it’s soldiers out of Afghanistan and just get out. I thought it was a bad idea before any American boots hit the ground. I was talking to the infamous Ambassador Robin Raphel, who is probably the person most responsible for the Taliban ever rising from obscurity to what it became. Her eyes widened in horror and she bellowed out in an affected stentorian accent that almost sounded British: “Do you Knoooow what would happen if we ‘just get out?’” The question was supposed to be rhetorical but I did and do know what it would look like. I saw how the Soviets did it. I had penetrated the Soviet lines of defense around Kabul in August of 1988 and stole a city bus to joyride and take some pictures. Gorbachev had already announced that the Soviets were going to pull out. Kabul was in pretty much the same state as it is now, surrounded and isolated with a thick cloud of fear and death hanging over it. Things didn’t go exactly as planned because, as luck would have it, Zia, the dictator of Pakistan was assassinated that day. But that’s another story…
Those of you out there who have read jezail.org previously are familiar with the jezail.org point of view and understand that we are passionate advocates for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and indeed, elsewhere from South Asia to the Middle East. I do however have a bone to pick about Afghanistan and Code Pink style “experts” who routinely opine on this subject. It is not because jezail.org wants to “project American power” into any Muslim countries. We do not advocate and deeply despise the Brzezinski/MacKinder imperialist objectives and always will. But jezail.org does believe in freedom. That concept may be obscure to entitled American millennials flash mobbing NYC subway turnstyles. But we do know what to do if there is tank or a foreign goon squad parked on your street corner. Jezail.org has been there. We know what it is like to use a Kalashnikov for a pillow. With that kind of experience we write this projection on how to get out of Afghanistan and what to look for if they ever get serious about GTFO, (GET THE FXCK OUT).
In particular, this writer was in Afghanistan at a key transition point in time, 1988. The previously unreliable Communist Army of Afghanistan was much like the Afghan Army of today. Most of them were trying to flee or defect to the Mujahedin by that summer. To my surprise, it was a problem for the Mujahedin. For one thing, they needed people inside the Afghan communist army (DRA) for information. For another, the number of Soviet trained defectors was overwhelming. The Muj simply could not afford to feed, house or arm the numbers willing to defect. Ultimately, they had no choice. Capturing DRA forts became an event with very few shots fired. It was a matter of surrounding the post and, as night fell, a few bullhorns encouraged a garrison to defect. A few shots would ring out in the night from inside the fort, the gates would swing open and out would come a trained and armed force, leaving behind the bodies of some dead officers and reems of papers tracking the “loyalty” of each conscript. However as disloyal or unmotivated soldiers left the Communist ranks, an important change occurred.
Few outside observers noticed. The Communist soldiers left behind had their backs up against a wall. Resistance in Kabul stiffened significantly. By 1988, the Mujahedin respected the DRA. They came to understand that the force that was left had nothing to lose, was cornered and deeply hated them. They became just as unafraid to die as the Mujahedin had become. It was a very strange state of affairs. But this is war.
The Afghan Army of today is likely in much the same situation. There are some issues like pay that are still a serious problem. The Taliban pay their people better than the Kabul regime. But the same dynamic as described above is almost certainly at play. The defenders who have not defected have their backs up against a wall. It’s pretty likely that those conscripts that are not welded to the existing force, are melting into the night at this moment. It’s also likely that they are not all volunteering to the Taliban because, unlike the Mujahedin of the 1980’s, the Taliban are a Pashtun chauvinist organization that really has no room for any of Afghanistan’s other minorities (who actually outnumber the Pashtun). They cannot hide this. The defectors likely headed in their direction are also probably worthless as fighters given the less than half hearted US training regime which jezail.org has documented for years.
As we look at the statements coming from STATE and Alice Wells in particular, we see the same empty moronic reasoning that has been has been foisted on us for decades. This week, Alice Wells is talking about the need to interdict poppy cultivation because it is a key source of Taliban funding. What she does not say is that the US, through its’ exorbitant payments to Pakistan, foots 50% of the Taliban budget. It must also be pointed out that the money that Pakistan gives to the Taliban comes with strings attached which keep the Taliban an instrument of Pakistani foreign policy. Opium money, by contrast gives individual commanders in the field a little more room to negotiate and make deals on a local basis. Opium money gives them some independence from Pakistani control. Jezail.org has long advocated that the only way negotiators will ever make any headway with Taliban leadership is to deal with them as local leaders and not as a unified monolithic entity which STATE still desperately pretends they are. Making local deals through lower level commanders takes control out of the hands of uber bureaucrats and super grades and puts it into the hands of lower level officers. This is unacceptable to empire building control freaks.
At this point, the “talks” in Doha are theater through which people like Alice Wells maintain control of a fat AID budget that defies oversight or auditors. Why would a power hungry bureaucrat ever give that up? It’s one of the best gigs any ambitious bureaucrat can ever get. With three rigged national elections behind them and an epic history of corruption, does anybody doubt that the AID money is a source of massive corruption and patronage? It leaches its’ way back into the US political system as well as poisoning the government we are allegedly trying to prop up. Washington lobbyists have known about this since the days of Congressman Charllie Wilson. Herds of pundits point to Afghan corruption but Americans are now getting glimpses of how our American political system really works from the Ukraine to the Iowa Caucus. They can finally see behind the high moral hyperbole at some pretty ugly sausage making. With new statements from Alice Wells fretting over the well being of Baluchis, Uighurs and the alleged control by the Taliban of opium production in Afghanistan, it is clear that STATE is fishing for new reasons to stay on in Afghanistan. We’ve been through so many of these bogus excuses. Beginning with 911 and Bin laden, to regime change to “terrorism” in general to nation building to women’s rights to rare earth minerals, we have been lied to with new whoppers every other month and some trillion US taxpayer bucks have vanished into the desert. Now it’s opium. Now they’re concerned about opium. Never mind that historically, opium and cocaine have made their way to the US on military planes in other wars and most of the Afghan opium is, we are told, destined for Europe and Russia. Alice Wells’ concerns are indicators that STATE has no interest in getting out of Afghanistan any time soon. As they have many times before, they will claim that the job is not done until the new problem that they just came up with is fixed. It’s called moving the goal posts.
If ever there will be a path to leaving Afghanistan for America, it will not look like this. Jezail.org wishes to suggest what kinds of events and diplomatic waypoints Americans should look for to mark progress toward getting out. We should know what to expect. But Americans have no idea what they should be expecting. Below, jezail.org identifies some of the things one should expect to see in a realistic approach to leaving Afghanistan without simply handing it over to the Taliban and Pakistan, abandoning those Afghans who have strived to help us for decades. We also don’t think it’s a particularly good idea to leave a power vacuum next to the nuclear tipped Islamic Kleptocracy of Pakistan either. We just don’t think that America can fight its’ way to solving these problems. This is a job for real diplomacy and real diplomats, not the monsters of Foggy Bottom.
1. Reduce Military Budget for All Wars and Finally Cut off Pakistan Entirely
A path to “peace” in Afghanistan may not even be realistic and the reality of getting out of Afghanistan is by leaving, not talking about it. We know that. However, we have concerns because the violence and chaos we leave behind will be destabilizing to two countries that have nukes, delivery systems and are in a high state of tension. As we noted above, there is reason to believe that a viable Kabul Government could be left standing provided the US and other countries will continue to support it. The American taxpayer will not underwrite the kind of massive budget that they’ve had shoved down their throats for years. A real cost for what we would need to do would be $5-10 billion/year. It’s a ballpark figure but it would not be in the hundreds or even tens of billions we have been forced to accept. So that would be one waypoint or identifiable policy change. Drastically cap the military budget. The costs and tempo of operations would have to diminish dramatically. This figure does not include the cost of air power because it may no longer be viable given the possibility of MANPADS in the hands of the Taliban. However, by removing massive influxes of US cash to AFPAK it will likely cause belt tightening and reduce Taliban capability. So what you’d be looking for is a fixed modest budget and the final total cutting off all funds and other aid to Pakistan.
2. Remove All American Civilians and Diplomatic Staff
The US footprint on the ground would be further reduced. The need for diplomatic staff sending Christmas greetings from Kabul and saving dying puppies in the streets of Kabul would be gone. If it’s American and not in combat ready form, it’s gone. If you can’t shoot, pack and go now. This will not be Saigon. The idea that the US is in any way building or even trying to build a government in Afghanistan is a lie and beyond our competence. What we can do is what the Soviets did. Supply and feed a Kabul regime to stand on its’ own and fight its’ own existential battles. This they will do. They have no choice. It wasn’t until the Soviets themselves collapsed that the Najibullah regime came down. So getting out would definitely entail a much more serious program to stand up an effective Afghan defense force than previously existed. It has to be remembered that Afghans were once among the most formidable fighters on the planet. They defeated the Soviet army without anything but a meager arms supply. Jezail.org firmly believes that the failure to stand up an effective Afghan national Army has been a deliberate sabotaging done by our own diplomats military professionals who have investment portfolios in Pakistan and other conflicting motives.
3. Supply and Logistics
Change the Logistic Path Over to Chabahar. This is the most ambitious part of what needs to happen. There is no getting around it. The supply line through Pakistan is simply stupid and self defeating. But there is an alternative. Iran. The port of Chabahar is already being used by India to get supplies into Afghanistan to support the Kabul regime. The bad news for Washington is that some form of limited diplomatic reset will be necessary. It is long over due. Iran is not our enemy and never was. This has been a myth foisted on us all by Israeli interests and some oil concerns who spread a lot of money around Washington to perpetuate this myth. Further more, Iran has always been keen to mend a relationship with the US as we have much in common. They are at least as concerned about Sunni terrorist cells growing in the fertile environment of a Taliban run Afghanistan and have no illusions about Pakistan whose leadership is trusted by no one. It should also be pointed out that right now, Iran is apparently exploring ways to end years of hostility with the Saudis. This sea shift makes for an opportune time for a change in diplomatic direction in Washington. A key pillar of US hostility toward Iran is likely melting. However it would be wise to not be overly ambitious in any diplomatic initiative with Iran due to a long history of treachery from Washington that Iran will not soon forget. It’s not time to break out the cake and go looking for “moderates”. However, working with the already existing Indian government supply line through Chabahar, there is room for some kind of arrangement. This would also be an indication of a serious effort to leave Afghanistan for the US. It would be a move that Iran would welcome and likely facilitate as long as it were not percieved to be some kind of Imperial Trojan Horse. This is also necessary to completely cut Pakistan off and do an end run on the hold they have had on getting money from the US.
4. Decapitate STATE and Appoint Real Diplomats
More diplomacy by real diplomats, not sheep dipped CIA professionals forever in search of enemies would be necessary. In addition to opening up a dialog with Iran aimed at securing an alternative logistical path into Afghanistan, talks would also have to take place with all other countries sharing a border with Afghanistan in order to assess what their objectives are. There is little doubt that many of them would like to slice off patches of Afghanistan for themselves. This is a real concern. There are plenty of Pakistani military officials who openly advocate annexing chunks of Afghanistan for themselves. Pakistan is already issuing Pakistani ID to Afghans as well as building madrassas in eastern Afghanistan. A way to balance this appetite may well be to talk with the larger regional players. China and Russia may be able to influence border states to curb their appetites. China’s Belt and Road strategy needs regional stability to work. This initiative to align America with regional players will have to be carried out by an entirely new diplomatic team. America has relied on the same failed old hands for decades in spite of the fact that their entire careers have been marked by failure and wars. Changing diplomatic direction will mean getting rid of virtually all senior level diplomats for at least three tiers from the top down. Our senior diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad has brought failure to every major endeavor he has touched! Yet, he seems to have becoma a Viceroy for American empire in Afghanistan and is the chief proponent of the Doha talks.
5. End the Doha Charade and Persue Localized Negotiation
The Doha talks would end in favor of a more piecemeal approach to “Taliban” insurgents. Local, commander to commander arrangements are how Afghanistan has historically worked through its problems. The famous commander from the Panshir Valley, Ahmad Shah Massoud was very effective this way. An American Army officer, Maj. Jim Gant also made impressive gains with this approach as well. It has long been known that a deal over a pot of tea can be very much more effective than a midnight raid. It can be expected that entrenched military and diplomatic leadership will oppose and actively sabotage this kind of effort as they have in the past. For a variety of reasons, lower level liaison and deal making, cuts them out of making an Afghan solution. Maj. Gant’s career was ended primarily for this reason. So the old flag officer command and super grade civil service primacy would have to be ended. This is absolutely necessary to do as super grades and flag officers have collectively demonstrated over the last 19 years an unwillingness or inability to come up with and end state for America’s longest war.
It is becoming increasingly clear to ever more Americans that our body politic has come to believe that they are rulers of an empire. The clarity of this realization contrasts with a vague vision of what an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan would look like. Any one or all of the points listed above would be indicators of a real intent to get out of this protracted imperial debacle before it follows the path of Elphinstone. If none of these things occur, than any “peace process” is, more than likely insincere.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.