Tuesday, December 09, 2008

In Afganistan, We Are Not in a Diên Biên Phú Moment

Not yet. It could take us years to reach it, But we will, inevitably.

A Second Taliban raid destroys Nato supplies bound for Afghanistan

Gunmen from the Pakistani Taliban torched supplies destined for NATO forces in Afghanistan for a second day running. The militants struck a container terminal on the outskirts of Peshawar, in north-west Pakistan, just over a mile from the previous day's attack, in which gunmen torched more than 100 trucks. Security guards at two depots in Peshawar were outnumbered by more than 200 militants at around 3am. About 70 Humvees loaded on some of the trucks were destroyed.Mullah Mohammed Omar in an email statement, urged western forces to leave Afghanistan before thousands of their troops were killed in the Islamist group's renewed insurgency:
I would like to remind the illegal invaders who have invaded our defenseless and oppressed people that it is a golden opportunity for you at present to hammer out an exit strategy for your forces. The current armed clashes which now number into tens will spiral up to hundreds of armed clashes. Your current casualties of hundreds will jack up into the thousands.
According to the Guardian, the independent think tank, the International Council on Security and Development estimates the Taliban has a permanent presence in 72% of the territory of Afghanistan, (up from 54% last year). The ICSD further says that the Taliban is expanding its control beyond the rural south of the country,and that three of the four main routes leading out of Kabul were threatened by the Taliban. In Pakistan, the Taliban have begun to focus increasingly on choking off the supply path through Pakistan, which is used to take more than 70% of military equipment, food, fuel and other vital provisions to western soldiers across the border.

My allusion to Diên Biên Phú is vastly overblown.

But I'll take a nano-moment for a brief historical note. In Vietnam, the French battle at Diên Biên Phú began on November 20, 1953. Seeking a decisive victory over Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh's army, the French dropped or flew 9,000 troops into the area over three days. This established a beachhead an airhead. No ground access for logistical support was available. By 8-May-1954, the French were forced to surrender. The Viet Minh counted 11,721 prisoners. I'm saying that the lack of ground logistics was a critical, even if it were not the decisive, mistake committed by the French in venturing to establish 'an airhead' in a remote and landlocked position.

Unlike the French endeavor in Vietnam, Our American Operation Enduring Freedom started off as a 'good' and 'just' war. Afghanistan's leader, Mullah Omar refused to summarily hand over Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. We were fully entitled under international law to retaliate under the principle of self-defense. As is settled history, George Bush diverted critical resources from the effort to capture bin Laden in favor of preparations for his unprovoked invasion of Iraq. In the meantime, bin Laden escaped justice and Mullah Omar has regrouped Taliban forces.

Long, long story, short:

In the eyes of Afghanis, the nature of the conflict in their land has taken on a different hue. Afghans no longer understand the presence of Americans and their allies as punishment for 9/11 and for "fixing" their failed-state with "democracy". The Taliban, reformed or not, are inevitably more indigenous than our exclusively Christian NATO. Our government in Kabul will never achieve legitimacy or confidence of Afghans.

We might have pulled it off, this Operation Enduring Freedom, if we had concentrated and kept our eye on the ball. At the end of 2001, we held all the marbles; At this point, seven long years after Bush's blind ambition lead him astray, the marbles have rolled off the table. The moment has past. Our envelope of opportunity has eluded us. In Afghanistan, NATO is history.

I was wrong about Afghanistan.

It pains me to say this. Until 18 or so months ago, I believed, with Obama, that it comprised the central front of the so-called war against terror. Now I see it in a different light than do Senators and President-Elects. Their vision is constrained by what their constituencies accept as politic. I am not.

NATO's military-safe zone is an island surrounded by a hostile and rising sea. It is a large and expensive garrison which is not sustainable indefinitely, especially with our current economy. The Christian white eyes will ultimately have to cut and run; after pretending to have achieved some kind of honorable or symbolic modus vivendi of course. Of course, that's what the French were trying to extract with their Diên Biên Phú gambit.

My hope is that Obama can shuck it early enough that pop-historians will consign inevitable failure to Bush where it rightfully belongs. The longer we surge and splurge in Afghanistan, the more Talibinistan becomes Obama's quagmire. Operation Enduring Freedom is unsustainable. And the longer we're there, the longer our domestic economic quagmire is guaranteed to last.

I am not sanguine about the future.