It was a war we thought we’d won. But after eight years of escalating violence, the Afghanistan conflict has morphed into something perhaps unwinnable. U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda, a goal we’ve largely achieved. But in years of occupation, Washington has apparently conflated counter-terrorism with nation-building. Now the U.S., NATO and their allies are struggling to destroy a deeply-rooted insurgency in country with a corrupt, ineffective government, poor infrastructure and few prospects for everyday people, but to fight. David Axe visits U.S. forces to see for himself.
by DAVID AXE
Before the roughly thousand troopers of 3rd Squadron, 71st Cav, arrived in Logar in January, there were just 100 American soldiers in the entire province, occupying a tiny earthen-walled compound at the former site of a Turkish gravel company.
3rd Squadron soon began drawing fire, mostly in the form of IEDs and “pray and spray” gunfire. Three soldiers have died, several have been wounded. Squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gukeisen wonders aloud whether the American presence caused the violence — or if the potential for bloodshed was here all along, invested in a simmering undercurrent of religious extremism, political factionalism and criminality.
It’s the age-old chicken and egg question. There’s no easy answer. In southern Iraq, the British army eventually came to a consensus: the Brits said their presence incited more violence than it suppressed. If that’s true, then by “removing the irritant” of foreign forces — to borrow the phrasing of British Lieutenant Colonel David Labouchere — you create security.
Gukeisen doesn’t bullshit. An old Afghanistan hand by U.S. Army standards, he’s confident enough in his operational concept that he clearly doesn’t feel the need to lie, obfuscate or spin the facts. He admits that the presence of foreign troops might be an irritant in parts of Logar. But he says it’s more likely that the Logar was becoming increasingly infested by dushman (the Afghans’ term for “enemy”). Violence was coming to Logar, whether the Americans were here to resist it, or not.
It’s tempting to revert to the British notion. After all, no one likes an occupation. And we’d like to believe that Afghans (and Iraqis and Filipinos and Djiboutians and anyone else with U.S. troops inside their borders) are proud enough to bristle when foreigners arrive with their guns and politics. But it’s probably inaccurate to attribute all violence in Logar to some kind of noble nationalistic resistance. Bad people came to this province before the Americans did. Bad people began killing when the Americans arrived demanding peace, lawfulness and economic progress.
(Photo: David Axe)
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