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Excellent, realistic account of the war in Afghanistan,
This review is from: No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan (Hardcover)
Journalist Ben Anderson has been visiting Afghanistan since the summer of 2007. He notes, "on each visit I was told that the Taliban were on their last legs, the Afghans were almost ready to provide security for themselves and the government was almost ready to govern."
But in the real world, "the only thing I ever saw happen was an increase in troop numbers and a corresponding increase in casualties, military and civilian. This, I was told, was further evidence of the Taliban's desperation and proof that the insurgency was in its last throes." "Violence in 2011 was greater than the previous year, as it has been every year since 2006."
He notes, "What happened next, after vital resources had been diverted to Iraq, was simply a return to predatory power politics and the rule of the warlords. To a place where the corrupt and vicious thrived and the most able and honest were sidelined. The state of affairs that had allowed the Taliban to sweep to power in the first place. The 2005 elections, which might have led to truly representative government, were a sham, with some observers claiming that fraudulent votes outnumbered the genuine."
Anderson focuses on the south's Helmand province where the war was fiercest, the focus of first the British, then the US, efforts. 60 per cent of the Afghan National Army deserted when they were deployed to Helmand. By 2006, Helmand was the world's biggest producer of illicit drugs.
NATO gave control of the army and police to the Northern Alliance, which is hostile to southern Pushtuns. Anderson reports, "People approached marines in the bazaar, saying: `Please don't leave us alone with those guys', referring to the police. The same thing happened in every town I'd seen cleared. The fact that the people being liberated were asking for protection from those we were fighting to introduce ought to have raised obvious questions. But it was too late in the day to admit such a terminal flaw in policy."
After a NATO rocket killed four people (including a woman and a little girl) and injured seven people (including four children), two critically, US Marine First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean said "he didn't know families were waiting inside their homes like that. (ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] messages had specifically told people to stay in their homes and had even claimed they wouldn't fire anything powerful enough to penetrate their compounds' mud walls.)"
Anderson quotes Captain Peterson, the Commanding Officer of Lima Company, who said, "You're trying to build a country up by destroying it and it seems like a paradox but those are people who have not been to Afghanistan." Shades of Vietnam - where another US officer famously said, "We had to destroy the village to save it." Anderson observes, "Marines who had been trained to kill, and in the Captain's own words, be `masters of controlled chaos and violence', now had to become social workers, policemen, community project managers, anthropologists and judges."
Anderson notes, "General McChrystal's claim that [Operation] Mushtaraq was Afghan-led, a claim repeated by President Obama, a claim widely-spread and never seriously challenged, a claim backed by a massive media campaign, was the biggest fallacy of the entire operation. The Afghans were nowhere near ready to lead any military operation, leave alone one in the Pushtun south. Certainly not one as big as Mushtaraq."
As Anderson points out, "There was such desperation to increase the Afghan National Army's numbers ... that just about anybody could get in, especially as the desertion rate was so high. Recruits received three months' introductory training, which for anyone with questionable loyalties meant three months of being taught how their opponents operated. Often, they used the weapons and uniforms they'd been given to attack real security force members of their foreign mentors. This happened more and more, suggesting both the police and the army had been, heavily, albeit easily, infiltrated. But the problem was not properly addressed, because that meant admitting that the absurdly ambitious goal of having a national army able to secure every province of Afghanistan, on its own, by 2014, was a fantasy. But that goal was the exit strategy, so publicly, everyone had to say it was plausible."
He concludes, "In huge swathes of the country, the government will not stand for twenty-four hours, much less three years, without foreign support. Every Afghan I have spoken to is convinced there will be another round of civil war as soon as we leave, with no rules of engagement or courageous restraint. They also think that the Taliban may well win. Perhaps the most damning indictment of our intervention is that there are also many Afghans who will think that if there is such a victory, the good guys will have won."