Afghanistan: Will lessons be learned?

13 Oct

When the war in Afghanistan started 11 years ago, I got a haircut.

My barber was a former Russian intelligence officer who served his country in Afghanistan. I wanted him to assess America’s chances.

“We leveled the place,” he said. “We turned it into a parking lot. We destroyed it. We did everything we could, and we still lost. You will, too.”

Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan, after an attack on a camel caravan from Pakistan

There was a time when the United States, for the sake of its image, could not leave a conflict without winning. Politicians refused to be blamed for a lost war. In the Vietnam era, with that war’s purpose forgotten and everyone tired of the slaughter, there were government recommendations to “declare victory and leave.”

Which is pretty much what President Nixon did.

We seem to have progressed since then and no longer require victory in war or even face saving. After $500 billion and 2,000 lives, our role in Afghanistan is ending. There will be no “Mission Accomplished” banners. Some who fought there aren’t even sure what the mission was.

But we still retain this idea that well-armed, well-financed invaders can defeat a local population that doesn’t want to be occupied and has a history of expelling invaders by simply not giving up.

Some in Washington, for sure, would like another test in Iran.

The United States attained its freedom by fighting a guerrilla war against a powerful, well-trained, well-armed, advanced nation. Yet we fail to recognize the power of the underdog or even devise the proper tactics against him.

Better to take the advice in a New York Times review of the book, THE GREAT GAMBLE: The Soviet War in Afghanistanby Gregory Feifer:

“Never underestimate fanatics who know the terrain.”

Now, with a lot less money to spend on arbitrary wars, we may finally take that lesson to heart.

By Lanny Morgnanesi


3 Responses to “Afghanistan: Will lessons be learned?”

  1. DYNAMOpolitics October 13, 2012 at 10:41 am #

    I think we won. Our goal was to overthrow the Taliban, who supported al Qaida (check), get bin Laden (check), and establish some kind of democratic and stable government (somewhat check). I don’t see how you could really call this a loss. If the government folded in a year’s time and we had jihadists running everywhere I’d agree with you, but right now it looks like we did what we came to do, at the relatively low cost of 2,000 lives (we doubtless have killed far more enemies).


    • NotebookM by Lanny Morgnanesi October 13, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Fair analysis. Let’s see what happens. My feeling is all will go back to the way it was.


      • dakwolf55 November 1, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

        I agree with you, I don’t believe we have planted the seeds of democracy deep enough in Afghanistan. Tribal and ethnic divisions are still too strong, to say nothing of religious divisions. If we (NATO/US) had been smart we would have brought back the King to act as a figurehead and a unifier of the nation, I am not sure even if that would have worked, but I believe would have given the best shot of a long term democracy working there.


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