Afghanistan is what I consider to be this generation's forgotten war. If you compare the coverage of Iraq vs Afghanistan in both online and conventional coverage, I think it may be fairly obvious why I make this assertion. It was because of this gap in coverage that I wanted to take a moment to take a brief look at some of the history of conflict in the area before delving into some contemporary issues occurring today.
Almost continuously since ancient times Afghanistan has had many conflicts. It would be unlikely that I would have the attention span to list all of them out, but some of the larger ones include the Afghans facing some serious historic powerhouse opponents including Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Turks, and the Indo-Greeks to name a few. When the Afghans weren't repelling would be invaders and conquerors they were keeping their combat skills sharp through various civil and sectarian conflicts leading up to the 3 Anglo Afghan wars in the 19th century against the British. I'm not going to focus too much on the older conflicts, as I wanted to mainly talk about the events that have happened in the region since 1978, and I'm pretty sure most people that may be reading this would slip into a coma if I tried to cover that much ground.
Right before the Soviets moved 100,000 troops into the region, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan had overthrown the ruling monarchy in April 1978. Nur Muhammad Taraki had assumed power under the PDPA and was beginning to institute policies considered socialist and secular in nature such as equal rights for women, debt forgiveness for farmers and agricultural workers, and freedom of religion. Many Afghans who preferred Islamic tradition were not huge fans of this move, and decided to exile themselves to Pakistan, while others declared a jihad and formed resistance groups against the new government. The US government was also not a big fan of this move, not because of these policies being instated, but for another reason. Tariki desired closer relations with and limited military support from Russia to help distance the Afghans from neighboring Pakistan where most of self exiled enemies of the new government relocated. It was this that caused the US to begin to provide some aid to the anti government rebellion dubbed the Mujahideen.
Taraki's presidency was short lived as he was murdered and replaced by a political rival in the PDPA named Hafizullah Amin. This unexpected coup made the Soviets very nervous and ultimately they decided to invade with the goals of crushing the uprising, installing a pro-Moscow communist government, and supporting that new government. Upon installing this new puppet government, reactions to uprisings and protest became increasingly brutal. The brutality was best put into perspective for me by the massacre of 27,000 political prisoners at Pul-e-Charkhi prison. At this point in time casualties of the brutal Soviet occupation had reached about 1 million people, and the US decided to ramp up support for the Mujahideeen by training them and arming them with better weapons like Redeye anti-air missiles
This conflict continued on for about 10 years until 1989. International pressure as well as the financial toll that a decade for fighting unconventional warfare was taking on Russia's already strained economy convinced the Russians that they've had enough; the region wasn't worth it to them anymore. The biggest folly of all in this whole event was what followed after the Soviet withdrawal. The US pretty much withdrew as well. We were more interested in hurting the Russians rather than helping the Afghan people rebuild, and nothing makes it more apparent than the fact that we helped these people fight, but offered virtually no assistance in picking up the pieces of a country ravaged by a decade of war.
Ok, quick rundown leading into present day Afghanistan if anyone is still left at this point. The Russians blow everything up. We give the Mujahideen guns and training to fight back. The Soviets last 10 year before saying, "screw this" and left. Being the battle hardened warlords they are many Mujahideen begin infighting and struggling for power, until the Taliban gain influence and eventually take power in 1996. By 2000 Taliban rule with harsh Sharia law had spread to 95% of Afghanistan. The fall of the Taliban should be familiar to everyone reading following the US bombing the hell out of them during the US invasion in response to the 9/11 attacks. We were very effective in removing Taliban from power in the country, but the present day piece of this saga is the piece that has largely been ignored by the media outlets.
The Taliban is making a comeback in Afghanistan. This is becoming frighteningly obvious when you notice that their attacks are up 300%. This sharp increase in Taliban action can be directly linked to the goings on in Pakistan our "ally". I make assertion without because of two factors. First, since the 2001 US invasion, many of the ousted Taliban fled to Pakistan. The Pakistani government either through incompetence or through lack of desire to do so have failed to provide even rudimentary border control to prevent arms and reinforcements to the Taliban. The second factor is the recent imposition of Sharia law in the Swat Valley, a region in Pakistan that sits on Afghanistan's eastern border controlled by the Taliban. That's right. Our Nuclear armed allies in the Pakistani government gave the Taliban; a fundamentalist militia group that we are fighting right next door to them a strip of land on that very border. This in my opinion is not ok.
Now that we have covered a little bit of history, and a little bit of current events I'd like to look a bit to the future plans that the Obama administration has mentioned so far. They are going to go with the good ole' surge tactic of 21,000 troops. That actually helped quell violence in Iraq, (If only we would leave like Iraq is asking us to, but that's a different post.) but I feel that this is a disastrous tactic for dealing with a completely different kind of conflict. The Taliban are not like the insurgency in Iraq. These are hardened fighters trained in guerrilla warfare against larger and better armed forces as opposed to a largely unorganized Iraqi insurgency. Combine this with the outside arms and troops funneling in from Pakistan, and this is the recipe for a potential quagmire that could last decades while bleeding our economy and troops just like the Russians painfully experienced. We have already been over there nearly as long as the Russians, and if we do proceed with this surge tactic I can see our involvement in the area lasting another 10 to 20 years. The Pakistani government needs to play ball and stop supporting these people or let us conduct ground operations in those areas before any real progress can be made in that area.