15 Years in the Afghan Crucible
By CARLOTTA GALL [more here]
KABUL, Afghanistan — There is an end-of-an-era feel here these days. Military helicopters rattle overhead, ferrying American and Afghan officials by air rather than risk cars bombs in the streets. The concrete barriers, guarding against suicide attacks, have grown taller and stronger around every embassy and government building, and whole streets are blocked off from the public.
It has been 15 years since American forces began their bombing campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda on Oct. 7, 2001, and sometimes it feels as if we are back to square one, that there is nothing to show for it.
The recent American military drawdown has been drastic — from over 100,000 troops a few years ago to a force of 8,500 today. Thousands of Afghans have been made jobless as bases and assistance programs have closed. Meanwhile tens of thousands of Taliban are on the offensive in the countryside, threatening to overrun several provincial towns and staging huge bombings here in the capital…
For Afghans, and for many of us who have followed Afghanistan for decades — I have been visiting the country since the early 1990s — the times are reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year occupation. The Communist government and army that the Soviets left behind survived only three years before they were overthrown by the mujahedeen in 1992.
The Taliban, supported by Pakistan, seem intent on repeating that scenario, hoping to seize control of a section of territory along the Pakistani border and declare once more their Islamic Emirate. Since the Taliban temporarily overran the town of Kunduz last fall, many Afghans have lost confidence that the government can protect them…
Despite years of denials from Pakistan, it is now widely understood that the Taliban has all this time been mentored and equipped by the Pakistani intelligence agency. Yet President Obama has failed, as did his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to end Pakistan’s long flirtation with Al Qaeda and its brand of terrorism.
Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahri, is still believed to be living in Pakistan, alongside the top Taliban leaders — and continues directing mayhem through his adherents across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. American Special Operations forces have been raiding Al Qaeda groups infiltrating back into Afghanistan over the last two years.
And the Pakistani military is ever more brazen in its support for the insurgents, even flying in retired military officers to train the Taliban by chartered helicopter — one crash-landed in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan in August bearing six retired military personnel and a Russian pilot.
Watching so many deadly attacks continue over the years with little done to prevent them at their source has been one of my hardest experiences as a reporter. And it is increasingly difficult to answer Afghans when they wonder how America could have been so blind or careless to ignore Pakistan’s role in sponsoring terrorism [see this interview with Ms Gall about a book of hers: “Pakistan, The Taliban And The Real ‘Enemy’ Of The Afghanistan War”]…
Reconstruction was frustratingly slow at first — even now, most of the country still does not have electricity — but has grown steadily. For years the roads were an agonizing trial of bumping and jolting, but these days journeys that used to take several days can now be completed in hours. In the provinces, administration buildings, schools, hospitals, clinics, police stations and even prisons have sprouted.
Over time I began to notice a new generation of trained professionals working in government offices: Young men with degrees in charge of district offices, teenage women teaching classes to the younger students, female graduates working in private universities, and officials in the ministries and embassies returning from abroad with master’s degrees and doctorates.
…Afghan friends and acquaintances rarely hesitate when asked whether the American intervention was worth it: “No question” is the usual response. There have been many painful mistakes, of course, but the building, the education, the defense and diplomatic support have all helped Afghanistan rise from the ashes.
Women especially have gained confidence…
Most Afghans say they will need American support in defense and diplomacy to counter the continuing threat of terrorism and to protect them from predatory neighbors beyond the 2017 deadline that President Obama has made for the drawdown. There is a real danger the Afghan Army could collapse next year if the fighting and casualties remain as intense, and so a continued United States military commitment will remain essential…
Peace will be a tall order and require a high level of American commitment for years more. But the result would be welcomed overwhelmingly by Afghans who have endured decades of war, and serve as a lasting tribute to the families of the American soldiers who died there.
Carlotta Gall, a senior foreign correspondent for The New York Times, spent nearly 12 years reporting in Afghanistan since 2001.
Meanwhile Canadians have essentially washed their minds of Afghanistan save for a wide-spread acceptance that it was not “worth it“. Fie on them; they should read Ms Gall’s entire piece.