Top Ten Myths about Afghanistan, 2010

10. “There has been significant progress in tamping down the insurgency in Afghanistan.”

9. Afghans want the US and NATO troops to stay in their country because they feel protected by them.

  • Fact: In a recent [pdf] poll, only 36% of Afghans said they were confident that US troops could provide security. Only 32% of Afghans now have a favorable view of the United States’ aid efforts in their country over-all.
Afghan poll Dec. 6, 2010

Dec. 6, 2010, ABC/BBC et al. poll of Afghans

8. The “surge” and precision air strikes are forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

7. The US presence in Afghanistan is justified by the September 11 attacks.

6. Afghans still want US troops in their country, despite their discontents.

5. The presidential elections of 2009 and the recent parliamentary elections were credible and added to the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s government.

4. President Hamid Karzai is “a key ally” of the United States.

3. Shiite Iran is arming the hyper-Sunni, Shiite-hating Taliban in Afghanistan.

  • Fact: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini last February “that intelligence indicated there was little lethal material crossing the Afghanistan-Iran border.” This according to a wikileaks cable.

2. Foreigners are responsible for much of Afghanistan’s fabled corruption.

1. The US is in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda.

  • Fact: CIA director Leon Panetta admitted that there are only 50-100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan! The US is mainly fighting two former allies among the Mujahidin whom Ronald Reagan dubbed “freedom fighters” and the “equivalent of America’s founding fathers:” Gulbaddin Hikmatyar and his Hizb-i Islami, and Jalaluddin Haqqani and his Haqqani Network. These two organizations, which received billions from the US congress to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, are more deadly and important now than the ‘Old Taliban’ of Mulla Omar. The point is that they are just manifestations of Pashtun Muslim nationalism, and not eternal enemies of the United States (being former allies and clients and all). Hikmatyar has roundly denounced al-Qaeda.

35 Responses

  1. RE: “Top Ten Myths about Afghanistan, 2010” – Juan Cole MY
    COMMENT: Unfortunately, most U.S. military actions are
    self-perpetuating (whether they are based upon myths or

    • Yah, once the first Wog kills the first GI, that tribal, band of Brothers instinct kicks in and it’s not over until everyone is exhausted and a couple of generations have been born into and died out of it. And “we” at home buy into the sub silentio rationionalization that Our Troops’ Sacred Blood has been shed to Preserve Our Freedoms (often courtesy of an IED made from Made-In-America, US-supplied artillery shells and bombs, which quasi-religious sacrifice myth people will magically-thinking-believe as they read their Popular Mechanics featuring the cover article “One Shoot-One Kill” on the magical Reaper/Predator/Merchant of Death drone series, while standing with arms raised so the TSA guy can grope their crotch and fondle the privates of their wives and children…

  2. Just amazing, isn’t it? Political cowardice and political
    corruption here at home are responsible for this sad state of

  3. We need to leave Afghanistan now and completely, but the
    President has decided we will not be leaving for years and surely
    not completely evenwhen we leave as with Iraq. President Obama is a
    war President, and that is a tragedy for all.

    • .
      If wishes were horses,
      then I would have the US and NATO and Coalition military forces cease all offensive operations in Afghanistan, post haste, taking no more than about 45 days to wrap that up. Based on my anecdotal experience in the Army, it can take about that long for a new directive to percolate down in the slowest, poorest-led units.

      For the next 2 years, I’d keep Quick Reaction Forces, plus precision fires/ air power, on call. I’d have about a Brigade at each Regional Command Center/ Regional Platform. They would have 2 missions, besides self-protection:
      ***__ 1. Providing backup to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF;) and
      ***__ 2. Providing backup to specified NGO’s conducting aid, development and reconstruction activities.
      This backup force would also have a free hand to help any Coalition force that needed it in order to disengage from enemy contact, though that really shouldn’t happen if units follow the rules.


      In order to commit to kinetic combat operations, Coalition forces could only go outside the wire of their compounds with escorts from the ANSF, and with the permission of the Ministry of Defense, which is the opposite of the situation today, where ANSF are in effect commanded by the US/NATO Commanders.

      To anyone who objects that the ANSF are not ready yet, I concede that is true. But they will never be ready, not even in 100 years. This is partially because you cannot have a “national” anything without a nation.

      Also, I would embrace the Karzai decision to get rid of all foreign mercenaries and private military companies in the country, even Afghan ones. If DAI or Chemonics, for example, refuses to go downrange without their mad killers for PSD escort, cancel their contracts. Indigenous NGO’s would just LOVE to get in on that action. Plus, in addition to being cheaper, a lot cheaper, they would be more effective.

      • .
        I have one major area of disagreement with President Karzai’s overall approach. He wants to have all armed forces under his control. He sees himself as the (Bourbon) King of the Afghans, so that makes sense to him. I do not believe that the French model of a central government is a good fit for Afghanistan.

        In direct opposition to everyone in the Obama Administration responsible for losing this war, including the Generals and the diplomats and the politicians who are losing this war, I believe in the values and principles in the US Declaration of Independence.
        I particularly believe that the legitimacy of a government derives from the consent of the governed. In opposition to that, the military, the White House and the State Department seem to believe that legitimacy can also come from being selected at the 2002 Bonn Conference, a variation of the “Divine Right of Kings.”

        When I start from a foundation of core American values, no matter how many times I try, I keep coming back to wanting to create stability from the bottom up. In my myopic view, if you start with recognizing the dignity and franchise of individual Afghans, then the ONLY righteous cause that American soldiers should be asked to die for, if the mission is nation-building, is to build up representative governance, and local security forces, at the local/ village level. Then the various authentic indigenous local leaders will work out governance (and everything else) at the District and Provincial levels. In due time, a legit national government will emerge.

        But what are we really sacrificing our soldiers, and thousands of Afghan civilians, for ? We are fighting to impose the monarchy in Kabul (that we hand-selected) on the Provinces and the Districts.
        Note that the King, under the current “Constitution,” appoints a crony to rule (not govern) every one of the 398 Districts. With the Presidential and parliamentary elections a farce, the Afghan people have NO SAY in who rules them. There is no level where the people get to choose who governs them; they only get to vote for “representative councils” that “advise” their local Karzai appointees, who the “Constitution” says can ignore their advice.

        • .
          Wanna hear a joke ? This is from an official document issued by ISAF last month:

          “In FY2006, USAID/Afghanistan established the Local Governance and Community Development (LGCD) program to promote and establish linkages between provincial governments and local communities in priority districts determined by USAID Field Program Officers, their local Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and GIRoA counterparts. This ‘bottoms up’ program sought to address causes of instability at the community level in selected districts and assist the local citizenry, along with provincial and district level governments, to develop the institutions, processes and projects to create a stable environment for long-term political, economic and social development.

          “Despite successes at the community level with the LGCD project, violence continues and it is believed that a lack of donor and GIRoA attention at the district level is still problematic. This lack of district level focus threatens to erode the legitimacy of provincial governments being able to expand their authority and deliver basic services throughout their provinces. A credibility gap exists throughout [Afghanistan] that prevents community level confidence in district level governments. It is believed that this thereby fuels the insurgency and creates instability. This broken ‘mid-link’ between GIRoA at the provincial level and local communities undermines the ability of provincial governance to expand their authority and legitimacy with the populace. Recognizing this, efforts to promote District level formal authorities (such as District Governors and their staffs) along with their informal District Councils, Shuras and District Development Assemblies is a priority for both the United States and GIRoA.”

          Me, I think of something else when I hear “bottoms up.” Wonder how that got in there. Methinks the ISAF staff drinks too much.

          But here’s the cruel, unfunny joke:
          ISAF is saying that it is a bottom-up approach when we try to put more horsepower behind the efforts of the central government to control people and events at the District level.
          In my dictionary, that is at the entry for “stovepiped top-down control.”
          Where are all the experts in Governance, and why aren’t they being heard ?
          This is the key reason our efforts are failing, and must fail. With this mindset, success is not an option.

        • Well, you’ve certainly gotten one detail correct with regard to your grand scheme…’your myopic view.’ There’s one, and only one solution to our Afghan ‘problem.’ Similarly, that solution finally dawned on the 19th century Brits and the 20th century Soviets. How long will it take before it finally dawns on us? Saving political face and brasshat egos is not worth the bones of even one more single marine or soldier in that God forsaken wasteland. To die for pie-in-the-sky nation building, humanitarian intervention, womens’ right to vote, building schools and roads, so on and so forth…what a crock!!

        • .
          not sure how you think big changes occur.
          It wasn’t righteous indignation of the citizens of the British Empire that got them to end their Afghan campaigns, nor was it the protests of the Soviet subjects that led to the withdrawal in 1989.
          In both cases, the folks pulling the levers took advantage of opportunities to save face, while preserving their grasp on those levers of power.

          If our military pulls out of Afghanistan in my lifetime (I’m nearly 60,) it will be because either the President or a groundswell in Congress sees a way to pull out while saving face and staying in office.
          Young folks today don’t care about the war, and older folks don’t, either. Whether they recognize the immorality of the whole affair or not, they are convinced that they are powerless to change anything. Remember, they voted for Hope and Change 2 years ago, and look what that got them.
          There will be NO REPEAT of the protests over the Vietnam war.

          It’s up to me and several others at this site to chart a course to withdrawal. Help if you like.

        • I’ve said it once and I say it again. Saving political face and brasshat egos is not worth the bones of even one more single marine or soldier in that God forsaken wasteland. To die for pie-in-the-sky nation building, humanitarian intervention, womens’ right to vote, building schools and roads, so on and so forth…what a crock!! And that includes pipelines for Unocal.

          The only ‘course’ that needs to be charted is the shortest distance to get the hell out…now!

          And BTW, when Gorbachev came to power in 1985 he immediately began his campaign to effect withdrawal from what he called the ‘bleeding wound’ of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan…and it had little or nothing to do with public opinion or saving political face. He simply said enough is enough…and in October of 1985 the Soviet Politburo approved the withdrawal but didn’t come up with a timetable until the fall of 1987, which is why the pullout didn’t begin until mid-1988. But for the politburo’s delay on a timetable, Gorbachev would’ve began the withdrawal in 1985. No ifs, ands, or buts about it…he saw that it was past time to turn tail…and did it. And that’s what I mean when I wonder how long, and how much more blood and treasure it’s going to take before our chickensh*t politicians arrive at that same inevitable conclusion.

          We now have our own bleeding wound! We need to get out now while the getting’s good. Afghanistan is a tribalist entity and is both unconquerable and ungovernable. And playing nice with ‘Mayor of Kabul’ isn’t going to change that one whit.

  4. Your rejoinder to #9 is nonresponsive. It could be the case
    that Afghans want us in the country because the country would be
    less secure w/o us, even if we don’t provide much security in the
    first instance.

    • It could be the case that the moon, where astronauts have not yet landed on it, is made of green cheese. Are you in the military? Are you on the ground in Notagainistan? Just curious how you can offer the notion that the US actions, that a fairly dispassionate look-see by lots of different people characterize as dumb-shit disruptive and totally ineffective asymmetric incompetence, are providing even “not very much security.” Unless you mean job security for Karzai and Company, and warlords and mullahs profiting from “our” idiocy in throwing money at them. “We” are doing damn nothing to provide any “security” because there is a total diaconnect between the stated goals and missions of the US military establishment and what actually happens day to day. Hellfires for dinner, any one?

      Spare “us” the little debater’s tricks about “nonresponsive.”

  5. I find the rebuttal to number 7 to be a bit of a non
    sequiter. I do agree that it’s a myth, but whether any of the
    southern people have heard of 9/11 or not is not really relevant.
    Being there to being the 9/11 perpetrators to justice would justify
    our presence, but since they are not there that validation is
    bogus. Driving them out of Afghanistan would be a more or less
    believable excuse, but they are already gone, so scratch that one.
    “Denying them space to plan their attacks” or “denying them safe
    harbor” are mythical references in their entirety. All of these
    referemces to 9/11 debunk that a reason to be there very well. The
    fact that people in the south never heard of the event, not so

  6. Thanks for a very informative article. I’ve seen most of
    this in various sources, but this pulls things together in a very
    useful and enlightening way. I think the official attitude from
    Washington resembles something like collective compulsivity —
    addictive behavior almost. Once started down the path to war, the
    political and military officials have little idea how to stop, even
    as what we know about the situation would seemingly call for a
    major rethink. But now, we have groupthink on a massive scale, it

  7. 7. The US presence in Afghanistan is justified by the
    September 11 attacks. Fact: In Helmand and Qandahar Provinces, a
    poll found that 92% of male residents had never heard of 9/11. Not
    relevant. Implies that because in two provinces 92% had not heard
    of 911, there is some correlation? I don’t see it. Gates told
    Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, Wikileaks? Neither part
    authoritive. 1. The US is in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaeda.Could it
    be in Afghan to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan? As I remember the
    Taliban hosted Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Little spin ?

  8. “… on a $2 million a year retainer from Iran.” This isn’t
    a particularly large amount of money in the grand scheme of things
    and since Iran is opposed to both al-Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban
    I don’t think this is a strong argument against Karzai being a key
    ally of the U.S.. Of course plenty of the “bomb Iran” crowd would
    see it as such but I don’t believe emphasizing the whole Axis of
    Evil chimera contributes to thoughtful consideration of the
    complexity of the situation. If anything it could be used as an
    argument that Iran itself is a key ally of the U.S. in

  9. Excellent list! A reader of your column has heard all these
    points from you before. But it’s surprising just how clear and
    powerful it all is compressed into a list. More effective than
    trying to answer what will happen when the US leaves; or to
    counter-argue “Why are we there?”; is simply to stand back and list
    the failures and absurdities. The conclusion then is obvious and
    overwhelming with no squirming room: there is nothing in this that
    makes sense.

    • “Nothing in this that makes sense”? Sure it does! “We” are moving what, $7 billion a month from the pockets of American taxpayers and the Borrow From China accounts in the Treasury, into the insatiable maw of the military industrialists and the logisitcalians and procurementologists? And funding how many little sneaky-pete destabilizing “black ops” in yet more quarters of a planet that per the US military is nothing more than a set of “areas of responsibility and operations,” forget those idiotic passe political boundaries and governments, by the folks who know how to siphon and disappear billions of dollars at a single whack? And putting how many General Officers a rung or two up the promotion ladder?

      See? It’s just a matter of what chair you sit in, as to how you view the sense and sensibility of The Great Game!

  10. My sense of our continued presence is two-fold and nothing to do with the facts on the ground and more to do with mission creep on the part of the Pentagon (ie full employment and something to do for an overbloated military) and a check to keep Patraeus from running for President.

  11. Good list — nice to see all those bogus excuses pulled together.
    No. 3 — It is in Iran’s interest to keep the US occupied in Afganistan and off Iran’s back as much as possible. So, probably there is some Iranian involvement in Afganistan. I’m wondering how long the US can continue to print money to pay for all those mercenaries operating around the world. Sort of makes you think about the Romans and the Ottomans, who debased their currencies fighting endless wars.

  12. I suspect the only valid reason for the US and whoever else to persist in Afganistan is because the Taliban get support from Pakistan which is a nuclear armed nation.

    Afghanistan’s history is one of wars and more wars.

    Excellent story.

  13. #7 is a total nonsequiter. Because people in part of Afghanistan haven’t heard of 9/11, that means that we weren’t justified in attacking al Qaeda’s headquarters after 9/11? Does not follow. Does not even make sense.

    #1 makes even less sense. Whereas Afghanistan used to be al Qaeda’s headquarters, will thousands of active trainees and a military force, working in cooperation with the sovereign government, now after fighting a war there for several years, there are only a few al Qaeda left.

    Gee, Professor, how do you think that happened? I guess bin Laden and his cronies decided sometime in 2005 that they didn’t like the climate? Maybe they couldn’t get good takeout? Not much of an indie music scene?

    What a terrible argument.

    • Oh, Joe, you’re so smart! and such big biceps too!

      “al Quaeda’s headquarters”? What, that’s a nice building like maybe the Pentagram, where the Asymmetric antisocial personalities that make “us” jump and dance, every time they mail an audio tape to al Jazeera, sit and do their stuff?

      Gee, too bad “our” paramilitaries, and now 140,000 GIs and maybe what, 200,000 “contractors” of various flavors, could not bring themselves to “off” or even find bin Ladin, who of course came to his present state in large part because “we” taught and armed and gave money to him, and “our” presence in Notagainistan, Act I, kind of set the stage for the little presence of the little thing known as al Quaeda to be tolerated by a certain set of warlords among many there, and gee, the news these days is just full of episodes of various plain old fashioned police agencies intercepting “terrorist” plots and plans, without even the benefit of a tiny part of the trillion or three dollars of Networked Battlespace Carry On, sir! “war-fighting” (actually logistics management and supply chain management) “capability” that the rest of us are paying so dearly for in that old “blood and treasure,” and paying Wogs not to shoot at the convoys bringing munitions and fuel to the Currently Defined Battlespace, and sowing the seeds of more death and conflict to keep the contractor guys I just read about who maintain the software and hardware through which “our” great military strategists currently filter their perceptions and prognostication by paying techs something like 13 times what a GI with the same qualifications gets paid and who likely actually does the actual work while the contractors sip vodka out of each others’ butt cracks and navels, ET fucjking CETERA, AD fucjking NAUSEAM.

      So you can sit and pontificate about how this is all “necessary” to swat the little annoying bug that, if you look at it through the wrong end of the microscope, appears simply HUGE and MENACING, so that when its puny biting parts are displayed (with enhancements, of course) on your 96-inch-class HDTV, why, it looks just like a REAL ENEMY!

      Stop me if you heard this one:

      Guy is walking down Fifth Avenue in Noo Yawk City with an elephant gun under his arm and an XM-25 slung over his shoulder.

      Cop stops him and asks, “Whynthehell are you carrying an elephant gun and an XM-25 around downtown?”

      Guy, being a really logical fella, says “Obviously, to keep the wild elephants away!”

      Cop says, “Hey, bub, there’s not a wild elephant within 8,000 miles of here, and they’re almost killed off anyway!”

      Guy says, “See? It works! Now you just let me go on about my business.”

      Not to worry, though — your gritty, steely, squinty-eyed “patriotic” take on how things ought to go forward from here is going to prevail, and “we” the taxpayers and payers-off-on-Chinese-owned-debt will be making the world safe for the military-industrial complex and petropeople far into the increasingly dim future.

    • #7 is a total nonsequiter. Because people in part of Afghanistan haven’t heard of 9/11, that means that we weren’t justified in attacking al Qaeda’s headquarters after 9/11? Does not follow. Does not even make sense.

      Not totally, in fact. If people don’t know what happened in New York and Washington in September in 2001, or if they don’t believe the evidence presented that the perpetrators of the atrocity were based in Afganistan then they aren’t going to view the invasion as legitimate.

      If the people of Afganistan don’t see the presence of foreign militaries, and their mercenary hirelings, as legitimate then they’re not only perfectly justified in fighting to expel them… they’re actually performing an admirable duty for their people by bearing arms against the invaders.

      It’s very difficult to maintain that a military occupation has any legitimacy when the rural farmers forsake their crops to drive the occupiers out of their countries, and near impossible when the quisling despot installed by the occupiers openly threatens to join the resistance.

  14. More Myths

    11. The U.S. is not in Afghanistan because of oil and gas.

    – Fact: As early as 1998, the House Committee on Foreign Relations held hearings titled “U.S. Interests in Central Asian Republics.”

    link to

    Speakers included John J. Maresca, Vice-President of Unocal, who made it very clear that U.S. oil companies needed a stable Afghan government. This would permit construction of efficient pipelines carrying oil and gas from Caspian Sea republics to China and Europe. The U.S. would benefit indirectly by lower oil prices worldwide.

    Also alluded to was the need to oppose influence of the Soviet Union and Iran in the region.

    This committee activity led to a proposed House bill, “The Silk Road Strategy Act of 1999”. Though not passed, the provisions of this bill clearly reveal the materialistic and selfish interests of U.S. policy on the region. (And, in a sense, the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan made passing the Silk Road Strategy Act superfluous.)

  15. @ joe from Lowell: # “we weren’t justified in attacking al Qaeda’s headquarters”

    First it was Iraq, then Pakistan, then Afghanistan, now Iran. Neither the State Department nor you has the faintest idea of where this “headquarters” is located. This is not about being “justified”, this is about being stubbornly ignorant.

  16. I often wonder if we are waging war for the Chinese. Since most comments are about who holds the purse strings, China holds ours (or better, we are asking China to hold ours), and thus could we be doing their dirty work? We have not asked the largest country in the world to contribute to this campaign (even 10 years into it), and we are setting up pipelines to help their neighbors with getting fuel. Or could this be: “A successful military campaign leads to successful debt reduction.” Just curious.

  17. when reality and truths are covered for selfish ends then there is no doubt left in distructions and fianancial crises because the earning money of publics are spent in such place where accontiblity is not accessible easily, so money are collected in few hands not visible amonge us, eveyone knows the facts but no one can do anything only expressions before deafs.
    Hopes with empty hands are only option is left which is difficult but no choice ,truthfulness,honesty and wisdom are the keys for prospirty and peace in human society.

  18. If one really cares about the Afghan people, if that is your real first priority, then it is hard to know what to say about the American occupation and the feeding frenzy for corporations and their bankers and the bonanza for aid and military industry careers that it represents. On the one hand pulling the Americans and their European camp followers out immediately seems like the only sane and humane path toward really helping them. However, the Afghans are a fierce and proud people. They may very well prefer the glory of bringing down the Great Satan, which feat they will not do alone, but their long struggle just may be the straw that brake’s the jackass’ back.

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