The End of the Beginning in Afghanistan

Breaking news: CNN is reporting that President Obama has decided to take 30,000 troops out of Afghanistan over the next year eighteen months, including 10,000 by the end of this year. Military commanders had requested that he limit this first draw down to as little as 5,000, so this step was unexpected.

There are 100,000 or so US troops in that country, so even this drawdown will leave many there, and, indeed, their numbers will be higher than during most of the war. But symbolically, Obama’s move indicates that he is now moving to wind up US involvement in that war. It is a testimony to what a trauma the September 11 attacks were that the US public has put up with this, the longest war in American history, for so long. But opinion polling shows that most of the public now wants out, including 60 percent of Republicans. And the Republican presidential candidates are beginning to run against the war.

This local ABC News report covers the controversies, and notes ominously that there is no talk of pulling out US drones from the region.

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan revealed last Saturday that the US has been holding secret direct talks with some of the Taliban leadership.

For how things look from the other side, see this interview with Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban leader, in a Hungarian newspaper, translated by the USG Open Source Center. Zaeef, incredibly, represents the Taliban as not interested in power. He is challenged in the article by Afghan Haroun Mir, who doubts that the Taliban would ever hold another presidential election if they grew powerful again.

Former Taliban Official Tells Hungarian Daily Taliban Want To Teach, Not Govern
Report on interview with Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, by Eszter Zalan in Kabul; date not given: “‘The Taliban Will Not Give up the Fight — The Taliban Opposition Can Be Included in the Power at the Cost of Dangerous Compromises”
Nepszabadsag Online
Tuesday, June 21, 2011 …
Document Type: OSC Translated Text…

I am not sure that anything is happening — Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, who was imprisoned in Guantanamo for four years after 2001, told Nepszabadsag in connection with the talks with the Taliban.

Today he is giving advice regarding the Taliban in the protection of guards supplied by the Afghan government, in a house in Kabul provided for him by the Karzai cabinet. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was the first to confirm at the weekend that the United States and other countries were in direct contact with the Taliban.

According to Zaeef, the West is spreading contradictory news on the talks to create mistrust among the Taliban, and “because the European people have become tired,” and do not want to continue the war. “The Europeans want change. With the help of the news on the talks, the leaders want to create vain hopes that an alternative exists,” Zaeef says, who also supports a negotiated solution, but states: “The Taliban will definitely not become a political party while the US troops are in Afghanistan. I am certain that they will not give up the fight.”

According to Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban are not interested in politics

Zaeef claims that power is not important for the Taliban. “Perhaps they will go home and teach in the madrasas (religious schools),” he presumes about the period after the settlement. He says that even in the 1990s they came to power out of necessity because the whole country had become destabilized during the civil war, warlords were domineering everywhere, and a tough and dictatorial central power was needed.

“The Taliban brought security and stability. But they are not interested in politics. When they are in power, they cannot teach the people, even though this is more important for them. The Taliban, as experts of Islam, have a natural power within society. They will lose this power if they start to work in government,” Zaeef says, admitting that something like this happened in the 1990s. According to Zaeef, who is now teaching in a religious school, the Taliban do not want to overthrow the Karzai government, only to reform it. He does not say much about his own role, all we know is that his telephone is tapped by the Afghan secret service (among others).

Zaeef refuses to admit that any kind of progress has taken place in Afghanistan in the past 10 years.

“A US general once sat here opposite me, and asked the same, namely why do I not accept progress? I asked him what he was talking about. Every day Afghan children are being killed, so what makes you think that it is enough to build roads in exchange? And you expect that I accept this so-called progress?,” he says, and reiterates the theory popular in Afghanistan that the Americans are only present in this Central-Asian country owing to the mineral resources.

As a matter of fact, in his book entitled “My Life With the Taliban” — also available in English –, and also during the interview Zaeef insists on the romantic image of his fellow Taliban as freedom fighters. He rejects everything that would attack this image with muddled arguments. He explains that the only reason women have been pushed in the background is because men bear a greater responsibility in Islam, therefore, the job opportunities have had to be provided for them. The 1,500-year old Buddha statues had to be destroyed out of political revenge: in response to the fact that fanatic Hindus had destroyed the Babri Mosque in India in 1992.

It is to be seen whether too many human rights will have to be given up for creating peace with Taliban who think similarly to Zaeef. Especially as, since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s February speech, laying down the weapons and accepting the Afghan Constitution have not been conditions for the Taliban, only a break with the terrorist organization Al-Qa’ida. To make it easier for the Taliban (and Washington), the United Nations has recently separated the black lists afflicting the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida member s.

“I hope that, rather than making a pact, a real peace process will take place,” political analyst Haroun Mir said, voicing the concern of many Afghans. According to him the process so far is not transparent and it does not involve the entire Afghan society. In his opinion, the Taliban know that they would only lose in a democratic process, therefore, they will probably want to place the Afghan political system on entirely new bases. “I do not believe that they would set a presidential candidate, nor candidates for parliamentary deputies,” he says with a slight smile. Although even the fact of the talks has not yet been confirmed, the Taliban hope for obtaining more power than this, and no one knows what kind of promise would force them to lay down the weapons. According to Mir, if the Taliban do not lay down their weapons, they could become like the Hezbollah in Lebanon: they play democracy, but they shoot when they cannot get what they want. Mir also recalls that there is no agreement without Pakistan.”

37 Responses

  1. good title to the post. it is time to admit that Afghanistan is a mess and won’t be transformed into anything other than that as long as the neighbors are what they are.

    we could fight for years and retake every inch of Afghanistan and it not going to, of itself and alone, be transformed.

    we’re going to have to accept what we can and simply hang around.

  2. Quoting from the CNN article you cited in this post, I agree with the statement by Senator Levin, believing “The level of U.S. troop reductions in Afghanistan needs to be significant to achieve its purpose — letting the Afghan government know we are determined to shift primary responsibility for their security to the Afghan security forces.” Additionally, a significant reduction of foreign forces in Afghanistan will let the enemy know that the American government is serious about withdrawing and will hopefully encourage forward momentum with the “secret peace talks” that have recently begun. It should also let the American public know that Obama (though he did mandate the troop surge) wants to end this war.

    Despite ongoing violence in Afghanistan, it should be recognized that most enemy attacks aim to harm either foreign forces or those that support foreign forces (i.e. the Karzai government, although in recent months even Karzai hasn’t been too supportive of the foreign military presence). The goal of the enemy at this point seems to be to oust the foreigners, and until all (or at least a majority of) foreign forces withdraw, it’s likely that substantial moves toward peace will not be taken (despite some preliminary talks). It’s obvious Afghans and Americans are weary of this war. It’s been nearly a decade long and the costs and casualties for both nations (as well as for nations supporting the American-led intervention) have been high.

    Although instability still reigns in many parts of Afghanistan, I do not believe security can be fully achieved until all foreign military forces are out of the country. It would be unwise to continue a foreign military presence in Afghanistan in hopes of establishing COMPLETE stability and security because the satisfaction of terrorists and insurgents comes from their ability to harm their targets. Instability and insecurity will continue as long as the enemy continues to be satisfied. The enemy will continue to be satisfied as long as they have an easy time of attacking their targets (namely, foreign forces and those supporting foreign forces).

    I think removing 10% of the current troop level by the end of this year is enough of a withdrawal to let the enemy, Americans, and Afghans know that this war is now moving toward an end.

    Senator Levin suggested 15,000 troops be withdrawn by the end of this year.

    You have said that Obama’s decision to withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of this year was unexpected, but I am curious: do you support his decision or would you have recommended more (or fewer) troops be withdrawn by the end of this year?

  3. CORRECTION: CNN reports that 30,000 troops will be withdrawn over 18 months, not 12 months.

    ……… ……. …….

    Some context on the pace of withdrawal.

    There are about 104,000 US armed forces personnel in Afghanistan today, 22 June 2011.

    There were about 35,000 there when President Obama took office in January, 2009, working with another ~65,000 troops from NATO and other allies.

    Fulfilling promises he made during the campaign, he sent about 35,000 more in the first several months of his Administration.

    In December, 2009, he held consultations with the military generals on what troop levels were appropriate. Neither he nor his Administration nor the military ever asked what the Mission, Vision or Values were that were driving the war effort. The President never consulted anyone about the big picture of what we were trying to accomplish. His top advisors on this matter were all generals, former generals and/or war mongers.
    Accordingly, troop levels were decided on the basis of what it would take to achieve military “victory,” rather than how to advance US national interests.
    These advisors lied and told him that another 40,000 troops would turn the tide. In truth, to succeed in subjugating the Pashtoon population, about 2,000,000 troops were and are still needed, if that’s the objective. We don’t have 2 million troops.
    He decided to authorize another 30,000. The Pentagon figured that another 10% for “support troops” was implicit, and sent another 34,000.

    While on any given day there are about 104,000 US armed forces personnel in Afghanistan, including military personnel and Naval and Air Force personnel,
    There are actually over 112,000 personnel assigned there, or assigned to units deployed there.
    In any given week, there are about 2,000 personnel headed out of the country for their mid-tour leave, about 2,000 headed back from mid-tour leave, and about 4,000 back in “the World,” on mid-tour leave.
    There is also some number who are medically evacuated out, who are TDY for training, or who are otherwise not in the country, despite being assigned there.

    Also, the normal 12-month rotation of units in and out of Afghanistan means that, on average, more than 8,000 personnel are deployed into the country each month, and a similar number are redeployed back to their home stations in the US, Germany, Korea or elsewhere.

    In this context, the notion that reducing staffing levels by 5,000 in the month of July is a significant reduction loses some of its shininess.

    The President could reduce troop levels by 8,000, simply by slipping the schedule for the deployment of the next Brigade, and the corresponding support personnel, by one month, and pushing back all subsequent deployments by the same amount of time. Likewise, a reduction of 10,000 before 1 January 2012 will be accomplished by sending a Brigade home one month early just before Christmas, and delaying their replacement until after New Year’s Day.
    These are cosmetic actions intended to create an appearance of reducing troop levels, without actually reducing them by very much.
    The same kind of shell games can be done by extending mid-tour leave from 3 weeks to 4.

    I have some experience as a staff officer in the Army, and on an Air Force MAJCOM staff as a civilian. With my modest abilities, if the President gave me the word, and I had the position and authority, I could have all 34,000 “Surge” troops out by the end of September, if I started in July. Any general officer who says it isn’t possible is sandbagging.

    ………………… …………. …………………

    But the real reason these are empty promises is the fact that, over the last 60 days, the Army and Special Operations Commands have advertised for about 30 new contracts for the services of Mercenaries. These are new contracts, not replacing existing contracts. These new contracts call for over 500 armed personnel per contract, on average.
    See for example link to
    Nit pickers will argue that, since the armed personnel are to be “Afghan,” that they do not meet the definition of “Mercenary.” But they will be commanded by Americans, Brits and South Africans.
    More importantly, these contracts will use the old tactic of the British Raj to exploit ethnic rivalries, as they employed Gurkhas from Nepal to subjugate Punjabis. In Pashtun territory, the “Afghans” will be from the ethnicities making up the “Northern Alliance” side of the Afghan civil war, and vice versa.

    Apparently, for every US person withdrawn, the military is replacing them with 3 Mercenaries.

    Who comes up with this stuff ? Do they not know anything of human nature, or of Afghan history or culture ?
    Who is advocating for US interests within the Obama White House ?

  4. “and notes ominously that there is no talk of pulling out US drones from the region.”

    Ominously? There is nothing ominous about it. This is exactly what the United States should do. We should drop the idea of “nation-building” and “counter-insurgency,” in Afghanistan and stick with counter-terrorism. The drones are a very useful weapon against the Jihadist-terrorist leadership and its “middle-management” in the FATA, and they will be just as useful should there be a move into Afghanistan when the U.S. draws down.

    Yes, elements of the Pakistani military, the ISI, and large segments of the public do not like the U.S. running drones. But they would not be any more pleased no matter what we do. They have shown that while there are some areas in which they are willing to work with us, there are others in which they are not. And, of course, it is pretty clear that in some instances they are quite willing to tip off the Jihadists of impending operations. In such an environment, the U.S. must look after its own interests, with or without Pakistan’s acquiescence.

    • Do you also approve of the drone attacks in Yemen that killed 21 children, and I believe two putative Al Qaeda? And then do you also agree that the Obama administration’s decision to have Patreus pay Yemeni president Saleh millions to say that it was his government who sent those missiles? Is it okay for our President to cover up bombing when the press is harmful because innocents are murdered? This story can be found in The Nation if anyone hasn’t done the work on this, and Jeremy Scahill is the author. If you can’t find it, let me know and I’ll provide the link.

      • not approving of a strike that killed children has not all that much with disapproving the use of drones in general.

      • Nice try with your non-sequitur. Why do you assume that because I support drone attacks against Jihadists I must support such attacks that kill children? Such shallow reasoning and lack of analytical ability have no place in a serious forum.

        • The question was, how do you feel about the cover up? Of course killing children is bad, but the cover up? Got it now?

      • “The question was, how do you feel about the cover up? Of course killing children is bad, but the cover up? Got it now?”

        “Do you also approve of the drone attacks in Yemen that killed 21 children, and I believe two putative Al Qaeda?”

        Your own words quoted back to you above. Got it now?

        • If you’re saying that you feel 21 Yemeni children are of no value if we can murder a couple of people who hate us, that is staggering. Is that what you are implying?

  5. I think it is good if Obama is getting out, but this numbers game is political chess. Its rules and reasons have little to do with the actual situation in Afghanistan.

  6. I’m struck by the landscape our troops are giving their lives for and what is being gotten for our half trillion dollar investment.

    In the next news video you see of our troops fighting in Afghanistan, notice the background. You will see that our troops are fighting behind ancient mud walls, in barren mountain ranges or desert like landscapes. Then you wonder…is this god foresaken land a threat to the US? The answer is no, but someone is making a ton of money supplying our troops, especially those charging $450 a gallon for fuel to run the thousands of vehicles we have over there. Think of it…10,000 bucks to fuel a Humvee. And you complain about $3 gasoline.

    • Under the rubble and mire, however, there is purported trillions in minerals and energy. Not that I would ever say that our government would destroy an entire civilization for mineral wealth. I will leave that for others to say.

  7. [opinion polling shows that most of the public now wants out, including 60 percent of Republicans. And the Republican presidential candidates are beginning to run against the war.]

    Normally, the dem left should be anti-war and the GOP right should be pro-war.

    But in real life, obamadems act as a GOP faction without any consistent political platform. As for GOP leadership, it takes advantage of this mess and play isolationist card until they are in opposition.

    Once GOP will get power, it will turn out to be even more interventionist than dems now. So, the fact that GOP tentatively opposes wars in Afghanistan and Libya is actually very grim. It means that public opinion is crudely manipulated for short-term political benefits.

  8. Smoke and mirrors is the way I would define this draw down. While the number of military troops may wane, the number of taxpayer funded mercenaries will fill the gap. For every coalition soldier in Afghanistan, there is at least one mercenary. The whole escapade sounds like the way the plan was drawn out. This administration, just as the past few, doesn’t want ‘real’ soldiers to fill the gap, because those render public opinion badly on the beltway gang. Mercenaries, pick your own label, don’t render sympathy.

  9. For those inclined to believe that our reasons in Afghanistan are noble, or without any validity, may have missed this. I submit this link and a portion here for a reminder:
    link to
    The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

    The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

    • These were written up by the Soviets and recycled by the Pentagon to get the support of big business. It is all so silly. Why spend a trillion dollars to get at a trillion dollars. It is anyway a tiny sum as a set of national resources. The US GDP is $14.5 trillion annually. We wouldn’t notice it.

      • The research on this also says it would take decades to actually mine any of it, and it probably would be too costly to get out of the ground. Yet that won’t stop us from sacrificing our children, and our soul. But my belief is that we are in a war for the world’s energy, regardless of the fiscal or human costs. I’ve yet to see any rationale for any of our overseas adventures. Unless you accept that a silent military coup has taken place and our leaders are simply lip syncing to some Pentagon theme. Until the American people muster up the courage to reject the two party system and elect someone honest, and smart enough to take on some of this, we are doomed to failure. During the Cold War we said we were fighting because either China or Russia was planning on taking over the world and bringing communism to our shores. Replace them with the U.S. and fascism for communism and you begin to approach an honest appraisal of where we are today.

  10. Endless imperial BS from Obama.

    What a load of crap Obama is flinging at us. The number of private US contractors is probably well over 100,000 by now. Who knows the actual number? It is probably a state secret… And these private contractors cost five to ten times as much as the military personnel that they replace. The fleecing of the American taxpayer goes on and on. Obama has zero interest in ending US imperial aggression in the third world. Bush had three illegal criminal wars (Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan). Obama has six illegal criminal wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalis and Libya). Change you can believe in? Only if you are an idiot…

    • I’ve done charity work in Central America and don’t let anyone tell you we aren’t occupying every single country in the region, as well as South America. That includes both CIA and military and the figures I heard for private contractors in Afghanistan is one for one, one contractor for each U.S. military person there.

      • Please provide evidence that we are “occupying every single country in (Central America) as well as South America.” I want to see hard evidence supporting your statement, not just some amorphous charge that cannot be substantiated.

        • Mr. Barkell, I work in Nicaraqua, but we know well that if we so much as mention publicly what we see about U.S. activity, our children and our school suffer retribution. In case you haven’t followed the Honduras coup d’etat, there is ample documentation of why you need to learn how people like Lanny Watkins is down there working with the Clinton folks to make sure people are in charge whom we can control. And, in case you aren’t aware of it, there is a fairly recent web tool called Google. Intelligent people go there before they demand “evidence” for things that are pretty easily documented if you follow the news even cursorily. My experience is first hand. But just in case you are not able to do all that nasty reading, here is one link I found: link to

          But if you want to interact in a fashion we all can get behind, stop questioning until you’ve done some work. This stuff is not secretive here. But go down south of the border and start asking questions and you learn quickly how entrenched we are. Panama? You bet! Guatemala, since the 1950’s; etc. etc.

        • You have failed utterly to provide evidence to substantiate your charge that “we are occupying every single country in Central America as well as South America.”

          Intelligent people substantiate their positions by quoting something they found “Googling”??? At first I thought you were joking when you suggested googling, and then I realized you were serious.

          Googling indeed! If that is your level of research ability, not to mention your source of evidence to substantiate your claim that the U.S. occupies not only the Central American isthmus, but the entire continent to the south, I question what parallel universe you are living in.

    • our war is Afghanistan is neither illegal nor criminal and you’re merely ranting. you’re being your own idiot and might want to try changing yourself to tone down your excesses.

      • Hopefully, you will no longer appear here as calling anyone an “idiot” ought to get you banned. Far as your comment, it is neither helpful, nor cogent.

        • rob, if you believe that Mr Sayre should be banned for calling people idiots, you’re being a bit over-sensitive.

  11. As seen with Blackwater, mercenaries do not play by the same rules our American soldiers must obey. Nor are they under the same laws of conduct or rules of engagement.

    • Which is why the last few administrations have cultivated their availability. Read Rumsfeld’s meanderings about completely re-tooling the lean new military. Make no mistake about our military though, they are totally engaged in shock and awe tactics and deliberately target civilians, as was documented in Cobra II. Our generals affectionately refer to the software program used to determine how many civilians murdered as “Bug Splat.” When Gen. Franks was asked in 2003 how many of the targets rated high density for Iraqi civilians, he asked how many they counted, and when they said there were 22 such locations, he said to hit them all. No wonder no Iraqis threw flowers on our soldiers.

  12. We can win the battles, but, not the war.

    When the troops pull out. I can see tribal wars, women being stoned to death again. Female children, not allowed any schooling. Ethnic cleansing. Corrupt police, corruption, in government, oops that sounds like some other country’s I know. But , trouble in the Arab country’s, seems to be a way of life for them.

    If the troops have stopped the murdering of women, and girls can go to school. Then it hasn’t been in vain.

    • That sounds like “hyper-dreaming.” You actually think we can go in, take out the Taliban, and then go home, and everything is hunky dory? The trouble in “Arab country’s” or countries, is caused because the U.S. has occupied them for decades and turned the people into slaves to dig our oil. It goes back to 1953 at least, when CIA assassinated Mosadeq, installed the Shah of Iran, and turned the boy children into slave workers in the oil fields. I’m not sure where you folks get your education, but this stuff is not new, not hard to learn or ascertain, yet many here live in a bubble.

  13. Your hypothesis offered on DemocracyNow today on the reasons for President’s Obama intervention in Libya does not make sense to me at all. You state that the president had no choice because these same forces are helping him in Afghanistan. May I remind you that the reasons offered by the past and present administration for going into Afghanistan was security for the Americans and for the Europeans. And more recently, President Obama had reiterated that their presence in Afghanistan would make Europe safer since the Talibans were in their back yard. Therefore, the president had a choice whether to get involved in Libya or not and the Europeans would have had to stay in Afghanistan for their own security.

  14. I would think this is the normal rotation so no big deal, more cheap talk. They’ll be needed in the newest adventure anyway.

    Right on James

  15. Perhaps when Americans get over their lust for cool speakers, with cultivated speech patterns, and begin to do some light reading on what the framing, unbalancing and spin doctors weave, we may have a slight chance of one day becoming a real (D)emocracy. Until then, we seem wrapped in the illusion that either one of our major parties is speaking anything other than total rubbish. Obama is a actor but the play is as old as Shakespeare and the dialog is pure public relations. Quit thinking you find answers in MSM and get out and talk to people who have been abroad and who have real experience.

    • and people not “abroad” have only surreal experience?

      is reality really realer elsewhere?

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