Afghanistan and the meaning of the Helmand offensive

The Guardian wonders aloud about what the recent Marine and Brit offensive in Afghanistan really means:

If the campaign in Helmand appears purposeful at all, it is because we choose to make it seem so through a combination of how it is presented (depictions of military manoeuvres devoid of real meaning), and because for too long we have uncritically accepted that the end is achievable – in Gordon Brown’s words, “democracy must win”.

But the reality is that the war in Afghanistan is increasingly aimless and lacking in coherent strategy. Brown’s notion that a strong Afghan state can be quickly forged is contradicted by the nature of the competition for power inside Afghanistan: between Kabul and the regions; between the Pashtu-speaking south and the rest of Afghanistan; and between weak state institutions and powerful social affiliations.

To “win” a war in Afghanistan requires that we know what winning might look like. Not the idealised picture imagined in distant western capitals, but an end state that would leave Afghanistan best equipped to deal itself with its own myriad internal challenges. This means a final burying of the rhetoric of “war on terror” and the idea that what happens in Afghanistan presents a serious security threat that challenges us in an existential way.

My two cents: part of the point of the large scale push is PR related–to show the Afghans we’re now serious about the war there. As for its long term chances of sucess(whatever that means), I’m not quite convinced it’s going to do much. The Guardian is correct on the big point: that, despite years of hearing how this is going to be a war without “beach heads,” as our former President put it, we’re still trying to make it a war with beachheads and battles whenever we get a chance.


About michaelhastings

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2 Responses to Afghanistan and the meaning of the Helmand offensive

  1. libtree09 says:

    The west doesn’t have a good record fighting insurgents. Seems the last group of insurgents the US defeated were the Native Americans and that wasn’t pretty or moral. Seems to me the only way out is to convince the tribes that the Taliban is bad mojo. It is hard for an occupying army to kill citizens no matter what side they are on. It seems that the people have to want the Taliban out, I can’t see killing everyone you think is Taliban.

    Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam an import from Arabs? Why is the people of a country rich in music and dance following a foreign concept of life?

  2. P.J. Tobia says:

    A big part of everything the coalition does here is PR. In an insurgency, PR is more valuable than bullets.

    And you’re right, the US has lost its way in Afghanistan. There is no end-game. We’re spending billions on training security forces so that they can “stand up so we can stand down.” What that means is that when we leave, there will be armies of very well trained and very jobless soldiers. It will be a bloodbath.

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