Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Forgotten War

Michael Yon is an independent journalist currently working in southern Afghanistan. I first read his dispatches when he was embedded with the military in Iraq. I was drawn to his work because he writes what he sees. He doesn't sugarcoat it, nor does he have a political agenda. Through his writing, I got to experience, as much as one can through someone else's eyes, what our soldiers are facing and accomplishing in Iraq. He made me proud of them. He made me fear for them. He made me know that they can do the job they've been given, and do it with honor, even though that job is extremely difficult, and greatly under-appreciated. I have come to trust his perspective.

Now he's in Afghanistan, again as an independent journalist, but not embedded with the military this time, and once again, he's writing what he sees. It's sobering. Our soldiers call it the forgotten war. The Taliban is by no means a thing of the past. There are areas in the south that they still control, and the threat is growing. The opium harvest will be bountiful this year, and the heroin that will enslave a new generation of unfortunate children will finance more weapons for the Taliban to work their destruction. They like to target schools, especially schools that teach girls. They have not lost their desire to control the lives and thoughts of others, nor to some extent, their ability to do so.

By Yon's account, there simply are not enough Coalition Forces to quell the Taliban's continued quest for regional domination. The Taliban is bold, and growing bolder, and there are not enough troops to eradicate them. This is not a war the U.S. is fighting alone. The British and Canadians, Australians, Italians, Dutch, and even French are there beside us, but by Yon's tally, all of them, Americans and allies, are there in insufficient numbers. His own life is at risk, as an American journalist, especially one not travelling with the military, but I don't believe that this is coloring his view. He writes what he sees.

I know there are many people who will say that the reason there is still such unrest in Afghanistan is that we should never have gone on to Iraq, that we were diverted on to a completely separate, and unnecessary, confrontation. I don't agree, but I won't spend a lot of time and words here debating the merits of either war. At this point, it is what it is. What I will say is that there has been so much media and political pressure, from before either war even started (or the start of the general war on terrorism, if you will), to form an exit strategy, and avoid a quagmire, so many comparisons to Vietnam and accusations of imperialism, that our nation has been only half committed from the very beginning. We started seeing demands to bring the troops home before they even all got there. The generation that brought us the Vietnam protests were already primed to relive their youth, and all those calls for withdrawal, although they haven't made us leave Iraq or Afghanistan, have weakened our determination to do what it takes to win outright.

If, as an entire country, we were determined to commit the resources necessary to win outright, and kept an overwhelming number of troops in the theater until the task was completed, not just mostly completed, I do not believe we would be seeing the resurgence of the Taliban. They might still be there licking their wounds, but they would not have control over the lives of anyone else. If we were determined, as a united nation, to eradicate the poppy fields, or even just to pay the farmers not to grow poppies, and applied overwhelming resources to accomplish it, we certainly would not be having the biggest poppy harvest in years coming out of Afghanistan. This is not because of Iraq. This is because we were determined to get out as fast as possible, before we were even on the ground to assess the situation.

The will of the people may not seem very powerful when you look at what goes on in Washington. Corruption, and spending gone wild, and tin-eared politicians do tend to make it seem fruitless to even care what policy decisions are made. However, the people can be heard when they shout loudly enough. Look at the immigration reform debates. Whether you're on the side of illegal immigrants, or fence-builders, you are part of a vocal group that has forced Washington to at least attempt to deal with an issue it would much rather have ignored. The cries of quagmire and Vietnam also have carried weight in Washington. Where are the cries for more troops in Afghanistan, enough to do the job? Where are the calls to commit what is necessary now, rather than have this conflict drag on unfinished? Where is the commitment to finish the liberation of the Afghani people? Michael Yon is calling for it. He writes what he sees.

Note: Michael Yon also sent me to this photo essay by Phil Zabriskie. Watch it. Really.

Update: Strategy Page has news that's more encouraging.

May 24, 2006: The last two weeks have seen an ambitious Taliban offensive shot to pieces. As many as a thousand Taliban gunmen, in half a dozen different groups, have passed over the Pakistani border, or been gathered within Afghanistan, and sent off to try and take control of remote villages and districts. The offensive was a major failure, with nearly half the Taliban getting killed, wounded or captured. Afghan and Coalition casualties were much less, although you wouldn't know that from the mass media reports (which made it all look like a Taliban victory). The Taliban faced more mobile opponents, who had better intelligence. UAVs, aircraft and helicopters were used to track down the Taliban, and catch them. Thousands of Afghan troops and police were in action, exposing some of them to ambush, as they drove to new positions through remote areas.
On the less cheerful front, it looks like the Taliban is using remote regions of Pakistan as a hiding place/staging ground. The Afghanis and Brits are accusing the Pakistani government of looking the other way, while the Taliban operates, but in the government's defense, they've never really had control of some regions of their own country. (HT: Instapundit)