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PORTSIDE  September 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Of Kabul, Tet and Generals

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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Date:

Fri, 16 Sep 2011 22:50:26 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (176 lines)

Of Kabul, Tet and Generals

Dispatches From the Edge

Conn Hallinan
Published by Portside
September 16, 2011

     "Now we can see [success in Vietnam] clearly, like
     the light at the end of a tunnel"
          Gen. Henri Navarre, 
          commander French forces in Vietnam, 
          May 20, 1953

     "A new phase is starting.we have reached an
     important point when the end begins to come into
     view.there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
          Gen. William Westmoreland, 
          commander U.S. forces in Vietnam, 
          November 1967

     "Yesterday's attack [in Kabul] was a fleeting
     event; it came and it went. The insurgents are on
     the defensive." The performance of Afghan security
     forces should tell Afghans "they can sleep well at
     night."
          Gen. John Allen, 
          NATO Commander in Afghanistan, 
          September 14, 2011

Dear Lord, what is about generals that seem to make them
so particularly immune to history's lessons?

Gen. Navarre had a sure-fire plan to draw the Vietnamese
insurgents into a great battle that would end the war.
Worked like a charm. On May 7, 1954 the French army
surrendered at Dien Bien Phu.

In November 1967, Gen. Westmoreland was making the
rounds in Washington, talking up "body counts" and
"pacification," and how the U.S would have this little
matter in Vietnam wrapped up pretty quickly. Ten weeks
later, on Jan.31, 1968, the National Liberation Front
and the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive that
put the U.S. Embassy in Saigon under siege, seized the
city of Hue, and shattered the myth that the U.S. was
winning the war in Vietnam.

And now Gen. Allen says the attack on Kabul indicates
the Taliban are on their last legs.

For NATO this year has been the deadliest in the decade-
old war, and the Kabul assault suggests that the Taliban
are hardly on the ropes. As Matthew Green of the
Financial Times put it, "The attack was among the most
sophisticated insurgents have launched on the capital
and exposed the inability of Afghan forces to guarantee
security even in the most heavily defended districts."

A "fleeting event"? I suppose that depends on how one
defines "fleeting." Seven Taliban pinned down NATO and
Afghan security forces for 20 hours, scattering Embassy
officials, and pretty much paralyzing a major part of
the capital. It was the 26th major attack on Kabul since
2008, assaults that have killed 225 people.

What generals don't get (it tends to be above their pay
grade) is that wars like Vietnam and Afghanistan--wars
of occupation--are political, not military affairs. The
U.S. military continues to claim that the Tet offensive
was a huge military victory because it killed lots of
insurgents, and the U.S. took back all the cities it
lost. But Tet was less a military offensive than a
political undertaking aimed at derailing the myth that
the U.S. was "winning" the war in Vietnam. And that is
exactly what Tet did. Regardless of what the generals
thought, the American people concluded that they had
been lied to, and that the war could not be won.

During the Paris peace talks to end the war in Southeast
Asia, an American colonel confronted his North
Vietnamese counterpart and told him that the U.S. had
won every battle in the Vietnam War. The North
Vietnamese officer nodded, "Yes, that is true, but also
irrelevant." I doubt the American officer got the point.

General Allen's line about "the insurgents are on the
defensive" can now join former Vice President Dick
Cheney's dismissal of the growing Iraqi insurgency as
nothing but Saddam Hussein "dead-enders."

As for Kabul residents being able to "sleep well at
night" because of the performance of the Afghan security
forces:
   
     "The nature and scale of today's attacks clearly
     proves that the terrorists received assistance and
     guidance from some security officials within the
     government who are their sympathizers," Naim
     Hamidzai, chair of the Afghan parliament's Internal
     Security Committee, told the New York Times.
     "Otherwise it would be impossible for the planners
     and masterminds of the attack to stage such a
     sophisticated and complex attack, in this extremely
     well guarded location without the complicity of
     insiders."

The Afghan Army saw its desertion rate more than double
in the first six months of this year. Between January
and June, some 24,590 soldiers deserted, compared with
11,423 who left in the same period in 2010. The Afghan
army is supposed to reach 195,000 by October 2012.

The Afghan army has also been unable to recruit Pashtuns
from southern Afghanistan, the heart of the insurgency.
According to a recent study by the New York Times,
Pashtuns from Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan, Zabul,
Paktika, and Ghazni make up 17 percent of the population
but only 1.5 percent of the army. In short, the Afghan
Army in the south is essentially a northern army of
occupation, which explains why no one in the southern
provinces will join the army, and virtually no Taliban
have switched allegiances to the government.

To shore up security, the U.S. has been recruiting and
arming militias that, according to a recent Human Rights
study, have killed, raped and stolen from local
villagers. U.S. Special Forces recruit the militia
members, who then shift their loyalties to local
warlords. This should hardly come as a surprise. The
Soviets tried exactly this tactic during their
occupation, which ended up fueling the growth of the
warlords and led to the devastating 1992-96 civil war.

Of course General Allen might have had something else in
mind when he talked about getting a good night's sleep.

According to the United Nations, this year will be a
bumper crop for opium. Prices for dry opium increased
306 percent this year, from $69 a kilo to $281 a kilo.
As Jean-Luc Lemahieu, an official of the UN Office of
Drugs and Crime, told the New York Times, "This is not
business as usual. There is no crop that can compete
with those prices."

Smoke enough opium you can sleep through anything.

For the last 10 years we have bombed, shot,
incarcerated, and water-boarded a lot of people in
Afghanistan. We have allowed opium to become the
country's major source of income, and we are currently
bringing back the warlords and their armies. Afghanistan
is a far more dangerous place today than it was a decade
ago, and the only tunnels are the ones in which the
Taliban store their weapons and supplies.

It seems time to resuscitate a line from another decade
and another war: "Out now!"

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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