February 22, 2012: In early 2012 there was a lot of mass media attention about accusations that the U.S. military lied about their accomplishments in Afghanistan. That was not exactly what was going on. All this media excitement arose from a lack of understanding between strategic intelligence assessments and operational/tactical combat assessments. Both gave a different picture of what was going on and both were accurate. But to those who don't understand the difference between strategic intelligence and combat assessments the information can appear contradictory.
For example, the strategic intelligence assessment of Afghanistan is grim. It has to be if it's accurate. That's because Afghanistan is not a nation but a coalition of tribes and ethnic groups who do not get along. Corruption and crime is abundant. That explains why Afghanistan is the poorest nation in Eurasia. It also explains why the majority of the population is illiterate and the lifespan is one of the lowest on the planet. The strategic intelligence assessments of the Afghan government and its ability to control all its territory are grim not because Western nation-building efforts have failed but because the history of social change does not provide any examples of a place like Afghanistan going from medieval tribalism to modern democracy in a decade, or even a few decades. No one wants to hear this. There has been a lot of progress in Afghanistan but not enough to satisfy the unrealistic expectations that politicians and their media cheer leaders have opportunistically latched onto.
The military situation is different, if only because the enemy has conveniently concentrated themselves in two provinces (Kandahar and Helmand, where most of the world's heroin currently comes from). During the last two years American and other foreign troops have gone on the offensive there, with special emphasis on drug operations. This has hurt the drug gangs and the Taliban. It has hurt them a lot. But the drug gangs are the source of enormous (especially by Afghan standards) wealth for those involved (about ten percent of the population). It’s something to die for. Moreover, the Taliban have sanctuary in Pakistan, a country that is technically our ally but denies that this sanctuary exists, even though it is admitted and well documented in the Pakistani media. Thus the Taliban and drug gangs have a big incentive to take lots of casualties to stay in business. They know that heroin is not a big enough problem in the West to justify keeping over 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Without a strong enough incentive to stay the foreign troops will depart and leave the Taliban to pursue their goal of world conquest, while the drug gangs continue to get rich.
The military was put in charge of building an army and national police force in order to keep the newly elected national government in power. The foreign trainers have not guaranteed what this force will be able to do when the foreign troops leave. Checking into a history book will show that a lot of these newly trained Afghan soldiers and police will fight for their tribes, while few will fight for Afghanistan. The tribes mean more than nationalism and foreign journalists and Western politicians have a hard time grasping that. Those in the West should check their own history. It wasn't that long ago those tribes counted for a lot. In a few parts of the West they still do.
There are some things you can't speed up, no matter how hard you try or deceive yourself about. To paraphrase a bit of old wisdom, "those who ignore history tend to get bit in the ass by reality."