Thursday, May 30, 2002

Last fall and winter, it was a staple of "warblogger" rhetoric that comparisons between operations in Afghanistan and the quagmire of Vietnam were bogus; that what we had in Afghanistan was an operation of limited scope (roll up al-Qaeda and eliminate its support), whose success was clear for all to see. And if anyone disputed that, well, it must be western self-hatred.

With that in mind, two recent headlines:

First, "Taliban rule as darkness descends". In other words, they'rrree baaaaaack.

Remember that a key to the remarkably quick success at ousting the Taliban was the remarkable willingness of their troops and regional commanders to switch sides --- they didn't seem to have any loyalty at all to the Taliban regime. Well, the people there don't seem to have any more loyalty to what followed:

THE villagers of Darwazagi are used to unexpected visitors. American, Australian and Canadian troops have all passed through and they are greeted with polite smiles and offers of hospitality.

"Have you seen any al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters," they ask. The Pathan tribesmen shake their heads and watch as the Allied troops leave.

After dark, a motorbike with its headlight extinguished roars into the village as a Taliban official arrives for an evening of meetings and instruction of the faithful.

If a patrol arrived, the mullah would melt into the hills before returning to sanctuary in Pakistan. The villagers would say nothing. The soldiers might ask the villagers if they had received any visits. They would almost certainly say no.

Then again, the Bush administration's hard-nosed grown-up aversion to touchy-feely stuff like "nation building" might have something to do with that:

Other Afghans, who once held out high hopes for change with the arrival of the new foreign "invaders" have been simply disappointed that there has been little or no improvement for the local population. Even the Russians, many of them contend, provided more benefits to the villagers here.

Haji Sher Khan, a chief in a nearby district who works out of a building that once served as Afghan King Zaher Shah's hunting lodge, said: "When the US troops arrived, we were so happy to see them that our people stood in line to greet them, but since then we have seen nothing but their hunt for al-Qaeda."

As might the United States' continued inability to deal with asymmetric warfare, particularly at night (even though night fighting is supposed to be an American strength):

"They are like cockroaches," complained US Major Brian Hilferty. "They won't operate in the open where we can catch them, but only come out at night."

No parallels to Vietnam here.

But so far, that's just the Taliban, exploiting local instability and the resurgence of local warlords for the sake of their own propaganda, which is how they came to power in the first place. What of al-Qaeda?

Which brings us to another headline which recently caught my eye: Taliban and Qaeda believed plotting within Pakistan.

But one of the Bush administration's early coups was getting the Pakistani government to promise in helping to root them out from its territory --- even the tribal border region with Afghanistan, which they don't ordinarily claim to control. Provided that they aren't preoccupied with other things, of course.

(One of the keys to that deal, on the other hand, was a promise of increased access to American markets, particularly in textiles. But the grownups in the Bush administration reneged on that, raising tariffs, because the deal was less important than protecting some Carolina Congressmen. Gee, do you think we could offer more trade assistance as an incentive in trying to cut some kind of deal with India?)

Is this Vietnam? No. But the job's not finished, and shows no signs of wrapping up anytime soon. The appearance of a quick, smashing success in this conflict was, at least in part, an illusion. And even if there weren't regional complications like Kashmir, it would still show signs of getting a whole lot messier...

(Scotsman link via Grim Amusements).


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