Saturday, August 21, 2021

Afghanistan: The End or the Beginning? Lessons Learned

We've watched hundreds, if not thousands, of Afghanis break through the gates at the Kabul airport trying to cram their way onto a U.S. C-17 Globemaster; each flight capable of leaving out with 800 souls bound for who knows where, or some other aircraft. We've seen dozens trying to find ways to cling onto the sides of the planes as they roll down the runaway, picking up speed while dozens run alongside.

Most of those cling on to whatever they can grab a hold of before falling off harmlessly except for a few bruises and scraps.  There have some videos showing a few hapless individuals managing to hold on until they losing their grip and fall hundreds of feet to the ground below.

A few try to scramble into the landing gear bay, perhaps not aware that the automatic hydraulic door will instantly crush them like a tin can or trapped and left dandling outside of the bay doors, only to be ripped apart by the wind generated by the four huge Pratt and Whitney engines which can reach cruising speeds of over 500 miles per hour. Not a sight anyone wants to see.  

Anyone who manages to crawl inside gets only a brief, momentary reprieve. As the plane gains altitude, the temperature drops to below freezing and oxygen levels drops to precipitous lows causing blackouts. Their odds of surviving are somewhere between slim and none. Perhaps these desperate souls were unaware of what their actions would result in, but then perhaps they were willing to take that chance to leave an Afghanistan now in the hands of the Taliban.

No doubt there will be those who'll vocally criticize the U.S. Air Force, or Army or Marines, or whomever for not properly clearing the runway or providing better security at the gates. However, those people have no grasp of the force a desperate crowd can be. Very little can be done in times of utter fear and panic.

President Trump had assured the Afghan Government of a gradual and orderly pullout to be completed by September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of Al Qaeda's cowardly attack on the United States which  resulted in the deaths of 2,977 innocent people. Say what you want about the American government, but the people have a strong sense of right and wrong. 9/11 clearly was the latter.

Joe Biden's accelerated evacuation appears more and more to the world to be less a withdrawal than a surrender, calling up images and comparisons to the Fall of South Vietnam and Saigon complete with helicopters landing on rooftops evacuating U.S. personnel.  It couldn't have been scripted any better.

We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 for the sole purpose of capturing or killing the "mastermind" of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, and the command structure of Al Qaeda.  The Taliban, a relatively small sect of ultra conservative Muslims, held an ruthless iron grip over Afghanistan, promised to turn over Bin Laden and his cohorts, provided we provided "proof" of guilt (by "proof" they meant releasing sensitive intelligence information and possibly sources). Our response was invasion.

We spent the next twenty years chasing the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the thousands of fighters from all over the Middle East bent on a "martyr's death".  We chased them from cities to villages; from neighborhood to alleys, and eventually into the mountains and caves. We annihilated the Taliban and Al Qaeda with electronic ease. We picked off their leadership the way a well aimed flyswatter picks off an unaware fly, except those behind the "flyswatters" were hundreds of miles away in air conditioned buildings sipping a Starbucks.  

After ten years of hunting, a $25 million dollar bounty, and coming tenuously close, the most wanted man on the planet---Osama bin Laden---slipped from noose to loose again and again, thanks  it would seem, to our so-called friends, the Pakistani military, the Afghan military, and members of the Afghan tribal leaders.  

Ultimately, it was through the relentless and dedicated work of our various alphabet intelligence agencies, not to mention others in the region with much better intelligence sources than ours that our quarry was found.

 It turns out that bin Laden was living a rather boring existence within a high walled compound  just down the street from the Pakistan's version of "West Point" and close to a police station in Abbottabad. How convenient, especially coming from a "friendly" government who claimed no knowledge of Osama's whereabouts. It's not like the compound didn't stand out or that neither the police or Pakistan military didn't know who their neighbors were.

Aside from a few bodyguards, his wives and children, not to mention porno videos, there wasn't much going on at the bin Laden abode aside from the occasional messenger bringing updates (and probably more porn videos). It seems the bin Laden had worn out his usefulness to the holy cause except for the random propaganda piece.

Finally deep into the night of May 2, 2011, thanks to years of patience, The U.S. Navy's SEAL Team Six introduced bin Laden to a new type of laser tag game called "Where's Allah?". Despite hiding behind one of his wives, he lost, while President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others watched "live" in shock, disbelief, and awe.  Several members of  the same SEAL team members were killed in an ambush barely three months later in what many called an act of sabotage and betrayal.

It should have ended for us then and there. We had met our stated objective. The Taliban was destroyed. Al Qaeda was in shambles. Most of the surviving "martyrs" wannabes either decided to seek another line of work or moved off to Syria where another war was accepting recruits to fill their ranks...and body bags.  Gotta love a job where there's always an opportunity for advancement.

Nevertheless, we stayed. After ten years of "helping" to build a "Pro-Western" Afghani government (wink wink), not to mention rebuilding the infrastructure, complete with cell phone towers and internet, which we had previously bombed into the Pre-Stone Age (the Soviets had bombed them into the Stone Age a few decades earlier---1979 to 1989), as well as the Afghani military and police force. As an aside, the USSR collapsed just over ten years later, in 1991. Just saying.  

Now, here we are, twenty years from the time we first set foot in Afghanistan, which we euphemistically called "Operation Enduring Freedom",  and ten years beyond our stated objectives, we're leaving. By the way, it was our longest war ever...thus far. We've gone through four presidents---George W Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden (or whoever is running his administration).

 Over 100,000 Afghanis have been displaced. Just over 71,000 Afghani civilians---men, women, and children---died as a direct cause of the war. In the cities, life mostly returned to normal while out in the countryside, hundreds, if not more, were killed by tribal leaders on both sides who remain uncounted.  

Poverty also returned, but then poverty has always been a part of the history of Afghanistan, thanks to wars, backward religious zealots, and the ever present corruption. However, for the dispossessed---the women of Afghanistan---there was hope. Schools were built and women and girls were encouraged to attend. No more fear of public beatings, acid thrown in their faces, mutilation, or even murder.

Women could get jobs, go out by themselves, live on their own, and even openly date. They could go to beauty parlors and get their hair and nails done without worry of attack. They could shed the black skin of anonymity known as the burka. The invasion of 2001 had catapulted the women and girls of Afghanistan from the 10th Century to the 21st Century.  That's now likely all gone, along with most, if not all the trappings of the West. 

Despite his promises, Biden's ill-conceived and ill-prepared "evacuation" of Afghanistan has turned into a farce.  Biden stated publicly that the American and Allied trained and equipped Afghan military and police could easily hold off and even repel the Taliban, who began emerging from their holes like cockroaches in the dark as soon as they heard of our planned withdrawal from then President Trump, but Biden's actions was like a God-send (or I guess I should say a "Allah-send").

Province after province fell like Poland in 1939, and the capital, Kabul? It had capitulated in nine days. As for the Pro-Western President, Ashraf Ghani, he was last seen almost a week ago (as of this writing) headed for the airport and his private presidential plane followed with a convoy of limos and SUVs with ("allegedly") $169 million in cash and other valuables. 

I'm sure he plans on using all of the money (which mostly came from U.S. taxpayers) to fight the Taliban and return to power. Yeah, right. If history is any guide, I'm sure he's now top on the Christmas card list of several Swiss, Cayman, and Singapore bankers. Typically the loot goes first, closely followed by the despot and his henchmen.  However, Afghans by the hundreds are protesting in the streets despite the crackdowns and the Taliban's old nemesis, the Northern Alliance, is once again on the move.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is now the owner of not just a intact capital, but a largely modernized country (sans any bad Western influences which will be duly destroyed). But wait! There's even more ladies and gentlemen!  There are also the new owners of millions, if not billions of dollars worth of U.S. military equipment and spare parts.

 Everything from drones, surface to air missiles, heavy artillery, and tanks, to Humvees, the impressive "Buffalo", which is multi-wheeled mine protected and ambush resistant vehicle, not to mention thousands of machine guns, assault rifles, small arms, Kevlar vests, communications equipment, and other state of the art toys for big girls and boys who like to play rough (not including infrastructure like bases, roads, housing, or medicine and medical equipment). But the biggest prize of all is the intact air force. Yes, I said "air force".

They had acquired enough aircraft to make them the tenth largest air force on the planet; about 211 or so in all. It includes Blackhawks, general utility helicopters, approximately 33 militarized Cessna A-29 attack planes, possibly four C-130 heavy transports, and they got it all for free thanks to the Afghan military and you--the American taxpayer.  Oh, and they appear to now have several Soviet era Mi-17 attack and general utility helicopters. Now, only if they could find someone who could teach them how to fly these birds. Chow Mein anyone?

So, that's how wars seem to come to end these days. Not with unconditional surrender of a vanquished foe amid cheering crowds, streaming headlines, and sense of national unity and accomplishment. Instead, it's partisan finger pointing and talking heads talking over each other. I doubt today's America could unite enough defeat a Germany or Japan again. Perhaps Taiwan should heed China's warnings.

But you and I will remember our own, all 770,000 men and women who went there. We will  morn our dead, the 2,312 killed, along with the 20,666 men and women who were wounded and the thousands who will forever carry the memory of the war with them, and the thousands who will fight their own private war perhaps for a lifetime too, and those who will surrender to suicide. 

The thing about wars is that they're never clean and neat affairs. The ones who start them are never the ones who pay the cost; certainly not the ultimate cost. Our twenty year war cost you and I about $2.26 trillion dollars. That isn't a typo. The war itself cost around $887 billion dollars, while the rest has gone for medical care, disability payments, and associated costs. 

Meanwhile, companies like McDonald-Douglas made a profit of over $40 billion. Boeing made a tidy $20.8 billion dollars. General Dynamics, maker of various tactical, ordnances, and other cool hardware,  earned an even cooler $19.2 billion.

L3 Communications (the predecessor of Lockheed's Loral Corporation and Harris Corporation), which is involved with high tech communications, surveillance, as well as was command and control systems like those used by drones, and with customers like the CIA, Department of Homeland Security, NASA, and the intelligence community in general, spied themselves a declassified $9 billion. Lastly, everybody's favorite "spy-in-the-sky" and Edward Snowden's former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, snuck in with just over $4 billion. 

Those are just a few of the some 20 "big dollar" defense contractors and co-owners of Congress (blue and red alike). It also doesn't include all the banksters, financial underwriters, or suppliers of concrete, MREs, boots, and so forth which make war so profitable for everyone except those who have to go fight it. But, then again, I hear there's a new one starting up again in Syria or Lebanon, and there's always Iran. I'm sure there's a outbound seat available on the next flight.


 

The Afghan War, by the numbers


The Taliban has access to U.S. military aircraft. Now whathappens?


Russian Embassy: Afghan leader fled with cars full of cash

 

Brown University/Watson Institute: Costs of War


 

 

  

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