Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Can America win in Afghanistan?

May 25, 2010

An Afghan couple in a field near Kandahar city. ReuteREUTERS/Nikola Solic rs/

(An Afghan couple in a field near Kandahar city. Reuters/Nikola Solic)

Only 41 percent of likely U.S. voters believe that the country can win the war in Afghanistan, a new poll shows, down from 51 percent in December when President Barack Obama announced a new war strategy. The Rasmussen telephone poll conducted last week found that 36 percent of those surveyed didn’t think the United States could win in Afghanistan. Another 23 percent were unsure.

Doubts about the handling of the Afghan war have continuously been growing, except for that spike in hopes soon after Obama announced a surge as part of  his strategy to stabilise Afghanistan and bring the troops home. Indeed, 48 percent of those polled said ending the war now was a more important goal than winning it, reflecting falling confidence in the war effort.

The poll was conducted just as U.S. casualties from the nine-year war crossed the 1,000 mark, pushed by a suicide attack on a NATO convoy in Kabul. That attack, the deadliest against foreign troops since September, was  followed by assaults on heavily-fortified military bases in Bagram, north of Kabul, and in Kandahar.

In the American narrative of the war, comparisons with Vietnam keep coming back, despite strong assertions that the two wars aren’t the same.  Michael Cohen, writing in Democracy Arsenal, joins a growing  army of sceptics questioning the upcoming operation in Kandahar and whether the United States was underestimating the enemy in much the same way as it did the North Vietnamese back in 1965.

Cohen, picking up on a piece in The Washington Post, says the U.S. military plan for Kandahar seems to be predicated on the notion that the U.S. will bloody the Taliban, seize some level of control in the southern province and push the Taliban closer to negotiations.. But what if doesn’t happen?

“What if the Taliban undertake a guerrilla campaign against NATO forces and/or a wave of terror attacks those who collaborate with the U.S. government. What if they decide to bide their time and wait out U.S. military operations? What if local Afghans blame NATO and the U.S. for the violence that will be sure to accompany our military operations there? What if the strengthening of corrupt, government officials like Walid Karzai turns more of the population against the government? And above all, what if escalation in Kandahar makes the Taliban not more inclined to negotiate with the U.S., but less? What if military operations actually slow the move toward political reconciliation?”

It is instructive and somewhat eerie, that the United States made many of the same calculations when it launched air strikes against North Vietnam, Cohen writes. The argument that American leaders presented then was that the use of air power against North Vietnam would push Hanoi toward negotiations and that the enemy would bend toward U.S. will and compromise.  But U.S. policymakers greatly underestimated the tenacity of the enemy; they came to believe that the North Vietnamese would feel “a threshold of pain” before the U.S. did.

In the event the air strikes failed to affect the behaviour of the North Vietnamese or push them towards negotiations. Instead they opened the path for the entry of U.S. ground troops ….and then more troops . . . and more troops until the U.S. was sucked into a quagmire of its own making, Cohen writes.


Gandhiji taught many good things about non violence but no one is interested in him or his philosophy anymore but we can atleast pay heed to this quote from him – changed to suit our times. leave afghanistan to god and to anarchy. Afghanistan is already over and done with. whats the point in trying to flog a dead horse. US should pursue greener pastures. Maybe Pakistan, North Korea or go back to South America.

Posted by asif | Report as abusive

American are puzzle now that, what to do with this dead horse.They cant leave it nor they have more energy to beat this immortal thing to death. If they perceive Taliban as the stand still targets then they live in fool paradise. Taliban always have hit and run strategy. When they will feel pressure, they will go by patli gali to another location and can make their base. Using of force will not bring the guaranty of their draging to negotiating table with upper hand. On the other hand it may prove moral boost to them. It would be wise if USA start negotiation without start of further operations with whatever compromise suiting.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

Ancient India is replete with many examples of how the kshtriyas (the warrior Class) were always obedient to the instructions of a brahmana (the intelligent class).The famous e.g. being that of Chandragupta maurya and chanakya pandit. Only then the might of the kshtriyas could be channeled for the right cause (dharma yudh). But in our present case the power of the state has moved from the brahmana to the shudhra clss (the working class). The kshtriyas by and large the muslims are being used for the nefarious designs of the lowest of low class. The present lot of politicians are all corrupt. Earlier advisors like chanakya pandit would advice without any fear since he did not live off the grant of the king.

Posted by rajesh jogani | Report as abusive

@ seema

This is not Pakistan problem to fight inside Afghanistan. There are many other countries who take keen interest in Afghanistan. It would be better that the same country shuld replace US to battle Taliban. It would be a great fun and a great chance to them to influence Afghanistan.

Posted by Khan | Report as abusive

America has such faith in what some might consider childish and utopian ways of doing things it’s just amazing! There ways defy common sense but there obstinate faith has kept them afloat at least till now!! They don’t occupy territory, are relatively more conscious of human rights, have one point agenda to expand there business and earn profit. These ideas appear to have run there course, America have been trying and oflate only trying very hard to project themselves as a super power. It has been hardly 30 years for which they have enjoyed super power status, all we hear is Hillary talking and talking and no one listening kind of making her pitiable. The rules by which they played the game benefited the world at large but now other countries are beating them at there own game using there rules. Now coming to issues facing the world primary being religious extremism. The challenge is can America realize the real issue? Can it get the leaders of all religion and state to agree to ideas of non violence and human rights as over and above religion? These are complicated problems and have no military solution. As of today America is in delusion trying to find simple solutions to complicated problems e.g enhancing the military presence, pitting one country with other to maintain balance etc. But these short term solutions won’t help them or there business in long term all over the world resentment is growing because America has failed to identify the problem and work for its solution. Now if they don’t have a solution they better get out of they way without creating long term problems for short term gains (e.g Taliban ). I find communists (though very evil) have a clearer mind of identifying real issues and hitting the nail right on the head I am sure 50 years of Russian rule (not more ) in Afganistan would surely have straitened the country, for the better of the region. The short sightedness of America is baffling and how enhancing troops will fulfill there stated objectives when they entered Afghanistan is hard to understand all they appear to be doing is pleading for a graceful exit and are ready to squeeze out from narrowest of opening in the door ; will Taliban oblige? only time can tell!!

Posted by Gautam | Report as abusive

The Native-American wars lasted for over 60 years.
If you think US Policy is going to change anytime soon,
you are mistakened.
We will be here in Af/Pak for decades
so get use to it.

Posted by Steve Real | Report as abusive

Very interesting comments from several, let me add some more not covered and could give a different angle ;
. America has never won wars on their own, vietnam and korea are some examples.
. Russia has never invaded Afghanistan, the Soviet Union did and lost.
. Most of the NATO armies are from countries which suffered a defeat during the second world war, Germany is not the only one. The French and most of the European countries were overrun by the Hitler army and were practically decimated. The Brits lost two Afghan wars but the lessons of the History have never been learned.
. The USA is now on the hook, the so called talibans whom I consider the Pashtoon eagles or in western terminology the “special forces” are currently engaged with the tacit approval of the current Afghan Govt. of Mr Karzsi, to snipe on foreign armada,hit and run techniques, no different than those used against the Soviets and previously against the British army. The foreign armies can take as much time as they need, the Brits took ma century; this commodity is one thing the Afghans have, o’h apart from the Poppy scent. The foreign armies do not have that much time. Not to forget, it is the USA who claims not to occupy foreign countries, but have always set up military bases with nuclier bombs far away from their land. Should we ignore their presence in Japan and Germany far over sixty years now. My advise would be for the American administration to use their military might and close the hole in the sea which most probably the BP do not the expertise to do it. After all they are only good in digging deep holes not in closing them particularly deep in the water.

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

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