Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires
In 2004, two years before British troops were deployed to Helmand, I escorted two television journalists from Kabul to Lashkar Gah by road. Operating outside the security bubble of Kabul and military embeds was a real eye opener. It was obvious that the locals did not support the coalition. I encountered a group of young Taliban down by the Helmand River who told me that should western troops ever attempt to set up bases in their province, there would be blood; an ominous prediction which indeed proved true.
Over the years, unilateral media excursions in Afghanistan became increasingly risky due to the deteriorating security situation. The Taliban were regrouping effectively, targeting NATO troops and anyone believed to be associated with the coalition. The evidence was indisputable. NATO casualties were steadily increasing year after year as were deaths of NGO personnel, the lynchpin of NATO’s hearts and minds strategy. Conditions outside Kabul became so dangerous for aid organizations that many were forced to abandon their projects or contract them out to local third parties whose progress, not to mention use of foreign aid funds, was impossible to monitor. Sadly though, the British public was largely unaware of what was really happening in Afghanistan because our military and political leaders insisted the campaign was going swimmingly.
One of the greatest misperceptions about the Afghan conflict is that the Taliban is waging an insurgency against NATO. There is no insurgency in Afghanistan; it’s a civil war in which NATO has taken sides. The distinction is crucial for understanding the limits of what can be achieved. The coalition backs the tribes of the former Northern Alliance which has been engaged in a festering 30-year civil war with the Pashtoon tribes of the southern and eastern provinces. Against this context, it is easy to see why British, American and other NATO forces have and continue to encounter such fierce resistance in Helmand. As far as the local Pashtoon are concerned, NATO has sided with their mortal enemies. Continue reading