The War Nerd: Was There a Plan in Afghanistan?

Yves here. I’m struck by the relentless lead-story coverage of the Taliban takeover of the formerly US controlled parts of Afghanistan. It sure looks like an awful lot of rice bowls were smashed in the US and UK based on intense and protracted display rending of garments and gnashing of teeth.

The US has been pouring money and lives into the Afghan sinkhole for two decades. The country is a famous loser for empires. Nothing has changed about the terrain or the nature of asymmetrical warfare to change that equation. Like Vietnam, the saner members of the foreign policy officialdom have recognized the US could never win (we’d actually have to control and run the place). Yet prestige and other bizarre ideas kept the slow bleed going.

But this is not the US leaving Vietnam. Vietnam was broadcast into American households every night for years as part of evening news. It was the subject of protests that tore the country apart. Vietnam was also incorrectly depicted as a gateway to China controlling southeast Asia. By contrast, Afghanistan has been kept almost entirely off the airwaves. Few if any Americans see it as having the geopolitical significance attributed to Vietnam. And it’s hard to think ordinary Americans care about it all that much. Hence the peculiarity of the protracted pearl-clutching.

By Gary Brecher,  nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad. Hear him read his comic memoir Pleasant Hell in audiobook format.. Cross posted from TheExiled

This was first published as a Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter on May 21, 2021. But with the total collapse of the US-backed Kabul regime, it’s even more relevant now to ask: What was the strategy?

Was there ever a plan there?

So what was supposed to happen back in October 2001, when the US forces invaded? I’ve been going through the papers of record, the NYT and WaPo, to see what the official line was, year by year. The first years of an occupation are the most important, so I’ve focused on the first five full years of US occupation, 2002-2007. You can find a good timeline of these years here, but it’s much harder to find any trace of a plan.

The US invaded both Afghanistan (October 2001) and Iraq (March 2003), but not all invasions are equal. For the DC elite, Iraq was a war of choice, while Afghanistan was just a grim preliminary chore. They had to invade Afghanistan quickly after the WTC attacks, because it was all over the news that Al Qaeda had its HQ there and the voters were angry. Public support for invading Afghanistan was higher than for invading Iraq.

But those in the know, in the three-letter agencies and the DC elite, knew Afghanistan was hopeless. They knew this because the Taliban, officially the enemy in Afghanistan, was sponsored and protected by the Pakistani armed forces. And Pakistan was never going to hand over Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban, to the Americans. The Pakistani intel elite, one of the scariest, murkiest groups in the world, cherished its pet jihadis as its one reliable weapon against the hated Indians. It was never going to help destroy them, or even cooperate in any serious pruning operation.

A decade after the US invaded with the supposed help of Pakistan, Osama was found in a big compound inside Pakistan, a few hundred meters from a Pakistani military. At that point even us rubes knew that the Pakistani government had never intended to betray its Taliban allies. (Note: “Taliban” here means the “Afghan Taliban,” as opposed to the later “Pakistani Taliban,” which the Pakistani gov’t, or at least some elements of that gov’t, really does dislike. Like I said, it’s murky.)

Nobody at the CIA or the 16 other US intel agencies really thought the Pakistani gov’t would give up their friends. And nobody in DC really thought that Afghans, as they imagined Afghans, would welcome American troops. So from the start, this was the poor stepchild invasion, while Iraq was coddled.

They had high hopes for Iraq. Iraqis, in the neocon dream, were really proto-Americans, just waiting for a Shock and Awe Apocalypse to free their inner Republican. Afghans, OTOH, were scary and alien. Brave, yes; remember all those Reagan-era movies on the glorious Afghan resistance?

Maybe too brave, in fact. The DC elite had heard that cliché about “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires” and believed it. Who wants to invade a dirt-poor country full of brave warriors who don’t seem like good candidates for transformation into suburban Americans?

The DC blob had no real hopes or plans for Afghanistan — and the stories from NYT and WaPo reflect that. These stories use several different models, which I’ll try to characterize here. They overlap, over the years 2002-2007, but they’re not in any strict chronological order. It’s more that those whose unlucky job it was to explain the invasion used whichever model retained a figleaf of plausibility at the time.

     1. Revenge on a Budget

As Mark Ames said long ago, people in the US in the months after the WTC attacks acted as if the Martians had invaded. There was shock, rage, and an overpowering urge to whack somebody as soon and as hard as possible.

“Al Qaeda” and “Osama bin Laden” were the names given to this enemy, and “Afghanistan” was the place he’d hidden out to plan the attacks. So Afghanistan became a target. Not, at this stage, a project. It’s an important distinction. Iraq was always a project, but Afghanistan was just a target.

The New York Times’s series “A Nation Challenged” (2001/2) is typical of this first wave of Afghan stories. The challenged nation is America, and invading Afghanistan is just a part of America’s response to that challenge.

By making Afghanistan a “challenge,” the US played out its role as punitive invader.

Some people claim that was Osama’s plan all along: “Al Qaeda planned it that way! They knew the US would overreact and bankrupt itself in an endless ‘war on terror’!” Eeeh, I dunno. That’s how it played out, definitely, but TBH I don’t know if Al Qaeda’s leaders planned 9/11 that way or just wanted to hit the US as hard as possible. There was plenty of reason for Salafi Muslims to hate the US. Maybe they saw 9/11 as simple justice.

But if Osama hadn’t planned it, he was sure glad at the way it was turning out. In 2004 he gloated that he had managed to “bleed America into bankruptcy.” Someone in DoD circles should’ve taken that claim seriously. After all, Osama knew what he was talking about when it came to money. He came from big money and had done his bit in the Soviet Afghan War, which supposedly bankrupted the USSR.

The Afghan War was not, in fact, what doomed the USSR. But that cliché was almost universally believed, and with particular intensity in the DC Blob — so you might think US intel would at least have considered the possibility that this was Al Qaeda’s plan.

Here’s a typical story from the New York Times’ ‘Challenged’ series, October 8 2001:

“[Mr. Rumsfeld] said the goals of the military operation were to punish the Taliban for ‘harboring terrorists,’ to ‘acquire intelligence’ that will help future operations against Al Qaeda and to weaken the Taliban so severely that they will not be able to withstand an opposition assault.

“Another goal, Mr. Rumsfeld said, is to provide relief aid ‘to Afghans suffering truly oppressive living conditions under the Taliban regime.’”

Helping Afghans barely gets a mention, as “another goal.” That was a low priority at this stage.

You never get much sense of the Afghans themselves in these early stories. They’re a vague, hostile presence, an unknowable barbarian people. This was very different from the way Anglo media portrayed Iraqis, who were seen as lusting for democracy and commerce.

Like I said, Iraq was the real prize, Afghanistan was a chore that had to be done first. The reason was simple: Osama’s base (Qaeda) was in Afghanistan and every news consumer knew it. So the place had to be cleaned out, as quickly as possible, so the juggernaut could move on to Iraq.

This made for a quick, dirty, low-cost Rumsfeld plan for Afghanistan: lots of air strikes, low numbers of troops, mostly various “special forces” units, and little interest in the whole hearts-and-minds side of war. That was saved for Iraq. Afghans were supposed to get out of the way while the hunt for “terrorists” went on, mostly in the Pashtun southeast.

The initial campaign was very quick. One month after 9/11, the US and 40 reluctant allies started bombing.

It would be wrong to call this stage an occupation. Most of the countryside was untouched except by bombing raids. The rural patriarchy in the south, which was the Taliban, melted back into the villages after the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif. Some had been killed but even they had brothers and cousins who were happy to replace them when the time came. These guys were not typical Afghans, but then neither were the minorities and city folk who wanted change. And this first phase of the occupation did nothing to placate either part of the population.

The one cliché about Afghans we all knew was that “they hate foreigners.” Nobody asked Afghans about that generalization. And as it turned out, it was wrong.

Many Afghans were sick of the Taliban, who were mostly hick bigots, and were glad to see them overthrown. City people, educated women, and minority groups like the Hazara were especially happy to see the grimly enforced Pashtunwallah of the Taliban smashed, but even in some rural areas there was relief and hope that some money would flow in. As the NYTimes later wrote,

“The perception was that Afghans hated foreigners and that the Iraqis would welcome us,” said James Dobbins, the administration’s former special envoy for Afghanistan. “The reverse turned out to be the case.”’

Rumsfeld’s plan, heavy on air strikes and low on intelligence, wiped out that initial goodwill. “Air strike hits wedding party” became a standard headline, because from orbiting F-16s, a wedding can look a lot like an insurgent gathering. Or maybe any gathering was hostile by definition, in the years after 9/11/. The point was to hit somebody, never mind who.

A few reporters were recording the wedding attacks, but the light-and-quick strategy went on, and the “mistaken” air strikes with it.

     2. Get ’er Done

No one in DC was worried about these mistakes. The point was to get Afghanistan done so they could move on to Iraq.

A year after invading, the NYT reported the fact that US troops just might have to stay a little longer as a surprise:

“October 13 2002

“A YEAR after the United States attacked Afghanistan, more than 9,000 American forces remain inside the country, hunting down remnants of Al Qaeda, building roads and schools, and struggling to adjust from a combat role to what looks more like a nation-building mission.

“Plenty of problems persist. Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, may or may not still be alive, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former head of the Taliban, remains at large. Efforts to train a new multi-ethnic Afghan national army that would bolster the central government’s authority in lawless regions of the country have taken longer than expected. Regional warlords are feuding, posing new challenges to President Hamid Karzai’s government. Aid has been slow to reach many parts of the country.

“All this has led American commanders to acknowledge that United States troops will remain in Afghanistan at least another year and, more likely, much longer than that.”

The saddest thing about this paragraph is that it could be a 2020 story. “Much longer” turned out to be an understatement.

But back in 2002, the collateral killings were seen as blips, annoying but minor, in the Brain Trust’s big plan. By the spring of 2003, Rumsfeld announced that combat in Afghanistan was over:

“Mr. Rumsfeld said it had taken longer for a smaller force to root out elusive Qaeda terrorists than for the military to trounce the Iraqi armed forces, but he suggested that Afghanistan could be a laboratory for Iraqi reconstruction efforts. This is Mr. Rumsfeld’s third trip to Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, and he praised the progress he had witnessed.”

     3. Afghanistan is Like Kosovo, Sorta

Analogies, the dumber the better, were popular in these early days of the war. Michael Ignatieff, mercifully forgotten today, was a big name in those unlucky times. He had hope for Afghanistan under American occupation, based on its well-known similarities to…Bosnia. Yeah, that’s Afghanistan, the Bosnia of Central Asia. Here is Ignatieff writing in July, 2002:

“It will take years before the national government in Kabul accumulates enough revenue, international prestige and armed force to draw power away from the warlords. But Bosnia shows it can be done. Six years after the war, the Muslim, Croat and Serb armies are rusting away, the old warlords have gone into politics or business and a small national army of Bosnia is slowly coming into existence. The problem in Bosnia is corruption, and that is a better problem to have than war.”

This nonsense was taken seriously in part because Americans were hearing similar nonsense about Iraq. For example, Ken Adelman, who could give Doug Feith a running for “dumbest guy in the world,” actually wrote this in the pages of the Washington Post:

“I believe demolishing [Saddam] Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: (1) It was a cakewalk last time; (2) they’ve become much weaker; (3) we’ve become much stronger; and (4) now we’re playing for keeps.”

Hear the playground woofing, “now we’re playing for keeps”? That stuff was how America’s elite talked in the Millennial ear. You almost expect little Ken to add the slogan from Jaws 4: The Revenge — “This time it’s personal.”

As the US was gearing up for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the NYT/WaPo stories about Afghanistan fill with talk about “multiple” theaters of war and the hope that NATO proxies will soon take over in Afghanistan. Like this:

“In his article today, Ambassador Burns praised NATO for showing ‘it is serious about a transformation that has been in the works for almost two years.’

“General Jones noted that the alliance was moving from the ’20th century defensive bipolar world’ into a multipolar world requiring a flexible and rapid response to a myriad of threats. He called it ‘a signal moment in the history of the alliance.’”

     4. We Were Always Here for the Long Term

In March 2003 the US invaded Iraq. This invasion was far bigger, better-planned, and much dearer to the hearts of Cheney’s buddies than Afghanistan had ever been.

It was so much more important to the DC elite that long before US troops actually entered Iraq, the US was diverting people and money there from Afghanistan. This was despite the failure of all aspects of the initial US plan in Afghanistan

  • find and kill bin Laden, Zawahiri, and the rest of the Al Qaeda elite

  • put Taliban leader Mullah Omar on trial

  • crush the Taliban in the countryside

Osama wasn’t caught and killed until 2011. Mullah Omar has never been found. Zawahiri continued broadcasting his cave-side chats for years and may still be alive somewhere, watching his blood-sugar count and sending legalistic quibbles to jihadi whippersnappers.

“Ramadan travel rules during Jihad? You young punks don’t know a thing about…”

     5. Afghanistan is Like 1946 Germany, Sorta Kinda

What, then, was the US still doing in Afghanistan? No one seemed to know. And careers would be ruined if “we” left the place after failing to catch a single one of the WTC planners. So a new mission was devised. “We” were going to transform Afghanistan the way the US had transformed Europe after WW 2.

Yes indeed, there was a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan. George W. Bush announced it in 2002, and the NYT obliged by ribbing the boss a little about his sudden U-turn toward “nation-building,” then added this ponderous litotes:

“The parallel for Afghanistan that Mr. Bush drew with the Marshall Plan is both apt and inexact.”

Welp, they were half right. The NYT concluded,

“Mr. Bush said recently, ‘We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror.’ This is true, and suggests that the Bush administration is reshaping its view of nation-building. Afghanistan will be its first test.”

Those of you young enough not to have lived through eight years of GWB, take a good long look at Bush’s line: “We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror.” That kind of pious gibberish, with its wildly unmoored jump from “poverty” — a real fact about Afghanistan — to “hope,” an intentionally meaningless term, and “terror,” an even crazier noun which was supposed to explain all resistance to the Cheney Plan — that was the “civil” discourse squishy liberals revere GWB for.

Like a lot of GWB’s blather, it’s hard to come up with a translation. The closest you can get is roughly: “We’ll throw some money at Afghanistan too, but let’s get on with Iraq.”

So in this stage, the plan became “nation-building,” long after the moment when any such project could have worked.

     6. Ayn Randistan

This was the moment when America’s devout belief in the free market ran up against reality in Afghanistan. You can’t exaggerate the rigid faith in The Market which possessed the US elite around the Millennium. The Market would solve all problems; that was obvious to everyone.

Thomas Friedman, high priest of elite stupidity, had a famous epiphany: No two countries with McDonald’s franchises had ever gone to war. Or, he suggested, ever could go to war. Bomb Kabul with prefab golden arches and watch peace’n’prosperity break out.

The trouble was — well, first of all, “the free market” doesn’t exist and never has. Quoting from the WaPo’s Afghanistan Papers:

“In developing countries, ‘the idea that there are perfectly functioning markets without subsidies is pure fiction, fantasy,’ Rubin, a New York University professor and leading academic on Afghanistan, told government interviewers. ‘Every late-developing country happened by government picking winners.’

There were trained people ready to transform Afghanistan. But they were socialists — commies, in the US view.

“There was a solid pool of educated, enthusiastic, honest Afghans with bureaucratic experience. But they wanted to recreate the socialist society of Afghanistan’s ‘Golden Era’ of the mid-20th century. 

“…several U.S. officials told government interviewers it quickly became apparent that people who would make up the Afghan ruling class were too set in their ways to change.”

“’These people went to the communist school,” said Finn, the former ambassador. A common Afghan fear, he recalled, was ‘if you allow capitalism, these private companies would come in and make profit.‘”

As the US occupation of Iraq went from bad to worse around 2005, there was even less energy in DC to worry about the pattern of stagnation in Afghanistan.

By 2007, the NYT was already doing post-mortems with titles like Afghanistan: How A ‘Good’ War Went Bad,” detailing the complete failure of the ludicrous “Afghan Marshall Plan”:

“When it came to reconstruction, big goals were announced, big projects identified. Yet in the year Mr. Bush promised a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Afghanistan, the country received less assistance per capita than did post-conflict Bosnia and Kosovo, or even desperately poor Haiti, according to a RAND Corporation study. Washington has spent an average of $3.4 billion a year reconstructing Afghanistan, less than half of what it has spent in Iraq, according to the Congressional Research Service.”

All remaining investment in Afghanistan went to the war, not development.

“…[A] senior American commander said that even as the military force grew…he was surprised to discover that ‘I could count on the fingers of one or two hands the number of U.S. government agricultural experts’ in Afghanistan, where 80 percent of the economy is agricultural. A $300 million project authorized by Congress for small businesses was never financed.”


     7. Dark Matter in Crates off a C-130

Maybe that money is the real story here. Because there’s something missing. Why did this mess go on so long when it never had anything resembling a reasonable plan? It makes no sense.

It makes no sense as a military operation, as nation-building, or as Imperial expansion. There’s something skewing the numbers, like the Dark Matter that makes cosmologists drink, turn religious, or just sob in their offices at night.

In the Physics of the Afghan occupation, I suspect that that Dark Matter consists of big ol’ globs of cash. Maybe the waste of two trillion dollars was the point.

If you look at this breakdown, you see how little of it has anything to do, even in theory, with helping Afghans. Most of it is money for keeping untenable bases in Afghanistan and the rest is cost-of-doing-business, including a giant chunk for veterans’ benefits.

Here’s another breakdown showing the same massive tilt toward the Blob and its shareholders.

You can’t miss the tilt, with almost the whole 2.1 trillion dollars going to DoD contractors and a miserable $24 billion spent on economic development. That means that over two trillion went to dividend holders, private contractors, spies, and moonlighting cops.

The wonderful thing about this kind of spending, in the deeply corrupt lobbyist world of DC, is that it shunts tax dollars directly to the stockholders, connected military firms like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, et al., legislators, military brass milking the DoD/corporate link, and even lowly CIA contractors like Johnny Spann —without angering a single taxpayer or benefitting them in any way.

When I say that this sort of obscene spending does not upset taxpayers, I’m speaking from bitter experience. You cannot get normal Americans to be upset about the price of junk like the F-35. I’ve tried. You can’t do it.

The only item in this breakdown which would upset most people is the $24 billion that might have made its way to Afghans. If you mention any of those other expenses, you’ll get “Freedom isn’t free” in one of its many variations, which vary only in diction. Try it! Hours of non-fun!

Who wouldn’t feel the temptation to prolong a money-spinning machine like this? So why wouldn’t the occupation become its own justification, the company business of DC, always a company town?

And so, rather than upset their fellow shareholders, GWB, then Obama and Trump, just nodded and smiled at the conveyor-belt of $100 bills.

Once you consider this theory, some strange trends make sense.

The one that struck me is that in 2007, when Iraq was in crisis and Afghanistan was clearly lost, Cheney’s people made a big, expensive switch in the Personnel Department, drawing down the much cheaper and more effective US Army troops and flooding Afghanistan with much more expensive, less effective private contractors. You wouldn’t do that if you wanted to win in Afghanistan, but you would if you wanted to spend money within the Blob (specifically the Erik Prince wing) and insulate a doomed Afghan war from public criticism by keeping official US Armed Forces casualties low.

It’s an appalling vista, as Lord Denning might say. But it’s the only way to make any sense of this story.

8. “Yeah We Messed It Up But It’ll Get Worse When You Make Us Leave”

And so we come to the final stage, which in this case is not “Acceptance” but muttered sulking. It’s been a while since anyone claimed “we” could “win” in Afghanistan. The only argument for staying is that “things will get worse if we leave.”

“…If the US left, that war would be much worse, and you’d probably see the Afghan government collapse pretty quickly. Even though we do have war now, it’s not an all-out civil war with no state: We have a state, we have an Afghan security force.”

You can probably guess the most famous voice in this chorus — Hillary herself:

“Asked about the president’s decision by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, Mrs Clinton said, ‘Our government has to focus on two huge consequences,’ notably the resumption of activities by extremist groups and a subsequent outpouring of refugees from Afghanistan.”

That’s Fareed Zakaria interviewing Hillary Clinton…in 2021. It seems impossible, unreal, that these zombies are still walking around — and not just walking but talking. That’s the unreality of the US- Afghan War, 20 years of sinking slowly into the dirt like that Beckett play, while keeping up a constant, insanely sanguine and sanguinary chatter.

The two US invasions will be covered thoroughly in future histories of American decline, but Afghanistan will be remembered very differently from Iraq. Iraq was the great, shining disaster, the full-speed collision of world-building fantasy with actual world. Afghanistan was something else, smaller yet even darker.

It may well be that those who mattered in the US elite never even thought that the Afghan part of the grand plan would work. It was doomed many times over: by the well-known collusion of the (Afghan) Taliban and the Pakistani state; by the caricature of Afghans as noble savages, brave but hopelessly primitive; by the warped free-market doctrine that sidelined Afghanistan’s leftist elite; by competition from the preferred Iraq project; by the massive profits to be made stateside, no matter how badly things went on the ground.

Those profits are still available, which means this withdrawal won’t really happen, or will be yet another bit of show biz, with private contractors (who can be paid via unspecified agency money) staying on, doing various kinds of work, both wet and tech. Afghanistan may still be good for another trillion or so — off the books, of course.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Sound of the Suburbs

    No one has ever successfully defeated Afghanistan in a war in its home territory.
    The country is so spread out, it’s impossible to control.
    They can just fade into the background, regroup and then start fighting again at any time.

    The Americans have gone now.
    It was time to come out of hiding.

    It’s always been the same.
    They were just checking to see if things had changed in Afghanistan, but they hadn’t.

    1. vlade

      “No one has ever successfully defeated Afghanistan in a war in its home territory.”

      Patently untrue.
      You’d have to put in a qualifier, like “in the last 100 years” for it to be true.

      As I wrote below in a comment that’s now in moderation, British DID beat Afghanis in the 19th century (Second Anglo-Afghani war), and Afghanistan was a UK’s puppet for the next 40 years.

      There are many, many historical examples of Afghanistan being fully or partially overrun by a foreign country.

      1. Patrick

        The British won in the same sense that the Russians and Americans won. Victorious in pitched battles but never able to exercise significant control outside of Kabul.

      2. Procopius

        Afghanistan was a UK’s puppet for the next 40 years.

        Sounds a little like China. Han China has been successfully invaded by barbarians several times over the last two thousand years, and the result has always been the same. In a generation or two they are back to being Chinese.

    2. Eustachedesaintpierre

      It depends how far you go back as there is a long list of peoples who have conquered Afghanistan & the Pashtun language is of Iranian origin due to Persian influence. The Moghul Empire was the last major empire from Asia to conquer it & during that time Afghanistan was relatively wealthy. The Iranian Nader Shah occupied it briefly which basically fatally weakened the Moghul’s. leaving it open for the the East India Company using military tactics developed by Frederik the Great that gave them a military advantage. Trouble is that the Brits & likely all those who followed them did not ever really understand the people unlike their predecessors, such as Nader Shah who using just one example made sure to keep paying the tribes their toll to keep the passes open. Something the Brits neglected being the major reason that about 14,000 people lost their lives on the long Winter march out of the country, at the end of the fiasco known as the the first Anglo-Afghan War.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think there is always a question mark though over what it means to ‘conquer’ a country. Even the Romans didn’t bother too much with people within the empire who were not a threat (such as the various tribes of the Pyrenees) – it was cheaper to leave them alone and maybe just carry out the occasional show of force to make sure they didn’t get any ideas above their heads.

        It may have been (I don’t know enough of the history to say for sure), that past conquerers simply controlled the main valleys and cities of Afghanistan, and having informal deals with the mountain people along the lines of ‘don’t raid the valleys, and we won’t go up and thrash your crops every summer’.

        So the big error of the later British attempts, and the Soviets and the Americans, may have been to think that controlling Afghanistan meant ‘civilising’ or ‘controlling’ the peoples of the mountains. Its arguable that the Soviets and the US could have succeeded if they’d just been pragmatic about dealing with anyone who didn’t live in a city or town.

        1. ObjectiveFunction

          Yes, I think you have it pretty much.

          Of course, the barbarian tribes of Hispania Tarraconensis didn’t have IEDs and RPGs to cut the winding roads to the commercial centers at will, and Katyushas, VBIEDs and suicide vests to make life in those commercial centers constantly hazardous.

          …. Just gathering wool here, but if the Chinese want to come in, perhaps they simply leave the mainly Pashto Taliban up in their mountains (Pakistan’s dependency really, hey ISI, you wanted it! have fun!). Build a new capital (they’re good at ghost cities) up in the Oxus valley, say, Mazar I Sharif. Far more defensible than Kabul, the Uzbek and Tajik warlord militias can keep order, backed by their nearby cousins with flags. Make it worth their while.

          That new metro would become a haven for the Afghan secular (or non Wahhabi nutjob) population, a highway stop on the New Silk Road to Central Asia and Iran, and a seat for some kind of client government, while Kabul and Bagram crumble back into medievaldom.

          I believe the Oxus valley is where Alexander and the Seleucids founded their cities, not up in the mountains. It’s no paradise, but it’s probably still the most economically viable part of the country, even with the river and the Aral Sea drying up.

          Heck, they could even resettle their unwanted Uighurs to seed their new satrapy with cheap and expendable Chinese speaking labor. Win win.

          And over time, the Chinese could then reach out to the more businesslike Taliban to do some prospecting. Win win win.

          [/this is mostly tongue in cheek. Mostly]

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Good points, and of course there is a very long history of empires popping big trading cities at key points in the region for the purpose of trade, while leaving the surrounding peoples generally to their own devices.

            As for the Uighurs, the biggest military issue the Chinese have with Afghanistan is that at least one Uighur insurgent group has based itself in Afghanistan, with at least some degree of tolerance from the Taliban. I wonder what the Chinese would offer in order to have them expelled, and if the Taliban would be interested in such a deal.

            1. Procopius

              The Taliban today isn’t your father’s Taliban, who were really a Wahhabist cult of Pashtuns. There are other ethnic groups with them now, and people who want money more than moral purity. All the doomsaying is premature. Que sera, sera, the future’s not ours to see. Who knows, maybe they will even resume the ban on opium, despite the people and groups among them who are rich from it.

        2. Synoia

          Interesting that when discussing the Afghanistan/British actions in History class in the UK, the British Historians and text books did not seem to consider their actions in Afghanistan as any form of success, or period of colonization.

          1. Jeff V

            British colonial success stories require us to have marched out again with the band playing and flags waving, leaving behind us either a country that is now run by whites, for whites, or a country now so riven with enflamed tribal divisions, artificial borders and/or partition that we can tell ourselves how much better things were when we were in charge.

            Afghanistan seems so devoid of British influence that it was like we were never there – although my understanding is that the Afghans haven’t forgotten, and it still influences their current attitudes towards us.

    3. johnherbiehancock

      I read a comment yesterday from a historian on the two Anglo-Afghan wars of the mid 19th century.

      He noted how savage and brutal the Brits’ second “punitive” expedition was to the Afghan people, and observed that the “Graveyard of Empires” line was invented by the Brits to hide the brutality of their campaign of rape, plunder and more-or-less genocide behind the supposed bravery of the “savages” they attacked.

      The second Anglo Afghan war was over in the 1850s… the British empire lasted another hundred years after that.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I think War Nerd is correct that there never really was a plan (well, there were plans, hundreds of them, just no overarching plan or strategy). For Beltway interests it became the classic example of a self licking ice cream. The perfect war for them – not too many deaths of people they know or care about, but a constant ocean of money for consultants and suppliers and the usual characters who hang around on the fringes of any war.

    One of the problems for the world is that the US is simply too rich. Unlike so many empires in the past, it can afford to lose a few trillions (especially when MMT is reserved for those in the know) on bad wars without cutting its loses. Most successful empires in the past knew that there was a limit to the number of non-self financing expeditions that could be mounted before everything could fall apart. Those that forgot that lesson quickly disintegrated. But the US is wealthy enough that it can finance more Afghanistans and Iraqs almost indefinitely. So don’t rely on security elites learning the right lessons. Or perhaps to be precise, they have learned the lesson that nobody important to them will suffer if they get these things horribly wrong.

    One point worth focusing on though is the Taliban themselves. Their military strategy has been nothing short of genius. I can’t think of any example in the past where such a small, outnumbered and under resourced group has won such an crushing victory over such a wide geographical area with such speed and relatively little bloodshed. So much for them being a bunch of rural hicks. We can only hope for the sake of the people of Afghanistan that this military genius is matched by political nous and some generosity.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Re your last point, PK. I have already read some moaning that the Taliban could not possibly come up with this brilliant strategy. That it must have been the Pakistan military that designed their battle plan and told them how to execute it. Yeah, patent rubbish. The Taliban have been fighting the US for the past twenty years and knew exactly US doctrine and battle tactics. Those who never learned those lessons probably died.

      So I expect that the real success for the Taliban came in the form of tens of thousands of meetings with village elders using their own kin and tribal ties. They were even able to reach out to other ethnic peoples in Afghanistan and made their own peace with them. So when we saw the Taliban rolling up whole districts, it was probably more a case of light Taliban forces linking up to those local communities that had come to an understanding with them.

      One point that I may dispute if I can is how ‘the US is wealthy enough that it can finance more Afghanistans and Iraqs almost indefinitely.’ I think that technically this may be true but pragmatically there is a limit to the amount of real world resources that can be used. MMT says that you can buy 10,000 A-10s to swarm the skies of Afghanistan to beat down the Taliban but pragmatically there are only so many aircraft you can build, so many pilots you can train, so any uniforms that you can have made, etc. Real world constraints are still a thing and resources used up are those you can’t really get back again.

      1. paul

        That reminds me of colonel ghadaffii’s sensitivity to the ‘old men in tents’.

        It was not perfect, but it did lead to the wealthiest country in Africa.

      2. vlade

        I believe the US _could_ beat the Taliban. The question is price.

        In extremis, the US could turn the whole of Afghanistan into a nuclear wasteland. Which would technically “beat” Taliban.

        But I’d say pretty much everyone agrees it’s not a price worth paying.

        1. The Historian

          vlade: I too believe the US could have beaten the Taliban if they had the will to do so, but I am becoming less and less convinced that was ever the point. Comparing the costs of these never ending wars to wars that did end, like the first Gulf war, I am becoming more and more convinced that continuing wars is more important to the MIC than actually winning wars. I find an analogy with Big Pharma who is more interested in finding expensive treatments for diseases rather than cures.

          1. Tim

            Kind of like Democratic operatives not needing Democrats to win elections, just be competitive enough to continue sinking the money into the next election.

        2. Susan the other

          I keep thinking I just imagined this: (does anyone remember?) the big meeting between NATO and Hamid Karzai’s government in Afghanistan? Afghanistan was made a “member of NATO” with some surprising indulgences like access to atomic bombs. Nobody in the West wanted to be the one to drop the bomb on the Heartland – let Hamid do it? I swear I remember this. Big news blurb, followed by nothing but crickets. And no bombing followed – at least to my memory. So if this did happen, why? And why was it then such a non-event? And if the Taliban have been the enemy, a dispersed enemy all over the countryside, why on earth did we ever consider the bomb? None of it makes sense. And “nation building”? What do you call a joke when it’s no longer funny? We might have been there to slow China down. But I will always believe this entire history of the Afghan War is pure nonsense. That we were only there for the opium.

        3. Procopius

          I think it depends on what you call “beating the Taliban.” One basic reason for our failure was the lack of a strategic goal. One of the skills an aspiring teacher has to learn is, at the beginning of the year, to state clearly what learning outcomes she wants her pupils to achieve. The outcomes have to be concrete enough to be measured. “At the end of the semester the student will be able to accurately add ten three digit numbers 97% of the time.” It’s hard. The Army seems to have stopped doing it after Korea, because their definition of “victory” is basically, “to annihilate the enemy and listen to the weeping and lamentations of their women.” Unfortunately that’s the definition they developed during the Indian Wars, when massacre was their tactical doctrine. That’s not War as Clausewitz understood it. The War Nerd has correctly noted that our adventure in Afghanistan started out as flailing in blind rage but at least had stated goals. After the first year, not so much. I still wonder how they decided who to kill, who to kidnap, and who to give money to. I don’t think any of the tell-all books in the next ten years are going to talk about that.

    2. Louis Fyne

      The Taliban also had no other choice: survive-adapt or die (as the US did not offer them a political out, and the biggest stakes for US generals was whether or not they would get their next promotions).

      As Andrei Martyanov (the Russian war nerd) points out in his books, tthe US has not had to fight a war for existential survival on its home turf for 150 years.

    3. Eustachedesaintpierre

      Yes PK – the mountain tribes were usually bought off even by the Moghuls who succeeded in bringing civilisation to much of the country – always have an exit strategy like Nader Shah.

      Most of history took part in the East which we tend to forget, while we tend to focus on the Western Roman empire, largely ignoring Byzantium which has an incredible story, as does the Han dynasty in China which was contemporary with Rome, but larger in geographical & population size. Their sort of a version of a PMC was made up of eunuchs who eventually helped to bring that house down.

      One of my favourite stories about Byzantium is that they were saved from the Huns by the chariot race version of soccer hooligans & btw most of that imported ancient knowledge that resulted in the Renaissance came from Byzantium.

    4. Skip Intro

      I think the real plans were never trumpeted in the official media organs, except very obliquely, when they mentioned some poster in Rumsfeld’s office or neocon catchphrase ‘real men go to Teheran’. Afghanistan was an important part of encircling Iran. Now that the Taliban is on board with the gas pipeline, they only have to be turned against Iran. I imagine Carter and Reagan would be proud of their little ragtag band of Taliban, defeating the Soviets and arguably helping the Soviet Union collapse, then the student bests the master, and they rout the US.

      1. James

        Yes! Yes!

        I agree that it is all about Iran. Just look at a map. I can’t find a timeline for how long it took the US army to deploy to KSA and Kuwait in preparation for their invasion of Iraq – but as I remember it, it took them about six months.

        Where is the US military going to gather its forces for an invasion of Iran? Iraq, where 2/3 of the population are Shiites and they are not exactly pro-USA? Kuwait – whose water desalination plants and and other soft targets will be vulnerable to Iranian ballistic missiles?

        Afghanistan is the perfect place to invade Iran from, and the “real men” desperately want to go to Tehran.

  3. paul

    If anyone reading does not have a low level subscription to warned (i did not see the pun till I just typed),like myself, please do.

      1. Procopius

        Would be helpful if you gave a URL. Duckduckgo gives a podcast as one response and I do not do podcasts — most of them seem to require that I find some obscure program to listen to them, and I find, like YouTube howtos, far too many have accents I cannot understand. I love this article because it supports all my priors, and I would probably like to read his blog every day, if he has a blog, but podcasts are just boring.

  4. vlade

    I’d have a slight objection to “famous loser for empires”. It’s actually only a fairly recent development, as IIRC at least until the early 18th century Afghanistan was pretty much always a part of some other empire (going back to at least Persia before Alexander the Great).

    That said, when most of those empires decided to pacify, you stayed pacified (with your family and clan, leading to all sorts of historical pretties all the way down to today), which is a technique being frowned upon most recently.

    I’d also point out that in the “empires boggle down” type of thing, it’s usually the First Anglo-Afghan war (early 19th century) that gets dragged out, with the uprisings and the destroyed invasion army.

    But the Second AA war is mentioned way less, even though the British won it, resulting in Afghanistan being a UK’s puppet till end of WW1 effectively (and a short Third AA war).

    So it’s really the Soviet and the US involvement recently, but TBH, those are the most relevant. So a more correct way IMO would be saying that a country that _really_ does not want to be occupied, there are few measures that could work, and likely none acceptable to most domestic public (and yes, I know that the US/allied forces committed atrocities. But they were not even remotely comparable with the way Germany conducted occupation in WW2), and I doubt even that would have worked.

    1. paul

      (and yes, I know that the US/allied forces committed atrocities. But they were not even remotely comparable with the way Germany conducted occupation in WW2)

      How do you divide an atrocity,let alone compare them?

      1. vlade

        by counting the dead/affected?

        Or are you saying that the US excesses are really as bad as the Nazi ones?

        1. paul


          Korean War

          Vietnam War

          Covert war against Laos

          Covert war against Timor L’este

          Covert war against Sudan

          Others might add.

          It might take longer, but the dead bodies do tend to add up

          ‘Excesses’ is is a rather terrible euphemism

          1. vlade

            You’ll find few Europeans east of Berlin who would ever agree with you, as most of them had families who were, one way or another, affected.

            Just between Russians and Poles there’s good 10-15m civilian casualties. That’s more dead than Korea (5mil) and Vietnam (2mil) combined, including military ones, on both sides. And it includes only “direct” casualties, i.e.not people dying of diseases, malnutrition etc. Which would likely add a few more millions.

            I used “excesses” purely to avoid moderation catch I’d have triggered with a g-word or similar.

            I’m not apologizing for the US military. In Vietnam, they got pretty damn close to what German military units did (and not just on Eastern front).

            But the US policy, nowhere, created mass cremation factories purposefully “processing” millions of civilians just because they were of the wrong “race” (and it wasn’t just Jews).

            If you really don’t see the difference, then I’m really sorry for you.

            1. Randy G

              Nixon infamously mused about using nuclear weapons in Vietnam…or even as a first strike against the Soviet Union if they didn’t force the North Vietnamese to relent. Supposedly he was just kidding (bluffing) and it was all just a strategy, worked out with Kissinger, and codenamed ‘Giant Lance’ to get his way. Maybe.

              It indicates, however, a level of derangement in U.S. “elites” going back decades.
              U.S. military planners—most grotesquely in the person of Curtis LeMay— and policy ‘elites’ advocated nuclear first strikes against the Soviet Union on numerous occasions in the 1950s.

              Certainly I am not inclined to defend the U.S. military Empire and its atrocities; however, equating it with the extermination programs of the Nazi regime is hard to justify.

              Mass extermination of the population was one of the founding principles of Operation Barbarossa. It wasn’t just the Einsatzgruppen committing mass killings, it permeated the entire Nazi war plans in the East.

              If the Soviets had lost the war… not only would all Jews and Gypsies have been murdered in Eastern Europe and Russia, but the Nazi plan was to exterminate tens of millions of Slavs, mainly through mass starvation. The ‘Siege of Leningrad’, imposing starvation and death, without the option of surrender, was the entire template of the Nazi campaign in Soviet Russia.

              This is covered in many books but William Shirer’s classic ‘The Rise and Fall of
              Nazi Germany’ is one of the earliest and most lucid.

              The Nazification of the entire Wehrmacht — not just the SS — so that soldiers saw population extermination of the untermenschen on the Eastern Front as integral to the war effort is cogently dissected in Omer Bartov’s ‘Hitler’s Army’.

              This is not to whitewash U.S. atrocities in Vietnam or Afghanistan, which are war crimes of the first order; however, it is historical obfuscation to assert that everyone is exactly like the Nazis. It basically whitewashes the Nazis — and, ironically, that’s something U.S. policy elites have been very comfortable in promoting. (see Ukraine for a recent example)

              The worst of this is in trying to make the Soviet Union ‘equivalent’ to Nazi Germany. One doesn’t have to be a Stalinist to acknowledge that the nation that defeated Nazi Germany and ended the Holocaust, at the cost of tens of millions of lives, is not the “equivalent” of the nation that initiated the Second World War and the Holocaust — while planning to exterminate tens of millions of Slavs in their victory party.

    2. Eustachedesaintpierre

      It would need an Einstein equivalent smart Bomb for that job to keep the effects within borders & if I was to bet on anybody surviving it would be those Pashtun mountain men whose descendants managed to survive countless invasions from the likes of Genghis Khan, the Huns & various other horrors that arrived from the Steppe, not to mention Alexander’s Macedonians & the Persians – Empires came & went but they are still there. Take away the modernity & they are not very different than thousands of generations that somehow survived living in what was always between a rock & a very hard place strategically. I don’t think that the meek will inherit the Earth when the mod cons no longer work, but rather it will be warriors like them.

    3. Darthbobber

      Well, the British confined their objectives in the second war to a buffer zone and control over Afghan foreign policy. (which the Afghans didn’t care that greatly about in any case). They abandoned the earlier insistence on maintaining a significant presence in Kabul and made no effort at an occupation or exercising any influence over domestic affairs.

  5. zagonostra

    It seems impossible, unreal, that these zombies are still walking around — and not just walking but talking. That’s the unreality of the US- Afghan War, 20 years of sinking slowly into the dirt like that Beckett play, while keeping up a constant, insanely sanguine and sanguinary chatter.

    Yes indeed, it does seem impossible, but these zombies have many different lives and morph throughout the decades. Real shape shifters. The blood they need is yours. They have been walking among us in different guise for quite some time, going back to JFK/MLK/RFK/Malcom/Hampton/etc… How does one kill a zombie? And those who work for them, like Slavitt?

    1. Kouros

      How does one kill a zombie?

      A bullet in the head… Chinese style… They pay for the bullet and it is done on a stadium, with thousands in attendance…

  6. VietnamVet

    NBC News brought out David Petraeus the failed US General and CIA director to explain the inexplicable debacle. He exemplifies the revolving door professionals who cannot understand the enemy because their salaries depend on them being corrupt and incompetent.

    Mountain peoples have nowhere else to go. Afghan culture and religion at the crossroads of Eurasia defeated the Greeks, Persians, Mongols, British and Soviets. The American invasion never had a chance of killing off the warriors and putting any survivors in reservations and growing poppies with jobless contractors/settlers. The US didn’t even try. They were so sure that education, consumer goods, and women working jobs would win over Afghan hearts and minds.

    From the beginning to the end, today, western managers can’t conceive that they are the bad guys who will never enslave the people who follow the one true God, Allah.

    “The Looming Tower” streaming on Hulu is the only depiction I know of that tells the story from both sides of the 9/11 catastrophe.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Promises of consumer goods, education, and women working…the bottom line is the US unlike successful empires didn’t do this. There was some for a few. Empires expand successfulky because they either slaughter everyone or offer a better deal for a critical mass over the previous regime. Groups we were paying off to be nice to NATO were running their own reign of terror while guys like Karzai siphoned everything off. We paid people to burn larger and larger poppy crops ignoring how agriculture works in most of the world with complex systems. We just left it hands of people who went to West Point.

      The remains of the Roman Empire are all over the Mediterranean. The US leaves behind rusted out all terrain vehicles.

      Start adding in the reign of double tap terror, and it’s easy to see why a more moderate Taliban might take off.

  7. paul

    “The Looming Tower” streaming on Hulu is the only depiction I know of that tells the story from both sides of the 9/11 catastrophe.

    There is only 2 sides?

    The enormity of 9/11 was a policy decision.

    1. rob

      When? in the nineties?…. when clinton was pres?.
      the policy had its beginnings after the bombings in the trade towers in 93, and oklahoma city in 95′ and after the bombing in africa in 98’….. they seem like they were all fbi related…. /involvement
      like when joe biden was forming the drafts which made their way to become the patriot act; as he claimed.

  8. fresno dan

    We go to Vietnam, and the people won’t support the government the US imposes. We go to Afghanistan, and the people won’t support the government the US imposes.
    I’m seeing a pattern here.
    Dare I say it??? The American people don’t like the government the US imposes on the American people…

    1. Poul

      The key is the local elites. You need an elite that has widespread support and can mobilize men willing to fight and die to keep them in power. You never had that in Afghanistan except of course, the Taliban, but they were the enemy. That elite must also share the vision of Afghanistan’s future. AND finally they must be in charge not the foreigners. Read retired prof. Martin van Creveld’s books. He is the world’s foremost expert on 4G warfare (insurgencies). After six month he declared the war lost … yes back in 2002.

      Vietnam started out with a catholic government which persecuted the Buddhist majority population and was followed by different juntas.

      It’s good old fashion knowledge from the days when Europeans had global empires. They always ruled though local support. Hence when that disappear after WW2 so did the empires.

    2. paul

      You cannot make a judgement on just 8 or 9 cases, there are 193 countries in the world.

      The US should just try harder and faster.

      Who cares about breaking things these days?

      1. KiWeTO

        Move faster, and break more things?

        Doesn’t that then help towards achieving the singularity faster too?

  9. William Hunter Duncan

    I am remembering something that slid down the American memory hole, the stories in financial media from time to time about the trillion+ $’s of rare earth metals waiting to be exploited by American corporations. But I suppose dropping bombs and otherwise getting paid for doing next to nothing is easier than mining in a land where people are shooting at you from any nook and cranny. I suppose now the Chinese and Russians will do that work, extracting the base materials of the Renewable Age, and somewhat modernize Afghanistan in the process. After China seizes Taiwan and we can’t build a car or anything else anymore that requires microchips, maybe then we become a “regional power” like DC elitist Obama is fond of making fun of Russia about, and our impoverished hinterlands will become ungovernable but by warlord?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The notion of Afghanistan having a treasury of minerals is a myth. There is certainly plenty of resources in those mountains, but it simply isn’t commercially viable for the most part because its too expensive to access.

      And contrary to myth, the Chinese are not waiting in the wings to exploit it. They have already tried (the US never had any objection to Chinese investments in Afghanistan). The Chinese actually liked the US presence for investment as it was free US subsidised protection for them. But the big two mineral investments by the Chinese in recent years were flops. There is no reason to think that they are any more likely to succeed with the Taliban in charge than the US puppets.

      1. William Hunter Duncan

        I suppose then, those stories in the MSM were just cover for the real money being made by military contractors. Which I’ve been waiting for some accountability in the MSM about all that money and where it went. I am not optimistic about accountability.

        I imagine though, if Taliban moderates take the lead and foster relative peace, then extracting whatever resources there are will be a lot easier.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think its certainly true that it benefited a lot of people to think that there was a fortune in minerals to be found out in Afghanistan. Sometimes conspiracy theories and rumours play a very important role in obscuring the true motives of what is going on – especially if the motive is ‘we haven’t a clue why we are here, but while there are contracts to be won, lets keep the circus going‘. The real fortune to be found in Afghanistan was located in Washington.

          I’m sure you are right that there are people out there looking at possible mineral reserves, but the Chinese have already had their fingers burned :

          However, the story of the Mes Aynak copper mine located 25 miles southeast of Kabul, Afghanistan, suggests that we should revise this narrative. Mes Aynak is a site in a mountainous, barren region, home to an ancient Buddhist monastery complex that sits atop an even older Bronze Age copper smelter. In November 2007, a 30 year lease worth $3B was granted to the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper, Ltd, (JCL) to develop the site, extract and smelt copper, and transport it by rail to the capital city Kabul and then out of the country. The Mes Aynak ore deposit is estimated to hold reserves worth $88B: the mining lease is China’s largest investment in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s largest foreign investment in the country’s history. The Mes Aynak ore is supposed to be high grade, at 2.3% copper, at a time when the average purity of copper ore being mined is less than 1%. According to a document produced in 2011 by the National and Regional Resources Corridors Program, the Afghan government hoped to generate $1B in revenue from its mining sector by 2017, with the Mes Aynak development helping lead the way with $350M in revenue.

          A little more than ten years later, exactly zero copper has been mined by China at Mes Aynak, and the 2017 revenues reported by the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum amounted to only $86M, 8.6% of its target. In the meantime, the two Chinese companies have formed a partnership called MJAM (MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals), and the story of MJAM’s struggles at Mes Aynak has given us a valuable lesson in the limits of Chinese economic ambitions and the logistical difficulties of developing mineral resources in remote, unstable regions lacking basic infrastructure.

          I doubt too many people will be willing to invest in Afghanistan minerals for a very long time – even if the Taliban are keen (which is by no means certain, they want foreigners out, not in, the country), the difficulties involved are enormous. There are easier ways to make money than putting it into speculative mines in Afghanistan.

  10. Liu Zeyuan

    Great article, but I wonder what’s going to be done about all those lithium deposits spread across Afghanistan? Not like the Americans to leave a resource rich country un-couped, even after 20 years of trying to do so unsuccessfully. Perhaps this is what is behind the crocodile tears in the warmongering liberal press?

    1. Louis Fyne

      yes, while the commercial viability of those minerals are still TBD, imo, the main cause of the pearl-clutching talking points is that “Think Tank DC” and the intelligence community see “The Great Game 2.0” being played out and are concerned that the US is getting kicked out of Central Asia/China-Iran’s backyard.

  11. rob

    the plan in afghanistan was to move on to iraq….so it would seem.from there to damascus? was that their failed plan?
    the road to damascus leads through bagdhad.
    after twenty years, it is thus proven, WHATEVER their “plan” was ; it failed.
    the last twenty years of establishment rule and cover up/pretense… all has led to naught.
    After all….
    the real thing to remember is how this started, and what the real story was.
    On 9/11/01…. three buildings in new york were demolished with explosives.
    two of those buildings had planes crash into them.

    everyone ought to look at the many years of work, by “architects and engineers” for 9/11 truth…
    this group is only proving that a scientific investigation needs to be completed in public about how the three towers came down that day,
    the first film, @ 2012… shown on PBS… “explosive evidence”about the three towers…
    then recently they came out with “seven” , about tower seven which came down on that day… after a four year investigation at the university of alaska, using their testing facilities , proving the official story could not have happened, and the only scenerio that works for the way the tower 7 actually came down was a scenerio where 2 seperate timed demolitions of the major structural components in sequence could have produced the visible and recorded collapse of tower 7… a building not hit by a plane… guess is that that is where flight 93 was supposed to strike before the plane was shot down by the real conspirators, after the passengers took control from the hijackers… but that is just my pet theory…
    as opposed to all the cover-ups of the fbi clearing the path for the hijackers in the two years before 9/11/01
    after all ,
    we are about to be bombarded with 20 year 9/11 propaganda…
    don’t forget there is also still legal battles going on about the anthrax letters…
    where the congress and press were sent antrax from american gov’t stocks… and after multiple patsies got free, a dead man was blamed.. but the evidence shows otherwise and is still an active case…to ..
    get the patriot act deal done…. and it was..

    so the plan in afghanistan, was a coup plot…. starting with 9/11…. and the object must have been to destroy our constitution in full, and usurp power over the world in the “war on terror”…by putting the final nails in the coffin of our republic(which has been done), and crossing the rubicon(another must read on the subject ,by mike ruppert), to this here empire of shit…
    The twenty years of dysfunction, the “we are all third worlders now”, levels of ( in-)competence in well…. everything… here we go.. we are nowhere

    1. juliania

      I have a suggestion for the Dems who want to stay in office (if any).

      Repeal the Patriot Act. Now.

    2. Mikel

      “…so the plan in afghanistan, was a coup plot…. starting with 9/11…. and the object must have been to destroy our constitution in full, and usurp power over the world in the “war on terror”…by putting the final nails in the coffin of our republic(which has been done), and crossing the rubicon(another must read on the subject ,by mike ruppert), to this here empire of shit…
      The twenty years of dysfunction, the “we are all third worlders now”, levels of ( in-)competence in well…. everything… here we go.. we are nowhere…”

      If I go along with your theory, they found what they think is a better plan for “the global coup”. That is the reason for leaving NOW.

      1. rob

        I don’t think there is any need for a “new plan for a coup”…. the old one worked. now the occupation of afghanistan , which never had a use but window dressing, is just “out of date”. it was just a perishable exercise… time has moved on….. my guess.

        This is from an american perspective, the afghan occupation had no real use, in the first place. considering they originally let osama bin laden escape at tora bora in 2002… there wasn’t really any plan other than to generate casualties and profits….After all, we can’t “get the confederates out of american life in 150 years, why would anyone think they would de-taliban-ize the afghans.

        My view of it also is that there is no “new boss” here. This is the same boss we have had since the first world war. these people who have been in control the entire 20th century, and the 21st so far as well; are just the “people with the levers of power”, but what they create and leave behind is “the machine”.
        the machine is what stomps on peoples heads. the machine is what does what is necessary. it is what disappears people. it covers up. it carries on. just like frankensteins monster.
        the now, is up to the political class, who these days are the children and grandchildren and great grand children… and those who cling on.

        and since the patriot act, and its passing , obama passed the ndaa… and
        now, there are “rules” somewhere, I am not allowed to see, which are supposed to be OK… but we don’t know what is going on. we are not allowed to ask. they (gov’t contractors/employee’s) are not required to tell. we have no discourse to violations of rights, if someone wants to call it national security…… just like every other banana republic.. when people can lie under oath, or budgets and audits allow “off the books” expenses and people can do and spend and lie and commit crime without any borders or bounds, and this is somehow fit into the “working model”….
        All the while all the seats of our representative gov’t are occupied mostly by people who are there for their own personal aggrandizement and enrichment… so…
        there is no real need to “steal” more……
        the bank is owned and run by the crooks… and they get to make the money…
        the rest is just gravy…. every day….
        and when these people pass…. the machine will still be here. and those people will be able to say it isn’t their fault either…. so… business as usual.

        and now we are getting closer to total information awareness, and the people will be prisoners… in a digital kind of way.. all just useful chum for the machine.

  12. David

    As you’d expect from the War Nerd, this is one of the better recent articles on Afghanistan.
    But in a way the truth is simpler. There never was a “plan” in the sense of the setting of an objective, some way of measuring success, and a set of processes to make it happen. Rather, there was a knee-jerk response to the September 11 attacks, a desire to punish and kill and, when the red mist had faded a bit, a need to come up with a justification for a continued presence in the country when neither of the objectives (Bin Laden or Omar) had been found, and there seemed little chance of either happening. So the justifications changed, and a new generation of political and military leaders started to take what were originally just justifications as plans, and tried to make them work.

    The other thing is that the article as usual, assumes the US was the only actor. But this was never true. Even before the end of 2001, the UN, EU and various international donors were busily involved, and the US was simply one of the participants in the Bonn Conference at the end of that year which mapped out an ambitious reconstruction programme for the country. People like the Germans and the Japanese were deeply involved and put lots of resources into it. That’s one of the reasons why the western presence lasted so long.

  13. Eclair

    In a recent ‘Mark and Carrie Show’ episode, Mark Blyth remarked that if there was a super alien race somewhere out there in the Galaxy, they were shaking their heads, and tutting that they had given us (The Humans) a really really nice Planet and we have f**ked it up.

    It’s been a bad week (and it’s only Tuesday!) and my innate cynicism is poking through. Humans are not much better than flagellates, swanning about, searching for the next meal, reproducing like crazy, fouling the environment with their excreta. Eventually, they use up all the food and literally drown in their own sh*t.

    Humans, with our big brains and our ability to create and use tools, have abused this gift and used those ever more powerful tools (think bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, including big SUV’s and Ford F-350’s) to accelerate the process of our own demise. The Swiftian stupidity of our species boggles the mind.

    Maybe there is still time for reformation. Calling out the criminal, world-destroying behavior of political and corporate leaders is a start. Blessings on the War Nerd ad his ilk.

    1. Synoia

      As for as the Human span on this planet, it appear to send the message that Intelligence as we humans practice it is appearing not to be an evolutionary advantage.

      I’d observe that the now defunct SETI program appears not to have found intelligence in the universe.

      It appears the Dinosaurs in various forms, had a long span as dominant species on this planet, and would probably still be the dominant species if it were not for the large meteor which appears to have induced a rapid climate change.

      1. eg

        I read a book years ago about how intelligence is overrated — I wish I could remember the title … :-(

  14. Starry Gordon

    It was my doubtlessly idiotic idea that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not fought for imperial ends, but because of domestic politics in the US. After 9/11, the ruling class and the government of the US had to Do Something. Invading Afghanistan was Something, so it had to be Done, even though it didn’t make any sense. It turned out to be too easy in terms of gallons of newsprint (which they had in those days) so Iraq also had to be Done. But then they turned out not to be Done, and our inept rulers could not declare victory and walk away. Although perhaps Afghanistan and Iraq are now Done, the torrent of lies, obfuscations, misdirections, framing, and filtering will doubtless continue to the bitter end, which actually may not be all that far off.

  15. Whatdoiknow

    We only spent 87 billions to train their army.
    I am sure things will be better if we spent 500billions instead.

  16. Andrew Watts

    The lack of clarity in the media isn’t evidence there wasn’t any planning or geopolitical goal in mind. It’s merely an example of America’s imperial stagnation and decline. The Bush administration regularly proved incapable of producing any desired outcome in the course of either war. It’s the same story with the Obama administration with regards to Libya and Syria. The strategic goal of the last decade of America’s forever wars was to avoid the collapse of the Afghan government in Kabul and a humiliating retreat.

    A hundred more years in Afghanistan wouldn’t have changed that outcome.

  17. DrSloperWazRobbed

    “When I say that this sort of obscene spending does not upset taxpayers, I’m speaking from bitter experience. You cannot get normal Americans to be upset about the price of junk like the F-35. I’ve tried. You can’t do it”.

    Oh man I laughed out loud at this. I’ve never heard this fact described so sublimely. That is a keeper.

  18. Darthbobber

    War Nerd glasses over the feckless nonsense of the Petraus Afghan surge, so I’ll recall a few highlights.

    Karzai, for all his faults (his or the system’s that he was the public face of?) Was adamant from the beginning that there could not be a purely military solution, separate from finding a way to incorporate the Taliban into the polity and governing structure.

    Whenever given any latitude, he tried to open power-sharing negotiations with the Taliban’s reps.

    From mid-2009-2010 he attempted the most serious and last of those efforts. I assume he had heard things from the shiny new Obama admin that we might not veto that this time..

    Then Petraus floated his surge, made sure the idea hit the press, successfully pushed the callow Obama to go along, and we were again committed to military “victory.”

    In the midst of this, to Karzai’s outrage, the CIA and ICS took Baradar (intended as negotiating partner) off the board, and all interest in meaningful negotiation ceased on our part and became impossible on Karzai’s part.

    Once Ghani was installed in Kabul, he and his faction had no interest in anything except maintaining themselves in power.

    Even after the United States, under Trump, was again interested in negotiation, Ghani and co were demonstrably not. (were there factions in our government telling him they could undo the withdrawal if he stood fast? Or was he this feckless on his own? We’ll probably never know.)

    1. Harrold

      The picture of Pompano with Baradar ranks right up there with the picture of Rumsfeld with Saddam.

    2. bold'un

      My theory is that the plan was to allow the government in Kabul enough time to durably increase the standard of living and hope that the Taliban commanders would grow old and irrelevant in their hiding places.

      As to the sudden debacle, that could be Ghani’s ‘Samson moment’: he concluded that the USA had thrown him under the bus and was not prepared to act out the role of valiant-but-doomed defender for 18 months. That explains why he is reported not to have paid his troops recently. His revenge is that (like President Ford before him) Biden now looks like a loser for 2024 – and maybe the same goes for Trump as well.

      Revenge is sweet ! Could Ghani have opened up the field for next president?

  19. KFritz

    The attack on Afghanistan permanently deprived Al Qaeda of a nation-state in which it could freely and openly operate–and plan extravaganzas like 9-11. It’s difficult to conceive and finish major operations while on the run or being forced to live in hiding.

    Henry Kissinger approved of the action for this reason (or said he did) at the time.

    If the Taliban allow Afghanistan to become a place where fanatics who hanker after a new Caliphate plan and perpetrate major attacks, I believe there’s a good chance they’ll be attacked again.

    1. rob

      sorry, but that is non-sense.

      A) they didn’t permanently do anything…. today… afghanistan is theirs again.
      B) 9/11 wasn’t planned from afghanistan, even the hijackers and their handlers , were planning and training all over the globe, the US, germany, notably…
      C) the problem is those people training in the hills of afghanistan were training with nothing but mud stone buildings, burnt out fuselages, and fantasies… those things don’t train good fighters… but after twenty years of close contact with the us and nato forces…as well as the decade fighting the russians… NOW they are TRAINED, and much more of a threat… against our “modern” warfare tools.
      The occupation of afghanistan has done nothing good for the best interests of the west. It has once again highlighted our weakness.
      A total disaster, and the propaganda the population of the US has been subjected to for the last twenty years is seeming helping divorce most people from reality.

      and henry kissinger should be jailed for life;
      for sabotaging the peace talks with vietnam in 1968. when the vietnam war had a chance of ending in 1968, except kissinger and nixon “persuaded” the north to wait UNTIL they were in office for a “better” deal… only to let that “action” go on for another 7 years….. and his part in other atrocities.. kissinger is a war criminal
      and kissinger and associates are really at the nexus of many bad things.

      1. KFritz

        Al Qaeda barely exists for practical purposes. It’s done nothing of note in at least a decade. It has no power in Afghanistan now. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not one in the same.

        The perpetrators of 9-11 couldn’t very well train in Afghanistan. The Wikipedia article on the planning of 9 11 explains the role of the Al Qaeda bosses and admins in Afghanistan–it’s well sourced.

        I didn’t claim or imply that the last 20 years of US occupation of Afghanistan have been anything but a disaster.

        My comment doesn’t make Kissinger out to be a human exemplar–only intelligent and fairly often astute.

      2. KFritz

        Afterthought. Today, the Taliban and ISIS are not the same. I’ve read nothing claiming that ISIS has any power in Afghanistan as of now. There are no guarantees that ISIS won’t have any influence in the future.

  20. Ralph Reed

    This analysis seems to leave out President Obama repeatedly invoking “the right war in Afghanistan” vs. President Bush’s “the wrong war in Iraq” when he was running for office in 2008, along with the horrors that followed for his eight years in office. I’m not concurring that the War Nerd is marginally adequate military historian.

  21. Chauncey Gardiner

    Appreciated Brecher’s observations regarding the policy elite’s devout ideological attachment to The Market as providing a solution to the reality in Afghanistan; that “”It makes no sense as a military operation, as nation-building, or as imperial expansion;” and “Maybe the waste of two trillion dollars was the point.”… “It’s the only way to make any sense of this story.”

    Recalls the observation by Sherlock Holmes: …”After you have eliminated all explanations as impossible except one, that possibility, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Except that after 40 years of policies courtesy of Wall Street and the MIC, many Americans don’t view this motivation as being anything other than “Most Likely”.

    Of course there are also the yet unanswered question about how the ROW will view and react to all this, and its implications for both future foreign policy and domestic political choices, including the treatment of Julian Assange.

    1. David in Santa Cruz

      Late to the dance, as usual, but zounds, Sherlock Holmes’ simple deduction is elementary.

      As is presented above, and if you understand the Bush dynasty as Kevin Phillips presents it in American Dynasty, war-profiteering is at the heart of our military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Two Trillion dollars, less overhead but including interest, was transferred to the MIC and Wall Street over the course of 20 years in Afghanistan. The veritable self-licking ice cream cone. Nine-Eleven and “The Hunt for Bin-Laden” were simply a convenient excuse. All the platitudes about women’s rights and nation-building are just a “beard” on the naked greed.

      It’s no coincidence that most of the generals, rather than living in disgrace and shame, are retired as multi-million dollar shills for Wall Street. We have a government of the billionaires, by the billionaires, and for the billionaires. As a bonus, these forever wars have been terrific training grounds for jack-booted thugs to suppress dissent at home, as we saw last summer.

  22. Alan

    What of NATO member states complicity, especially UK objectives which are always dark? The obvious genocidal targeting of the Pashtuns? Corporate REE theft? Increase in Opium production sponsored and protected by occupying forces? Western Intelligence Agencies links with the Taliban, some analysts cite creation, sponsorship as of Al Qaeda?
    The article is constrained by media/intelligence myth’s. e.g. Bin Laden’s role, 911 causes and connections, Al Qaeda, Pakistan, the convenient “bad guy”, but to name a few. Political and military misunderstanding of Afghanistan is as valid as the Vietnam comparison, no facts to the assertion.
    We are likely witnessing a part of a scripted plan, as to what that plan is and by whom directed, we don’t know, all we do know is the ongoing misery being directed against ordinary Afghans.

Comments are closed.