October 7, 2015
Dead Americans, Dead Goats, and Half a Million Gunmen on the Loose
Posted on Mar 8, 2012
By Ann Jones, TomDispatch
In short, for their own safety and advancement, Afghans back a winner, and if he goes into decline, they ditch him for a rising star. To spot that winner is the mark of the intelligent survivor. To stick loyally to a losing cause, as any patriotic American would do, seems to an Afghan downright stupid.
Now, apply this to the ANA as American and NATO troops draw down in 2014. Any army intended to defend a nation must be loyal to the political leaders governing the country. Estimates among Afghan experts of how long the ANA would be loyal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai start at two weeks, and remember, 2014 is a presidential election year, with Karzai barred by the constitution from seeking another term. In other words, Obama’s Plan A calls for urgently building up a national army to defend a government that will not exist before our own combat troops leave the country.
And if that election is riddled with fraud, as the last one was? Or inconclusive? Or violently contested? Has President Obama or Secretary of Defense Panetta or anyone else given any thought to that?
These days, as Afghan men, mostly in army and police uniforms, shoot and kill NATO soldiers on a remarkably regular basis, the American military still publicly writes off the deaths as “isolated incidents.”
Square, Site wide
But the isolation may be an American one. The connections among Afghans are evident to anyone who cares to look. When I was at a forward operating base with the U.S. Army in Kunar province in 2010, for instance, Afghan soldiers were relegated to an old base next door. Armed American soldiers guarded the gate in between, and ANA leaders were shadowed everywhere by an armed U.S. sergeant who tried unconvincingly to give the impression he was just out for a stroll. What struck me most was this: while the Americans on their base recoiled under daily Taliban shelling, the Afghan watchman at the nearby ANA post, perhaps privy to some additional information, slept peacefully on a cot on the roof of his office with his teakettle by his side. The military has long called this a “partnership.”
But now the numbers are adding up to something else entirely. While some commentators speak of Afghan treachery and others detect a Taliban plot to infiltrate the security forces, I suspect something quite different. Malcolm Gladwell might call it a tipping point. What we are watching unfold in Afghanistan is the desertion of chapandazan who have already found a new khans.
Security Force: An Oxymoron
All along, however, I’ve had a bigger objection to spending tens of billions of dollars training a vast Afghan National Security Force. And it couldn’t be more basic: armies and war are never good for women, children, or civilians in general.
To redeem the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan and improve the quality of life of its people, we should have invested early, under Afghan guidance, in electricity, clean water, and sanitation. After two decades of almost constant war and civil war, we should have demined the precious fields in this agricultural country and supported Afghan farmers and laborers as they tried to repair crucial bombed-out irrigation systems. These measures were never jobs for the U.S. military, but they might have won peace and saved soldiers’ lives in the bargain. After all, soldiers have actually died by falling into broken irrigation tunnels and wells, even more by treading on mines.
Note, too, that the expense of training and supporting soldiers to wage war is bad for both sides. The trillions spent on our own forces and weapons systems is money we might have spent to improve the quality of American lives. And keep in mind that the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will not peak until mid-century, so expensive is the lifelong aftercare of our own ruined soldiers.
To keep the chapandazan, or the Afghan people and their problematic army, on your side, you have to offer the symbols and substance of normal life. But being Americans, we think that “national security” means armies and night vision goggles and drones and “strategic partnerships,” even with a reluctant, exhausted, angry, and grief-stricken people.
To the normal world—that is, the world not in thrall to American militarism—“national security” means something quite different. It means all those big and little things that enable people to feel relatively calm and cared for in their daily lives. That would be food, water, shelter, jobs, health care, schools for the kids, domestic police to keep the peace, and maybe even some firefighters—all those things we fail to attend to there, or increasingly here.
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