August 5, 2017

Media reports claim President Donald Trump let loose on his generals behind closed doors, blasting them royally for their startling failures in Afghanistan, America’s longest war.

The president has many faults and is a lousy judge of character. But he was absolutely right to read the riot act to the military brass for daring to ask for a very large troop and budget increase for the stalemated Afghan War that has cost $1 trillion to date.

Of course, the unfortunate generals are not really to blame. They have been forced by the last three presidents to fight a pointless war at the top of the world that lacks any strategy, reason or purpose – and with limited forces. But they can’t admit defeat by lightly-armed Muslim tribesmen.

The truth is, simply, that America blundered into the Afghan War under President George W. Bush who needed a target for revenge after the humiliating 9/11 attacks. Instead of blaming Saudi Arabia, a US protectorate which was clearly involved in the attacks, Bush went after remote but strategic Afghanistan and cooked up the Osama bin Laden bogeyman story.

Sixteen years later, the US is still chasing shadows in the Hindu Kush Mountains, rightly known to history as ‘Graveyard of Empires.’

The US invasion of Afghanistan was based on the unproven claim that anti-communist fighter Osama bin Laden was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. We have yet to see conclusive proof. What we have seen are phony documents and faked videos put out by bin Laden’s foes, the Afghan communists and their Northern Alliance drug-dealing allies.

As I’ve written in my books on South Asia, the so-called ‘terrorist training camps’ in Afghanistan were mostly bases for training anti-Indian Kashmiri liberation groups run by Pakistani intelligence. Claims by the right-wing US media that Afghanistan would become a jihadist base if the 9,800 US troops there now withdrew are nonsense. The 9/11 attacks were planned and mounted from Germany, Spain and Florida, not Afghanistan. They could have come from anywhere.

After sixteen years, the US military and its Afghan mercenaries troops have failed to defeat the Afghan Pashtun tribal resistance forces, Taliban. In fact, the Taliban alliance now controls at least half of Afghanistan and keeps US and government forces pinned down. The US installed ‘president,’ Ashraf Ghani, barely clings to power.

What keeps the US in control of parts of Afghanistan is the US Air Force and naval air power. US warplanes from Afghanistan, Qatar, and aircraft carriers keep a 24/7 combat air patrol over distant Afghanistan and can reply in minutes to attacks on US or Afghan ground units. No other nation could do this – or afford the immense cost.

Gasoline trucked into Afghanistan over the Khyber Pass from Karachi costs $400 per gallon delivered. The authoritative ‘Aviation Week’ magazine reports that keeping US warplanes on station over Iraq and Syria costs an astounding $600,000 per mission. It’s even more over Afghanistan.

But without 24/7 US airpower, US forces in Afghanistan would be soon isolated, then driven out. This is just what happened to the British and Soviets, dooming their efforts to crush the independence-loving Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group.

Bereft of new ideas, the US keeps repeating its mistakes in Afghanistan: colluding with the worst, most corrupt elements of Afghan society; condoning torture and murder; relying on the big, drug dealing tribal chiefs.
The UN reports that opium (the base for heroin) exports doubled last year. The sputtering Afghan economy runs on opium and hashish.

The United States is now the proud owner of the world’s leading producer of opium and morphine base. If the drug trade is ever cut off, the government in Kabul and its warlords will collapse. Ironically, when Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 9/11, the drug trade was almost wiped out. But you will never read this in the tame US media.

Now America’s imperial generals are asking Trump for 4,000 more troops. A basic law of military science is concentration of force. Penny packets of troops are a fool’s strategy. The main function of US troops in Afghanistan is to protect the strategic Bagram and Kandahar air bases and US installations in Kabul.

Now, hard right Republicans are pushing a daft proposal to contract the Afghan War to a US-paid mercenary army led by an imperial viceroy in Kabul. Shades of Queen Victoria. Break out the pith helmets.

Trump has proposed pressuring Pakistan, India and China to end the war. What an absurd idea. For Pakistan, Afghanistan is its blood brother and strategic hinterland. China plans to turn mineral-rich Afghanistan into a Tibet-style protectorate. India wants to outflank Pakistan by taking over Afghanistan. India and China are in a growing military confrontation in the Himalayas.

Trump had better come up with a better idea. My solution to the 17-year war: emulate the example of the courageous Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. He pronounced his Afghan War unwinnable, told his angry generals to shut up, and ordered the Red Army out of the war in Afghanistan.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

This post is in: Afghanistan


  1. Looks like Trump’s ramping up the American debt, by expanding the war… I’m not sure what victory sounds like… reminds me of a dog chasing a car… what happens when he catches it?

  2. The American Government and it’s Military leaders have learned well from the Israelis and their invasion into lebanon in 2008.
    Always check with your “Stock Broker” for maximum benefit (and personal wealth) before engaging in any Military action of any foe.

  3. Some Ramblings:
    Typical questions that journalists ask: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Eric’s article touched on most of these. I don’t think you can minimise the character of the Pashtuns. They are tough, loyal, practical, nationalistic little critters that have spent a lifetime fighting… sometimes with themselves, and mostly with other ‘tribes’.
    Russia had a way forward for the backward little Afghanistan… he was educating women and giving them ‘real’ jobs. He would have brought the Afghanis a little further out of the dark ages. There’s a bit of a difference between western concepts of women and the traditional Afghan concept. Gorby was good and a little naive. With the American finance of the Taliban the Russians had to ‘back off’.
    I had understood that the real American ‘assistance’ for freeing the Afghanis from the vile Russians was to forward the construction of the northern pipeline. Little is said of this then and now; it may be a dead item or other means of transport may be in the ‘wings’.
    Winding down the Afghan War and stopping the American financial haemorrage hasn’t happened yet and likely won’t. I don’t think it’s a ‘loss of face’ that keeps the Americans there; there has to be other reasons. With the Donald in place, it’s difficult to imagine the Americans losing face.
    It’s interesting that the on going civil lawsuit involving the Saudis, in 9-11 hasn’t been blocked for national security reasons. It may be that the failure of the security agencies and the actual attack will be buried forever. I’m not into conspiracy theories, but there is far more behind the curtain than has been presented. Maybe the attack was so unbelievable that security forces discounted it as incredible.
    Eric’s statement, “The president has many faults and is a lousy judge of character.” The statement is kind and understates Trump… he has no redeaming features… He is a buffoon with his ‘finger on the button’. See his current rants to the Kim.

    Current military operations in the United States are predicated on boardrooms and profits. It is not in the military’s interest to not wage war. Too many dollars and jobs are at stake. The emphasis on military spending keeps the Americans from being a civilised country where the main function of the government should be to improve the lot of the citizens, not keep them repressed. This could have a real consequence if the lot of the average American ever ‘went for the worse’. Civil unrest could ‘pop up’ in a heartbeat.
    The financing of wars has changed, and, now it is possible to engage in any action without any guaranty that it will be funded in a suitable fashion… no more ‘War Bonds’.
    Gorby’s actions, “He pronounced his Afghan War unwinnable, told his angry generals to shut up, and ordered the Red Army out of the war” cannot happen with the Americans as a consequence of the different government structures between Russia and the US. Americans are driven by profitability.
    Shades of Queen Victoria. Break out the pith helmets … hehehe

  4. KeninCanada says:

    An article in the Guardian suggested the US is in Afghanistan not to defeat anyone but to contain China. The ‘New Silk Road’ China is building will change trade routes and solidify China’s influence and control of the far east. In the event of hostilities, the US has no way of threatening this land route except through Afghanistan, so they stay there. The ‘Grand Game’ or big power manoeuvring is why they stay; Osama is just theatre.

  5. vern huffman says:

    When the USA, or anyone else, loses a war, such as 1812 or Vietnam, it is necessary to promote some face saving lie. If the USA can come up with a propaganda line, then perhaps they can get out. How about, “those grapes are sour anyway”.

  6. “The truth is, simply, that America blundered into the Afghan War under President George W. Bush who needed a target for revenge after the humiliating 9/11 attacks. Instead of blaming Saudi Arabia,”

    Like Pear Harbour, 9/11 represents “before and after” in the American psyche. Obviously the “after” part could lead this material world to a Masada-Holocaust II, as all the leading indicators suggest.

    It was interesting to discover an article in the November/December 1988 Foreign Affairs Magazine jointly written by By Ashton B. Carter, John Deutch, and Philip Zelikow with this picture:
    A successful attack with weapons of mass destruction could certainly take thousands, or tens of thousands, of lives.

    If the device that exploded in 1993 under the World Trade Center had been nuclear, or had effectively dispersed a deadly pathogen, the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe it.

    Such an act of catastrophic terrorism would be a watershed event in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security, as did the Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949.

    Like Pearl Harbor, this event would divide our past and future into a before and after. The United States might respond with draconian measures, scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects, and use of deadly force. More violence could follow, either further terrorist attacks or U.S. counterattacks.

    I find it curious it happened just like that 3 years later, and one of the Authors was Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, able to control what information the 9/11 Commission could see?


  7. Mike Smith says:

    Sadly I think the US could have achieved something close to victory in Afghanistan… if the US government could have stayed out of it.
    First they would have needed to appoint a military governor to rule, not sure if they had any Douglas MacArthur types to send, but someone like that would could speak and act without having to phone home.
    Second, they would have had to deal with and empower whatever political structure they found without picking and choosing. Tribal Chiefs, Taliban mayors, whatever.
    Third, use this structure to send aid in making them beholden to the US while at the same time giving them some legitimacy.
    Four, if an area is quiet… pull out forces. and absolutely do not try to achieve any social change at gunpoint.
    Five, and this is where the US failed the worst… start to build a government at the grassroots level. I think a parliament type system would be the way to go. By importing Karzai, I think the US lost any credibility.
    Six… once again. if things start to work… leave.
    Now it is far too late as the US and its vassals have tainted themselves with their ham fisted approach to ” nation building ” I expect a fall of Saigon type event within a decade, even with US troops propping things up.

  8. Steve_M. says:

    Excellent article. As for the last sentence, in which Eric recommends that Trump copy what Gorbachev did and order an end to the US military presence in Afghanistan, I say: good luck with that. Trump probably knows that if he refuses the US generals’ request for more troops there, it will be his undoing. He’ll fume and sputter a lot, maybe even send out an angry Twitter message on this subject, but in the end he’ll likely cave in and give the generals what they want. He already has the intelligence community mad at him, so he can’t risk getting the military-industrial establishment also upset with him.

    • …. or the same thing that happened to John Kennedy, when he disregarded the wants and needs of the military-industrial establishment, might happen to Trump.

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