By David Galland, Managing Director of Casey Research:
Looking up Afghanistan in the CIA Fact Book reveals the nation's official population tally at some 28 million.
But that number is totally, dangerously wrong.
Dangerous because the erroneous population count sets the stage for a certain failure of the United States military's efforts in Afghanistan, and even raises the possibility of a nuclear conflagration.
I will attempt to quickly explain.
The story begins with an Englishman by the name of Mortimer Durand who, in 1893, was tasked with drawing a border separating Afghanistan from British conquests in India. Other than dictates from the Raj to assure the Brits kept the strategic parts, Durand's line was arbitrary.
In this way was divided the population of Afghani Pashtuns, the region's dominant ethnic group.
On one side of the invisible line, in modern-day Afghanistan, live about 12 million Pashtuns (out of a total population of 28 million). Tucked up against the other side of the line, in what now constitutes Pakistan, live another 25 million Pashtuns.
Simply, they are members of the same large family – a family with a long and colorful history of putting aside their internecine shoot-ups in order to come together to wear down and ultimately defeat far stronger and better equipped invaders.
Now, look at the map here.
As you can't miss, there is very long and uninterrupted border between the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. A border no more substantial than the ink Durand used to draw it over a century ago.
Across that border, in a region of incredibly hard terrain, flows an almost uninterrupted exchange of relatives, food, guns, refugees, and warriors in need of rest and sustenance, donkeys, RPGs, and any other thing the Pashtuns and other Afghani insurgent groups want to move in one direction or the other.
In the past, I have referenced (and recommended) David Galula's excellent manual Counter Terrorist Warfare: Theory and Practice, the very same manual that General Petraeus, on taking the reins in Iraq, purchased in bulk for his officers. In his book, Galula lays out the required conditions for success in fighting a guerilla war. At the top of the list is that the insurgents can have no safe sanctuary to which they can retreat to for rest and resupply.
Simply, the Pakistani Pashtun problem alone makes sending more troops into Afghanistan a non-starter. The border separating the Pashtun populations is too long and too rough to control. And so the insurgency will never want for supplies, sanctuary, or fresh soldiers for its struggle. That gives it a staying power well beyond what the latest crop of invaders will be able to manage as the months and years string out and the casualties rise.
Of course, the U.S. could decide to take the war to the Pakistani Pashtuns, using more than just drone strikes. But such an invasion would necessitate pacifying a large, well-armed, and hostile population. It would also likely result in the toppling of our allies in the fragile Pakistani regime. That could then require an even broader action or risk Pakistan's nukes falling under the radicals' control. And that would quickly bring India into the picture.
In other words, should the U.S. decide to invade nuclear-armed Pakistan, the whole situation would quickly get so wiggly that there's no telling where it could lead, but it's doubtful it would lead anywhere good.
Which leaves the U.S. and its allies with only two alternatives. Get out or continue trying to pacify the Pashtuns (among others) in Afghanistan, while a huge number of their brethren are actively are cheering them on – and providing material support – from just across Durand's line. While I am no expert, I have read enough history – and Galula's manual – to form the strong opinion that such an effort will end poorly.
Maybe we can get tougher? Really take off the gloves and all that stuff?
Well, it's hard to imagine how we could get tougher than the Soviets, or Genghis Khan, or Alexander the Great, or all the other invaders that didn't just capture the region but actively tried to exterminate the population. The Soviets, much to their discredit, actually went so far as to drop bombs designed to look like toys, in order to blow off the arms of the next generation of mujahedeen.
The Afghans are still standing.
Then there's the all-important question, what exactly is it we are fighting for? On that topic, I'll have to defer to someone who purportedly knows – or should know: Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two months ago, he was asked which benchmark the U.S. was using to measure its success and progress in Afghanistan. His response, “We'll know it when we see it.”
So, why am I writing this article, knowing that it will offend pro-war readers?
First and foremost, because of my distain for foreign adventures and my hope that a pushback from an increasing number of Americans will keep Obama from going deeper into Afghanistan. Secondly, there is a moral issue here. We can't very well call ourselves the land of the free if we are fighting wars here, there, and everywhere for objectives that even our senior diplomat in the area is unable to enunciate.
And then there is the less important, but still important, question of finances.
Namely, the U.S. is already broke. Thus, the idea of spending trillions of dollars on a war with no clear objective and no clear enemy is not just stupid, it is madness. I read recently that the U.S. spends $350 million a day on fuel alone in Afghanistan and Iraq. Money that is ultimately being spent to support a fraudulent regime that condones the sort of religious intolerance you'd expect to be championed by a mullah from the Middle Ages.
Finally, there is the truth inherent in the old saying, “War is the health of the state.” This war, like so many others, opens the door for the government not only to rationalize the sort of fiscal irresponsibility just discussed, but also to exert more and more control over the populace, all in the name of “national security.” Over the last 100 years, the U.S., despite its high-road self-image, has engaged in more wars, in more countries, than all of the other Western powers combined. Of course, some have made more sense than others. But this one makes no sense at all.
In my opinion, having fired off some shots that cost far too many lives, it's time for the U.S. to end this madness and head home. Sticking our face ever deeper into the dark hole that is Afghanistan is not just futile, it's crazy.
Don't do it.
(And, should Obama opt for an escalation in Afghanistan, run, don't walk, to the nearest gold window. Because there's only one way to pay for the massive ongoing operational costs – and that's inflation.)
P.S. As a quick follow-on to my diatribe... I want to bring to your attention an article that landed in my e-mail box overnight.
It is, in a word, shocking.
Because it underscores – in a way that would be hard to duplicate – just how perverse and corrupting a war like the one in Afghanistan typically is. Simply, the article reveals and provides specific details on how the United States is currently handing over untold millions of dollars to the very insurgents it is fighting against.
It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban.
"It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials admits. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10% of the Pentagon's logistics contracts – hundreds of millions of dollars – consists of payments to insurgents.
You can read the full article here. Then, I don't know – write your congressman, or forward this on to your entire e-mail list, but do something before the administration compounds the disaster by approving a big, new build-up.
Crux Note: Each day in Casey's Daily Dispatch, David Galland brings you an informative and entertaining overview of the markets, the economy, and politics... all from his unique and often contrarian perspective. Casey's Daily Dispatch is absolutely free and comes right to your inbox, five times a week. To sign up, click here...