Afghanistan War: After 33,877 lives lost, US$444-billion spent : US, NATO only “50% of the way” to military goals, says McChrystal to Council on Foreign Relations, writes Peter Goodspeed

The costly, complicated and inconclusive war in Afghanistan

Erik De Castro/Reuters

Erik De Castro/Reuters

U.S. soldier 1SG Acania Puletasi from Alpha Co, 2nd Battalion 35th Infantry, Task Force “Cacti”, stands guard next to a corn field in a village during a patrol in Khas Kunar district in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan October 7, 2011.

  Oct 7, 2011 – 7:15 PM ET

Ten years after U.S. warplanes began bombing the Taliban in retaliation for the 9/11 terror attacks, the war in Afghanistan drags on, inconclusive, costly and increasingly complicated.

According to retired U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its NATO allies are only “50% of the way” to achieving their military goals and lack sufficient local knowledge to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to an end.

Speaking to a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington Thursday night, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghan war, Gen. McChrystal said the United States began the war with a “frighteningly simplistic” view of Afghanistan.

“We didn’t know enough and we still don’t know enough,” he said. “Most of us — me included — had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had as frighteningly simplistic view of recent history.”

When U.S. troops first entered Afghanistan they didn’t even know the country’s languages and did not make “an effective effort” to learn them, he said.

NATO forces still lack a solid comprehension of Afghanistan, its history and its culture, he argued. As a result, the biggest problem facing the U.S. and its allies remains creating a stable, legitimate Afghan government to counter the Taliban.

A decade of conflict that has cost an estimated 33,877 lives and US$444-billion appears no closer to producing a clear result than when it began and could easily slip back into the kind of civil war that killed tens of thousands of people in 1992-96.

“U.S. goals in Afghanistan remain uncertain,” said the CFR’s Jayshree Bajoria “They have meandered from marginalizing the Taliban to state-building, to counterinsurgency, to counterterrorism, to — most recently — reconciliation and negotiation with the Taliban.”

A former head of Germany’s armed forces, General Inspector Harald Kujat said the international mission in Afghanistan has failed. He predicted the Taliban could return to power within months of foreign troops leaving.

“The mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with the United States,” he told the German newspaper Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. “But if you measure progress against the goal of stabilizing a country and a region, then the mission has failed.”

The highest-ranking officer in Germany’s Bundeswehr in 2000-02, Gen. Kujat said coalition forces were too slow to realize they were in an extended military fight with the Taliban.

“The argument that it was a stabilization mission was maintained for too long,” he said. “The opponent was fighting a military battle and we needed to do the same.”

“If we withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, then the Taliban will take over power again within just a few months,” he predicted.

Gen. McChrystal who led the Obama administration’s “surge” strategy in Afghanistan in 2009, when U.S. troop levels climbed to more than 100,000, argued that the 2003 decision by then-president George W. Bush to invade Iraq made success in Afghanistan more difficult.

It put a strain on military resources and changed how Muslims worldwide viewed the United States.

“When we went after the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, there was a certain understanding that we had the ability and the right to defend ourselves and the fact that al-Qaeda had been harboured by the Taliban was legitimate,” he said.

“I think when we made the decision to go into Iraq that was less legitimate [to the Muslim world].”

National Post, with files from news services

One Response to Afghanistan War: After 33,877 lives lost, US$444-billion spent : US, NATO only “50% of the way” to military goals, says McChrystal to Council on Foreign Relations, writes Peter Goodspeed

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