In the late-1960s in high school, I for a time devoured the work of James Michener, starting with “The Fires of Spring” (a spot-on narrative for an introverted, nerd/dork seeking a mysterious/romantic life), then maybe “Hawaii,” or “Tales of the South Pacific,” to “The Source,” and later, “The Drifters” — stories firing an intuitive desire to be elsewhere.
And Michener indeed provoked places faraway. My most-favorite of all his stuff is “Caravans,” a romantic tale of great adventure in an unknown-mysterious, way-distant land — Afghanistan.
Kabul and Kandahar originals…before the Soviets, before the Americans…
(Illustration found here).
Last week marked 14 years since the start of George W’s ‘Operation Enduring Freedom,’ which officially lasted until December 2014, when superseded by the sci-fi-sounding, ‘Operation Freedom’s Sentinel,’ the diacritical mark not withstanding: ‘However, a spokesman for Army Gen. John F. Campbell, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, initially said later that the name was “Operation Freedom Sentinel” without the apostrophe. A few hours later, the spokesman said he was mistaken and the apostrophe was back in. It was “Freedom’s Sentinel.”‘
Operation Fuck-Up in reality.
The most-newest edition this morning as President Obama committed US troops to remain in Afghanistan until at least 2017 — the 5,500 American soldiers were supposed to be reduced down to just a thousand at the end of this year. Instead our longest war won’t conclude on Obama’s watch.
In making the announcement, the president beat the terror drum, again (via CNN):
“While America’s combat mission in Afghanistan may be over, our commitment to Afghanistan and and its people endures,” Obama said from the Roosevelt Room.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again.”
The problem ain’t terror — it’s Afghanistan.
A striking example, the recent struggle for the control of Kunduz in north-central Afghanistan — the Taliban took it last month, a way-major victory for them, but retreated after heavy Afghan army assaults, of course, aided by US troops.
A detail look at that situation at Stratfor this morning:
Thus the fall of Kunduz emphasizes that the campaign for the hearts and minds of the local Afghan population is still an ongoing process that will be crucial to the success of combatants in the conflict.
The Taliban would not have been able to initially seize Kunduz had they not first won the support of the local population and built up ties with armed groups that had a considerable presence in the north, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
Moreover, pervasive corruption and weak governance ultimately undermined the provincial government’s efforts to win the allegiance of its citizens, effectively losing the fight for Kunduz before it began.
The deterioration of Afghanistan’s security forces makes the question of security and economic aid from abroad all the more pressing.
Afghan air capacity is woefully inadequate, and the Afghan government still depends on U.S. and NATO logistics and intelligence support.
Simultaneously, the Afghan government needs a much larger army to effectively put down the insurgency, yet it cannot even afford to maintain its security forces at their present size.
Currently the international community funds more than 90 percent of the operating costs of the Afghan National Security Forces, and the need for that funding is unlikely to diminish in the years to come.
The future of the Afghan government and its counterinsurgency will depend on a high level of international commitment.
As Gen. Campbell testified, without adequate international funding and troops, the Afghan National Security Forces could collapse.
Ultimately, however, even with adequate foreign security and economic support, Kabul could still lose the conflict.
The mismanagement of Kunduz points to deeper deficiencies such as pervasive corruption and dependence on warlords.
All could effectively undermine the Afghan government’s control in the long run.
The Taliban’s success in the city, though fleeting, highlights the difficulties that lie ahead for the Afghan government as it rebuilds the country, including providing transparent and reliable governance at the regional and local level.
The US lost Afghanistan in December 2001 when George W turned his sights to Iraq, allowing Osama bin Laden escape, and the conflict has been nothing but a long, bad road since.
Decades ago, however, there was a natural mystery to riding up into the Hindu Kush, beauty and danger still, but a romantic notion to the fable — nearly 70 years ago, the beautiful, fascinating Afghan country, a mental caravan through history, culture and a wondrous people.
Michener lived and traveled the Afghan landscape, and would most-surely weep at the sight nowadays.
Maybe the last time I’d written about Afghanistan was in early October of last year — the Global AgeWatch Index had just released a study of worst nations in which to grow old, and Afghanistan was at the bottom, in all categories. (read that post here if you want)
Even not the supposedly ‘graveyard of empires,’ Afghanistan is pretty-much a burial ground…