Yesterday I asked whether it was time for the United States to finally end its conflict in Afghanistan. I believe it is.
On October 7th, 2010 we will mark the 9th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict. Recall that major US combat operations in Vietnam, considered a costly embarassment for the United States, only lasted 8 years (1965-1973).
One problem we now have in Afghanistan is that it is not immediately clear who our soldiers are fighting anymore. Originally the Taliban was an established militia and government that was easy for our allies in the Northern Alliance to target. After toppling the Taliban and establishing a new central quasi-democratic government in Kabul, the enemy became al Qaeda.
Then the Taliban began an insurgency, and Americans began to fight a resurgent Taliban operating from Pakistan and al Qaeda, also operating from Afghanistan.
The goal all along was to desstroy the operating and training bases of al Qaeda and to capture its leadership, goals that have only partially been accomplished due to the mobility of al Qaeda as an organization. Having no particular geographic base and no centralized leadership, it is impossible to use a large scale military operation to stop al Qaeda.
What then, is our purpose in staying in Afghanistan? To establish a stable Afghani state? It has never been done! Afghanistan is so balkanized with different ethnicities and languages that it becomes difficult to decide who exactly should run the country. This is why traditionally Afghanistan has been under the control of different tribal warlords who each controlled their own portion of the geography. The only unifying element in Afghanistan is Islam, and that is why the Taliban with their potent Islamist thought was able to exercise some control over the country.
I would posit that a non-Islamist government cannot stabilize and control Afghanistan. There are no unifying institution upon which to base such a government.
Historically, Afghanistan is where empires and military campaigns go to die. Alexander, the Raj, the Safavids, and the USSR all failed within Afghanistan.
There just aren't enough institutions in Afghanistan to repeat the successes we had in Iraq there. It is time to cut our losses and end combat operations there.