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Common Cents

The Beat Goes on

Ralph Murphy

(8/2015) Tribal issues and conflict are as ancient as known civilization and while the Middle East has developed structural support above the "drum beat" of the dark continent, it remains almost as violent and impoverished. The Quran-based culture permits and fuels unrest. Afghanistan is a landlocked nation whose citizenry live on an average income of less than $2 a day. Yet, somehow the West has been sold on it being a threat. A threat that justifies an ongoing military presence in a 14 year conflict described as "America's longest war".

The current situation involves tribal regions of Pashtun warriors mainly in the south and southeast and Tajiks in the North although both groups are spread throughout the nation. The tribal groupings are mainly Sunni Muslims, but there is infighting even amid that broad religion as spiritual leaders or "Caliphs" unique to each sector can create Hadiths or oral guidance based on the teachings,deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad. These are not always Quran-based but are routinely found politically useful and implemented for social division.

The Quran is as close as the Muslims get to a social guiding structure and the Sharia law associated with it permits amputation for theft, stoning, and polygamy. The dress code isn't a Mohammad issue, but appears a controlling mechanism that is billed as religious. They've fought each other and almost all outsiders for over a thousand years and for whatever reason, US policy believes a standing military presence can change them.

A bit of background to the recent Afghan conflict involves the Soviet invasion to support a communist faction in Kabul in 1979. This conflict lasted until 1989 when the Soviets were forced to withdraw amid heavy losses on both sides. The west supported opposition fighters to include the Mujahideen tied to Saudi-born Osama bin Laden. His movement proved successful and while linked to the Pashtuns -who supported the Taliban political movement- he was an outsider and his al-Qaeda theocratic, terrorist body was simply harbored by the other Afghans.

The 9/11 disaster had international implications and a proven Saudi dissident role (19 of the suicide hijackers were Saudis) that the Afghans could almost certainly not broker. There is almost no linkage of events to Taliban-led Kandahar (then the capital) beyond the safekeeping of the wartime ally. The disaster brought a strong desire for revenge and the Taliban were easily ousted by American operation "Enduring Freedom" in 2001. Al-Qaeda remnants were splintered or killed to include Osama bin Laden and appear to have some international support especially from Pakistan. Bin Laden lived in Pakistan for years in relative luxury before being killed in the now famous, Navy Seal raid on 2 May, 2011.

The Afghan population of 31.1 million in 2012 was split between Pashtuns at 42%, Tajiks at 27%, and various other tribes such as Uzbeks and Hazara at less than 9%. They are internally divided and have not proven to be an external threat beyond border crossings. Particularly in Pakistan and Iran. Inexplicably, the Americans decided to remain in Afghanistan, and brought in 39 other nations- both NATO and politically motivated, non-NATO countries into this very isolated area. The UN Security Council resolution 1386 of 2001 sought to train the Afghan National Security Forces and develop political institutions. It resulted in the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) that stayed through last year when it ostensibly assumed a non combat role known as the RSM or Resolute Support Mission.

The alliance was hoping to bridge ancient animosities that still existed when President Hamid Karzai was elected in 2003. American foreign policy routinely sides with a friendly social faction during conflicts. Sometimes it works, but in Afghanistan it has proven myopic and very costly to friends and foe alike. US deaths since 2001 have reached 2356, ally Britain 453, Canada 158, and Germany and Italy are at 57 each. Other ISAF nations have lost an additional 321 . In addition there have been 1582 dead and 15,000 wounded contractors. Meanwhile the Afghan Security Forces have lost 16,013. Opponent Taliban and al-Qaeda have lost up to 40,500 combatants. Civilian deaths were over 19,000 through 2013.

Little has changed on the ground in the interim beyond al-Qaeda being all but wiped out. The Taliban that was once the focus of Karzai's fighting appears resurgent under current President Ashraf Ghani. There was a force of 45,000 active In 2001. This number dropped to 11,000 in 2008 and now stands at 60,000. The RSM which took affect on 1 January of this year keeps about 12,500 soldiers in place in a "non combat, training, advisory, and assistance mission". The mission is open ended and the fighting is at about the same level as in 2001.

While the current mission is non-combative, the region of American operations in the south was described by visiting Vice President Joe Biden in 2012 as "the most dangerous place in the world." The Germans have remained stable in the north in a support role known as TAAC or "train, advise, assist, and command" in support of the Kabul-lead government. It's confusing, but Kabul is against the Taliban and al-Qaeda as is the West. The nature of the conflict remains tribal and could go on forever if the pernicious Muslim mentality isn't more constructively oriented.

At any rate, the war has cost countless lives and over $1 trillion in cash. We also have lost an enormous amount of credibility while implementing a disaster that has gone on for over 14 years. The US Iraq conflict began later and ended in 2011 after almost 9 years of combat. There has been a recent effort to reengage in Iraq, though oil interests are secure in the east or it would be much bloodier.

There is no example of where a successful democracy has been created in a Muslim nation. Also, their economies are limited to crude resource extraction or textile manufacturing. Their markets are difficult to penetrate and they seem unable to collaborate among themselves to mount a serious export economy. It appears the best way to deal with such nations is to contain them and by filtering damaging imports such as weapons. Afghanistan has been America's longest war and it is time to declare victory and go home.

Ralph Murphy is a former member of the CIA Headquarters Staff in Langley, VA.

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