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Why America Is Losing The War In Afghanistan

Mattis Afghanistan
We applaud President Trump's desire to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, but the news the White House had planned a secret meeting with Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Camp David prompts us to republish this column from July 30, 2018 explaining why negotiating with the Taliban is folly.

Saturday, the New York Times reported that American diplomats held face-to-face talks with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban have long maintained an informal “political office” for the purpose of restarting the long-dormant peace process.

A State Department spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether the talks took place. But the department did not deny that its diplomats had taken part in such talks, reported Taimoor Shah and Rod Nordland.

According to Shah and Nordland the talks involved several members of the Taliban political commission and Alice Wells, the State Department’s senior South Asia diplomat, as well as other unidentified American diplomats, according to the two Taliban officials.

Taliban representatives would not discuss the substance of the talks in any detail report Shah and Nordland.

Hopes for peace talks were bolstered recently when the government and the Taliban declared overlapping cease-fires at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The cease-fires were widely respected by both sides and received enthusiastically according to reporting by Shah and Nordland.

On a recent visit to Kabul, the American military officer in charge of Central Command, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, was asked about the new American stance on peace talks.

“As President Ghani has indicated, he’s ready to pursue something without conditions — that speaks for itself,” he said.

“Everything can be on the table here as we move forward with this Afghan-led process.”

“Everything can be on the table” would be better stated as “Everything but victory can be on the table as we move forward…” because it has become clear that Gen. Votel and others advising President Trump on Afghanistan have no idea what victory in Afghanistan really looks like or how to achieve it.

As we explained in our columns Tillerson’s Unconscionable And Immoral Goal In Afghanistan, The Folly Of Peace Without Victory In Afghanistan and  When Will Our Leaders Get The Message Of 9/11? the Taliban and the United States have completely different understandings of their war aims in Afghanistan, and our failure to understand the enemy’s aims has completely blinded our leaders in their conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

After President Trump made a speech on Afghanistan former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made comments that summed-up this problem, “I think the president was clear, this entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you. So, at some point, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way bring this to an end.”

Tillerson’s comments proved that he and the generals who were advising President Trump have no idea of the enemy we are fighting in Afghanistan, and elsewhere across the globe, and have completely – and shamefully – lost hold of the moral foundation necessary to justify sending Americans into harm’s way.

And more importantly, they have surrendered in advance, demonstrating that they have learned nothing from Vietnam or the 16 years-long war in Afghanistan.

What General Vo Nguyen Giap, commander of the North Vietnamese Army, wrote in his memoirs and said in post-war interviews is worth remembering now:

We were not strong enough to drive out a half million American troops, but that wasn’t our aim. Our intention was to break the will of the American government to continue the war. Westmoreland was wrong to expect that his superior firepower would grind us down. If we had focused on the balance of forces, we would have been defeated in two hours. We were waging a people’s war … America’s sophisticated arms, electronic devices and all the rest were to no avail in the end. In war there are the two factors — human beings and weapons. Ultimately though, human beings are the decisive factor.

The people in the White House believed that Americans would definitely win and there is not chance of defeat. There is a saying which goes, “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you would win every single battle.” However, the Americans fought the Vietnamese, but they did not know much about Vietnam or anything at all about the Vietnamese people. Vietnam is an old nation founded in a long history before the birth of Christ. … The Americans knew nothing about our nation and her people. American generals knew little about our war theories, tactics and patterns of operation. …

And in 1996 interview with CNN Giap said that the North Vietnamese Army’s victory came in large part due to American leaders’ lack of understanding of Vietnam, their underestimation of the North Vietnamese will to win, and miscalculations about the effectiveness of guerilla warfare:

During the war everyone in the country would fight and they [would] do so following the Vietnamese war theory. We have a theory that is different from that of the Russians and that of the Americans. The Americans did not understand that. They did not know or understand our nation; they did not know our war strategies. They could not win. How could they win? As our president said, there was nothing more precious than independence and freedom. We had the spirit that we would govern our own nation; we would rather sacrifice than be slaves.

A similar calculus applies today in Afghanistan.

Our enemy in Afghanistan is not interested in negotiating a cease fire, joining a coalition government and being part of the “family of nations” that foolish diplomats and those ignorant of Islam’s tenets imagine exists.

The notion that we can broker a peace and some sort of coalition with the Taliban is a folly born of desperation for generals to save political face, not win the war Islam has declared on the West.

From the failed efforts to implement a new Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine in Afghanistan, to the false deadlines Obama established for withdrawal, nothing American leaders have done has achieved the goal of a stable regime in Afghanistan that is inhospitable to Muslim terrorist organizations with transnational aspirations and capabilities.

And the reason for this failure has nothing to do with the bravery and selflessness of the American military personnel deployed to accomplish the goal – it has everything to do with the unwillingness of American political level leaders to recognize what enemy we are fighting and to deploy the correct resources to defeat it.

The war in Afghanistan isn’t a regional or tribal conflict, it isn’t a war on “terrorism,” it isn’t a war on narco-warlords (even though 90% of the worlds illicit opium originates there); it is a war between the values of Islam and the values of the Western Enlightenment, and if you refuse to understand it and fight it on those terms the war in Afghanistan will never be over and certainly never be won.

It is clear to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about Islam and its doctrine of Sharia supremacy that the Taliban in Afghanistan and ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and its offshoots elsewhere around the world, do not desire any kind of “peace” except the peace of the Ummah – the peace of the worldwide reign of Islam.

That is what they are fighting for, not the governance of some piece of Godforsaken territory in Afghanistan or the Near East, and certainly not to join a coalition government with Kafir (non-believers) and those they consider to be apostates.

So, why is it so hard for our leaders, especially our military leaders, to understand the war aims of our Muslim adversaries?

Part of the reason may be that the Obama administration effectively purged from our military doctrine all teaching about the military goals of Islam, its doctrine of worldwide conquest and its teachings about how to accomplish that conquest.

Part of the reason may be that Americans are unfortunately prone to project their own ideas about the primacy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as societal goals on to other peoples and cultures.

But part of it may also be that the generals just want to get us out of Afghanistan – to declare peace and go home.

Back in February 2017, Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask for a “few thousand” more U.S. troops. A few weeks later, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, echoed Nicholson’s request, telling senators that a new “strategy” for Afghanistan had to “involve additional forces.”

During his Senate testimony, Nicholson was asked by Senator John McCain, who strongly advocates more US troops in Afghanistan, whether the U.S. was winning or losing in Afghanistan. “I believe we are in a stalemate,” replied the general.

“We are not winning in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary James Mattis later testified.

So, if we weren’t winning back in 2017, why wouldn’t we change to a victory-focused strategy?

Perhaps it is because our political leaders and generals don’t really know what victory in Afghanistan would look like.

What General Votel and others who came into their stars during the Obama presidency don’t seem to grasp is that the enemy in Afghanistan isn’t the Taliban insurgency; it is their underlying ideology of Islam and the allegiance of the majority of the Afghan people to a misogynistic 7th Century Sharia-based Muslim culture.

If you understand that the teachings of Islam are the fundamental motivators of the people who we are fighting in Afghanistan, then that should inform our entire strategy.

That means instead of sending a few thousand troops to Afghanistan we need to deploy all the means of our national power against the real enemy – the doctrines of Islam that motivate the Taliban.

It means we deploy psyops to attack the enemy’s belief system. It means we offer an alternative belief system to replace the one that is motivating the enemy. And it means we attack the centers and advocates of that belief system.

The United States is doing none of that in Afghanistan, because, as far as we can tell, General Votel and all too many others at the Pentagon believe that “Islam is a religion of peace” and not the real enemy.

While there is no doubt that, given unlimited operational freedom and resources, the United States military could defeat the Taliban, but that wouldn’t defeat the enemy of Sharia supremacy.

When General Votel says “everything is on the table,” what he is really admitting is that the strategy the generals have advocated for 17 years has failed because they never understood the Taliban or their war aims.

The peace process for Afghanistan now being sold to President Trump isn’t a strategy for victory, it is a strategy to save face for generals so that politicians can declare victory and go home.

George Rasley is editor of Richard Viguerie's A veteran of over 300 political campaigns, he served on the staff of Vice President Dan Quayle, as Director of Policy and Communication for former Congressman Adam Putnam (FL-12) then Vice Chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, and as spokesman for Rep. Mac Thornberry former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

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Losing in Afghanistan

Agreed! A couple of points:

Our old buddy Robert Mueller purged any reference to Islam in counter-terrorism training for the FBI during his tenure of office as director. While it does not have a direct relationship with our MILITARY approach it shows our government is simply at a loss as to who we are fighting and why.

Second, any "agreement" reached with the Taliban will lead them to declare victory over us. When the Soviet Union fell the Islamists in Afghanistan claimed it was THEIR victory, as they fought the Russians and eventually they left. This recruited many Muslims to their side, and emboldened them to attack us. If we pull out and let them have the victory it will lead to ever-increasing attacks against us. Defeat is not an option, nor is stalemate. Osama Bin Laden argued that America was a paper tiger, and that a few good licks would make us turn tail and run. This will be used to recruit around the globe.

Third, the top military brass in America all come out of West Point, which is essentially a liberal Ivy League school with a uniform. You don't make it to General without being a liberal. We need more fighters and less of these wimpy geopolitical Mr. Rogers types.

Finally, the military strategy has emphasized this ridiculous notion of "winning hearts and minds" and we build schools and hospitals, thinking the populace will love us for it. That is stupid; you win the war first then win hearts and minds. Now the public knows we won't hurt them but the Taliban sure will if it serves them. They have every reason to distrust us, or at least not trust our staying. The fact is, the Afghanis need to fear us as much as the Taliban. And our military strategy should look much like an exterminator's; you kill mice with rat poison and traps. We should be doing likewise. But we aren't. We are purely reactive there. The Taliban can strike at times and places of it's own choosing. That is a recipe for destruction.

Sun Tzu said that if you are going to enter enemy territory you must go deep or you will be disbursed. We have never really gone in deep. We have this ridiculous notion that they are all like us, just with funny accents and different clothes. Our inability to really understand that they are different is going to lead to our dispersion.