Editor's Note: Independent journalist Douglas Wissing's latest book is "Funding the Enemy: How U.S. Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban." Wissing has contributed to The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, GlobalPost, AsiaTimes, foreignpolicy.com, American Legion, BBC, VOA News, and NPR networks. You can follow his work on his website.
An old Afghanistan hand told me about a buzzword now popular among U.S. policy wonks in Kabul and Washington: "reify." Ruefully laughing, he explained: Reify refers to a concept being confused with reality. In the eleventh year of a failing war in Afghanistan, it's about as good a word as any to use to describe the current U.S. situation.
Even as anti-American violence continues to wrack Afghanistan following last week's Koran-burning incident, and as Taliban attacks are spiking to their highest levels in the war, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little insists the insurgency is "on its heels." Little said NATO leaders have a "strong sense" that "we must continue to do everything we can to carry out the strategy we believe has been working for some time."
Based on my embedded reporting in eastern Afghanistan and investigations into the toxic system that links opportunistic U.S. careerists, corrupt Afghan officials and jihadist insurgents, I can testify there is little correlation between the happy talk trumpeted from Washington podiums and the on-the-ground reality in Afghanistan. Despite the U.S. government's much-vaunted counterinsurgency offensive, the Islamic fundamentalist insurgency has continued to grow. Though the U.S. has spent more than $20 billion to train and equip Afghan security forces, they still are woefully incapable.
The hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayers' dollars wasted on counterinsurgency logistics and aid in Afghanistan has had virtually no impact on the insurgency -- except helping to finance it. "We are funding both sides of this war," frustrated American soldiers repeatedly told me, which I can confirm after hundreds of interviews and reviews of countless government reports, white papers and news accounts. After more than a decade in power, the Afghan government's most notable achievement is its typically high ranking among the world's most corrupt administrations in lists compiled by groups like Transparency International.
After decades of international duplicity, the Afghan people are understandably ready for change. Noted Afghan scholar and Indiana University professor Nazif Shahrani recently E-mailed me about his countrymen: "They are sick and tired of lies, especially from those who present themselves as their friends and helpers, while all they do is help themselves on their account." Afghan ethnic leaders are preparing for a repeat of the vicious civil war that ravaged the country during the 1990s. With the withdrawal of U.S. troops, foreign policy analysts envision a divided Afghanistan, with American-backed ethnic groups controlling the regions north of the Hindu Kush mountains and Taliban-led fundamentalist Pashtuns governing areas south and east of that range.
Polls show American public support for the war is dropping dramatically, but Pentagon officials do little but push tired Washington slogans and open-ended promises. "We need more time, more resources and manpower," Little said recently.
Late last year, I sat in a military conference where a U.S. special operations spokesman spoke candidly about the implications of the Obama administration's troop withdrawal plan. The Taliban do not really care that much about U.S. soldiers anymore, he said. They knew the Americans were on their way out. The Taliban jihadists were focusing on winning the support of the Afghan people, particularly the Pashtuns, and on defeating the puppet government of Hamid Karzi, the spokesman said bluntly.
They probably will win that support.
We need to "de-reify" by bringing our concepts into line with reality in Afghanistan. One way or another, there is most likely going to be a major humanitarian crisis in impoverished Afghanistan. And it is the clear responsibility of the United States to help remediate that disaster.
We broke it. Now we will need to help pick up the pieces.