Robert Fisk's World: Why does the US think it can win in Afghanistan?

The Taliban are better trained, and – sad to say – increasingly tolerated by the local civilian population

Share
Related Topics

Poor old Algerians. They are being served the same old pap from their cruel government. In 1997, the Pouvoir announced a "final victory" over their vicious Islamist enemies. On at least three occasions, I reported – not, of course, without appropriate cynicism – that the Algerian authorities believed their enemies were finally beaten because the "terrorists" were so desperate that they were beheading every man, woman and child in the villages they captured in the mountains around Algiers and Oran.

And now they're at it again. After a ferocious resurgence of car bombing by their newly merged "al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb" antagonists, the decrepit old FLN government in Algiers has announced the "terminal phase" in its battle against armed Islamists. As the Algerian journalist Hocine Belaffoufi said with consummate wit the other day, "According to this political discourse ... the increase in attacks represents undeniable proof of the defeat of terrorism. The more terrorism collapsed, the more the attacks increased ... so the stronger (terrorism) becomes, the fewer attacks there will be."

We, of course, have been peddling this crackpot nonsense for years in south-west Asia. First of all, back in 2001, we won the war in Afghanistan by overthrowing the Taliban. Then we marched off to win the war in Iraq. Now – with at least one suicide bombing a day and the nation carved up into mutually antagonistic sectarian enclaves – we have won the war in Iraq and are heading back to re-win the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban, so thoroughly trounced by our chaps seven years ago, have proved their moral and political bankruptcy by recapturing half the country.

It seems an age since Donald "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld declared,"A government has been put in place (in Afghanistan), and the Islamists are no more the law in Kabul. Of course, from time to time a hand grenade, a mortar explodes – but in New York and in San Francisco, victims also fall. As for me, I'm full of hope." Oddly, back in the Eighties, I heard exactly the same from a Soviet general at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan – yes, the very same Bagram airbase where the CIA lads tortured to death a few of the Afghans who escaped the earlier Russian massacres. Only "terrorist remnants" remained in the Afghan mountains, the jolly Russian general assured us. Afghan troops, along with the limited Soviet "intervention" forces, were restoring peace to democratic Afghanistan.

And now? After the "unimaginable" progress in Iraq – I am quoting the fantasist who still occupies the White House – the Americans are going to hip-hop 8,000 soldiers out of Mesopotamia and dump another 4,700 into the hellfire of Afghanistan. Too few, too late, too slow, as one of my French colleagues commented acidly. It would need at least another 10,000 troops to hope to put an end to these Taliban devils who are now equipped with more sophisticated weapons, better trained and increasingly – sad to say – tolerated by the local civilian population. For Afghanistan, read Irakistan.

Back in the late 19th century, the Taliban – yes, the British actually called their black-turbaned enemies "Talibs" – would cut the throats of captured British soldiers. Now this unhappy tradition is repeated – and we are surprised! Two of the American soldiers seized when the Taliban stormed into their mountain base on 13 July this year were executed by their captors.

And now it turns out that four of the 10 French troops killed in Afghanistan on 18 August surrendered to the Taliban, and were almost immediately executed. Their interpreter had apparently disappeared shortly before their mission began – no prizes for what this might mean – and the two French helicopters which might have helped to save the day were too busy guarding the hopeless and impotent Afghan President Hamid Karzai to intervene on behalf of their own troops. A French soldier described the Taliban with brutal frankness. "They are good soldiers but pitiless enemies."

The Soviet general at Bagram now has his amanuensis in General David McKiernan, the senior US officer in Afghanistan, who proudly announced last month that US forces had killed "between 30 and 35 Taliban" in a raid on Azizabad near Herat. "In the light of emerging evidence pertaining (sic) to civilian casualties in the ... counter-insurgency operation," the luckless general now says, he feels it "prudent" – another big sic here – to review his original investigation. The evidence "pertaining", of course, is that the Americans probably killed 90 people in Azizabad, most of them women and children. We – let us be frank and own up to our role in the hapless Nato alliance in Afghanistan – have now slaughtered more than 500 Afghan civilians this year alone. These include a Nato missile attack on a wedding party in July when we splattered 47 of the guests all over the village of Deh Bala.

And Obama and McCain really think they're going to win in Afghanistan – before, I suppose, rushing their soldiers back to Iraq when the Baghdad government collapses. What the British couldn't do in the 19th century and what the Russians couldn't do at the end of the 20th century, we're going to achieve at the start of the 21 century, taking our terrible war into nuclear-armed Pakistan just for good measure. Fantasy again.

Joseph Conrad, who understood the powerlessness of powerful nations, would surely have made something of this. Yes, we have lost after we won in Afghanistan and now we will lose as we try to win again. Stuff happens.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'