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

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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
It is much easier to correct errors on the web than in print  

There would be no need for corrections if we didn’t make mistakes in the first place

Will Gore
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links