A century from now when textbooks reduce everything that’s gone on in the past ten years to a paragraph this may best summarize the war in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009:
The United States hasn’t been fighting a full-scale war in Afghanistan for the past eight years. It had a light military presence in the country for seven years while its enemies regrouped. Because it neglected Afghanistan and failed to commit what was needed and finish what it had started, it is now in an unsalvageable situation.
I’m not totally convinced about ‘unsalvageable’ but I will concede that it’s pretty bad. But how did it get that way? Well, Thomas Ricks passes on a report about a book launch that documents the oral histories of 16 people involved with the first few years of the conflict. What were the reviewers impressions?
I was struck by the relatively rosy picture these men painted of that period in the war: the Taliban resistance was disorganized and ineffective, with little predilection for IEDs; Afghan officers were starting to be embedded with NATO forces and serving as a vital cultural link; and governance was improving.
I would agree that there was a general optimism about the course of the war. For some of us, however, there was a sense of unease. I certainly couldn’t foresee our current predicament back in 2004 but I was sure the trends I was seeing weren’t going to our benefit. The general lack of interest among senior Army (possibly other elements as well) officials in any serious attempts at counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, deemphasizing the rampant warlordism, or doing much in the way of planning.
As I got on the plane to go home I remarked that I couldn’t think of one significant step forward in our efforts that I had seen during my tour there. Nine months is a long time to make no progress and unfortunately, that was just the beginning.