Saturday, January 10, 2009

Don't Know Much About Afghanistan...

When Russia first invaded Afghanistan I was about 9 years old. I couldn't have told you where the nation was, nor could I have explained its importance to the US or any other country. I didn't even know much about the Soviet Union, other than the fact that they were our "enemy" in something called the "Cold War". That latter term itself was a bit confounding. Did soldiers square off against each other across a great ice field? Was it the manifestation of what our elders warned us about when they referred to Hell freezing over? And what was its opposite? Desert warfare? Now I understand only minimally more about the conflict than I did way back when. I trust that others have done our homework for us.

We (I mean the United States under Barack Obama) are about to refocus our military efforts on this far-flung land. In some ways it seems like we've just left after expelling the Taliban in the wake of 9-11. Yet I know that we never did pull out completely. We've been there for over six years now. That's an abstracted reality, but it's true nonetheless. When the Bush administration was making the case to overthrow the Hussein regime, we were already in Afghanistan. In 2003, when the president touched down on the aircraft carrier for his "Mission Accomplished" press conference, the troops were still there. When everything started going bad in Iraq, the US military maintained its presence in that "other war" quietly.

Do you think that you have any idea what is going on in Afghanistan? I don't. It's a great far Eastern mystery as far as I'm concerned. I know what I'm told. The Taliban is regrouping. People are growing poppies and synthesizing it into opium and heroin. There are warlords, and plenty of children running around with missing limbs. Once in awhile we hear about American soldiers dying there. NFL player Pat Tillman was killed in a shady incident a few years back. We are at war in that country. But what's the mission? What's the objective? Are we building and protecting an oil pipeline? Are we staging operations into Pakistan? Are we still looking for Osama Bin Laden?

Interestingly, a lot of historians identify the first theater of the so-called "War on Terror" as Afghanistan. Bin Laden himself, scion of a wealthy Saudi family of contractors, made a name for himself there resisting the Soviet invasion. The US knows a lot about that, as the intelligence community was active in supporting the Muhajideen, of which Bin Laden was an early bagman. There are still plenty of rusted out old Russian tanks littering the landscape of the Afghan mountains. We've been "successful" in the country several times (or so the story goes). So why do we keep meddling with their affairs? It seems that whatever we achieve must be paid back threefold in pain and sufering.

Did you know that folks within the Afghan communist government actually pleaded with the USSR to send troops into their country? Leonid Brezhnev, who was dying and realized the poor economic state of his nation, didn't like the idea initially but eventually gave in. But first the Soviet Union tried to have the leader* of Afghanistan assassinated. They slipped poison into his favorite beverage, not realizing that Coca-Cola would counter the effects of the lethal juice. Then they tried to taint his soup. That worked, but doctors at the Russian ambassy weren't aware of the plan, and so delivered medical attention that saved his life. Finally the soldiers came and completed the task with a few choice rounds. And then they stuck around for years afterward not knowing what to do next.

*President Hafizullah Amin.

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Blogger rainywalker said...

Afghanistan is a pandora's box for any country or military that tries to control it. All one has to do is look at history. We supplied the mujahideen and they ran the Soviets out.
Now we have sent a military group to ask the Russians if we have did enough, what have we did wrong and is there something more we can do. History was not kind to the Soviets in Afghanistan and if we are lucky we will get out with our skin intact [literally].

7:02 PM  

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