Training the enemy – Afghanistan
Over the past few weeks there have been a number of attacks on Allied forces in Afghanistan by Afghan government forces who were supposed to be on their side. While this is a deplorable breach of trust, it highlights two main questions: first, why are we still in Afghanistan and second, why are we training Afghan forces?
The original mission to Afghanistan was to root out terrorist training camps. When the then government did not support the West’s demands that the camps get shut down we invaded and were initially successful in defeating the Taliban and Al Qaida. And then we stayed, and stayed and stayed and stayed and stayed. And we are still there, a decade later.
The problem is now a circular one: we are staying to help reduce terrorism but the fact that we are there promotes terrorism, and so we stay trying to reduce terrorism, which just encourages more terrorism, so we stay. And so on.
If we left Afghanistan with a simple pledge to bomb every terrorist training camp that we found with remote drones we could achieve both objectives: we would leave Afghanistan, thus reducing terrorism, and could stop terrorist training camps that would occur from time to time by bombing them.
The second question is why are we providing any training to Afghan government forces? Theoretically, the argument is that we need to train government forces in order to help them act as our proxies and defeat Taliban and Al Qaida forces after we leave. Once the government forces are sufficiently trained, we can go and they will fight on.
Reality seems to be getting away with the theory, however. What is really happening is that we are training Afghanis. Some of them will embrace the ideals of a modern liberal democracy. They are on our side, and that is great. Others will join the training programme with a simple agenda: to learn how to be better fighters and then use those skills to attack Allied forces when they are expecting it least.
The problem is similar to the famous quote by William Lever, founder of the Lever Brothers cleaning products empire, who said: “I know half my advertising isn’t working, I just don’t know which half”. In this case, we know that a chunk of the forces that we are training are going to turn on us and attack us, we just don’t know which chunk.
We have conducted training exercises in the past with other groups. One group was Iraq, under Saddam Hussain. We provided not only training but military equipment and funding during the Iran-Iraq war. Another group was the Taliban, whom we recruited, trained and armed in order to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Arguably the training we provided them was sub-par because when we eventually went to war with both Saddam Hussain and later with the Taliban we defeated them quickly. At least initially.
Given the ambiguity of whether we are training our enemy or our friends and the fact that our presence in Afghanistan actively encourages terrorist attacks, it seems that the best solution is to stop training all Afghanis and to leave the country.
Why Western politicians insist on staying in Afghanistan remains a mystery: they have no popular mandate to do so by their electorate, it costs billions of dollars to do so every year, while the West’s economies are reeling and facing austerity cuts and the presence of Western forces merely encourages extremism.
It is time to leave Afghanistan. Today.