It’s always been hard to determine what will result from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Recently, it’s become more clear that victory is far from assured. Which is to say, that despite everything everyone did from 2001-2014, the country may simply return to the same calamitous civil war it was involved in when the whole mission began in 2001.
And now, there is a wildly dire but compelling story out by American journalist Dexter Filkins which reveals the increasing possibility of another Afghan civil war.
Based on the kind of shoe-leather, on-the-ground reporting that he has become famous for, the story gets inside the Afghan defense community to paint a picture of a very fragile nation.
Nashir, the Khanabad governor, who is the scion of a prominent family, said that the rise of the warlords was just the latest in a series of ominous developments in a country where government officials exercise virtually no independent authority. “These people do not change, they are the same bandits,” he said. “Everything here, when the Americans leave, will be looted.”
Nashir grew increasingly vehement. “Mark my words, the moment the Americans leave, the civil war will begin,” he said. “This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government.” Nashir rattled off the names of some of the country’s best-known leaders—some of them warlords—and the areas they come from: “Mir Alam will take Kunduz. Atta will take Mazar-e-Sharif. Dostum will take Sheberghan. The Karzais will take Kandahar. The Haqqanis will take Paktika. If these things don’t happen, you can burn my bones when I die.”
Filkins goes on to point out that this outcome was, well, not what was expected:
After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven’t worked or because there’s no longer enough time to achieve them. Even the education of girls, a signal achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, is at risk. By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.
American soldiers and diplomats are engaged in a campaign of what amounts to strategic triage: muster enough Afghan soldiers and policemen to take over a fight that the United States and its allies could not win and hand it off to whatever sort of Afghan state exists, warts and all. “Change the place?” Douglas Ollivant, a former counterinsurgency adviser to American forces in Afghanistan, said. “It appears we’re just trying to get out and avoid catastrophe.”
Read the whole thing here.