Gareth Porter: Afghan war a failure, yet there is little debate about why and what to do next
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s Porter Report.
Now joining us from our D.C. studio is Gareth Porter. He’s an investigative journalist, a historian, and an often-contributor to The Real News Network. Thanks very much for joining us, Gareth.
GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thanks very much, Paul. Good to be back.
JAY: So I’m kind ofâ€”I guess I’m not surprised, but I think it’s kind of interesting how little debate there is about America at war. The United States is in war in Afghanistan. In the presidential campaign, there’s practically no debate, although each initiative of President Obama seems to have ended in failure. He startedâ€”early in his administration he was going to broker this deal between India and Pakistan to make, finally, a deal in Kashmir that would free up Pakistani troops to help fight the Taliban. That lasted a few minutes and didn’t go anywhere. Then he was going to have the humanitarian surge to deal with the social and economic problems facing the Afghan people, win hearts and minds, and that didn’t go anywhere. Then there was a military surge, and then there was the counterinsurgency strategy. And now the latest is the strategy of handing things over to the Afghan army and police, and that’s now up in shreds. And I guess you’ll tell us why. So what do you make of all this?
PORTER: Well, I think you’re right. I think it is a remarkable fact that you have here a failed warâ€”pretty much widely appreciated, at some level, at least, by most Americans. And that fact certainly has registered even with Mitt Romney’s Republican base. I mean, I think it’s clear that there are a lot of Republican voters and even members of Congress who are very disturbed about this situation and whoâ€”.
JAY: Even Clint Eastwood wants out of Afghanistan.
PORTER: Well, I’m not sure what Eastwood was trying to say there. I think it wasn’t very clear to him, even.
But I do think that there is a lot of dissatisfaction which reaches deep into the ranks of Romney’s base. And so it is quite interesting that he has not said anything to essentially raise the issue of a failed war against Obama during this campaign. And my feeling and my guess is that what’s going on here is that he is in fact indebted to some very large contributors whose interests would not be served by an all-out criticism of Obama on the Afghan war. I think that the military services and the military-industrial complex, the leading military industries, would not want the Republican candidate to weigh in in a very big way against the continuation and an effort to portray this war as successful byâ€”.
JAY: So what aboutâ€”the exit strategy’s supposed to be handing things over to the Afghan army and police. And now, as, you know, you’ve reported in one of your articles, you know, this just ain’tâ€”it ain’t on, because too many Afghan police and soldiers or people dressed up as Afghan police and soldiers are killing American soldiers.
PORTER: Well, that’s right. And this is one of the three major reasons why I think it’s clear that the United States has already clearly lost this war. And the future, the outcome of this war is pretty muchâ€”can be foretold by the fate of the policies that the United States has pursued in the past. And I think it’s worthwhile to just run through all three of these ways in which the United States has lost the Afghan war.
The first, I think, is the one that you referred to. That’s the most recent and perhaps the most spectacular case of a strategic defeat, because it’s been very widely reported in the press. And that is that the insider attacks, so-called, have escalated to the point where the U.S.-NATO command could not avoid responding by essentially protecting U.S. troops from its erstwhile or supposed allies, that is to say, by essentially cutting off the partnering or joint operations between the United States military and/or NATO military and the Afghan military police until further notice. And this happened now ten days or so ago. There’s no sign that they have started to reconsider this and are reinstalling, reinstating the very ambitious plans for partnering.
So what that means is that the Afghan military is really on its own. And as I pointed out in my story, in places like Helmand rovince where the Afghan military was really depending very heavily on U.S. troops to be with them in carrying out operations against the Taliban, they are now feeling very, very nervous about having to carry on operations against the Taliban, and it’s very clear that whatever operations are carried on are going to be much less ambitious and much less frequent than would otherwise have been the case.
JAY: Right. Now, Nick Burns, Nicholas Burns, who was an undersecretary of state under the Bush administration, was on C-SPAN the other day, and actually quite a defender of President Obama in general on all kinds of foreign-policy questions, including Afghanistan. But he essentially said that the exit strategy now is that the U.S. is going to broker a deal between the Karzai government and the Taliban, which is something a few years ago was completely taboo to even talk about. Now that seems to be the exit strategy. What do you make of that?
PORTER: Well, I’m not sure if it’s an exit strategy yet or not. I mean, I think the United States has been feintingâ€”that is, the Obama administration has been feinting toward, you know, making gestures toward a negotiated settlement of some sort. But at the same time, what it’s actually been doing has been putting impossible conditions on talks with the Taliban or failing to put forward even the minimum conditions for successful negotiation. I mean, the most essential condition, of course, is for the United States to signal that it is indeed willing to withdraw its troops on a timetable as part of a settlement, a complete withdrawal. And the Taliban have said that they are willing to make a deal with the United States [crosstalk]
JAY: But isn’t that the hitch here is I don’t think the Obama administration has, I think, made it pretty clear, and so certainly the Pentagon has, there’s no intention of complete withdrawal? They want to maintain a troop presence. They just want the war over.
PORTER: Well, absolutely. That’s the problem. They want to continue a troop presence. They want to be able to, of course, carry on special operations forces night raids for the foreseeable future and beyond. And they want to be able to have troops there that they can use to continue training and for actual combat, just as they did in Iraq, despite the fact that we will be told that the combat mission is over. I have no doubt that the plan is for actual combat to continue.
So there’s a lot of, you know, sort of double-dealing here, in the sense of having presented a policy that appeared to be one of getting out and being willing to negotiate, and that the Taliban are the ones who are standing in the way, while at the same time really not being willing to do what is a minimum necessary for realistic peace negotiations. So in sum, I’m not sure that the administration has yet decided that it’s serious about negotiations.
JAY: Right. And what else do they have?
PORTER: Well, I mean, that’s a very good question. I don’t think they’ve got much going for themselves besides just mostly praying that they’re going to get through this without a complete collapse of the Saigonâ€”excuse meâ€”of the Kabul regime.
I think I made that mistake because I have been making comparisons, of course, between Afghanistan and the last years of the U.S. war in Vietnam recently. And one of the ways in which they areâ€”there’s an interesting comparison to be made here is that the Taliban have been able to carry out spectacular attacks on U.S. bases that have gotten much farther and done much more damage than anything the Vietcong and North Vietnamese were ever able to do during the Vietnam War.
And the most recent attack in Kandahar province on Camp Bastion, as it’s called, in which a large squad of Taliban was able to penetrate the defenses of the base and get in and destroy six Harrier aircraft and kill 14 U.S.-NATO personnel, including a lieutenant colonel who was in charge of the air war there from the base, that is a very, very substantial raid by the Taliban, which goes beyond anything they’ve been able to do and, again, in comparison with Vietnam, is far and away a much bigger success.
So this heralds, I think, a new phase in which the Taliban will be capable of carrying out some very big, successful operations against U.S.-NATO forces. And that, I think, is part of the larger strategic defeat or another aspect of the strategic defeat in which the Taliban have been able to convince certainly the vast majority of Afghans that they are in control of this war, not the U.S. and NATO.
JAY: Right. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.
PORTER: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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