Foreign Policy Blogs

Strategic Draw Down or Cutting U.S. Losses in Afghanistan?

Is the U.S. scaling back its military and political ambitions before the start of the July 2011 drawdown?  The New York Times reported that the U.S military is withdrawing from its outpost in the Pech Valley, a post that it had previously thought crucial in its strategy to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda.  So, what does that mean for the war effort that has cost so many thousands of lives on both sides of the battle divide?

It is legitimate to ask whether we are drawing down not only our forces, but our ambitions and our goals; it is legitimate to ask whether this drawing down-say moderation?- of all our relevant interests amounts to the declaration that the initial 2011 intervention was not worth it.  Though the question is legitimate the answer to that question comes, and will come, in drips and drabs, an inductivist response to a query that to many might seem beside the point: given the lost treasure in lives and youth on both sides of the conflict, was withdrawal really the price paid for those lives?

Consider the piece reported in the Times recently about the withdrawal from the Pech Valley:

“After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

“The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.”

The U.S. and NATO command have argued for the withdrawal suits the counterinsurgency command to protect civilian populations, and given constraints on the number of soldiers who might serve in the Pech, withdrawal seems consistent with counterinsurgency doctrine.  However the move is also consistent with the argument that the U.S and Afghan military has lost ground and is rapidly cuttng its losses.  Indeed, the withdrawal from the Pech is only one part of similarly controversial withdrawals from Nuristan Province and the Korengal Valley. (For more on the politic of cooperation and conflict in the Korengal see the fantastic documentary Restrepo).

No doubt the loosely associated insurgent groups we call the Taliban have already used these withdrawals to speak to their victory over the U.S and NATO command.  No doubt insurgents have used these draw downs to pressure more villages into their fold and control.

However, possibly more troubling is the real felt fact that the U.S government is turning a blind eye to the rampant political corruption seeding into and bleeding out of Afghanistan.  The recent parliamentary crisis in Afghanistan has gone off and around without more than a peep from the U.S government.  The Kabul Bank fiasco that promises to undo decentralized capitalism in Afghanistan, is being whispered about in Washington D.C., but there have been no real moves made to contain this disaster in Kabul; nor has there been an attempt to remove everyone of the crooks held responsible for the pending collapse of the bank.

Consider that the counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN, for short) requires that the local government come to aid its own people on whose backs the doctrine promises to secure victory against the roiling insurgency.   If the government that’s meant to win the Afghan people’s allegiance is itself shown to be a party to the malfeasance that is sinking the fortunes of the people, where are they to turn?  The U.S government has now taken to looking away when the Karzai government’s fraudulent, conspiratorial turns are revealed to the broader world interested in such things.  That turn toward private corrupt politics certainly was not the promised democracy for which young American, British and Afghan men fought and died.

Certainly if the Karzai government carries on the way it has done in nearly the last half decade, while U.S. military establishment turns away from approaches and valleys it had viewed as a fenced off wall against the insurgency, one must surrender one’s assessment of the facts to the view that at least the idea of victory has been defined down.  This, perhaps, is the harshest cut of all, the one from which now must spring new assessments of victory and failure and from which now must spurt the blood of innumerable young men, women and children.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link:

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