In the past week, we’ve heard that the Trump administration is in the planning stages of a troop surge into Afghanistan.
This is a war that the US has actively taken part in for the for the last sixteen years, and the results have been mixed at best. To send in more troops at this point seems like a bad situation becoming worse because of the great efforts that have been made to clear that nation of groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and these efforts have continuously fallen short of reaching their goals.
Instead, of using US military troops for the surge, they are planning on contracting it out to a group of mercenaries led by Erik Prince of Blackwater fame or infamy. Blackwater was a group of mercenaries that were used in the Iraq war and were later convicted of the murder of 26 Iraqi civilians.
The Afghan war is one that is very flawed particularly because of the high level of corruption on the ground there.
In 2001, Hamid Karzai was made the President of
Afghanistan following the first stages of the American attack. He was praised around the world for his modernity and favorable attitude towards the west in their excursion, the global war on terror. But his methods for actually combating terrorism fell short because of a lack of resources. In this type of a situation, it was left to the United States to present Karzai as the face of the new emerging democratic Afghanistan while relying on Warlords and their personal armies to combat forces of the Al Qaida and the Taliban.
Karzai is a figure who came into the Presidency without any experience in the field of state politics. For the prior decade, he had to take shelter in neighboring Pakistan to stay out of reach of the Taliban in Afghanistan. His way of governing involved the giving of patronage or favors by the government to individuals to help keep things running smoothly.
Instead of building political institutions that are used to create a functioning lawful state, a network of warlords was constructed in order to keep relative stability throughout the nation. These networks were above the rule of law, and were allowed to act as they saw fit in order to keep relative peace. Many of these networks are involved in the movement of illegal drugs, the selling of weapons, and the large scale extortion. Apart from this network, a large weight that held Karzai in power was the United States military occupation. The hope was that over time, the government of Afghanistan that could defend its own territory and enforce the rule of law.
It is important to remember also that while Karzai’s governing methods were not great, he was unable to fully develop a system because the American occupation made the state’s own sovereignty over its territory quite limited. His agenda was really dictated to him, because much of the state’s resources were put into growing a security force that would be able to fight for itself in the future.
Important tools of development such as infrastructure and social services were shelved in favor of defense and military spending. As the war went on, Karzai himself faced intense pressure because of how close his relationship with the Americans was. Through Afghanistan, and the wider Middle East region, he was being seen more and more as a puppet placed in charge of a vassal state. In this narrative, Afghanistan served merely as an outpost of US military imperialism. It was under such pressures that the relationship between Karzai and the United States began to decline. What this conflict ignores is that despite any personal feelings against one another, these two forces are both essential to the continuation of Afghanistan as it currently is. The relationship is so that any conflict between these two parties is sheer theatre to gain Karzai credit among neighboring nations.
A truth must be faced at this point, and that is the Afghan state, as it currently is, is unsustainable.
It is being held up by foreign military support and surgical strikes by special forces. Even when the United States officially began its period of military withdrawal in 2011, drone attacks have been an almost daily occurrence.
Hamid Karzai is no longer the President, it is Ashraf Ghani who has taken up that post, a man who once served as Karzai’s finance minister. The system that was run by Karzai hasn’t changed, it has been continued with a new figure head. In the years that the US military has begun its troop removals, the sectarian forces have only increased and grown stronger. The Islamic State has now entered the sectarian conflict in Afghanistan and gained small segments of the nation. Back in March, the US dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb on one of these IS held territories. This was the prelude to the new surge in Afghanistan.
The problem with further commitments in Afghanistan is that this is a situation where that cannot be solved anytime soon. Structural corruption and weakness of the state are problems that cannot be solved by foreign military assistance. It doesn’t look like that this is a state that is improving, and so it is literally being held up by the foreign assistance. But the problem then arises of what would happen if this failed state was left to collapse, and it is not an optimistic picture.
The true forces that could begin a revolution, being the workers and the toiling masses, are far too repressed, beat down, and exhausted by decades of conflict to forge a struggle. This would mean that any sectarian struggle would be forged by reactionary forces who are more concerned with a specific interpretation of religion and how to make it the highest law, rather than improving the quality of people’s lives.
What the people of Afghanistan need now, more than anything, is a period of calmness and stability to allow their country to return to normal operating levels. It is unlikely that a period of peace will come anytime soon, however, the push for private military contractors is a way of making sure the war continues for a very long time – something that Afghanistan does not need right now.
State military is used as a tool to protect the nation and to protect its interests abroad. Conflict is a very expensive and costly practice, both in financial and human terms. For the most part, wars are carried out as fast as possible to return to stability and a focus on internal matters. When wars drag on, the public tends to turn against these conflicts, seeing the human toll and financial stress they cause. This was the case in America during the Vietnam War, The War in Iraq, and in the earlier stages of the Afghan War. The easiest ways around these traps in the modern era are the use of drone strikes, funding proxy militias, or sending in contracted mercenaries.
Mercenaries change the entire pattern of strategy heading into a war because, as it is in a state’s best interest to end the war as fast as possible, it is in these hired militias best interests to also stay at war for as long as possible. That is how they continue to make money.
If this plan is carried through, this will not be a short term surge that will be intended to work with the Afghan government and their forces, but an all out attack on the entire country. Crises will develop to prolong the engagement and get more contracts. This plan will not be a short term matter, this will turn Afghanistan into the South Korea of the Middle East, a nation where a strong US presence has gone on for more than 60 years.
We may have found Trump’s war. There has been plenty of speculation as to where it would be, Syria, North Korea, Iraq, but Afghanistan offers an open ended engagement that could provide plenty of newsreel highlights of bombs exploding into insurgent encampments, while making very few material gains against an enemy growing larger with an inflow from the AfPak mountains.
The philosopher Max Weber defined a state as a body that had a monopoly of violence over the territory that it governed. The truth is that the state of Afghanistan does not, so this raises the question of whether it is at all functioning.
If it is not, is it really worth defending and protecting? While it is a hard case to argue that Afghanistan is not a failed state, the current geopolitical situation is one in which another collapsed state would intensify the major crisis that already exists.
A collapsed state would bring about a massive civil war involving the reactionary fundamentalist forces of The Taliban, Islamic Jihad, Mullah Dadullah Front, Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent in the same way that infighting between part of the Mujahadeen broke out within days of Soviets exist from Afghanistan. The true victim in this crisis are the working classes of Afghanistan. Those who are threatened by both suicide bombers and US drone strikes, by Taliban forces and JSOC teams. These people have been repressed and victimized for way too long to lead a struggle against the forces they have lived under.
What is needed now, more than anything, is peace and stability so the Afghan people can start the process of rebuilding their infrastructure and constructing public resources. The way to make this happen is not through the use of private security contractors.
When the objective is profits, the ‘crisis’ will go on for as long as it can without a developing into a real international emergency. The hope is to create a situation where the reality on the ground is stable and the economy begins to pick up, but with a clear understanding that these forces are vital.
It is like walking on a balance beam, they will not let the situation deteriorate to the point that the world has to sit up and take notice, and they don’t want it to become so safe and stable that they will be pressured into leaving. Maintain a crisis, maintain profits, and maintain small improvements as evidence to the world they are part of the solution.
Afghanistan is a country that has been shaken to the core.
Very few and brief periods of peace have occurred since the Soviet Union invaded in 1979. War torn is truly an understatement. The question I feel I have been almost avoiding throughout this whole piece is, if not private contractors, then what is the solution?
I must admit that i do not know. My heart tells me that any foreign interference in a state’s affairs is wrong, at the same time, my brain tells me that this will lead to the collapse of the state and that many people will fall victim to violence. The problems that currently plaguing this nation need Afghan solutions. Foreign powers cannot put their own solutions into practice and consider everything solved. Workable solutions have to be put into place by those who are invested in them succeeding. People whose lives will be affected by such decisions long into the future.
It is very easy for an international financial advisor to devise a plan in which spending on infrastructure is very low, and intend to have the difference made by foreign investment in this sector. It is a very different story when you need these roads to get from point A to point B, and you realize that foreign investors aren’t flowing in because of the instability. Afghanistan is a land of many problems, however, they need to be solved internally in order for the country to progress. The hope is that foreign militarists will work to defend the state, and allow the government to concentrate on development.