My old farts that visit IST will remember the days of yore, 1979, when the USSR entered Afghanistan…..I use “old farts” because few seem to want to remember that we have been doing “business” in Afghanistan for over 25 years.
The USSR entered neighboring Afghanistan in 1979, attempting to shore up the newly-established pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. In short order, nearly 100,000 Soviet soldiers took control of major cities and highways. Rebellion was swift and broad, and the Soviets dealt harshly with the Mujahideen rebels and those who supported them, leveling entire villages to deny safe havens to their enemy. Foreign support propped up the diverse group of rebels, pouring in from Iran, Pakistan, China, and the United States.
It was a proxy war between the USSR and the US and the people of Afghanistan were caught in the middle of the 9 years of death and destruction……The US armed the opposition to the Russian occupation and today it appears that Russia is arming the opposition to the American occupation…..
The Afghan War is going extremely poorly, 16 years in, and the US military needs someone to blame for its failures. The first choice among a lot of top military figures seems to be Russia, and while they offer no evidence to back up their claims, several have alleged that Russia might conceivably be arming the Taliban.
US commandeer Gen. John Nicholson appeared to be joining that camp today during comments in Kabul, complaining about the “malign influence” of Russia in the country, and insisting that he was “not refuting” allegations of Russia shipping weapons to the Taliban.
I bring all this up because there seems to be another proxy war between Russia and the US brewing…..and yes Afghanistan will be caught in the middle once again.
If recent developments are any indication, Russia is becoming increasingly focused on and active in Afghanistan. The Russian government has held several consultations with Tajikistan on expanding security cooperation on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border and has explored increasing the scope of its Central Asian military bloc, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It has also increased its diplomatic engagement with the Taliban and, according to Afghan and U.S. officials, may even be providing security assistance to the group. Long a consideration for Russia, Afghanistan is growing in importance to Moscow at both the tactical and strategic levels. And as it does, it is becoming an increasingly important theater for the U.S.-Russia competition.
This is what the US and Russia are very good at doing……using proxies so they do not have to get their hands dirty….as it were……
Russia is a great power that retains muscle memory (and a strategic arsenal) from its past superpowerdom. In the Ukraine and Syria, Russia has challenged the United States—its former peer and a hesitant hegemon in decline—through direct military interventions. Additionally, Moscow has impressively deployed hybrid warfare tactics to create the perception that it has influenced the U.S. presidential election and forged a rift between the incoming commander-in-chief and elements of the U.S. intelligence community.
Surprisingly, Afghanistan is emerging as another arena in which Moscow is pointedly working at odds with Washington’s interests. Indeed, recent moves by Russia now represent a pivot toward Afghanistan, posing a set of challenges that have been unanticipated by U.S. observers of the region. The incoming Trump Administration ought to be aware of Russia’s newfound assertiveness vis-à-vis Afghanistan, both in the threats it poses as well as the potential opportunities it may present.
What is left to say….some tactics never change….and that could very well be the problem.
There is one more thing to say…..
Mattis did meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and offered the same assessment that US officials have been offering on the Afghan War for the past 16 years, that it’s “going to be a tough year” in Afghanistan, and that the US appreciates the major problems facing the country.
There you have same song, different year.
After I wrote this draft another Afghan story came to my attention……
The use of a large conventional bomb against an Afghan tunnel complex occupied by Islamic State militants recently captured the media’s imagination. Talking heads rushed to discern the meaning of the decision. Was it President Donald Trump sending a message to North Korea? Was the president even involved in the decision? It turns out that he wasn’t.
The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, says he ordered the use of the MOAB (Massive Ordnance Air Burst Bomb, known colloquially as the “mother of all bombs”) for purely tactical reasons: “This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles.” The jubilation expressed by U.S. media in purely tactical destruction, however, sent a strategic message to some Afghans: that the United States considers their country a collection of targets to destroy rather than a country with a history and, hopefully, a future. A senior pro-government political analyst in Kabul whom I have known for decades points out that even if the Islamic State flees the area, the government’s weakness means the Taliban, who pose a greater threat to the government, will fill the vacuum.
The song is FAR from over!