By Arab News
When in October 2001, American planes bombed major Afghan cities to avenge the 9/11 attacks, little did Americans know the conflict would surpass Vietnam as the longest war in US history, one which 10 years later has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
It looked so easy. Within weeks, the Taliban had crumbled under the onslaught.
But then came Iraq. The US took its eyes off the ball as it started committing tens of thousands of troops and billions of dollars to ousting Saddam Hussein. That redirection of focus allowed the Taliban to regroup into a well-disciplined militia.
Ten years on and the facts speak for themselves. Close to 34, 000 people have been killed in Afghanistan — foreign and Afghan troops, civilians, insurgents and others. Because the goals of the US invasion deviated from the original, and because in Afghanistan, like Iraq later on, the US found it was much easier winning a lopsided war than a ground-rooted peace, Western forces found themselves increasingly fighting a shooting war instead of battling the issues of security, reconstruction and nation-building which would have helped downsize the Taliban and its influence.
The subsequent invasion of Iraq also made things more difficult because it changed the Muslim worldview of America’s effort.
To a man, military observers state categorically that military operations will not cure the underlying disease of the ongoing Afghan insurgency and that NATO allies remain far from reaching their goals. Pakistan seems to be the key. In his recent interview, President Karzai minced no words about the Taliban taking shelter in Pakistan’s tribal areas and re-emphasized that Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan will not magically disappear by themselves unless the government there cooperates with the Afghan administration. The problem is Pakistani authorities deny any support for the Taleban though Washington and Kabul believe otherwise. And neither has the US been able to persuade Pakistan that Washington’s goals of a stable Afghanistan pose no threat to Islamabad.
Karzai vows to step down in 2014. It will be that year that NATO anticipates finally relinquishing its combat role. But there is no guarantee the violence will end with the withdrawal. There are fears that the country could be sliding back toward the kind of civil war that killed and displaced thousands of people in 1992-96. The evidence is found in the string of brazen assaults on major cities and military targets in recent months as well high-profile assassinations, such as the killing last month of Afghan peace envoy and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Ironically, the US apparently needs and is secretly seeking a political settlement with the same people it bombed out of power. This is the ultimate humiliation for a superpower.