Afghanistan/Pakistan: Where Empires Go to Die

Posted by Bulatlat

Under the pretext of responding to the September 11, 2001, attacks in America, the United States and Great Britain invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. They dubbed this invasion Operation Enduring Freedom. President Bush 41 told the American people that the US strikes were,

“… designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime … we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans. Initially, the terrorists may burrow deeper into caves and other entrenched hiding places … At the same time, the oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America and our allies. As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan …”

During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq in order to bolster the forces in Afghanistan in order to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “It’s time to refocus our attention on the war we have to win in Afghanistan.” I believe that this tactic was taken by the Obama team in order to placate the anti-Iraq contingent in the American electorate, while not leaving himself vulnerable to the “soft on defense” hawkish critics on the other side. As a campaign tactic, this approach proved to be successful. In reality, this may prove to be one of the greatest miscalculations President Obama could make.

After the historic election of President Obama, many historians and others placed this event in the context of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Dream.” Some mistakenly saw this election as the fulfillment of that “Dream”; others mistakenly compared candidate Obama’s “race neutral” approach with Dr. King’s vision. Some even likened Obama’s oratory skills with that of Dr. King’s.

Today, critics are asking the question, “Is the Obama administration’s approach to the problems in Afghanistan/Pakistan going to be their Vietnam?” As America faces its most difficult economic challenges in recent history, compare President Obama’s Afghanistan/Pakistan with President Johnson’s Vietnam. Is the Obama administration making the same mistakes based on arrogance, hubris and a misplaced sense of empire that led us into Vietnam? Here’s what the Reverend Dr. King had to say about US involvement in Vietnam in his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”:

“There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”

Today, President Obama is planning to send an additional 4,000 troops and other support personnel into Afghanistan. Like his predecessor, President Obama says, “If the Afghanistan government falls to the Taliban or allows al-Qaida to go unchallenged, that country will again be a base for terrorists.” The additional 4,000 troops will bring the total US force up to 30,000 by the end of 2009.

President Obama is also ratcheting up the rhetoric and activity in Pakistan. There’s a significant increase in ground forces, Predator drones and air attacks. In his announcement on March 27, President Obama referred to the border region of Afghanistan/Pakistan as,

“the most dangerous place in the world….This is not simply an American problem – far from it. It is, instead, an international security challenge of the highest order. Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al-Qaida and its allies in Pakistan, as were attacks in North Africa and the Middle East, in Islamabad and Kabul. If there is a major attack on an Asian, European, or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to al-Qaida’s leadership in Pakistan. The safety of people around the world is at stake.”

President Obama and his advisers should learn from history, some ancient some modern, and not repeat it. This is a region of the world that has never been defeated militarily. It is where empires go to die. The Greeks, Indians, Persians, Mongolians, British and Russians have tried to hold Afghanistan, but never succeeded.

According to historians, Alexander the Great, in 330 B.C., lost more men and more animals crossing the Hindu Kush than all his subsequent campaigns in central Asia. In 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan; in 1841, after an Afghan revolt, 4,500 British troops withdrew. According to a description published in the North American Review in 1842, “On the 6th of January, 1842, the Caboul forces commenced their retreat through the dismal pass, destined to be their grave. On the third day they were attacked by the mountaineers from all points, and a fearful slaughter ensued …”

In most recent history, the Russians invaded Afghanistan. The initial deployment of the Soviet 40th Army began in Afghanistan on August 7, 1978. After nine years of fighting a US-, Saudi Arabia- and Pakistani-backed mujahideen resistance, the Soviet troop withdrawal began on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989.

Since 2001, in spite of President Bush and now President Obama’s noble speeches and military tactics, the US and its allies have not “disrupt(ed) the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations.” The US has not been able to successfully “attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.”

What the US has done, is lose 1147 coalition forces; US Air Force data shows that munitions dropped in Afghanistan have risen 1,100 percent, from 2004 to 2007; tonnage figures jumped from 163 tons to 1,956 tons. According to the United Nations, bombs have killed over 2,000 Afghan civilians in 2008, up 40 percent from 2007. The Associated Press reports the direct correlation between the rise in Afghan civilian deaths and anti-American sentiment.

In terms of dollars, according to recently released Pentagon reports, the price tag for running the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan will outstrip the cost of the conflict in Iraq next year. America cannot afford this folly. As the Reverend Dr. King would say: Then came the buildup in Afghanistan/Pakistan and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war…

The US and its allies could “disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and attack the military capability of the Taliban regime …” if more of this effort and money were spent on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan and Pakistani people through real humanitarian assistance such as water, food, medicine, blankets and building supplies.

The problem with this solution is that those who fuel and promote the military industrial complex in America do not profit from the sale of humanitarian assistance. They profit from war. This is why, if America is not smart, Afghanistan/Pakistan will once again be where empires go to die. (Posted by Bulatlat)

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “On With Leon” and a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, DC. Go to or email

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  1. nicely said !

    American invasion of AF is a sign, that USA end is near

  2. ipagpatuloy ang patas at totoong balita…

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