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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

Pentagon’s Foolish Friends

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

People at the helm of affairs in the Pentagon USA need to put some good faith in the global proverbial truth that ‘a wise enemy is better than a foolish friend’. It took USA more than 18 years to be able to talk to wise foes (Afghan Taliban) only because the armchair military and intelligence advisors and think tanks thriving on hefty pays, perks and privileges continued to churn out foolish narratives and advices that got the US Armed Forces embroiled in unending wars in Afghanistan and in other middle eastern countries; as had been the case in the past in Vietnam and Cambodia. Pakistan despite being a forced ally in so called war against terrorism, throughout advised the US military and intelligence on the futility of excessive use of military muscles to settle a problem, which in the first place needed a negotiated political solution. Ultimately, 20 years later, the USA was forced to do the same but from an unenviable position and at the heavy human, prestige and economic cost. Ironically, despite Pakistan’s hard won successes against the global terrorists pushed on its soil from Afghanistan thanks to Indian RAW and Afghan NDS nexus, and unswerving sincerest counseling to American counterparts in the DoD, Pentagon, State Department and Langley, American side remained ill advised in accusing and pressurizing Pakistan for all the political, military and intelligence follies committed in Afghanistan. Was American failure in Afghanistan due to imperial overstretch, intoxication of power, faulty politico-military objectives set for the state department, American armed forces and allies or strategic military miscalculations based on macro faulty intelligence; all can be summed up as being grossly misled by those who in the first place were supposed to be the strategic advisors. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of lessons to be learnt especially by the Pentagon as ultimate setbacks and sufferings have throughout been endured by the military commanders and troops on the invaded ground for two decades. Nevertheless, the ill conceived and visionless unending wars, which caused colossal human losses and destruction of invaded countries on whatever false pretexts, have inflicted heavy blow to the American economy and above all her stature as a global leader that was known for her democratic and acclaimed high moral values.

It is shocking to observe that the same old advisors are still continuing to trail similar fake and destructive narratives that have already failed miserably. Most ironically, having already pulverized Afghanistan in the last two decades, such counselors are now nefariously urging the US government, Pentagon and Langley to pursue a series of measures in the name of preventing catastrophe in a post-American Afghanistan. One such advocate says, ‘preventing catastrophe—a complete Taliban military victory and the reestablishment of terrorist safe havens—depends on what the United States does now. Without overt U.S. military forces on the ground, the next best way to avoid the worst outcomes in Afghanistan and minimize the downsides of a withdrawal is through a strategy focused on supporting Afghan security forces and striking terrorists. This approach would entail funding and arming the Afghan government and other anti-Taliban forces, deploying small numbers of CIA paramilitary units and U.S. special operations forces, and striking targets from the air’. It is a well established reality that the U.S. national security interests in Afghanistan are not what they were right after 9/11. The United States has already shifted its focus to competition with China and Russia and a new cold war is in motion. However, the old tried and tested advisors continue to put across a number of options to the US administration to linger on in Afghanistan. The leading option as per such wizards is to continue providing military assistance to the dwindling Ashraf Ghani’s government from the air and covert forces on the ground through a strategy of what is known in military circles as “armed overwatch.” Since 2001, the United States has used various combinations of CIA and special operations forces, airpower, and aid to security forces to weaken terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda and ISIS. This approach has been used in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Libya, and it should be adopted in Afghanistan. The declared goals now would be relatively modest: prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a terrorist safe haven, thwart the Taliban from controlling the entire country, reduce the possibility of a humanitarian crisis, and blunt the expansion of Iran, Russia, and China.

To achieve such stated goals, it has been recommended to Pentagon and Langley that the United States should fly regular missions for the purpose of striking targets and gathering intelligence by stationing U.S. aircrafts in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan; provided Russian agreed to oblige and on what cost. Alternatively, the United States could fly some missions from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean, but the U.S. Navy would likely prefer to use those ships for missions aimed at countering China in East Asia. This leaves countries in the Persian Gulf such as Qatar, which is over 1,000 nautical miles from Afghanistan. Given the mission requirements for Afghanistan, the best aircraft for the job is the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper. One of the newest versions of the drone could, after subtracting the 12-hour round trip from Qatar, spend roughly 26 hours flying over Afghanistan, conducting surveillance and striking targets. The United States could complement its drones with manned aircraft, including F-15E strike fighters, F-16 fighter bombers, A-10 ground attack jets, and B-52 strategic bombers. These aircraft could assist Afghan forces by offering close air support—missions that would prove particularly useful when the Taliban start to amass their forces and conduct large conventional operations. Since the Taliban do not yet possess significant surface-to-air missile capabilities or an air force, the United States would continue to enjoy air superiority. And lastly, it is recommended that the US special operations forces from the CIA and the U.S. military should train and equip Afghan forces, as well as allied militias in Afghanistan. CIA and U.S. military forces could also train Afghan army, police, intelligence, and air force units outside Afghanistan, in Uzbekistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates.

The naivety of the suggested and somewhat accepted recommendations need no emphasis as those had already been tried in the last twenty years but in vain. The Taliban victory is written on the wall with so far self declared refrain by the Taliban for not grabbing the seat of power Kabul by force and every regional country supporting a peaceful transition and all inclusive political dispensation. Nevertheless, the perils of privatisation of covert war in Afghanistan through a combination of outsourcing it to India as well as further embroiling Pentagon and Langley is bound to foment a bloody civil war in Afghanistan, besides highly destabilised CASA region global contest notwithstanding. Pakistan must keep its borders effectively sealed and well protected, remain focused on threads of economic hit man in progress and keep the regional greater alliance to thwart the nefarious game plan for Afghanistan and the region.

26th July 2021

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