The Iraqization Of Afghanistan

Last year suicide bombings quintupled, attacks on international forces tripled, and support for the Taliban grew. According to CNN terror analyst and Taliban expert Peter Bergen, here are the top 10 entirely avoidable mistakes made by the Bush administration.

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  1. Letting Osama Escape Tora Bora: Because Donald Rumsfeld wanted a “light” footprint in Afghanistan, only 60 U.S. Special Forces were sent to smoke out bin Laden. During the 2004 reelection campaign, Bush implied that bin Laden wasn’t at Tora Bora at all—a claim publicly slapped down by the cia‘s on-scene commander, Gary Berntsen, a longtime Republican, who pleaded for additional forces, to no avail.
  2. Too Few Grunts: The initial U.S. deployment was the smallest peacekeeping force, per capita, that America has sent anywhere since World War II.
  3. Hiring Warlords: By outsourcing security to militias in the first years of the occupation, the U.S. undercut attempts to form a desperately needed Afghan national army.
  4. Iraq: Almost immediately, time, money, and key personnel were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq, including the 5th Special Forces group, which specializes in the region.
  5. Nickel and Diming: After the fall of the Taliban, aid per capita to Afghanistan was one-twelfth of what Bosnia received following the Balkan war. According to a rand: analyst, “Afghanistan has received the least amount of resources out of any major American-led nation-building operation over the last 60 years.”
  6. Nixing nato: For two years the Bush administration prevented nato troops from deploying anywhere beyond Kabul—i.e., anywhere that mattered.
  7. Coddling Pakistan: Pakistan arrested some Al Qaeda leaders, but the U.S. allowed it to ignore the Taliban. A former U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan notes: “Pakistani citizens, residents, money, and territory are playing a much greater role in the Afghan civil war than are Iranian citizens, residents, money, or territory in the Iraqi civil war.”
  8. Prioritizing Poppies: Eradicating poppy fields hasn’t put a dent in drug exports—Afghanistan now supplies 90 percent of the world’s opium—but it has uprooted farmers, some of whom have joined the Taliban. In 2005, the U.S. spent $782 million on narcotics operations, $222 million more than Afghan farmers earned from growing poppies.
  9. Losing Hearts and Minds: Particularly in the first few years, American soldiers had a tin ear for local customs—failing to grasp, for example, that in tribal society, each civilian death must be collectively avenged.
  10. Timetable: In 2005, the Pentagon announced U.S. forces would begin to pull out of Afghanistan—prompting Taliban violence to surge. This February, the former U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Lt. General David Barno, told Congress that the Pentagon’s statement “caused both friends and enemies to recalculate their options.”

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It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

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