Afghan Update in Vanity Fair - Sebastian Junger

Into The Valley Of Death

The Korengal is widely considered to be the most dangerous valley in northeastern Afghanistan, and Second Platoon is considered the tip of the spear for the American forces there. Nearly one-fifth of all combat in Afghanistan occurs in this valley, and nearly three-quarters of all the bombs dropped by NATO forces in Afghanistan are dropped in the surrounding area. The fighting is on foot and it is deadly, and the zone of American control moves hilltop by hilltop, ridge by ridge, a hundred yards at a time. There is literally no safe place in the Korengal Valley. Men have been shot while asleep in their barracks tents.

The following is particularly forboding.

The situation has gotten so bad, in fact, that ethnic and political factions in the northern part of the country have started stockpiling arms in preparation for when the international community decides to pull out.

The Russians would continue to support the Tajiks in the event of a general withdrawal. The Yelstin and Putin administrations were steady backers of the Northern Alliance with their fears of the Taliban and militant Islam. Massoud signed two cease fires with the Soviets in the late eighties establishing a precedent for contact.

It is a very interesting and well written profile, although I found it more interesting for the micro-level description than the big picture commentary.

I’m not quite sure what you are getting at with this, though:

The Northern Alliance is fundamentally dead without Shah Massoud, and not really a bellwether for Afghanistan’s future. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are the future, and I don’t foresee them making deals with Russia anytime soon.

Anyway, as Michael Scheuer elaborates on in Imperial Hubris, Afghan alliances with foreigners are possibly the least reliable indicators of their future behavior. The precedent that has always been set with the Mujahideen is a willingness to take money and supplies but not so much as the slightest whiff of orders or guidance from outsiders. Our own experiences in Afghanistan now, with the always entertaining song and dance of Hamid Karzai’s hilariously illegitimate government’s distractions included, are a perfect illumination of that.

I still remembered all the irrational exuberance and jolly dick waving that followed the short term success of the snake eaters in “recruiting” the support of warlords.

Reminds me of a conference I went to, oh, 2003 maybe? Or was it summer of 2002? Anyhow, it was something called Connections, and it was in Rome, NY. A conference for military simulation types, from commercial wargames through simnet type stuff and the like.

Anyhow, one of the highlights was a briefing by some contractors I think who were doing…something…I can’t recall what, but they had a dog and pony show about the recent military campaigns in Afghanistan. The briefers were positively giddy with delight (or was it perhaps a bit of hubris?), and regaled us with tales of how in six weeks a handful of special forces types had done what the Soviet legions couldn’t do in eight years or whatever. I remember being a bit put off even then (I’m a historian by training and it seemed to be a bit too rosy an assessment given it was, well, Afghanistan we were talking about after all). But many of the folks there were pretty convinced; those that were doubters, if they wore uniforms, were smart enough to keep their disquiet, well, quiet.

Pretty much everytime I hear a briefing or presentation that sounds too good to be true, it usually is…

Thanks for the repost - interesting! It’s easy to forget that there are people out there fighting a full-on war day-in-day-out, and only through articles like these do we hear of their battles. It’s weird, imagine WW2 with the only news being the speeches made and the protests at home (ok, bad analogy, but you get the point)…

Anyway, I ramble. Thanks.

Agreed on the first, It was a creation of the Taliban victories and little else. The Uzbeks like Dostum were not natural allies. What I assumed was the formation of another Tajik army built around the Panjshir Valley and a general civil war with Taliban forces fighting province to province picking off towns then cities. If Massouds professionalism survived with his lieutenants then the Tajiks could kick around for a while but like most they are not in a position to run the country. This will just look like the 90s all over again.

Everything I’ve read and heard on the subject indicates the Northern Alliance has no leaders worth mentioning now that Massoud is dead. The only ones in a position to run the country are the Taliban. The only hope for preventing that could be using something other than puppet expatriates to run the country with international support, but I don’t see how you can overcome Afghan xenophobia and mistrust of foreigners to a useful degree with locals that matter.

I expect the bet hedging in anticipation of an eventual collapse/withdrawal to continue, and I look forward to Karzai producing elegant eulogies for his “lost Afghan dream” from the comfort of an Italian villa or something in the near future.