Let's End This Pointless War in Afghanistan Now

Our eighth round of talks with the Taliban, concerning terms for a U. S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, has concluded without agreement.  We can't agree on a timetable (we want two and a half years; the Taliban want us out within nine months).  We can't agree on a ceasefire (we say now; they say not until our deal is finalized).  We can't agree on how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists (actually, we can't even agree on the definition of "terrorist").

The good news is that we are "inching closer" to a "draft agreement," according to experienced foreign policy experts.

Who are these experts, and what do they know about Afghanistan?  Have they talked to the British?  The British negotiated with the Afghanis in the 19th century, and their tale is hair-raising.

* * *

In 1839, during the First Anglo-Afghan War, British troops occupied the city of Kabul.  There, they secured an uneasy peace, mainly by bribing local potentates.

In November 1841, Wazir Akbar Khan declared a general revolt.  Shortly thereafter, an Afghani mob murdered political officer Sir Alexander Burnes and his staff.  The British commander, Sir William Elphinstone, ignored the incident.  When Afghanis started shelling the British encampment from a hill outside the city, British forces engaged the enemy but withdrew after suffering heavy casualties.

In December, Afghani leaders invited a British representative, William Hay Macnaghten, to tea to discuss the worsening situation.  As Macnaghten dismounted his horse, he was butchered by his hosts, who then dragged his mutilated body through the streets of Kabul.  Again, Elphinstone took no action.

Wazir Akbar Khan then issued an ultimatum: the British must hand over all their gunpowder reserves, their newest muskets, and some cannon, and then leave Kabul.  In return, Akbar Khan promised to provide the British with food and fuel, an escort, and safe passage to Jalalabad ninety miles away.  Elphinstone agreed to these terms.

At dawn on January 6, 1842, some 4,500 British and Indian troops, and 14,000 family members, servants, and civilian workers, assembled on the outskirts of Kabul.  The promised food, fuel, and escort never showed up.  Nonetheless, Elphinstone ordered the column to begin the trek toward Jalalabad.  As they were leaving, Afghanis started shooting at them from behind the walls of the city.

Over the following days attacks continued, during which Akbar Khan could be heard alternately commanding his men in Persian to desist firing, and in Pashto to continue firing.  By the evening of January 9, the column had suffered 3,000 deaths.  On January 11, an envoy persuaded Commander Elphinstone and his second-in-command, Brigadier General John Shelton, to join the Wazir for dinner and negotiations.  They never saw their troops again.

Finally it dawned on the fleeing British that Khan's offers of negotiations had simply been a delaying tactic to enable the Afghanis to get ahead of the British and lay their traps.

On January 12, while making their way through a canyon, the surviving contingent encountered a six-foot-high barrier of thorns.  From heights, Afghanis made the final kill.

On January 13, 1842, a single European, assistant surgeon William Brydon, stumbled into Jalalabad.  Some believe that Brydon was permitted to survive so that he might describe the horrors of the British withdrawal from Kabul.

* * *

The Soviets had their own tale of despair.  Their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan was a disaster from the beginning — constant fighting, sniping, bombings, and ambushes, made still deadlier still by President Reagan's decision to supply weapons to the Mujahideen.  By 1985, Soviet President Gorbachev had come to realize that the invasion had been a terrible mistake.  He began plans for a withdrawal.

Troops started leaving in May 1988, under assault.  The Soviets logically considered the continued attacks inappropriate, given that they were withdrawing.  A Soviet diplomat complained to the CIA station chief in Islamabad, Milton Bearden.

Botshan-Kharchenko: "You must understand, Mr. Buurdon, that these attacks against our troops as they withdraw must stop."

Bearden: "And if they don't?"

Botshan-Kharchenko: "Then perhaps we will halt our withdrawal. Then what will you do?"

Bearden: "It is not what I will do, Counselor; it is what the Afghans will do.  And I think they will simply keep on fighting and killing your soldiers until you finally just go home."

Botshan-Kharchenko: "But you have some control over such matters."

Bearden: "No one has control over such matters, Counselor, except the Soviet Union."

Botshan-Kharchenko: "Mr. Buurdon, you must still understand that there will be consequences if these attacks continue."

Bearden: "I am sure there will be, Counselor."  

* * *

"…they will simply keep on fighting and killing your soldiers until you finally just go home."  We should repeat that sentence to ourselves.  What was true in 1841–42 and in 1988–89 will continue to be true until the last U.S. soldier is withdrawn from Afghanistan.

And we should recognize the following difficult truth: from the time we expelled al-Qaeda, we have accomplished nothing of lasting benefit to Afghanistan.  We tried to give them an Enduring Freedom, and we failed.  If the Afghanis choose to continue fighting among themselves, or stop their women from becoming educated or voting, or decide to return their country to the Middle Ages, well, it's their country, and they will do whatever the hell they want with it.

Negotiations and treaties and draft agreements be damned.  Let's end this pointless war and pack up now.  We've already suffered 2,300 deaths and over 20,000 wounded and spent $975 billion on the effort.  Enough is enough.

Our eighth round of talks with the Taliban, concerning terms for a U. S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, has concluded without agreement.  We can't agree on a timetable (we want two and a half years; the Taliban want us out within nine months).  We can't agree on a ceasefire (we say now; they say not until our deal is finalized).  We can't agree on how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists (actually, we can't even agree on the definition of "terrorist").

The good news is that we are "inching closer" to a "draft agreement," according to experienced foreign policy experts.

Who are these experts, and what do they know about Afghanistan?  Have they talked to the British?  The British negotiated with the Afghanis in the 19th century, and their tale is hair-raising.

* * *

In 1839, during the First Anglo-Afghan War, British troops occupied the city of Kabul.  There, they secured an uneasy peace, mainly by bribing local potentates.

In November 1841, Wazir Akbar Khan declared a general revolt.  Shortly thereafter, an Afghani mob murdered political officer Sir Alexander Burnes and his staff.  The British commander, Sir William Elphinstone, ignored the incident.  When Afghanis started shelling the British encampment from a hill outside the city, British forces engaged the enemy but withdrew after suffering heavy casualties.

In December, Afghani leaders invited a British representative, William Hay Macnaghten, to tea to discuss the worsening situation.  As Macnaghten dismounted his horse, he was butchered by his hosts, who then dragged his mutilated body through the streets of Kabul.  Again, Elphinstone took no action.

Wazir Akbar Khan then issued an ultimatum: the British must hand over all their gunpowder reserves, their newest muskets, and some cannon, and then leave Kabul.  In return, Akbar Khan promised to provide the British with food and fuel, an escort, and safe passage to Jalalabad ninety miles away.  Elphinstone agreed to these terms.

At dawn on January 6, 1842, some 4,500 British and Indian troops, and 14,000 family members, servants, and civilian workers, assembled on the outskirts of Kabul.  The promised food, fuel, and escort never showed up.  Nonetheless, Elphinstone ordered the column to begin the trek toward Jalalabad.  As they were leaving, Afghanis started shooting at them from behind the walls of the city.

Over the following days attacks continued, during which Akbar Khan could be heard alternately commanding his men in Persian to desist firing, and in Pashto to continue firing.  By the evening of January 9, the column had suffered 3,000 deaths.  On January 11, an envoy persuaded Commander Elphinstone and his second-in-command, Brigadier General John Shelton, to join the Wazir for dinner and negotiations.  They never saw their troops again.

Finally it dawned on the fleeing British that Khan's offers of negotiations had simply been a delaying tactic to enable the Afghanis to get ahead of the British and lay their traps.

On January 12, while making their way through a canyon, the surviving contingent encountered a six-foot-high barrier of thorns.  From heights, Afghanis made the final kill.

On January 13, 1842, a single European, assistant surgeon William Brydon, stumbled into Jalalabad.  Some believe that Brydon was permitted to survive so that he might describe the horrors of the British withdrawal from Kabul.

* * *

The Soviets had their own tale of despair.  Their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan was a disaster from the beginning — constant fighting, sniping, bombings, and ambushes, made still deadlier still by President Reagan's decision to supply weapons to the Mujahideen.  By 1985, Soviet President Gorbachev had come to realize that the invasion had been a terrible mistake.  He began plans for a withdrawal.

Troops started leaving in May 1988, under assault.  The Soviets logically considered the continued attacks inappropriate, given that they were withdrawing.  A Soviet diplomat complained to the CIA station chief in Islamabad, Milton Bearden.

Botshan-Kharchenko: "You must understand, Mr. Buurdon, that these attacks against our troops as they withdraw must stop."

Bearden: "And if they don't?"

Botshan-Kharchenko: "Then perhaps we will halt our withdrawal. Then what will you do?"

Bearden: "It is not what I will do, Counselor; it is what the Afghans will do.  And I think they will simply keep on fighting and killing your soldiers until you finally just go home."

Botshan-Kharchenko: "But you have some control over such matters."

Bearden: "No one has control over such matters, Counselor, except the Soviet Union."

Botshan-Kharchenko: "Mr. Buurdon, you must still understand that there will be consequences if these attacks continue."

Bearden: "I am sure there will be, Counselor."  

* * *

"…they will simply keep on fighting and killing your soldiers until you finally just go home."  We should repeat that sentence to ourselves.  What was true in 1841–42 and in 1988–89 will continue to be true until the last U.S. soldier is withdrawn from Afghanistan.

And we should recognize the following difficult truth: from the time we expelled al-Qaeda, we have accomplished nothing of lasting benefit to Afghanistan.  We tried to give them an Enduring Freedom, and we failed.  If the Afghanis choose to continue fighting among themselves, or stop their women from becoming educated or voting, or decide to return their country to the Middle Ages, well, it's their country, and they will do whatever the hell they want with it.

Negotiations and treaties and draft agreements be damned.  Let's end this pointless war and pack up now.  We've already suffered 2,300 deaths and over 20,000 wounded and spent $975 billion on the effort.  Enough is enough.