Trouble abounds in Afghanistan

Only three years ago, the Bush administration opted for a decidedly risky strategy in Afghanistan. Special U.S. forces joined with oppositional warlords and militias under a common goal – to take down the Taliban and “smoke out” al-Qaida. We gave them money and weapons, and in exchange, they guided our missiles and led us by horseback through the Afghan mountains. This week, with well organized armies and U.S. arms, they took over the northern province of Faryab. The war in Afghanistan was a shining star for the Bush administration, but successes must withstand the test of time. As we are learning in Iraq, regime change does not spell victory.

We knew it was a gamble. Ethically, it was a guaranteed loss – in order to “rout out” al-Qaida, responsible for the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, we chose to build an alliance with the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan and turn a blind eye to his human rights violations. Gen. Rashid Dostum was known for his ruthlessness. He allegedly committed mass murders while working alongside U.S. troops. To some critics, it was an undeniable success – we crippled al-Qaida, removed the Taliban and lost very few U.S. soldiers.

Without many boots on the ground, we removed the Taliban from office but failed to capture many of the top leaders in either the Taliban or al-Qaida. We installed Hamid Karzai but simultaneously armed every militia group in the country.

Afghanistan continues to look rosy compared to Iraq. Iraq has no army, no potential leader, a devastated infrastructure, more violent factions and is subject to an unpopular occupation by thousands of U.S. forces. If we accept, as President George W. Bush has posited, that the war in Iraq is over, is this nation-building? The administration’s international policy must offer more measures of success than its own nominal declarations.