Who is the enemy?
This morning's Boston Globe reports that an intelligence expert in Washington DC denies that the enemy in Afghanistan are the Taliban ”ninety percent [of the enemy] is a tribal, localized insurgency... ten percent are hard-core ideologues fighting for the Taliban.” The 90% “use the threat of force to further their own economic interests – extorting payments from people shipping goods through the mountains...” According to this expert ninety percent of the people we are fighting in Afghanistan are nationalist bandits.
That is utterly astonishing. It shows what a strange war it is we are fighting in Afghanistan. The wars I have known are between different countries. One identifies which side someone is on by their uniform or the markings on their vehicle. The object is control over territory; the method is killing. But this war in Afghanistan is very different. We do not know who the enemy is. We are not very sure why we are fighting them, or they us.
Is this expert telling us that we have been shooting at the wrong people, or is he telling us that the people we were shooting at were not who we thought they were? We thought we were fighting religious fanatics, but it now turns out that they are bandits who do not like Americans and other foreigners.
If this expert is correct, the solution to the Afghanistan puzzle is very simple. They are shooting at us because they want us to go away. We do not want to be there in the first place so why not leave and avoid further unpleasantness?
But, you say, what about Al Qaeda? And that is, of course, the key question. The Taliban are of no interest to us. The central question is whether we need to remain in Afghanistan in order to increase our safety against further terrorist attacks? One-way of increasing our safety is through law enforcement agencies that find persons who appear to be plotting to bomb something. An example is the young man recently arrested in Denver after long surveillance by the FBI. Other examples are arrests made in Britain in recent years. I have not seen any evidence that the war in Afghanistan enhances the ability of law enforcement to protect us against potential bombers. What is more, if we left Afghanistan, we would have a lot more money to do careful surveillance.
Al Quaeda appears to be a shadowy network of desperadoes much like organized crime. There are international networks of drug dealers, of traffickers in women, young girls and boys. There are international traffickers in body parts. They kidnap children and adults in the Third World, take out their cornea or kidney and sell those and then release their victims. No believes that military attacks on the Taliban or on other nationalist insurgencies are helpful in stopping this trafficking. Mexico is currently using its military in its struggle with drug cartels, but only to take the place of corrupt or under manned police forces. In addition, the Mexican military has so far not made a dent in the international drug traffic. If Al Quaeda is really like an international crime network, we stop fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and leave.
One thing is clear: if Pres. Obama decides to keep our troops in Afghanistan he must provide to us with reasons that remaining there is essential in order to neutralize international terrorism. There is no point in continuing to shoot at people and to be shot at by them, as long as we do not know who these people are. If all they want is for us to leave, let's by all means do that.