Syed Ali Zia Jaffery |
The decision to use GBU 43 bomb – the mother of all bombs – against hideouts of ISIS in Nangarhar, Afghanistan was termed as a mere tactical decision by a top US military commander. This high yield weapon reportedly killed 36 terrorists loyal to the Islamic State.
It must be borne in mind that despite increasing footprints of ISIS, it remains a secondary threat in Afghanistan.
The use of the biggest conventional bomb to kill a handful of militants has put question marks on the application of force in a given theater by the United States. Why did the United States deploy and employ such a lethal weapon against a nascent force in Afghanistan? It must be borne in mind that despite increasing footprints of ISIS, it remains a secondary threat in Afghanistan.
What went wrong?
This is not the first time that the United States has miscalculated the use of force in this war-torn country. The disproportionate use of force has been a feature of US war efforts in Afghanistan. It emanates from a preconceived fallacy and promulgation of a misjudged strategy.
The United States misconstrued the threats, the enemy and even the terrain of the country.
It would not be wrong to indicate that US mission was slated to fail from the very outset. If history was any guide then it must have been clear that Afghanistan was war-ridden since long; its culture, polity, and society was different in its entirety. The US and its Western allies lacked the power, knowledge, and legitimacy to cause a transformation.
Needless to say, a strategy hinges upon well laid out aims and an array of policy options for an entity to use. The United States misconstrued the threats, the enemy and even the terrain of the country. All this translated into a wrong concept of war fighting, which was used during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Marginalizing the largest ethnic group – Pashtuns – in the newly planted political and military setup was a grave error which has serious implications even today.
The military objectives of the operation were the destruction of terrorist sanctuaries and the war waging prowess of the Taliban forces. The aerial pulverization campaign from land-based B1, B2 and B52 bombers have a telling impact in conventional wars but are ineffective against insurgents since they derive strength from changing locations and tactics. With the leadership well intact, the Taliban regrouped and emerged as a stronger force. As a matter of fact, today Taliban hold more territory.
Apart from the faulty application of military power, the US made some key errors which need further introspection. Firstly, the Taliban neither had the desire nor the capacity to pose an existential security threat to the United States. Lumping Taliban with Al-Qaeda and closing the doors of negotiations did not help the US gain leverage in the country.
The political dispensation chalked out for Afghanistan was a futile effort in enforcing flimsy theories which did not go down well with the Afghan social, political, and cultural fabric. Marginalizing the largest ethnic group – Pashtuns – in the newly planted political and military setup was a grave error which has serious implications even today.
Failure to assuage fears of Pakistan left the US bereft of an important card to solve the Afghan issue, especially given the fact that both countries were, and still are, allies.
The kinetic plank was at the forefront of US counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. By all means, it was fueling more violence as the common Afghan citizens were again under the horrors of war. The context which precipitated insurgency, to include corruption, bad governance, and unstable environment, remain prevalent.
However, instead of bolstering kinetic endeavors, a troop surge became the cornerstone of the new Af-Pak Strategy in 2009. With structures being the same, least was expected of the new strategy. Weak state institutions, insecure borders, and lack of credibility ran contrary to all theoretical and well-penned theories of counterinsurgency. Failure to assuage fears of Pakistan left the US bereft of an important card to solve the Afghan issue, especially given the fact that both countries were, and still are, allies.
Afghanistan today and the way forward
The health of Indo-Pak ties is integral to stability in Kabul, hence the US must play a role in diffusing tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
The drawdown of US combat troops was coupled with the upsurge of Taliban’s grip on the country. The civilian and military apparatus of Afghanistan has thus far failed to thwart threats and ensure good governance for its citizens. This goes much to the discredit of the US and its high-handed and ill-conceived policies.
A semblance of peace can be ensured if efforts are made to engage with Pakistan. The remaining US combatants must act against terrorist outfits inimical to Pakistan operating from Afghanistan. Besides, the health of Indo-Pak ties is integral to stability in Kabul, hence the US must play a role in diffusing tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals. However, it is of utmost importance that perceptions regarding the Afghan Taliban and Afghanistan as the center of terror must change. Last but not the least, a pro-people strategy focused on development is well in order.
Syed Ali Zia Jaffery is a Research Associate at the Center for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR), Islamabad. He frequently writes on defense and strategic affairs of South Asia. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.