By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Massive force mobilization and assortment of destructive weapons amassed for Operation Enduring Freedom by US led coalition forces in September 2001 against insignificant defense capacity of Taliban suffering from harsh sanctions since 1997 had made the outcome of war inevitably in favor of the invaders. Taliban regime was pushed out in one month time. Quick victory went into the heads of George W Bush Administration filled with neo-cons. The latter underestimated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and thought that the two forces had been sufficiently mauled and only remnants hiding in Pakistan and Iran were required to be eliminated. Possibility of their striking back was never contemplated. Instead of consolidating their gains the US kept crowing over its temporary gains. This was beginning of series of mistakes made.

In the wake of their plans to convert Afghanistan into a permanent military garrison, all out efforts should have been made during the initial two years towards rebuilding the destroyed infrastructure, building institutions, improving law and order and system of justice, up-grading and expanding education, creating greater job opportunities and ushering in prosperity. Greater efforts should have been made to win over the majority community of Pashtuns residing in eastern and southern Afghanistan that had been deprived of power.

Visible improvements in these fields were essential to be able to convince the Afghans that the US model democracy was far better than the Islamic system pursued by the Taliban. Discernible improvement in the quality of life of a common man would have helped the regime in diluting the impact created by the Taliban during their five-year rule and in winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans. However, very little work was done during holding and development phases.

Overtaken by a sense of euphoria and complacency, the US rulers got busy in giving final shape to their future money making projects in Central Asian Republics (CARs) and Iraq. Gwadar Port in Balochistan figured out prominently in the envisaged energy corridor. The merchants in USA and UK got busy how to tap oil, gas and mineral wealth from Central Asia, lay pipelines connecting CARs with Gwadar Port situated along coast of Arabian Sea through Afghanistan. Instead of worrying about Afghanistan, the US leaders focused their attention towards Pakistan and devised plans how to tame it so that it could be denuclearized.

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In its effort to rebuild Afghanistan, USA erred by putting all its eggs in the basket of non-Pashtun Northern Alliance and in corrupt warlords and sidelining Pashtuns that are in majority. Another fault committed was to club together four intelligence agencies of India, Britain, Israel and Germany and set up a massive intelligence centre at Jabal al Siraj near Kabul. Later on, KHAD was rebuilt by RAW and given the name of RAAM and made part of the grouping.

The five agencies under the warm wings of CIA worked in unison not to stabilize Afghanistan but to destabilize neighbors of Afghanistan. CIA with the blessing of Pentagon revived the lucrative drug trade to be able to conduct expensive covert operations against Pakistan, China, Iran, ex Republics of former Soviet Union and also to meet part expenses of war on terror.

Yet another faulty action was US military fortifying itself in major cities and making little effort to firmly hold vast land of rural eastern and southern Afghanistan inhabited by Pashtuns. It felt quite satisfied in resorting to aerial strikes and random raids rather than physically controlling or as a minimum dominating the two vital regions constituting 60% of the Afghan territory attached with FATA and Balochistan and effectively sealing the border with Pakistan and Iran. This neglect proved costly.

Next mistake made was to distrust Pakistan entrusted with performing duties of a frontline state to fight war on terror and to wholly rely on RAW-RAAM-Mossad intelligence inputs for conducting war strategy in Afghanistan. Placing of heavy reliance on private security agencies including Blackwater for assistance in security and training duties in Afghanistan and for covert operations in Pakistan and Iran was unsound. The US made a slip-up by filling up Afghan Army and Police with non-Pashtuns only whereas traditionally these two institutions had been Pashtun heavy.   

Finding eastern and southern Afghanistan weakly held, the runaway Taliban and al-Qaeda militants regrouped and started pinpricking occupation forces in the two regions from mid-2002 onwards. Instead of taking corrective actions like increasing number of border posts, mining and fencing likely crossing sites to check cross border infiltration, installing telemetry system and tightening security in the disturbed areas to deny safe havens to the militants in disturbed regions of Afghanistan, the US started to mount pressure on Pakistan to destroy the network of Al-Qaeda in Waziristan. Instead of strengthening the hands of Pak Army to fight and defeat the militants through a collective policy of anvil and hammer from both sides of Durand Line, the US started doubting it and subjected it to slander. It was accused of being soft on Taliban and aligned with them.

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Perverse influence of RAW and Mossad made the US commit another error when it allowed the duo to extend covert support to anti-Pakistan Baloch rebels in Balochistan and Tehrik-e-Taliban in FATA and Swat to subvert the three regions. Idea was to push terrorism from Afghanistan into Pakistan, foment political instability, weaken economy and destabilize Pakistan, enabling USA to achieve its objectives it had set for Pakistan. Pretending to be a friend, the US in connivance with adversaries of Pakistan continuously harmed Pakistan. It was a self-defeating game it amusingly played.

Among its omissions, the biggest omission committed by USA was invasion and occupation of Iraq in March 2003 under trumped up charges. Lure of oil was so appealing that the US leaders disregarded world opinion, which was against the invasion. Opening a new front without consolidating the earlier one was in clear violation of tenets of strategy. It caused deflection and dilution of effort. It gave a godsend opportunity to the Taliban to intensify its efforts to gain dominance over southern and eastern Afghanistan and convert these regions into forward bases for conducting raids in central, western and northern regions and build pressure on Kabul. In order to create two-front threat for USA, Al-Qaeda decided to get concentrated in Iraq and in conjunction with Iraqi resistance forces, fight and pin down coalition troops.        

Although the US has carried out two troop surges and has increased its force level to over 100,000 and total ISAF strength to 150,000, initiative is still in the hands of Taliban. Possibility of regaining initiative by US military through Kandahar operation has become remote. Taliban have become more aggressive and hardly a day passes without a raid, IED explosion or suicide bombing. Their morale is high since prevalent symptoms have boosted their optimism. They are confident that war has practically been won and total victory is not far off. 

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ISAF is losing soldiers almost daily and fatality count is increasing. Frequent torching of supply vehicles within Pakistan and reliance on private security agencies to let pass supply convoys through Taliban dominated areas in Afghanistan has further compounded the situation. These unsavory conditions have ruled out prospects of winning the war. It has made the US-NATO forces more depressed.  They are weary, fatigued and have no heart to continue facing hazards without any purposeful cause.

Workable solution to Afghan imbroglio can only be found if USA owes up its fault lines and sincerely strives to make amends for the excesses committed against people of Afghanistan. Without reaching a clear understanding with the Taliban who maintain influence over 80% Afghan territory as well as communication infrastructure, endgame in Afghanistan for coalition forces will be dreadful.

Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites