Friday, April 19, 2019

Audio of Disasters: "Directorate S" by Steve Coll

Audio of Disasters: Directorate S: The CIA and America's wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Steve Coll, 2018, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library

Coll wrote a previous book about AfPak issues from Soviet invasion through to about 2000 and the Taliban. This book covers the area from then to the start of Trump's term. From the title I was thinking this would be tales of special operator's tactically tactilizing, hiking mountains, and shooting AQ leaders. Nope. This is all politics except for some info about a particularly tough battle during the Afghan surge of troops.

This is a long book and took a while to finish. Maybe that sometimes tedious slog about diplomatic discussions, political confusion, and piles of bodies is fitting for a war that is almost old enough to vote.

Coll's initial focus is on Pakistan and how their involvement with their neighbors has colored so much of the successes and failures of the U.S. and various allies in Afghanistan. The discussion travels to the changing goals of U.S. policy, Afghan politics, Karzai's extreme paranoia, and whether we should fight the Taliban or just AQ.

So much hinged, and still does, on the dispute between Pakistan and Indian. Pakistan and India HATE each other. Don't forget they've been fighting over Kashmir since the 1947 split. Pakistan is especially grouchy after losing the 1973 war and watching as India's economy goes high and higher. While India's economy and international influence have grown Pakistan has been static or shown weak growth.

The Taliban have been a way for Pakistan to control the region and check India's power. Making friends with and supporting the Taliban has helped Pakistan. They keep India from moving into Afghanistan and have used the many, many aligned militant groups in rural Pakistan as surrogates to attack India. The most recent notable event being the Mumbai terror attacks.

As Coll writes the history it becomes a listing of all the happenings since 2000 in Afghanistan. So much of it is a list of things gone wrong and things that could have been. 18 years of "If only. If only. If  only."
If only: we sent more troops to invade.
If only: we sent more construction money.
If only: we'd recognized Pakistan's lasting alliance with the Taliban.
If only: we'd not been distracted by Iraq.
If only: U.S. troops left their bases to know the people.
If only: we'd not killed so many civilians.

As Coll wrote about the first eight years of the war my head had the refrain of "Fucking Iraq. Fucking Rumsfeld. Fucking Bush."

The initial invasion of Afghanistan did have some sound ideas behind it. A smaller invasion force that teamed with the  Northern Alliance made sense after the experiences of British and Russian invasions. The Pentagon and White House wanted to avoid being the invading and occupying power. Fair enough. But, the goal then shifted from killing Al Qaeda to killing Taliban. Again, that makes sense because the Taliban were the happy hosts of AQ and the Taliban were certainly horrible and murderous. But, as the war progressed - and quickly - the U.S. still never had enough people in place to stop all the fleeing Taliban and AQ heading to Pakistan.

By 2009 we'd sunk tons of cash and swimming pools of blood and still had trouble.   The military is going hard to kill the Taliban and AQ but it is not working. So, let's go harder. Why not double down on death? The beatings will continue until morale improves. First there is the domestic political and financing fight over how many troops to send over and then Petraeus and McChrystal start an anti insurgent campaign. But we're still an occupying force. There are : dead civilians, night raids, allied convoys that hit a civilian but have standing orders to just keep trucking. Afghan are not happy.

The surge's troops work to push back Taliban territory and secure cities. By this point we are 3/4 through the book and the first time Coll details combat operations. Coll uses diary entries and personal correspondence to cover the attacks of allied forces in the Green Zone Sangin province.

Things are still not resolved. Afghan are murdering Allied soldiers. The U.S. commissions study after study.  There are still unclear goals on what to do with the Taliban? Kill'em? further define co editions for a win? Make a deal?

Afghan president Karzai is in a shitty job. The guy cannot make anyone happy AND he seems to have mental health issues.  Endemic corruption and crooked family members don't help either.

Most US troops are finally pulled, we continue to push Pakistan for action,  spend money on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a week ago (April, 2019) three soldiers were killed by an IED.

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