Afghanistan has been conquered often

Peter Burgen:

AS President Obama orders an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, he faces growing skepticism over the United States’ prospects there. Critics of the troop buildup often point out that Afghanistan has long been the “graveyard of empires.” In 1842, the British lost a nasty war that ended when fierce tribesmen notoriously destroyed an army of thousands retreating from Kabul. And, of course, the Soviets spent almost a decade waging war in Afghanistan, only to give up ignominiously in 1989.

But in fact, these are only two isolated examples. Since Alexander the Great, plenty of conquerors have subdued Afghanistan. In the early 13th century, Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes ravaged the country’s two major cities. And in 1504, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, easily took the throne in Kabul. Even the humiliation of 1842 did not last. Three and a half decades later, the British initiated a punitive invasion and ultimately won the second Anglo-Afghan war, which gave them the right to determine Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

The Soviet disaster of the 1980s, for its part, cannot be credited to the Afghans’ legendary fighting skills alone, as the mujahideen were kept afloat by billions of dollars worth of aid from the United States and Saudi Arabia and sophisticated American military hardware like anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, which ended the Soviets’ total air superiority.

In any case, today’s American-led intervention in Afghanistan can hardly be compared to the Soviet occupation. The Soviet Army employed a scorched-earth policy, killing more than a million Afghans, forcing some five million more to flee the country, and sowing land mines everywhere.

While the American military is killing too many Afghan civilians, in any given year the numbers are in the hundreds, not the hundreds of thousands. And even the most generous estimates of today’s Taliban insurgency suggest it is no more than 20,000 men. About 10 times as many Afghans fought against the Soviet occupation.

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What Afghans want is for international forces to do what they should have been doing all along — provide them the security they need to get on with making a living. That means building up the Afghan Army and police, which are only about one-fourth the size of the security services in Iraq. This will not come cheap, but the cost of putting an Afghan soldier in the field is only one-seventieth that of sending an American. President Obama, who will travel to Europe for NATO’s 60th anniversary in early April, can ask those European countries that are reluctant to send additional troops to Afghanistan to instead contribute to a permanent fund to help pay for the expanded Afghan security services.

The United States should also focus on projects that will bring both security and economic benefits to Afghans. A key task is to secure the all-important road between Kabul and Kandahar, a once-pleasant freeway that has become a nightmarish gantlet of potential Taliban ambushes.

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He is right on the history as I have pointed out before. I would add one other conquest which the Afghans are still suffering from. They did not become Muslims because of persuasive arguments. The Muslim conquest forced them to accept Islam or die. It has kept them in poverty and ignorance ever since. Overcoming that disability is one of the challenges we still face, but as Iraq demonstrates, it can be overcome.

I realize you are not suppose to insult Islam, but what I am pointing out is not about religion but historical fact. It has left a legacy of few inquiring minds in Afghanistan and intolerance of different points of view.

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