Ten years ago this fall we sat in the walled garden of a bullet-pocked Kabul villa on a brilliant sunlit afternoon, interviewing American reporters about what they thought the prospects were for a U.S. success in Afghanistan now that the “war” was over.
At that particular moment Afghans were open to American solutions and for the first time in decades, hopeful. Kabul was ruined but peaceful, but just below the surface was the unshakeable feeling that something was wrong. The young, thoughtful and concerned photo journalist Chris Hondros of Getty Images spoke of the fractured nature of Afghan society and doubted that the West could help the country overcome the deep divisions caused by twenty five years of war. He complained that his job had been made much tougher because an entire generation of Americans had never been informed of what they needed to know in order to comprehend why Afghanistan was so important. USA Today’s Berlin bureau chief Steve Komarow, who’d rotated back into Kabul after taking part in the brief American invasion, echoed the American confusion about what to do about a mission and a country no one seemed to really understand. “Nobody wants Afghanistan to revert to what it was, but on the other hand there’s a tension between that and being seen as a colonial power,” Komarow said. “The United States doesn’t want to own Afghanistan. It really wants the Afghans to work it out, however they want to work it out.”
Tension might still be the best of a slew of inadequate words to describe Washington’s schizophrenic relationship to Afghanistan. Tension between the Obama administration and a Republican Congress over the longest running war in American history and how to end it, tension between Washington and the government of Hamid Karzai, tension between President Obama and the wisdom of his own military commanders and tension over Pakistan’s perennial role as an alleged U.S. ally while continuing to use the Taliban as an advance guard for its military’s strategic ambitions in Central Asia. And tension between the reality of people’s lives and the invented reality of a war machine that has long lost any relevance to the real nature of American security.
U.S. objectives in Afghanistan from day one were never clear and in fact were mostly irreconcilable with the ground reality…
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Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are the authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story and Crossing Zero The AfPak War at the Turning Point of American Empire. For more information visit their website at invisiblehistory.