Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan

From The Guardian:

Little-America-The-War-withiSo what went wrong? First of all, winning in Afghanistan, however defined, was never going to be easy. The international effort there came at the end of a long series of increasingly ambitious – and even sometimes successful – “liberal humanitarian” interventions. It was a period of extraordinary hubris – and great trauma after the 9/11 attacks. Together this bred a toxic mix of astonishing overconfidence and deep insecurity. Then came the distraction of Iraq. Chandrasekaran suggests – and some military historians might disagree – that Afghanistan is “by far the most complicated war the USA has ever prosecuted”. The superlative here might be challenged by many historians but that the conflict was a tough challenge is without doubt. America, however, could not meet it, he argues. Chandrasekaran's indictment is savage. “Too few generals recognised that surging forces could be counterproductive… Too few soldiers were ordered to leave their air-conditioned bases and live among the people in fly-infested villages. Too few diplomats invested the effort to understand the languages and cultures of the places in which they were stationed. Too few development experts were interested in anything other than making a buck. Too few officials in Washington were willing to assume the risks necessary to forge a lasting peace… Generals and diplomats were too ambitious and arrogant. Uniformed and civilian bureaucracies were rife with internal rivalries. Our development experts were inept. Our leaders were distracted.” The result, inevitably, was that “the good war… turned bad”.

And if, after reading this, any Europeans are feeling smug, they shouldn't. Where they are mentioned at all, allies are portrayed as incompetent, feckless, cowardly or complacent. The British, whose ineffectual attempts to secure Helmand province and appalling relations with both local communities and the Americans are described in painful detail, come out particularly badly. Though not, it must be said, as badly as the Pakistani security establishment, whose strategically critical support, passive and active, for the insurgents was apparently not fully understood by US military planners until only very recently. There are now thousands of books on this most recent Afghan conflict, ranging from airport thrillers to specialist study. Many books are extremely good, some are very bad. Little America is powerful and important and should be read by anyone interested in this ongoing and deeply depressing war, particularly those waiting for helicopters or eating Hot Tamales in Bagram.

More here.