Editorial by Manos Angelakis

The Afghanistan Debacle

I'm watching the news reports about the Afghanistan debacle and, once more, I'm surprised by our government's and military's ignorance of other cultures and ways of thinking in the countries of the middle-East and the Moslem/Arab world in general.

Americans think the rest of the world thinks and acts like we do? They don't; the cultures are much much different.

I did my obligatory military service as a draftee in the Greek Air-Force. Because I was fluently trilingual (Greek, English and French) I was assigned for two years to the NATO Sixth ATAF headquarters in Izmir, Turkey, as a com-facilities controller. Which means that I lived for two years in one of the more modern Muslim countries. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk tried to minimize the religion’s harsh influences and bring the country closer to the European milieu yet, even now, parts of the Turkish political culture are mired in religious extremism.

There were three detachments operating the headquarters: American, Greek and Turkish, with American officers and NCOs being the most numerous and in charge of every department. During my shift, I worked with three American technical specialists who only spoke English, another trilingual Greek (Greek, English and Italian) and one bilingual Turkish airman who understood and spoke English (in the near-East and North Africa the second language is usually French). He was needed to communicate with the Turkish PTT (Post, Telephone & Telegraph) where technicians on duty did not speak any other language but Turkish. Our shift’s immediate supervisor was a chief warrant officer from Alabama; his supervisor was a captain from Texas, and an American general was in charge of the entire headquarters. There were a few officers from the other NATO countries, but everyone worked under American supervision.

I saw, first hand, the cultural ignorance and insularity of my American counterparts and officers, especially ones from the Center and South of the country. They had no understanding of why events were happening around them. In the middle-Eastern and Arab world, you say “yes” to everything and everyone, and then try to figure out how to ignore the agreement. There is also the "art of the bargain" i.e. you “negotiate” until you get what you want and the other side loses. Women and children have no value; in the Muslim world only men count and, especially, religious male figures as there are no female religious leaders. In many Muslim areas, even the most civilized ones, religion is by far the most important thing and guide in their everyday lives; culturally they think as if they are still in the 8th century. Governmental corruption, at all levels, is endemic.

Training and equipping "national" armies in countries like Afghanistan is an exercise in futility. Their officers are career, usually well educated but corrupt and so are many of the senior NCOs; everyone else are villager draftees that are mostly illiterate, very poorly paid if paid at all, and are serving under duress; their loyalty is certainly not to a central government which, in many cases, is hated by the citizenry they oppress. Unless they belong to elite units that are paid well (with money from the US) and have usually a modicum of education, when they encounter forces that they consider superior or more fanatic, they will run at the first opportunity trying to return to their villages and everyday lives.

Many of the American mid-level officers knew all that but the top brass did not want to hear it or admit it; the same thing that happened in Vietnam. Our top generals have been lying to the country and the President, then and again now. So, I'm not really surprised by the final result seen in the news.

We should have been in-and-out of Afghanistan, pursuing Al Qaeda and ISIS, and not try to nation-build or support a corrupt and self-serving government for 20 years. Now that the Taliban has taken over the country, if we don’t like what they do, isolate them economically and politically in the world arena and demand our allies follow our lead. If the Afghanis want government by the zealots, it is not our place to save them from their folly. The Taliban is already starting to ask for foreign aid. The country is in shambles and soon famine might threaten the Taliban domination, because a hungry populace becomes ripe for revolution. So the Taliban asks for our money, but don’t want our values. Let’s not repeat the mistakes that our politicians made in the past. And as far as other foreign regimes becoming influential in Afghanistan, let us not forget that the country is known as “The Graveyard of Empires”; we are only the latest in a long series of nations, failing to master the tribalism and corruption in the region.

Our leaders, both political and military, should know better; again, haven’t we learned anything from Vietnam and Iraq? Certainly our intelligence agencies are aware of the pitfalls but many politicos actually choose to ignore the intelligence. What happened was inevitable and ISIS will resurrect itself in Afghanistan, which I believe might happen sooner than later.

The Taliban doesn’t like the freedoms we enjoy away from mandates by religion, tribal traditions and antiquated “honor” conventions, where women are chattels first to their fathers and following their fathers, their husbands. We don’t like their Shariah-imposed harsh laws and their dubious morality and endemic corruption and their cultural tradition of cruelty. The Taliban have already reinstated their “morality police” that severely punishes individuals, especially women, with public floggings and are again starting executions for religious non conforming and amputations for other “crimes”. They are also again not allowing girls to attend schools, attacking and detaining journalists, and prohibiting barbers from shaving beards or playing music in their barber shops!  The notorious former head of religious police, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi is again saying “No one can tell us what our laws should be!” according to the BBC News.

We have already spent too many lives and too much treasure trying to save a world that, really, doesn’t want to be saved and turned culturally or religiously into a mirror image of the United States. They can shout “Death to America” and burn our flag all they want, providing they don’t act on it. And, if worse comes to worse, and that country becomes again a threat to this country, Langley has both local assets and over-the-horizon capabilities to take care of what has to be taken care of without getting boots on the ground, and I hope they use them; the Iranian military and the Iranian mullahs have already learned, the hard way, what happens when you mess with Uncle Sam.




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