War With No Future

A reader passed on a piece by writer and former Green Beret Michael Yon. They say Yon might have spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan with U.S. and British forces than any other writer. This gives him either keen insight or a warped perspective.

It seems it might be the former. Yon appears to be a one-man military reporting arsenal. In this piece published July 9 by the Washington Times, his style is clear and he puts illustrations to superb use. He starts “Girl with No Future”: It’s not the troops; it’s not the economy; it’s not that it’s mountainous and landlocked like Austria and Switzerland. It’s the society. I write these words from Ghor province, and it’s like the Jurassic Park in Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul, Nangahar. … keep going.”

We keep going.

Yon writes from the perspective of the Afghanistan one experiences after abandoning the interstate for local byways. Putting things into context, Yon observes Iraq is 1,000 years more advanced than Afghanistan, and Nepal is more connected and aware of the outside world. Despite countless conquests predating Alexander the Great (according to us, not Yon) and multiple Western occupations, the progress needle has not budged. (This could be an indicator for U.S. tea leaf readers, who dare not leave the Pentagon or Kabul.)
Here’s a telling observation from Yon: After eight years of war and billions pumped into the rugged, land-locked nation, there is not a single Afghan soldier in Ghor province Not an inch of paved road. No TV station broadcasts for more than a few hours each day.

Yon writes of time spent with Nepali Gurkhas who have fought in Afghanistan, and remarked on the tremendous tribal and ethnic fighting there. He notes the recent airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties. The back story seems to be the Afghans living on those back roads supported the strikes — not because they are pro-coalition, but because the strikes killed their enemies.

Yon’s concern is people here at home don’t “grasp the societal inertia, complexity and natural baffles to progress.” (Apparently, he has not spent much time in New Orleans.) Here he may sell Americans short. We understand it’s a problem. But of course the average (and above average) American (or Brit or Canadian) cannot grasp the enormity of the situation with a social system unlike any other (save New Orleans) without experiencing it. People who experience childbirth, gunshot wounds to the head, or other experiences that defy explanation probably echo Yon.

In Afghanistan, he says time isn’t time as we know it. Call it stagnant. Call it backward. Call it Brigadoon. Ten years, 100 years, it does not matter. It is not the goldfish effect, it’s just that time is of no consequence (though this is not uncommon in what we would consider third world cultures). Possibly the biggest challenge is an illiteracy rate that is at 80 percent. Literacy should be the primary goal, he writes.

There is no real economy, no communications, but plenty of tribal warfare. Yon says “it” will take 100 years. We think he is wildly optimistic. But what is time in Afghanistan? According to Yon, the Japanese say they are committed to 30 years maximum, something more than the U.S. will cop to, he says. Our crystal ball says the U.S. commitment will wane then cave completely. Yon says the U.S. has to make a decision on its commitment, but we say the U.S. has to make a decision on its goals. Time matters in the U.S. There are opportunity costs, money concerns, and voters’ opinions. Other threats might surface. Yon does not touch on coalition commitment, but if the U.S could run its operation on the level of some of the coalition partners, 100 years would not be unreasonable.

What’s a century in a group of provinces that might perceive little need for change? What’s a century to the U.S. and the focus of the its military?

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