Tribal Leaders and the Future of Afghanistan

APTOPIX Afghanistan Opium

Peter Tomsen, who once served as the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and who published in 2011 what many consider to be the definitive book, thus far, about the war there, has a review in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs of three recent books on the same subject. The review and the books (War Comes to Garmser by Carter Malkasian, The Wrong Enemy by Carlotta Gall, and No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal) are thoughtful works by deeply informed writers, and all are worth a read.

On the way to providing some interesting proposals for future international policy in Afghanistan, Tomsen considers the question of what has gone wrong thus far. His discussion of the most recent book—Gopal’s—is particularly interesting.

Afghan Poppy Cultivation at ‘All-Time High’

An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan

Cultivation of the illegal poppy plant in Afghanistan has reached an “all time high” following a $7.6 billion counternarcotics campaign paid for by the United States, according to government oversight investigators.

Despite the spending to combat growth of the poppy plant, which is used to make drugs such as opium and heroin, cultivation has reached an “all time high,” especially in places once declared “poppy free,” according to new report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

Car Bomb Hits Foreign Convoy in Afghan Capital

Kabul, Afghanistan / Wikimedia Commons

KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide car bomber rammed a foreign convoy along a major road out of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul early on Monday, killing at least one person, authorities said.

The Obama Way of War


Among the many reasons things are such a disaster in Afghanistan is that President Obama’s initial plan for that country—which was meant to reverse the tailspin the place was in as of 2009—generated more confusion than it did clarity, and was never fully accepted by the generals meant to execute it. This is happening again.

The press doesn’t cover it much, but in Afghanistan the Taliban is coming back and the national government is held together by a combination of sticky tack and shoestring. The Kabul government may well fall before the year is out, which would likely precipitate a large-scale civil-war.

President Obama inherited a bad situation in Afghanistan in 2009. After an incredibly long deliberative period, he authorized a substantial troop increase, and gave his generals the task to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while denying them a safe haven in Afghanistan. In addition, they were to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government.” The Afghan government, as a key part of the plan, was to be strengthened to be able to hold its own against its enemies. Simultaneously, the president announced a deadline for the end of his troop increase.

His plan had the sort of sophistication and nuance of which a University of Chicago (adjunct) lecturer could be proud: fight the Taliban this much (but not too much!) and at the same time fight al Qaeda harder—but only in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, fight them a little bit less. Help the Afghan government, but only until a certain pre-determined time. Then, sayonara. It’s almost like achieving a good end-state in Afghanistan wasn’t the president’s priority, but that he felt he had to do something for reasons of domestic politics.

The War in Afghanistan Is Not Coming To ‘A Responsible End’

Marines in Sangin/AP

Last Friday I ran a review of Bing West’s new book, One Million Steps, a compelling account of the struggles of a platoon of Marines fighting in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in the winter of 2010-2011. After a great deal of bitter combat, the Marines West writes about—and those who replaced them in subsequent deployments—succeeded in bludgeoning the Taliban in Sangin District into a degree of submission. By 2012, rates of violence in the area had dropped, creating some space for the Afghan government to eventually take control of the area. Including the British troops who preceded the Marines in working to secure Sangin, coalition forces lost nearly 150 troops killed in action, more than anywhere else in Afghanistan.

So how are things going now?