Inside the US invasion of Afghanistan
It is amazing that Robert L. Grenier, the author of ‘88 Days to Kandahar’ has captured the highs and lows of the war that the US conducted against the Taliban in Afghanistan with so much accuracy. Grenier was the CIA Station Chief in Pakistan from 1999 to 2002 and later also served as Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Centre (CTC).
‘88 Days to Kandahar’ is a true story and recounts in harrowing detail the US invasion against the Afghans following 9/11. The narrative tells how a good part of the invasion was run from the CIA station in Islamabad and how Grenier, as the man in charge, found himself caught in the cross wires.
The war drove away the Taliban and the al-Qaeda from Kandahar in just 88 days. But it is a fact that the US eventually lost the plot because the bureaucrats in Washington D.C. and the top US army brass seemed to apparently have no interest in winning the war they had started. They were probably more satisfied with having landed their boots on the ground and eventually achieving a firm grip over the country – a far cry from the time leading up to 9/11 when the Americans had tried with all their might to convince the late Mullah Omar that he hand over Osama Bin Laden to them and save his country from their wrath. When Mullah Omar refused to do so on the pretext of following the traditions of Afghan tribal hospitality and despite the many efforts of Pakistani generals and diplomats, the Americans rained hell over Afghanistan. What transpired subsequently was that the U.S. never ‘won’ the war beyond their overrunning Kandahar and succeeding in installing Hamid Karzai as the president of Afghanistan. Since then, their firm hold on the country has remained in place and they are now able to control the whole region from their military and listening bases right at the periphery of Central Asia and very close to China, Russia and Iran. They make the ruse all the time of ‘leaving’ the Afghan people and army to their own devices and have, in effect, moved a very large portion of their arms and soldiers out of the country. But it is a fact that the Americans will never leave Afghanistan. Their role of self-appointed ‘protectors’ and ‘saviours’ may be over by their own reckoning, but their presence is for good in this strategically important part of the globe.
It was a controversial aspect of the US Kandahar campaign that it enabled the little known Hamid Karzai to assume power. Equally haphazard and also fascinating were secret attempts to reach some kind of deal with the Taliban to turn over bin Laden. Failing that, Grenier’s station in Islamabad toyed with fomenting an internal coup that would topple Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief, and incorporate some elements of the movement into a new political structure led by Karzai. It came to nothing. Grenier also recounts in his book the opportunities the Americans missed to kill the Taliban leadership and large numbers of al-Qaeda fighters and only because the US military would not act unless there were “U.S. eyes-on” to confirm targets.
Although the hard cover edition of the book came out in January, 2015, Grenier’s evaluation of the situation obtaining on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is quite true and relevant to this day. It has particularly come ito focus after the mayhem caused by the Pakistan Taliban at the Army Public School in Peshawar on Dec 16, 2014 and the Pakistan Army’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb that came down with full vehemence
soon after. Nothing could be more true than the fact that Pakistani militants have found safe havens in Afghanistan. Mullah Fazlullah, the main perpetrator of the Peshawar school massacre is known to be hiding in Afghanistan and has not been apprehended despite the combined efforts of the Pakistan and Afghan armies.
Grenier is so relevant when he writes:
‘In fact, the future threat posed by an Afghan safe haven has increased. Afghanistan is beset by a religiously motivated insurgency. That insurgency will not go away, even after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistani militants have already shown a penchant for maintaining safe havens in Afghanistan and launching attacks towards the east. Given their religious sympathies, and close, longstanding affiliations with Pakistani religious extremists, not to mention their own latent antipathies towards Islamabad, it is simply not credible that the Afghan Taliban would refuse to permit the Pakistani Taliban to operate from areas under their control.”
Grenier’s conclusion is most telling, particularly with reference to what is transpiring in the region today. In light of the US campaign that commenced against the Taliban in 2002, he expresses his views thus: “A limited American engagement could not produce the sort of victory Americans are comfortable with. Its near-term results would be most unsatisfying. It would be designed to ensure that potential terrorist safe havens which might otherwise be uncontested, would at least be contested. Americans don’t like playing for a tie. But in time, politics on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border would find its own level, The Taliban, denied the possibility of ultimate victory, would eventually find its place in Pushtun society, not as a conventional power-sharing party among parties – its absolutist leaders are not capable of or interested in such a role – but as a regulatory influence enforcing fundamentalist religious norms on the local level.” Every page of ‘88 Days to Kandahar’ provides a fresh insight into how the region has evolved over the last decade and a half and what ground realities need to be taken into account for any possible solutions. It also provides an inside look into how the American CIA conducted the war from Islamabad and the clandestine role that the Pakistan Army and its intelligence forces played in the whole operation. A must read.
Afghanistan is beset by a religiously motivated insurgency. That insurgency will not go away, even after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Pakistani militants have already shown a penchant for maintaining safe havens in Afghanistan and launching attacks towards the east.
Book Title: 88 Days to Kandahar Author: Robert L. Grenier Publisher: Simon & Shuster, NY Pages: 444 Price: USD: 28.00 ISBN: 978-1-4767-1207-9
Reviewed by Javed Ansari