In­side the US in­va­sion of Afghanistan

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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

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