A Picture Worth a Thousand Words
Those dark splotches on the map, looking a little like coffee stains, outline the areas of Afghanistan under the control of either the Taliban (light gray) or ISIS (darker gray).
They are mostly non-contiguous, floating zones where these groups have exerted enough muscle or influence to drive out government forces.
The map is the documentation of “progress” after 16 years of war.
In fact, there has been no progress as would for example, be the case if the Taliban had successfully been forced into a single contiguous zone where they could be controlled.
They are so entrenched that the Taliban and ISIS often bring in their own “government systems” to administer their affairs.
They range at will with NATO-backed Afghan forces only reacting to their insurgency.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, has referred to the situation there as a “stalemate” though it is more appropriate to say that after 16 years it is the status quo.
Their ethnic-tribal-religious cauldron set aboil is exacerbated by their neighbors, especially Iran and Pakistan, who variously aid and abet the Taliban and perhaps ISIS, for their own ends.
The “stalemate” or “status quo” is not a war but rather a long term regional security problem with strategic implications.
The idea that there is anything to “win” in Afghanistan is absurd but so is the notion that we will up and leave immediately.
Our participation has become a Vietnam-like military assistance command backed up with a counter-terrorism arm where we support a struggling Kabul-based government.
Recent reports suggest that Iran is gleefully aiding the Taliban to tie us down while they strengthen their presence in Iraq and build a “land bridge” to Syria.
And Pakistan has a long history of aiding terrorists traveling into and out of Afghanistan.
Don’t forget, Bin Laden lived in Pakistan for years, meaning Pakistani security forces either knew it or are inept.
The very tough part for us to swallow is that Afghanistan is not a war but rather a security operation, meant to hold the line and keep an eye on regional adversaries.
Here’s another map.
It looks a bit like Afghanistan with its non-contiguous zones of control.
In fact, it’s the south and west of Chicago where rival gangs, tribes, actually, compete for control, street corner by street corner.
The Black Disciples, Gangster Disciples and Black P. Stones are the Taliban and ISIS of the city.
In Chicago, as in Afghanistan, we may blunt the violence of the tribal battle for power but actual “victory” is beyond contemplation.
In Chicago as in Afghanistan there are multiple generations, often three at once, who participate in tribal-based violence.
Employing the terminology of war sets the expectation for victory and in Afghanistan victory will never occur because of their complete rejection of a pluralistic, democratic ethos.
They don’t want what we have to offer.
In Chicago, we never declared war, so there is no expectation of outright victory and the gangs and tribes there also thoroughly reject basic tenets of a democratic society, preferring to rule block-by-block, corner-by-corner, usually through violence.
For reasons big and small, the answer to Afghanistan is to view it as another Windy City where we are pledged to provide security and a degree of control as warring factions defy laws and norms.
Afghanistan’s Helmand and Kandahar provinces are the Austin and Englewood neighborhoods of Chicago–lawless and ruthless where tribal violence and death prevails.
When we send young men and women to Afghanistan let’s be clear that there will never be some grand monument to victory because victory there will never be.
They are but “cops on the beat” albeit in a land far away.
If there is a God, may they be protected, all and always.