Published On: Tue, Feb 12th, 2013

Let’s face it — we didn’t win in Afghanistan

karzai-obama-post-2014-afghanistanBy Scott Taylor

It has been more than 11 years since the U.S. declared the Taliban regime in Afghanistan defeated and, finally, it is a war-weary NATO that has started peace negotiations with that very same resilient foe.

They were heady days back in 2002, when the might of the American air force, along with a handful of special forces and their Northern Alliance allies, made short work of the primitive Taliban units.

The Taliban’s senior leadership that evaded capture, by fleeing into Pakistan, and their former foot soldiers simply hid their weapons and went home.

The western media was rife with tales of the Taliban’s tyranny being lifted, burkas being removed and a hope-filled Afghan citizenry welcoming their new-found freedom on the path to democracy.

Any pundit who warned onlookers to study history and recognize that Afghanistan has proven to be the deathbed of many formidable foes was dismissed as a Chicken Little doomsayer.

Dating back as far as Alexander the Great, the Afghan strategy has never been to fight pitched battles, but rather to wear down the invaders over time with a death by a thousand cuts.

This time, NATO planners convinced themselves it would be different because we were bringing a long-suffering, impoverished, literacy-challenged people the joy of western-style democracy.

However, after all this time, hundreds of billions of dollars in aid and 3,169 NATO soldiers killed to date — including 158 Canadians — the Afghan resistance has continued to grow.

Democracy did not take hold. After one round of very dubious presidential elections in 2004, the corrupted electoral process failed to produce a verifiable result in 2009.

As such, the hated and admittedly corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai was left in power, simply because the western overseers had no other option.

One can only wonder why, under such circumstances, the international community would even bother funding and staging the next planned election in 2014, an election that is to take place before the planned withdrawal of the last NATO troops.

Outside of the Karzai government, Afghans have established their own parallel authorities, whether run by local warlords or the Taliban.

It was the recognition of this fact that led to Britain, Pakistan and the Karzai regime to approve a deal last week that authorized the Taliban to set up a formal office of negotiation in Doha, Qatar.

With the opening of this office, the three signatories are hoping to fast-track the road to a negotiated peace within the next six months.

This, of course, is not the first attempt to include the Taliban in the discussions. However, the peace process has been significantly stalled since a Taliban suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the Afghan High Peace Council, in September 2011.

What is interesting to note is that the Karzai regime seems more eager to bring the Taliban to the table prior to NATO’s troop withdrawal than the Taliban are willing to cut a deal with an administration they dismiss as corrupt and unrepresentative of the average Afghan.

In a nutshell, negotiating with the Taliban means we lost the war.

The Taliban insurgency never won a single, pitched battle with NATO forces. They simply wore down the West’s will to commit money and soldiers’ lives to a cause that the evidence increasingly shows we cannot win.

The Canadian soldiers who fought in Afghanistan can still hold their heads high knowing that they were never defeated in a single engagement. They displayed to the world a level of professionalism and courage that was the envy of our allies.

Those who died, or suffered wounds in battle, did not do so in vain because they were serving Canada on behalf of government policy.

That said, we need to recognize that we, as part of the NATO alliance, lost the war in Afghanistan.

This is the first war in our nation’s short history in which we have failed to achieve victory. Rather than denying this fact and distancing ourselves from a failure (or, worse yet, having the drum and bugle corps of historians rewrite this into a glorious victory complete with tales of schoolhouses built, wells dug and vaccinations administered to children), we need to study why we failed.

Only by examining the mistakes and correcting them can we fully justify the sacrifice made by out combat soldiers in a war they were never supposed to fight.

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