Our government is so large, and so complex that I am by now convinced that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Worse, it doesn’t seem to understand very much about what it does know. I will happily admit that “nation building” is complex in the extreme, and the truth of this helps us to understand why so many Americans are opposed to such policy. What follows is but one example of the pitfalls of nation building.
If you are an Afghan official charged with keeping the army fully manned, here are the first steps you must take in the initial interview with a potential candidate: confiscate the applicant’s cell phone, check to see if the ring tone is unique to members of the Taliban or their enablers, see if there is a picture of the Taliban flag stored inside the phone, and finally, check to see if there is a video of a beheading of infidels.
New York Times writer Rod Nordland explains why the Afghan Army doesn’t exclude an enemy from recruitment: it is losing about one-third of its total strength each year due to desertions and expiring enlistments. Even a first year college student should know that this kind of attrition provides a major stumbling blog to US and NATO goals of achieving an independent, reliable, and efficient army, capable of taking over the war, stabilizing the country, and finally allowing the withdrawal of coalition forces.
Is our state department even aware of this problem? Is the commander in chief? The question could very well be rhetorical. It is possible that no one inside the beltway really cares. At least, they are acting that way. And yet, Afghan officials say that the only way they can sustain a viable army is through recruitment. They’re losing 66,000 soldiers every year, and some officials are saying that it doesn’t seem likely anyone will bring to an end these problems before the end of 2014, when US and NATO forces are scheduled to withdraw.
Why are there so many desertions? Why are so many young men returning home after their enlistments? According to one very candid Afghan official, it is because Afghan officers are poor leaders and corrupt; because the men are poorly fed, and poorly equipped; and because Taliban are able to approach and intimidate the families of soldiers.
Consequently, either Afghan officials accept Taliban insurgents into the army, and the drug traffickers, and the jailbirds who can’t find any other work, or in three years, there won’t be an Afghan army. Apparently, having an army poised to fall upon itself with daggers is preferable to not having an army at all. Recruiting officials are desperate; they will take almost anyone who can walk and chew gum simultaneously. But it is through these dimmed lights that we are able to discern two things: we know what is really going on, behind the scenes, and we are able to see the ultimate result of our nation-building efforts in Afghanistan.
In spite of the aforementioned difficulties, the army recruited 30,000 applicants in the past year. They granted waivers to Taliban affiliates, to incorrigibles, because they had no other options. And in a few years from now, whatever happens won’t be the fault of these bureaucrats; they will have already moved up the professional ladder, or migrated to new countries, or returned home as warlords, or died —whatever. Plausible deniability is a gift that keeps on giving.
The Afghan bureaucracy is every bit as lethargic as the one we have here in America, but its short-sightedness has deadly consequences. The US government continues to require that our troops conduct military operations alongside their Afghan counterparts, even in spite of Afghan treachery. And for those of our citizens who appear shocked by blue on green murder and assault, let me just say that this is what happens when four generations of Americans come out of public school dumber than on the date of their enrollment.
Rod Nordland helps us to understand why no one in the Afghan Army deserves our trust, why no American soldier or Marine should turn his or her back on any Afghan soldier, and why we should pull out of Afghanistan at the first opportunity. Nordland also illuminates why we should never have gone there to begin with. Our government is beyond incompetent.