Afghan Roulette

Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times Magazine told us this time last year that the main battle in Afghanistan wasn’t the U.S. and NATO against the Taliban, but India versus Pakistan. She hasn’t changed her mind. “We are a sideshow,” she reiterated recently.

Bob Shepherd, a former SAS soldier and author of The Circuit who spent most of 2004-2008 in Afghanistan, agrees. “There are all sorts of proxy battles, between Afghans, between countries, that make the country a huge jigsaw puzzle,” he told us.

It’s increasingly apparent the U.S. and its allies are in way over their heads, and Shepherd thinks the reasons for the war are becoming dangerously murky.

“This is the fourth Afghan war for (the British),” Shepherd said, “and we’re four-nil. Why are we still there? I haven’t heard one peep about bin Laden. I do not understand why we are there, when it is blatantly obvious to a blind man that we’re losing.”

As a private security contractor for journalists and dignitaries, Shepherd logged time in many of the areas now off-limits, such as Helmund and Paktia provinces, and observed, “I was out there almost continuously, and my movements got restricted every year. Where I could go in 2004, I couldn’t go in 2005; where I could go in 2005, I couldn’t go in 2006. In 2009, I couldn’t go outside of Kabul. People were doing it, but they were getting abducted and getting killed. I would not today take the drive from Kabul to Jalabad.

“I’d put the mortgage on my house that Afghanistan will implode.”

The question the U.S. military leaders have been asked to answer is: Can we win, and what does a ‘win’ mean?

“Right now, (the Afghan people are) jumping to the Taliban,” Shepherd said. “They are looking after themselves, and they’ll do anything to make that work. If we pay them more than the Taliban does, then they’ll jump to us. But how much is that going to cost? And how long are we going to have to pay for it?”

In our next Afghan update: How, indeed?

Good old-fashioned team work
Good old-fashioned team work