Afghanistan: The Biggest Loser?

We have our first guest blogger today in Bob Shepherd, who has frequently appeared on Film@11 shows like “Common Sense.” Shepherd is, hands down, one of the savviest people when it comes to Afghanistan. He has traveled throughout the country many times over the last five years, providing security for journalists and dignitaries. He is considered one of the best in the security business - something he describes in his excellent book The Circuit, which takes a critical look at the lucrative military contractor world. And he is also a marvelous photographer (you can see some of his work here), SAS veteran and proud Scotsman. Shepherd recently launched his own blog,, which we are very pleased to feature as our first “Blog We Like.” Anyone interested in Afghanistan should make it a required reading stop.

Bob Shepherd, on the scene

The Taliban must have been rubbing their hands when the White House and Downing Street congratulated Hamid Karzai on his default Presidential victory. ‘What is astonishing is two weeks ago they were arguing that the puppet President Hamid Karzai was involved in electoral fraud,’ said a Taliban statement, ‘… but now he is elected as President based on those same fraudulent votes, Washington and London immediately send their congratulations.’

The West’s hypocrisy is nothing exceptional in Afghanistan. As a matter of necessity, Afghans always back the winning side. Thirty-five years of civil war have taught them to value survival over political principals. I know one Afghan who jumped from the Soviet Army to the Mujahudeen in the 1980s. When the Taliban came to power, he joined them. When they were ousted, he went to work as an interpreter for the US military. Basically, whoever has the upper hand in Afghanistan has his support.

Through my work as a security advisor to the media in Afghanistan, I’ve met Karzai five times. He’s no different than the majority of his countrymen. Educated or illiterate, Afghans can run rings around the average westerner when it comes to surviving. Karzai has kept the West’s backing in part because he is a puppet, but mostly because he’s left them no alternative. For eight years he’s done what is necessary to rein in potential rivals. Appointing warlords and drugs traffickers to ministries is one example (better to have them in government than on a battlefield). Rigging elections is another.

As a retired member of the British military, I am sickened and outraged that British troops were maimed and killed securing polling stations for a sham election in an inherently corrupt political system. Now, the White House is deciding whether to commit 40,000 additional troops to a campaign that has and will in all likelihood continue to make a mockery of the ideals the US and NATO are fighting to promote. I understand why General Stanley McChrystal is asking for more boots on the ground. He wants to prevail. That said, in my view, more troops will not achieve this. Sending more soldiers to Afghanistan will only result in more coalition and civilian deaths.

As the former Soviet Union learned all too well, troop deployments are no silver bullet. At the height of its ten-year occupation, the Kremlin had approximately 120,000 troops in Afghanistan. By the end of this year, the US and NATO will have approximately 108,000. If Obama grants McCrystal’s request, the coalition will definitely surpass the Soviet campaign in boots on the ground.

The Soviets finally tired of sacrificing soldiers to the futile task of trying to convert Afghans to a system of government they didn’t want or respect. They are the biggest failures in Afghanistan in modern times. If the US insists on committing more troops to the conflict, the coalition could very well usurp that title.

- Bob Shepherd