The Pentagon’s foolish friends

People at the helm of affairs in the Pentagon need to put some good faith in the global proverbial truth that ‘a wise enemy is better than a foolish friend’. It took the US more than 18 years to be able to talk to wise foes (Afghan Taliban) only because the armchair military and intelligence advisors and think tanks thriving on hefty pays, perks and privileges continued to churn out foolish narratives and advice that got the US armed forces embroiled in unending wars in Afghanistan and in other Middle Eastern countries; as had been the case in the past in Vietnam and Cambodia. Pakistan, despite being a forced ally in the so-called war against terrorism, throughout advised the US military and intelligence on the futility of excessive use of military muscles to settle a problem, which in the first place needed a negotiated political solution. Ultimately, 20 years later, the US was forced to do the same but from an unenviable position and at a heavy human, prestige and economic cost.

Ironically, despite Pakistan’s hard won successes against the global terrorists pushed on its soil from Afghanistan thanks to the RAW-NDS nexus, and unswerving counselling to American counterparts in the DoD, Pentagon, State Department and Langley, American side remained ill advised in accusing and pressurising Pakistan for all the political, military and intelligence follies committed in Afghanistan.

It is shocking to observe that the same old advisors are still continuing to trail similar fake and destructive narratives that have already failed miserably. Most ironically, having already pulverised Afghanistan in the last two decades, such counsellors are now nefariously urging the US government, Pentagon and Langley to pursue a series of measures in the name of preventing catastrophe in a post-American Afghanistan. One such advocate says, ‘preventing catastrophe—a complete Taliban military victory and the reestablishment of terrorist safe havens—depends on what the United States does now. Without overt US military forces on the ground, the next best way to avoid the worst outcomes in Afghanistan and minimise the downsides of a withdrawal is through a strategy focused on supporting Afghan security forces and striking terrorists. It is a well established reality that the US national security interests in Afghanistan are not what they were right after 9/11. The United States has already shifted its focus to competition with China and Russia and a new cold war is in motion. However, the old tried and tested advisors continue to put across a number of options to the US administration to linger on in Afghanistan.

To achieve such stated goals, it has been recommended to the Pentagon and Langley that the United States should fly regular missions for the purpose of striking targets and gathering intelligence by stationing US aircrafts in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan; provided Russia agreed to oblige and on what cost. Alternatively, the United States could fly some missions from aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean, but the US Navy would likely prefer to use those ships for missions aimed at countering China in East Asia. This leaves countries in the Persian Gulf such as Qatar, which is over 1,000 nautical miles from Afghanistan. Given the mission requirements for Afghanistan, the best aircraft for the job is the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper. One of the newest versions of the drone could, after subtracting the 12-hour round trip from Qatar, spend roughly 26 hours flying over Afghanistan, conducting surveillance and striking targets. The United States could complement its drones with manned aircraft, including F-15E strike fighters, F-16 fighter bombers, A-10 ground attack jets, and B-52 strategic bombers. These aircraft could assist Afghan forces by offering close air support—missions that would prove particularly useful when the Taliban start to amass their forces and conduct large conventional operations. Since the Taliban do not yet possess significant surface-to-air missile capabilities or an air force, the United States would continue to enjoy air superiority.

The naivety of the suggested and somewhat accepted recommendations need no emphasis as those had already been tried in the last twenty years but in vain. The Taliban victory is written on the wall with so far self-declared refrain by the Taliban for not grabbing the seat of power in Kabul by force. Nevertheless, the perils of privatisation of covert war in Afghanistan through a combination of outsourcing it to India as well as further embroiling Pentagon and Langley is bound to foment a bloody civil war in Afghanistan, besides highly destabilised CASA region global contest notwithstanding. Pakistan must keep its borders effectively sealed and well protected and remain focused on threads of the economic hitman in progress and keep the regional greater alliance to thwart the nefarious game plan for Afghanistan and the region.

Saleem Qamar Butt
The writer is a retired senior army officer with experience in international relations, military diplomacy and analysis of geo-political and strategic security issues.

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