Michael's Dispatches

Afghanistan: A Bigger Monster

10 October 2013

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Just months ago Pentagon officials dismissed the idea of a total pullout from Afghanistan.  Today we are on the verge of ending negotiations on our future there, leading to the “zero option.”  Total withdrawal.

If we execute a zero option, this is my basic worst-case prediction, which is not far from my most likely scenario prediction:

President Karzai and his government seem to believe we need Afghanistan and will not abandon him, or that we will cave to ridiculous demands.  We will not.  Remember Iraq.  Look at our own current shutdown.  The US is in serial crisis mode and Afghanistan is overplaying its hand.

Both the Afghan and US governments frequently behave irrationally, and some US decision-makers are looking for any excuse to drop Afghanistan.  Psychologically, we are in a perfect position to negotiate, regardless of the security consequence.

Without support, the Afghan economy will collapse.

Following the economic collapse and without Coalition military support, the Afghan government will also collapse.

If it remains vaguely intact, the Afghan “government” will be ineffective outside of Kabul.

Kandahar City will be the Taliban capital.  No international trade will occur in the south without Taliban approval.

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The Afghans most capable of running the country will flee for places like Dubai.  Many have been gone for years.  Nobody will be capable of running the country.  The billions of dollars’ worth of roads and infrastructure we built will begin to crumble.  The cell phones Afghans have fallen in love with might soon be out of order.

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New power will flow from guns.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces that we trained and armed will not be paid.  They will go home, work for warlords, or become warlords.  Many will take the weapons we supplied.

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We have flooded the already well-armed Afghanistan with enough weapons to stand up an army and police.  In fact, we stood up a shaky army and police.  Warlords and ethnic groups currently are arming and preparing for the next Afghanistan “road warrior” era.

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Local warlords will gain control of roads from Kabul to other major cities such as Jalalabad, just like old times.  Stretches of highway will be controlled with extortion checkpoints, ambushes, and their new IED expertise.

Large-scale business such as mining or the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline will become more expensive or extremely risky to undertake.  There will be few large, legitimate businesses.

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The economy will be opium-based.  Opium production, which has been increasing over the past few years, will skyrocket.  Within just a few years, Afghanistan will become a true narco-state like the world has never before seen, accounting for nearly all of the world’s supply.  Worldwide addictions will climb, increasing demand, and yet more poppy will be planted.

When food crops are replaced with opium and international aid has mostly vanished, there will be famines without relief.  Refugees from war and famine might again escape to neighbors such as Pakistan.

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There will be a multi-sided civil war with so many players and warlords that nobody but the most dedicated analysts will have a chance at tracking.

Chaos will reign wherein the Taliban is but one player, and likely not the most dangerous.  The Taliban will rule the south and some other areas but they will not rule the country.  Warlords and Taliban top leaders will become rich from opium trade.

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Afghanistan will cease to exist as anything that we would call a country.  It will be a region divided into fiefdoms where warlords and ethnic groups prevail.  Drones that we may use will amount to little more than nuisances.

If narco-rich warlords put their minds to it, they might buy missiles to shoot down any drones we send.  Of course if they get their hands on missiles, drone hunting will be the least of our concerns.

Instability might spill over to other South and Central Asian countries, threatening regional chaos.

Afghanistan and the region might well become worse than when the Taliban was the dominant force.  No lasting changes will have occurred for women’s rights.

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In summary, we are looking at a potential Afghan Armageddon, likely to be ignored until the next paroxysm.  Our blood, suffering, and treasure will not only be wasted in total; it will have created a monster.

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