Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Talibanby Douglas A. Wissing
According to this book, America has already lost
With the vague intention of winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, the US government has mismanaged billions of development and logistics dollars, bolstered the drug trade, and dumped untold millions into Taliban hands. That is the sobering message of this scathing critique of our war effort in Afghanistan.
According to this book, America has already lost the war. While conducting extensive research and fieldwork in Afghanistan’s war zones, a drumbeat of off-the-record and offhand remarks pointed the author to one conclusion: "We blew it." The sentiment was even blazoned across a US military fortification, as the author saw at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in insurgency-wracked Laghman Province: "I glanced over at a concrete blast barrier while waiting for a helicopter," Wissing says. "Someone had spray-painted in jagged letters: ‘The GAME. You Lost It.’"
The author’s vivid narrative takes the reader down to ground level in frontline Afghanistan. It draws on the voices of hundreds of combat soldiers, ordinary Afghans, private contractors, aid workers, international consultants, and government officials. From these contacts it became glaringly clear, as the author details, that American taxpayer dollars have been flowing into Taliban coffers, courtesy of scandalously mismanaged US development and counterinsurgency programs, with calamitous military and social consequences.
This is the first book to detail the toxic embrace of American policymakers and careerists, Afghan kleptocrats, and the opportunistic Taliban. The result? US taxpayers have been footing the bill for both sides of a disastrous Afghanistan war.
From the Hardcover edition.
-Peter Van Buren, Former State Department Foreign Service Officer and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
"Wissing presents a compelling viewpoint of how national security objectives are pursued and how war is waged in the modern, asymmetric battlespace. In particular, his insightful analysis of the Afghanistan war—its funding mechanisms, lack of coherent strategy, and weak interagency cooperation and synergy—should be required reading for all. One of his most poignant phrases, ‘The United States couldn’t kill its way to victory, nor could it buy it,’ suggests that how we have traditionally waged war isn’t working, implicitly asking this question: What can we do to clean up our act?"
-Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields, USMC (ret.), Former Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
"[A] sobering account of the attempts by several US administrations to both wage war in and provide aid to Afghanistan, often with confusing and contradictory results. Backed by extensive interviews as well as on-the-ground embedded-reporter experience, the book illustrates the nearly impossible task of nation building in a country with a long history of factional friction and transactional corruption."
-Lee H. Hamilton, Former Indiana congressman and co-chair of the Iraq Study Group
"Wissing’s meticulous marshaling of . . . devastating facts along with cogent perspectives gleaned from actors on the ground is timely and of considerable value. [His] blunt, succinct, yet responsible style leaves the reader with no doubts that new ways forward must focus on the people of Afghanistan who have been ill-served by their friends as well as their leaders for too long. . . .[A]n honest reading of Funding the Enemy should be required . . . as new paths are forged."
-Nancy Hatch Dupree, Executive consultant to the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University
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FUNDING THE ENEMYHow US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban
By Douglas A. Wissing
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2012 Douglas A. Wissing
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTrue Peace, 2002
FOUR MONTHS AFTER TORA BORA, President George W. Bush was at the crenellated Virginia Military Institute calling for a new "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan. Speaking at the venerable alma mater of General George C. Marshall, architect of the post–World War II plan that revived Europe and Japan, President Bush said, "We know that true peace will only be achieved when we give the Afghan people the means to achieve their own aspirations."
Bush promised support for a stable Afghan government, a strong national army, and education for both sexes, as well as roads, healthcare, and business expansion. Development—very expensive development—was going to be the key to transforming the impoverished, war-ravaged Afghanistan into a peaceful country that would no longer harbor Islamic terrorists. "As the spring thaw comes," Bush said, "we expect cells of trained killers to try to regroup, to murder, create mayhem, and try to undermine Afghanistan's efforts to build a lasting peace. We know this from not only intelligence, but from the history of military conflict in Afghanistan. It's been one of initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We're not going to make that mistake." Reversing his earlier disdain of "nation building," Bush promised a broad-based, long-term US commitment to Afghanistan: "We will stay until the mission is done."
* * *
Bush was right about the history of Afghanistan. Afghans have successfully resisted imperial ambitions for centuries. Time and again, powerful invaders have prevailed on the battlefield and still lost the war. Alexander the Great marched into Bactria, the region that includes today's northern Afghanistan, in 329 BCE. It was initially an easy campaign, though marked by Bactrian warlords' serial betrayals. Bactria seemed pacified. But a resistance movement led by local commanders soon emerged to challenge Alexander's army. In the battle at Polytimetus River, Alexander's army suffered its greatest defeat, losing every officer and most of the soldiers to a wily warlord, Spitamenes, who used protoguerrilla tactics. Alexander called the natives "lawless savages," "enemies of civilization." He told his men they were saving Greece itself: "This is a noble cause, and you will always be honored for seeing it through to the end." Though Alexander's army conquered Bactria, it was never a quiescent province. Rebellions and revolts raged against the outlander Greeks, forcing Alexander to garrison half his infantry and 95 percent of his cavalry in this one small corner of his vast empire. Mountainous eastern Afghanistan created particular problems for Alexander's soldiers. The native fighters attacked and then retreated into the remote upper valleys. In spite of Alexander's total war policies (which included both scorched-earth campaigns and "hearts-and-minds" programs that included Greek colonization), more Greeks and Macedonians died in Bactria than in any earlier campaigns. 4 After his painful experiences, Alexander is said to have lamented that Afghanistan is "easy to march into, hard to march out of."
In 1221, Genghis Khan's Mongol army invaded today's Afghanistan with the Mongols' typical duplicity and wholesale butchery. But at Parwan, where today's Bagram Airfield (the US-led Coalition's headquarters) is located, the Afghans and their Turkic allies confronted thirty thousand Mongol warriors in a steep defile. When the day was done, half the Mongol army lay in piles through the valley. It was the only defeat the Mongols suffered outside of east Asia in eighty years. The Afghans' victory at Parwan inspired uprisings across Afghanistan, but Khan retaliated with legendary slaughters at Bamiyan, Herat, Ghazni, and Balkh, where sedentary Afghans bore the brunt of the Mongol rage while the nomadic mountain people remained relatively unscathed. Soon after Khan's death in 1227, his quarrelsome Afghan empire devolved into independent satrapies. In the subsequent centuries, Afghans continued to challenge the might of the Mongol Empire—both the famous fourteenth-century Mongol Tamerlane and the founder of India's Mughul Dynasty, Babur, fought some of their fiercest battles in Afghanistan.
Full of imperial vigor, the British marched into Afghanistan in 1839, intent on countering the Russian Czarist advances into central Asia. The invasion was an early gambit in the Great Game, the rivalry between the Russian and British empires for the wild lands between the Caucasus Mountains and the Khyber Pass. After an easy victory against their mismatched Afghan opponents, the British force, many with their families, ensconced themselves in a comfortable cantonment in Kabul. But it was a hollow victory. In November 1841, thousands of Afghans declared a holy war on the British, forcing the entire British retinue of more than fifteen thousand soldiers and camp followers to flee toward the safety of India. The Afghans attacked the beleaguered column until it was a bare remnant, killing in one winding, four-mile-long pass three thousand men, women, and children. Britain's inglorious defeat culminated in January 1842 at Gandamak, where sixty-five soldiers made their last stand on a hilltop before the Afghans slaughtered them. Printed copies of William Barnes Wollen's vivid painting, The Last Stand of the 44th Regiment at Gundamuck, were widely distributed in Britain. Akin to the depictions of Custer's last stand that decorated countless saloons across America, the prints seared Afghanistan into the minds of the British public. In 1843, an Afghan War survivor, army chaplain reverend G. R. Gleig, summarized the conflict in his memoir: "A war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government, which directed, or the great body of troops, which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has Britain acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated."
A generation later, the British were still playing the Great Game. Fearing the Afghans were about to favor Russia, the British launched their second invasion in 1878 with thirty-five thousand British troops. As with the first war, it was a quick, easy conquest. On May 26, 1879, the British imposed a punitive peace with a treaty signed at Gandamak, the village where the ignominious defeat had taken place forty years before. But as with the first Anglo-Afghan War, the easy conquest soon turned hard. By early September, the British delegation in Kabul was surrounded by thousands of angry Afghan tribesmen. As before, there was butchery in Kabul. Though the British soldiers at Kabul killed six hundred Afghans, over seventy of the British also died. A British retribution force was soon on its way to Kabul, where it exacted a harsh justice, hanging one hundred of the alleged perpetrators—including some who were reportedly innocent. English-language newspapers in Britain and British India fretted the British force was, in the words of one paper, "sowing a harvest of hate."
And the harvest soon came. By December, tens of thousands of tribesmen were streaming to Kabul to confront the 6,500 infidels quartered there. In the early hours of December 23, 1879, fanatic ghazis attacked, leading sixty thousand howling tribesmen against the cantonment. The detachment's artillery and Gatling guns carried the field that day. The Afghans lost over three thousand men; the British only five. But at the village of Maiwand in southern Afghanistan, the British suffered one of the worst defeats the empire ever suffered in Asia, losing one thousand men. Among the Afghan heroes that day was a shepherd's daughter named Malalai, who is still invoked as a symbol of the indomitable Pashtun fighting spirit. According to legend, Malalai snatched a falling flag and rallied the fighters, who included her new husband, with a call: "Young love! If you do not fall in the battle of Maiwand, by God, someone is saving you as a symbol of shame!" In the battle, the British won the war and some oversight in Afghanistan, but it only garnered them a momentary advantage in the Great Game. In the war's aftermath, the British commander Major General Frederick Roberts, the diminutive craggy-faced frontier veteran his soldiers called "Bobs," summarized his experience: "It may not be very flattering to our amour propre, but I feel sure I am right when I say that the less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us."
And sure enough, even Britain's "light footprint"—control of Afghanistan's foreign policy and a few military posts—chafed the Afghans. This was despite the large British subsidies to Afghan strongman Abdur Rahman, whom the English press dubbed the "Iron Emir" for his ruthless campaigns against the mullahs and tribal powers. During World War I, the British stipends continued to his heir, Habibullah, though the new emir also plotted with Turkish and German agents about an invasion of India. When assassins felled Habibullah in February 1919, his brother Amanullah inherited the emir's throne. With Britain distracted by the war in Europe, Amanullah unleashed the third Anglo-Afghan War in May 1919. When the Afghan Army attacked across the specious Durand Line that the British had drawn in 1893 to divide the Pashtun heartland—Pashtunistan, as it is known—between Afghanistan and British-controlled India (today's Pakistani tribal territories), the mullahs roused the Afghan tribes with calls for a jihad, a holy war against the infidels. The Afghans sacked British frontier posts before the British counterattacked. The balance shifted when British aircraft bombed Kabul and Jalalabad, forcing Amanullah to seek peace. While Amanullah lost his generous stipends and had to accept the Durand Line, he regained control of his country's foreign affairs, ending a long chapter of the Great Game.
* * *
Then there were the Soviets, determined to help the Afghans join the community of modern Socialist countries, and the United States, equally eager to draw Afghanistan into the capitalist sphere. And the Afghans, who were happy to let the two superpowers fight their Cold War chapter of the Great Game with competing foreign-aid incentives. The initial Soviet aid followed the Afghan-Soviet Treaty of 1921—the first international agreement signed by the infant Soviet government. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union provided enormous amounts of development aid in northern Afghanistan, building roads, schools, dams, river ports, and irrigation systems. The United States contributed competing aid projects south of the Hindu Kush range, which bisects Afghanistan. The projects included a gargantuan Helmand Valley hydrology project and a major airport in Kandahar. By the end of the 1970s, the Soviet Union had contributed about $1.25 billion in development funds; the Americans, about $0.5 billion.
But it was ultimately military aid that drew Afghanistan toward the Soviets. When the United States refused Afghan requests for arms and training in the 1950s, the Soviet Union began military aid, which eventually topped $1 billion. Thousands of Afghan soldiers, students, and technicians studied in the USSR, and the Afghan Army bought Soviet and Czech armaments on easy credit terms. Inculcated with the same Soviet ideology that had transformed the Muslim "-istans" along the USSR's southern flank, the Afghan government officials initiated some modest modernization programs, including female education and job opportunities, which alienated fundamentalist Afghans—especially the conservative Pashtun tribes. In 1978, backed by rebellious Soviet-trained and Soviet-advised army units, the leftist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan took over the government.
Peace didn't last long. Soon after the Afghan Communists announced a compulsory female literacy campaign, credit reform, land redistribution, and minority-group empowerment in March 1979, Herat erupted in rioting. Across Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen once again brandished their rifles. The Hindu Kush became a stronghold of anti-Communist insurrection. Afghan soldiers defected in droves; units mutinied. Responding to their client state's alarming deterioration, the Soviet Union dispatched thousands of military advisers, hundreds of tanks, helicopters, and other armaments. But in midsummer 1979, the opportunist United States began to surreptitiously supply the fundamentalist Islamic insurgents. Hoping to fuel an intractable Vietnam-style insurgency in the Soviet sphere of influence, the CIA initially provided the Islamic fighters $500,000 of propaganda, radios, medical equipment, and cash. It was the first tiny rivulet of what came to be a raging river of money. As the superpowers began parrying with their Afghan proxies, the Great Game got hot again.
By late 1979, the isolated Afghan Communist government was foundering. Despite the Afghans' history of resistance and the Islamic clerics' overweening influence, the Politburo made a fateful decision to invade Afghanistan. On December 24, 1979, Soviet airborne troops landed at the Kabul International Airport and Bagram Airfield. The next morning, the Soviet Fortieth Army crossed the AmuDarya River as Soviet tanks began clanking across the border. "It'll be over in three to four weeks," Communist Party general secretary Leonid Brezhnev predicted to Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States. But it was another story of easy to get in, hard to get out.
There were soon almost one hundred thousand Soviet troops stationed in Afghanistan. The Soviet soldiers called the Afghan fighters dukhi (ghosts), who could emerge like wraiths from the mountainsides and disappear as quickly. It was a will-o'-the-wisp war waged by a hydra-headed resistance that sprang up in Afghanistan's hinterlands. Though the Soviets had clear superiority in armaments and technology, the Afghans called on their age-old tactics: surprise, flexibility, and terror, inventively using simple materials to wreak unexpected mayhem. And with Pakistan's ardent mujahideen support that was financed by over $3 billion of US covert aid (which Saudi Arabia matched dollar for dollar), the Islamic fundamentalist fighters had a sanctuary, suppliers, and two powerful bankers. The CIA turned the Afghan irregulars into a new breed of techno-guerrilla, ready to do age-old battle with burst-transmit radios, GPS systems, and modern weaponry, including Stinger(r) antiaircraft missiles that the United States began providing in 1986. USAID, the US agency responsible for development and humanitarian aid, also supported the mujahideen war through a cross-border program that delivered tons of food and medicine to Pashtun villages in the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands. The program, which soared from $6 million in 1985 to $90 million in 1989, was designed to keep functioning Pashtun villages to support the mujahideen.
While mujahideen leaders, such as Younus Khalis, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Jalaluddin Haqqani, were happy to take the US money and material, they had nothing but contempt for the American infidels. The mujahideen exhibited early on the double-dealing that characterized their subsequent interactions with the Americans. CIA operative Howard Hart, who ran the mujahideen assistance program in the 1980s, said about the Afghan fighters, "They're so crooked that when they die you don't bury them, you just screw them into the ground." The mujahideen knew their power. When the Soviets sent twenty thousand troops to overrun a guerrilla base in Khost Province, Time magazine quoted Haqqani: "We stood alone at first against the Soviet invader with bare hands. It is the bravery of the Afghan people that has attracted the foreigner to help."
* * *
The Afghans' true advantage was culture—a deeply rooted, xenophobic culture that saw time, weather, and terrain as part of their weaponry and their tribes, clans, and mullahs as allies against the infidels. While many of Afghanistan's numerous ethnic groups, including the Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara communities, have fearsome reputations, it was the conservative Pashtun tribe that formed the bulwark of the mujahideen. Approximately twenty-five million Pashtuns are centered in eastern and southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, forming the world's largest ethnic group without a nation-state. The Pashtuns are a highly segmentary society, delineated into approximately three hundred fifty tribes, further divided into a multitude of clans—or khels—subkhels, and extended family groups called kahols.
Excerpted from FUNDING THE ENEMY by Douglas A. Wissing Copyright © 2012 by Douglas A. Wissing. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Douglas A. Wissing is an award-winning independent journalist who has reported widely on the war in Afghanistan for print, radio, and the Web. He has contributed hundreds of stories to media outlets that include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, Forbes Life, the Independent on Sunday (UK), Salon, and National Geographic Traveler, as well as the BBC, VOA News, and NPR networks. He is the author of six books, including Pioneer in Tibet: The Life and Perils of Dr. Albert Shelton.
From the Hardcover edition.
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The US policy for Afghanistan was wrong from the start. Nobody studied past history and how numerous military powers succombed to the Afghan fighter. The Bush Administration thought building roads, schools, and homes would win over the Afghan people. But then they tried to eliminate opium production. That's like trying to substitute solar and wind for oil in the US. Afghanistan is a primative, illiterate, tribal society. Paying bribes is a way of life. Wissing exposes how millions of dollars was simply was given to Afghan contractors in garbage bags, because they had no bank accounts. Supplies to our soldiers required protection funds to prevent the convoy from being attacked. Billions spent on construction jobs which either never existed, except on paper, or when built, were not built to last, or up to any standard. Image building without building inspectors on the job. Easy money. With different commanders coming and going, and the War in Irag, Afghanistan became the "afterthought war". After Iraq, the US discovered the Taliban was back in control of the country with a strong insurgency. The entire campaign of both Iraq and Afghanistan will not provide a safer US., as it has created stronger enemies funded by our tax dollars. And it will sure keep our children paying for years to come. After reading this book, you will realize how uninformed we are about what goes on outside this country in our name, and how disfunctional our military has become.
Your tax dollars at work--for the Taliban!!