Addict (drugaddict) wrote,


 Milton Bearden, CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989 wrote a prescient article in Foreign Affairs in its Novenber/December 2001 issue entitled "Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires".  In it he observed that the United States must proceed with caution in its quest for bin Laden -- or end up on the ash heap of Afghan history. We have learned none of these lessons and are about to compound our mistakes with an Obama "surge" that brings us one more step toward the ash heap.

To illustrate his point, Bearden started with Alexander the Great who sent his supply trains through the Khyber, then skirted northward with his army to the Konar Valley on his campaign in 327 BC. There he ran into fierce resistance and, struck by an Afghan archer's arrow, barely made it to the Indus River with his life.

Genghis Khan and the great Mughal emperors began passing through the Khyber a millennium later and ultimately established the greatest of empires -- but only after reaching painful accommodations with the Afghans.

In the nineteenth century the Khyber became the fulcrum of the Great Game, the contest between the United Kingdom and Russia for control of Central Asia and India. The first Afghan War (1839-42) began when British commanders sent a huge army of British and Indian troops into Afghanistan to secure it against Russian incursions, replacing the ruling emir with a British protege. Facing Afghan opposition, by January 1842 the British were forced to withdraw from Kabul with a column of 16,500 soldiers and civilians, heading east to the garrison at Jalalabad, 110 miles away. Only a single survivor of that group ever made it to Jalalabad safely, though the British forces did recover some prisoners many months later.

According to the late Louis Dupree, the premier historian of Afghanistan, four factors contributed to the British disaster: the occupation of Afghan territory by foreign troops, the placing of an unpopular emir on the throne, the harsh acts of the British-supported Afghans against their local enemies, and the reduction of the subsidies paid to the tribal chiefs by British political agents.

The British would repeat these mistakes in the second Afghan War (1878-81), as would the Soviets a century later; the United States would be wise to consider them today.

In the aftermath of the second British misadventure in Afghanistan, Rudyard Kipling penned his immortal lines on the role of the local women in tidying up the battlefields:  

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains

And the women come out to cut up what remains

Jest roll to your rifle an' blow out your brains

An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.


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