A New York Times story published Thursday documents US plans to withdraw from the Pech Valley in Kunar Province of eastern Afghanistan. As the Times notes, this is a significant withdrawal from an area previously touted as one of the most important in the war in Afghanistan and is an area where over a hundred US troops have died. Remarkably, there is a rare bit of self-awareness in this move, as the US is admitting that it is our presence there that destabilizes the area. Like the unwelcome guest who keeps breaking things but just won’t leave, US behavior in Afghanistan to this point has had a huge component of destabilizing areas while producing no real benefit.
The key bit of US self-awareness comes almost halfway into the Times article:
“What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” said one American military official familiar with the decision. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.”
Yes, at least in Pech Valley, the US realizes that we are uninvited guests who have been trashing the place for no reason. Will this concept ever be expanded to include all of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan?
The US military commander for eastern Afghanistan tries to put the best face on this move, in light of the abandonment of an area some troops consider almost sacred due to the number of lost comrades:
Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”
The Afghan “troops” being left behind to provide security for the area know full well that the vaunted “training” that General David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. William Caldwell have been bragging about is a sham and that those being left behind are on a suicide mission:
Some Afghan military officials have also expressed pointed misgivings about the prospects for Afghan units left behind.
“According to my experience in the military and knowledge of the area, it’s absolutely impractical for the Afghan National Army to protect the area without the Americans,” said Major Turab, the former second-in-command of an Afghan battalion in the valley, who like many Afghans uses only one name. “It will be a suicidal mission.”
Note also that the Pech valley is very close to the Ghaziabad area where a recent US raid led to multiple civilian casualties. In the article discussing the civilian deaths and injuries, this Washington Post article actually places a name with the realization that the US is not welcome in Kunar Province:
“They’re in extreme isolation,” Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend, a senior Army official in eastern Afghanistan, said of parts of Konar. “They just don’t want us there.”
It was during the investigation of this attack that Petraeus offended many Afghans by accusing Afghan parents of intentionally burning their children in order to make the US attack look worse. The Ghaziabad region is in the Bar Kunar district of Kunar Province, with only one district between it and the Pech district. The map below shows the districts of Kunar Province, while the inset shows the location of the province on Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan.
The Times article also points out that this withdrawal seems to be a case of history repeating itself:
The Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups are all but certain to label the withdrawal a victory in the Pech Valley, where they could point to the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from the same area in 1988. Many Afghans remember that withdrawal as a symbolic moment when the Kremlin’s military campaign began to visibly fall apart.
It sure does look like the US campaign is falling apart, as well. We are withdrawing from a region previously touted as vital. We are leaving behind a sadly suicidal testament to the fraud that is the US “training” of Afghan forces. What further evidence is needed to demonstrate that the entire effort is an abject failure?