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Adding Fuel to Mujhadeen Fire

Following an extended war, Islamic extremists in Afghanistan defeat a superpower and expel them from their country. Afghanistan then falls into civil war, and those same Islamic extremists wrest control of Kabul. As the country plummets into poverty and abuse, they use Afghanistan as a base to launch terror attacks around the globe. Even worse, terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, Jemaat Islamiyah and others use the victory to recruit men, gather funds, and gain power.

Of course, I refer not to the future of America in Afghanistan, but to the result of the USSR's ill fated venture in the 1980s.

President Obama--and the Democrats encouraging a smaller military footprint in Afghanistan--should take heed of the Russia’s example. Any pull out of American forces, even leaving a robust contingent of special forces operators, intelligence analysts, and unmanned drones, will radically motivate the global mujhadeen and their Islamic jihad. It is hard to deny that if we pull out of Afghanistan, Islamic extremism will benefit.

I first read an abbreviated description of this idea on the blog Abu Muqawama, and I can’t get the logic of it out of my head. A dramatic draw down of US forces will enable Al Qaeda and the Taliban, along with associated groups around Pakistan and Afghanistan, to declare victory over the Western powers. They can say they have defied two different superpowers.

This propaganda victory for Islamic extremism will aid Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in recruiting, financing and launching future operations. Money from around the Muslim world will fill their coffers and new recruits will swell their ranks. Even if our counter-terrorism efforts keep Al Qaeda off balance in Waziristan and the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan will radically motivate Al Qaeda in other parts of the world such as Yemen, Somalia, Indonesia, or Thailand.

Like all things, even our failure to create a stable, non-extremist government in Afghanistan can be mitigated. Our counter-terrorism strategy throughout the world has been very effective at destroying Al Qaeda operatives thus far.

But we cannot deny that failure in Afghanistan will lead directly to a strengthened Mujhadeen.

seven comments

Afghanistan has taken more than 2 superpowers down a notch in its day (Macedonia, Mongolia, and the UK were at their peak as well and could certainly have been classified as superpowers in their day). Unfortunately trouble in Afghanistan has much more of a historical precedent than clear victory and I don´t see that precedent being reversed with the current situation by a nation that is divided about the war at home.

The question is how do you get out while still saving as much face as possible (“peace with honor” sound familiar?) and preventing the strengthening of international terrorist organizations. Committing an additional amount of US and allied forces to Afghanistan would make a pullout that much more stinging, and give much more of an appearance of a military defeat against overwhelming odds than a pull out at the current level. It would also solidify Afghanistan as an embarassing mistake in our history, but hopefully one where many lessons can be drawn from.

The paradox of this is that for international terrorist organizations the occupation of Afghanistan is already being used as a reason or excuse to recruit, get financing, and breed resentment against their declared enemies much the same as Isreal/ Palestine is. The military presence in certain places in Afghanistan fuels the local insurgency as well. A withdrawal from Afghanistan may be another feather in their cap and it may give them confidence and embolden them, but I don´t believe it would create a flood of additional support. I believe a part (I´m fairly uncertain about how much but certainly a part) of the Afghani insurgency just wants ISAF out and doesn´t particularly care to much about the rest of the world so long as they can run Afghanistan as they see fit, but as long as there is ISAF to be a rallying cry for international terror organizations they are going to get the support they need, there aren´t many people who would support international terrorist organizations watching from the sidelines right now to wait and see how this pans out and throw in their support after the dust has settled.

With nearly unmalleable cultural insitutions, a tradition of reistance to invaders, endemic corruption, and a drug based economy the limits of how much a military force can stabilize Afghanistan are somewhat evident given those aren´t typical military tasks to deal with, those changes have to come from within Afghanistan itself though we can do what we can to aid those changes.

A pull out could very well be an opportune momment to carry out the kind of operations that can be are very difficult in Afghanistan right now. Its a stretch but a more confident and more openly operating international terrorist organizations looking for recruits are more susceptible to moles. In realpolitik I´m sure a security agreement can be bought from whoever ends up in power in Afghanistan (or Afghanistans plural if it ends up dividing itself) though it may very well be a deal with the devil (which the US does have a history with as long as the devil was anti-communist).

And looking back at your post again I think a lot of what happened after the USSR left was a result of the coffers not being filled. A lot of the support from Pakistan, Iran, China, Egypt, the USA etc. to fund these groups in Afghanistan stopped very quickly after the USSR left, and very little was invested into Afghanistan to rebuild afterwards.That is what led to a failed state, the idea that the victory over the USSR was good for their funding was in that case false, the Taliban was never an extraordinarily rich government. Some people from the gulf states such as Osama bin Laden were independently wealthy, and if there is anything a terrorist organization is good at it is at getting the most bang for its buck. 9/11 was launched on a budget of only probably a few tens of thousands of dollars.

Chris C- That is a good point about funds flowing in now while they are currently fighting us. However, I believe funds would still flow even after we leave, and now a battlefield has been ceded. Also, I am not saying whether or not we should leave, just trying to point out that if we do it will embolden terrorist actors around the globe, in both domestic and international politics.

Just one point to add. Everyone characterizes Afghanistan as a constantly at war state, but before the USSR invaded, they had had nearly fifty years of peace.

I also think this whole debate points to something America has the opportunity to do which no other country has tried before: helping the people.

Also, I just want to put it out there that I don’t necessarily agree with this post as much as others. Extremist groups may “declare” victory, but what does that really mean?

I think of America post-Vietnam. We beat ourselves up much more thn anyone else.

Most importantly what did Vietnam mean? Was the domino theory correct, and did this failure of the containment policy mean the global spread of communism? It did lead to a destabilization of Laos and Cambodia and brought into being one of the most horrific regimes the world has ever known in Cambodia, but the overall global impact was relatively slight. Even the horrors of the Khmer Rouge came to pass with time, and despite them being communist in name we´re on good terms with Vietnam just as we are with China.

Right, I think the common trend in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and now Afghanistan and Iraq, is that horrible things happen in the world but we can’t fix all of them. Even more important, the military can’t fix all of them. What solutions, be they economic or reconstruction related, do work?