The war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001. Its purpose was to clear the land of Al-Qaeda and Taleban and establish a democratic state. Last week’s Spectator questioned the current military strategy. Alexander the Great could have expanded on the matter.
When by 329 BC Alexander had dealt with the Persian king Darius—the main object of his mission—he pushed on into Bactria/Sogdia, a tribal area roughly equal to northern Afghanistan and its borders, to pursue Darius’ successor Bessus. He met with immediate success, and Bessus was captured and executed. The Americans too in 2001 soon drove the Taliban into Pakistan.
But an insurgency then developed behind the Americans’ back, and in the last ten years only marginal progress has been made, despite a surge. So with Alexander. He too found it very difficult to handle tribal guerrilla warfare, he too tried a surge, throwing in 22,000 extra troops, and in the event spent more time and lost more men in settling this one area than anywhere else in his conquests to date.
Alexander did have one advantage, in that borders meant nothing to him. He could attack across them at will, though it did not help him much. For the western allies this is not possible, except by aerial drones. This, however, does nothing for the west’s international reputation.The point is that the war is being fought against a people whose capacity for endurance is matched only by their hatred of foreigners, in tribal territory where no alliance can be guaranteed.
Alexander ‘settled’ the place by leaving 30,000 Greeks there and departing. But at his death, Bactria was the first place to revolt. When the Roman emperor Augustus was told that Alexander, having conquered the world at 32, had no idea what to do next, he expressed surprise that Alexander thought it was more important to win an empire than to organise it once it had been won.
A settled, unified, democratic Afghanistan is a pipe dream. Afghan tribes and the west share no common vision. When we depart, what will we have actually done for them—or to them?