We were spoiled by initial success in Afghanistan; we got the Taliban down and then just stopped paying attention. Dunno if you remember this far back, but after 9/11, when it was obvious we had to go in there and root out Osama, everybody was saying Afghanistan was unwinnable, "the graveyard of empires," etc. And the campaign seemed to stall at first, till we took Mazar-I-Sharif and sent the Northern Alliance rolling into Kabul. Boom, game over, victory party, let's go home.
Except the new wars just don't work that way. The tough part was really just beginning. The biggest problem once we took Kabul was tribal. Reporters are always calling the Taliban "Islamic extremists," but it's way simpler than that: the Talibs are Pushtun, and our allies in the Northern Alliance were their old tribal enemies the Tajiks, Uzbeks and a few free-agent Hazaras.
The Pushtun are the biggest tribe in the country, if you can call it that, by far. Afghanistan is 42% Pushtun, and the second-biggest group, the Tajiks, are only 27%. Pushtuns are -- now how can I say this nicely? -- insane. The craziest Taliban rules, like demanding every man have a beard that was at least ZZ Top length, aren't Mohammed's rules; they're just Pushtun tribal ways.
It's like if the Baptists took over in Fresno, they'd make it God's rule that every guy had to have an extended cab on his pickup, and if you asked where in Scripture it says that, they'd shoot you. That's the Pushtun way: total tribal insanity, all the time. They're so "sexist" that feminists might like them, because they don't even think of women as "sex objects." To a Pushtun guy, nine-year-old boys are the sexiest thing on earth.
I get tired of having to say it, but: not everybody thinks like we think. Not everybody wants what we want. The Pushtun want (a) somebody to kill; (b) women kept in their place, somewhere between a the clay oven and the livestock; (c) nobody reminding them that there are other ways to live.
And our idea of pacifying them was to rub everything they hate right in their face, with their old enemies as enforcers. You have to wonder why the Pushtun didn't explode even bigger, even sooner. Well, basically because we handed off the job to some of our allies who did a pretty decent job of keeping the lid on as long as they could. There was a good British contingent up there, who not only did their usual great job of soldiering but handled tribal relations pretty well. Along with them, the Aussies and even the Canadians were on the job.
Too bad we didn't give the Brits total control of the so-called GWOT and let them play it their way. I can tell you what the old 19th c. Brits would've done. Problem: huge, restless tribe (Pushtun) smarting from recent defeat and totally uninterested in "peace." Solution: ship every Pushtun of military age to Sunni Triangle as honored guests of the British Empire and give them enough ammo to make the place as quiet and boring as Mary Poppins's bedroom.
The Pushtun would be happy as the Seven Dwarves, whistling while they worked on quieting down the Sunni; the Sunni would be...well, maybe not happy but definitely quiet -- "quiet as the grave," as the saying goes. And the Brits would step back into the shadows and let them fight it out till the end of time. A great system, worked for centuries.
Interesting article. A 'recommended read'.