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[Washington Babylon]

Graveyard of Empires?


The situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen, with Asia Times reporting, “The battle for Kandahar, the city in the southern province of the same name where the Taliban rose to power in the 1990s before taking control of the rest of Afghanistan, has begun.”

Three days ago, like in last year’s spring offensive, the Taliban occupied the Arghandab district. However, this year the plan had changed. First they rattled the Afghan administration’s nerve by carrying out the sophisticated raid on the jail in Kandahar, setting free hundreds of Taliban captives who were then taken to the Arghandab district.

Significantly, Taliban loyalists within the Afghan security forces either assisted in or turned a blind eye to this operation, which came as a shock to coalition forces as they are increasingly relying on Afghan forces. A state of emergency was declared in Kandahar city and a night-time curfew imposed.

Go back and read the piece that Milton Bearden wrote in the November/December 2001 issue of Foreign Affairs, called “Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires.” The piece, which was written before the October 7 invasion, opens:

Michni Point, Pakistan’s last outpost at the western end of the barren, winding Khyber Pass, stands sentinel over Torkham Gate, the deceptively orderly border crossing into Afghanistan. Frontier Scouts in gray shalwar kameezes (traditional tunics and loose pants) and black berets patrol the lonely station commanded by a major of the legendary Khyber Rifles, the militia force that has been guarding the border with Afghanistan since the nineteenth century, first for British India and then for Pakistan. This spot, perhaps more than any other, has witnessed the traverse of the world’s great armies on campaigns of conquest to and from South and Central Asia. All eventually ran into trouble in their encounters with the unruly Afghan tribals.

Bearden, incidentally, served as CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989, where he was responsible for that agency’s covert action program in support of Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet-backed government. “The first rule of insurgency warfare is that it’s always easier to be on the side of the insurgents,” he told me during a phone conversation this morning. “Everyone goes into Afghanistan fine, the problem is getting out.”

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