U.S. and Global Media Perspectives on Afghanistan:
Evaluating the Roles of the United States and
the United Nations in Preserving World Peace
Part I: The Legacy of American Involvement in
Afghanistan According to the American Media
By Matt McClernan
Afghanistan was a neutral country in the 20th century, receiving aid from the United States and Soviet Union until the 1970s. In the 1970s, Afganistan’s King Muhammad Zahir Khan was forced to deal with serious economic problems caused in large part by a severe national drought. These
economic problems caused a general unrest among the people of Afghanistan, and in July of 1973 a group of young military officers took things into their own hands. King Zahir Khan was unseated, and this group proclaimed Afghanistan to be a republic with Zahir Khan’s cousin, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Daud Khan, becoming president and prime minister. Daud’s reign was short-lived; in Afghanistan’s
coup d'état of 1978, Daud was deposed by a group led by Noor Mohammed Taraki, who instituted Marxist reforms and aligned the country more closely with the Soviet Union. These events marked the beginning of what would become known as the Afghanistan War, a devastating conflict between anti-Communist Muslim Afghan guerrillas (mujahadeen) and Soviet forces and Afghan government.
Mohammed Taraki was killed in September of 1979 and Hafizullah Amin took power. With Amin taking the throne, the USSR did not hesitate to send troops into Afghanistan and had Amin executed, with the Soviet-supported Babrak Karmal becoming president. The United States, along with China and Saudi Arabia, channeled funds through Pakistan to the mujahadeen. The civil war ensued, and through the course of this war over six million people of the
Afghanistan population fled the country, giving it the largest refugee population of any country in the world.
By 1991-92, the US finally reached an agreement with
supply aid to any the USSR that neither would continue to
faction in Afghanistan. Out of these previously US funded factions rose the Taliban, an armed Aghan faction which apparently was an Islamic movement. The Taliban, funded by the CIA during this war, fought with other factions for supremacy following the departure of Soviet troops; as history would show, the Taliban became the dominant force in Afghanistan in the 1990s. The Taliban did not really exist as a coherent politico-military faction or movement before late 1994; prior to this time, they were members of other factions such as Harakat-e Islami and Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, or operated independently without a centralized command center.
In September of 2001, in a severe blow to the Northern Alliance, Massoud died as a result of a suicide bomb attack by assassins posing as Arab journalists. Two days later terrorist assaults were launched on the Pentagon and World Trade Center (9/11); bin Laden was involved in the planning
of both. Naturally these attacks prompted new demands by U.S. President Bush for his arrest.
In October of 2001 the United States launched attacks against Taliban and Al Qaeda positions and forces in response to the Taliban’s refusal of turning in bin Laden. The United States began providing financial aid and other assistance to the Northern Alliance and other opposition groups. Assisted by U.S. air strikes, opposition forces eradicated Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from Afghanistan's major urban areas in November and December, often aided by the defection of forces allied with the Taliban. Several thousand U.S. troops began entering the country in November, mainly to concentrate on the search for bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and to deal with what was left of their forces.
Hamid Karzai, who had ties to the former king and replacing President Rabbani, was appointed Afghanistan’s interim leader during a conference in Bonn, Germany. By January of 2002, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were largely defeated, although most of their leaders and unknown numbers of their forces remained at large. Fighting continued on a sporadic basis, with occasional real battles, as occurred near Gardez in Mar., 2002. The country itself
largely reverted to the control of the regional warlords who held power before the Taliban, and their forces again engaged in fighting each other at times. NATO nations provided forces for various military, peacekeeping, and humanitarian operations. Numerous other nations contributed humanitarian aid as well; the United Nations estimated that $10 billion would be needed over the next five years to rebuild Afghanistan (Ahmed, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the United States).
In June of 2002, Muhammad Zahir Khan, the former king, returned to the country from exile to convene a traditional Afghan grand council to establish a transitional government. Karzai was elected president (for a two-year term):
selling Karzai to the Afghans as a national leader was
simpler. A hereditary tribal chief, the urbane,
multilingual Karzai enjoyed a reputation for integrity
and was a member of Afghanistan's largest ethnic
community, the Pashtuns. The United States preferred a
Pashtun leader to win support from an ethnic group
that formed the core of the Taliban (“Afghan Model May
Not Work in Iraq's Complex Ethnic and Political Mix”).
Karzai was received well as expected, and repatriation began en masse after his return as close to one million Afghan refugees returned from Pakistan. Nonetheless, nearly five million Afghan refugees remain, the largest number in the world.
II. America’s Media and Expectations of US Involvement
The majority of the American media seems to concur that winning peace in Afghanistan is absolutely necessary, as is leaving behind a solid government. The important focus here is that the American media largely disregards the United Nations’ involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan in particular. The United States media often refers to the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq as our
conflicts to resolve and consequently claims that it is the United States that is responsible for leaving behind a stable government. There has certainly been a call for other members of the UN to donate their troops and have a stake in the affairs abroad, but this has not received as much attention as is justly due. It appears as though the United States media either is not concerned quite as much with the UN’s involvement in these conflicts or has decided that these issues are the United States’ issues. Likewise it still remains to be clear as to how exactly our media sees the resolution of conflicts in Afghanistan taking place. Some publications have stated that American troops should be removed because of the seemingly daily deaths of American soldiers, while some say the United States needs to pour more troops in Afghanistan to provide a more stable
force and effectively take control of the situation. This is a debate as seen through the United States’ media that deserves attention.
Arguments for Removal of US Troops from Afghanistan
Several representatives of the Pentagon have stated that troops will be slowly recalled from Afghanistan as it is feared that our military is too thinned out to be productive. As Drew Brown of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service explains, “the United States also will try to get more involvement from allies in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan” (Brown, 1). With this school of thought comes the argument that we might incite more violence than positive changes by adding American troops in Afghanistan or by displaying a greater sense of control over the Afghan government. It is acknowledged that the Taliban feels as though the Afghanistan government is a puppet in the hands of our leaders. Explained in The Oakland Tribune in an editorial, “with elements of the Taliban still lurking in
the Afghan countryside, it would make little sense for a more visible American presence to feed Taliban-fomented charges that the Karzai government is a puppet operated from the banks of the Potomac” (“White House Focuses on Rebuilding Afghanistan”, 2). The same newspaper explained
that the best way to build the national army in Afghanistan is by allowing members of the UN to have a greater role. Since more US officials in Afghanistan could only feed the Taliban’s appetite for destruction, the editorial posits
that “a prudent way to strengthen the central government in Kabul and keep US advisers in the background would be to accelerate the internationalization of the peacekeeping forces within Afghanistan” (“White House Focuses on Rebuilding Afghanistan”, 2). Thus, there is a call for greater emphasis on UN assistance while the United States lurks and does more behind-the-scenes work.
Another argument for withdrawing troops comes from an economic point of view; with a current projected national deficit in 2013 a cumulative total of $5.8 trillion, it seems that our financial contributions to Afghanistan will not significantly increase our national deficit. Explained in the Oakland Tribune, “it would make little sense, however, to continue a half-hearted financial aid program that has left Afghanistan still on its back, and the doubling of reconstruction assistance should proceed” (“White House Focuses on Rebuilding Afghanistan”, 2). The White House is lobbying for this doubling in financial aid, from $900 million to $1.8 billion a year. An investment
like this would certainly support the argument that with this sort of financial aid, an earlier American departure from Afghanistan should be in store.
Arguments for Increased American Troops in Afghanistan
Control of Afghanistan under President Karzai has really only occurred in Kabul. The rest of Afghanistan is controlled by warlords and thugs, and thus the majority of the political power in Afghanistan is owned by these faction leaders. Karzai himself has to occasionally allow these warlords to dictate his decisions:
Take Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, for example. Now one
of the most powerful men in the new Afghanistan, he
was once a major mujahedeen leader […]Sayyaf, the
quintessential Islamic fundamentalist, currently
controls the entire southeastern portion of
Afghanistan […]Having appointed most of the country's
judiciary and many provincial governors in and around
Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Sayyaf's influence
extends to the highest levels of government. With many
of Kabul's intelligence officers supporting Sayyaf as
well, President Karzai himself has on occasion been
forced to bow to the will of the warlord (“To Find Out
What Will Happen in Iraq, Just Look to Afghanistan”,
Sayyaf is not the main problem, as he is only one of numerous warlords that rules the Afghanistan terrain. As is pointed out by the same source, Karzai is receiving little outside help from the United States or anyone else with regard to these warlords at this point in time. If we
were to send more troops over, perhaps we could simply finish the job. We have already “invested [our] military might and honor [in Afghanistan],” (“How to Win the Peace in Afghanistan; America Needs to Stay the Course”, 2) and to remove troops at this point would intimate defeat or that we have given up on truly dedicating ourselves to supporting Afghanistan. The rest of the world already feels this way; a retired Pakistani general “described Washington as acting in anger […] when America is angry
others should be ready to duck. But the anger will pass, and then everyone can continue as before” (How to Win the Peace in Afghanistan; America Needs to Stay the Course, 2). In the eyes of the rest of the world, we would lose even more trust and gain more negative foreign media attention.
By committing our troops to Afghanistan, the United States government made a statement that we were going to help stabilize and instill a solid government in a country that has seen nothing but turmoil the last twenty-something years. As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explains, “it is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog” (“Democrats Short on Specifics for Iraq”, 1).
Neighboring countries to Afghanistan have all but