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How has American mission in Afghanistan fared so far? 

Don't Panic... Your War Questions Answered

Saturday, Oct. 7, was the fifth anniversary of the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom, it was the first military campaign of President Bush's War On TerrorTM. When he announced the start of Enduring Freedom to the American public, President Bush said that the mission's objectives were, "to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime." In addition, the mission was "designed to clear the way for sustained, comprehensive and relentless operations to drive them out and bring them to justice."

In other words, the United States invaded to crush the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and bring bin Laden and his henchman to justice.

By the beginning of 2002, a third objective was added to the list: nation-building. In the words of the White House Web site: "the United States is working to build a safe, stable society that meets the needs of its people and eliminates an environment that breeds terrorism."

Etiquetticians say fifth anniversaries should be celebrated with a gift of wood or silver. Ever the iconoclast, however, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld didn't bother buying us all silver punch bowls for the anniversary, nor did he plant a maple tree in any our front yards.

Instead, Rummy chose to mark the fifth anniversary of O.E.F. by penning an op-ed column for the Washington Post titled "Afghanistan: Five Years Later." The essay bills itself as a no-nonsense look at how Afghans have been enduring their freedom since we got there.

Unfortunately, the essay was short on facts and perspective, and long on the vague and upbeat talking points for which the current administration is (in)famous. The result is an essay that understates Afghanistan's problems and overstates its progress.

If only Rummy had someone in the room with him when he was writing it to talk some truth into him ...

The misleading starts in the first paragraph, where Rumsfeld ostensibly lists O.E.F.'s objectives. The only problem is that he failed to mention that one of them was to catch or kill bin Laden. Perhaps he thought that if he left it out, we'd forget that he and the White House failed to commit enough ground forces to the attack and Tora Bora, allowing bin Laden to escape.

Rummy writes: "Within weeks of our launching combat operations, however, the Taliban regime had been defeated, consigning yet another cruel regime to the dustbin of history."

Well, yeah, we helped force them from power, but someone forgot to tighten the lid on the dustbin. Since 2002, the Taliban has been building strength again. The NATO commander in Afghanistan, Britain's General David Richards, recently warned that most Afghans "could switch sides" and support the Taliban again if conditions in Afghanistan don't improve. Dustbin?

"Not all the news about Afghanistan is encouraging," Rummy wrote. "There is, for example, the legitimate worry that increased poppy production could be a destabilizing factor. And rising violence in southern Afghanistan is real."

The above is a masterpiece of cynical spin. "Not all" the news? How about "hardly any" of the news? "Legitimate worry?" Booming poppy production has been destabilizing Afghanistan since 2002. It's beyond "worry." As for "rising violence" being "real," the fact that he refuses to name the Taliban in that sentence speaks volumes about Rummy and the administration's chronic unwillingness to level with the American people.

Rummy then goes on to cite Afghanistan's "promising indicators."

He boasts that Afghanistan has "30,000" soldiers and "46,000" police. What he doesn't mention is how tiny those numbers are. Some perspective: Afghanistan is the size of Texas and the NYPD alone has more than 30,000 people.

Rummy boasts that the "size of Afghanistan's economy has tripled in the past five years" and that operating revenue is up to $300 million annually.

Again, some perspective: The city of Atlanta, with fewer than 500,000 residents, has an operating budget more than 20 times Afghanistan's. In the words of NYU Afghanistan scholar and Council on Foreign Relations contributor Barnett R. Rubin, Afghanistan "is so poor that we can't even tell how poor it is."

Promising indicators, my ass. The mission to save us from Afghanistan and Afghanistan from itself is failing.

Contact Andisheh at andisheh@creativeloafing.com.

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