Wednesday, August 18 2021

Dive In

No, you're super good.

That’s what a weeping Naomi Osaka said to a reporter who apologised when she suddenly started to cry in the middle of a press conference—her first since the tennis ace announced that she did not want to do them anymore, and withdrew from the French Open. It isn’t clear what prompted the breakdown—though her agent is upset at one of the other reporters at the presser who he described as a “bully.” Osaka, in fact, did her best to honestly answer all questions, many of which centred on mental health. And she returned to complete the session after taking a break. CNN has all the details. Watch the moment here.

Big Story

Editor’s note: We’re looking a little different today as you might have noticed:) Our makeover is lighter and airier—but we’ve done our best to retain our signature warmth and cheer. And of course, Khabri remains at his usual doggie post. Do let us know what you think at talktous@splainer.in! 

Coming up next: We are very excited to announce our next Ask Me Anything session with Neha Dixit—a brilliant independent journalist best known for her award-winning ground reporting, especially on gender, communal violence. She is exactly the right person to talk to in order to understand what is happening on the ground in India—far away from the air conditioned confines of Delhi and Mumbai. Time/date: Saturday, August 21 at 6:30pm. Sign up here to reserve your place. Please note: attendance is limited to splainer subscribers. Learn more about Neha here.


Uncle Sam’s ugly exit from Afghanistan

The TLDR: The Afghans are incorrigible. There is nothing we could do to save them. That’s the defence offered by the Americans to justify the catastrophic withdrawal—and the resounding victory of the Taliban. But the United States spent $2 trillion over 20 years trying to rebuild Afghanistan. So what did they get wrong?


Mistake # 1: Shifting priorities

Soon after winning the Afghan war, the US quickly pivoted to invading Iraq—with little excuse and solely to execute a cherished plan of then Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisors. When the Taliban was at its weakest, America was distracted and uninterested in capitalising on its victory. By the time, the US swerved its attention back to Afghanistan under President Obama, the Taliban had already regrouped on the margins—and remained able to fund and arm themselves, resisting all military attempts to decimate them. And then the strategy shifted again under Donald Trump who just wanted out—and was willing to make whatever concessions required.


Mistake #2: Haphazard military strategy

The US tried to remake the Afghan military in its own image—without taking into consideration Afghan realities and culture. As one former Defense Secretary says:


“We kept changing guys who were in charge of training the Afghan forces, and every time a new guy came in, he changed the way that they were being trained… The one thing they all had in common was they were all trying to train a Western army instead of figuring out the strengths of the Afghans as a fighting people and then building on that.”


And the Pentagon kept throwing money at the problem, continually sending in fresh batches of uninformed advisers, changing generals—all with shifting goals and priorities, each with new acronyms. Mike Jason in The Atlantic writes:


“We didn’t fight a 20-year war in Afghanistan; we fought 20 incoherent wars, one year at a time, without a sense of direction. The U.S. military can and should be blamed for the collapse of security forces in Afghanistan—I hold us responsible… efforts to build and train large-scale conventional security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have mostly been an aimless, ham-fisted acronym soup of trial and error that never became the true main effort, and we are to blame for that.”


Point to note: That disastrous folly became painfully obvious at the end when the U.S. pulled its air support, intelligence and contractors servicing Afghanistan’s planes and helicopters—after spending 20 years training the Afghan forces in a military strategy that relied wholly on air support. As one US ex-general says:


“When you build an army like that, and it’s meant to be a partner with a sophisticated force like the Americans, you can’t pull the Americans out all of a sudden, because then they lose the day-to-day assistance that they need.” 


Mistake #3: No reconstruction to see here!

Let’s be clear. The Americans never really tried to rebuild Afghanistan in any meaningful sense—as a recent US government report makes painfully clear. It reveals that $88.3 billion had been allocated up to March for security-related reconstruction, compared with just $36 billion for governance and development Also: the US doesn’t even know how to rebuild a nation, as a former national security adviser makes clear:


“We just don’t have a postconflict stabilization model that works… Every time we have one of these things, it is a pick-up game. I don’t have confidence that if we did it again, we would do any better.”


All the big plans simply upped the Pentagon budget, expecting the military to figure out everything, including building a local police force. As Quartz notes:


“To build effective institutions for governance and economic development, expert civilian assistance is required. Despite frequent lip service paid to the need for diplomats and development experts to take the lead in Afghanistan, those agencies were both under-resourced and held to a higher level of accountability than the military. Lacking the right tool for the job, ‘U.S. policymakers had no other viable option but to lean on the military and simply pretend [the State Department] holds the reins in such missions. The pretense continues today.’”


Point to note: Some of these mistakes could have been corrected if the Pentagon and US government had been honest about its mistakes. Instead, public statements opted for PR spin over reality—and eventually the generals believed their wishful thinking. Just weeks ago, President Biden himself expressed confidence that the Afghan army will fight hard against the Taliban—even though US intelligence estimates clearly indicated otherwise.

Mistake #4: Cutting out the Afghans


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • India is offering E visas to all Afghans
  • Bob Dylan accused of child sex abuse
  • An Indian 'mermaid' plant
  • Two Banksy murals defaced by vandals


A list of curious facts

  • The easiest way to get an animal adopted: a weird or quirky name
  • Meet the 'ecosexuals'

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