State of the Union: Whither Afghanistan?

Tonight the President will address the nation in his second state of the nation. It’s unclear if he’ll say anything about Afghanistan, he’d be wise not to. Equally, given the President is prone to tackling sacred cows, maybe he should.

President Trump sent more troops and in his words America would stay until the “war is won”.  While not as notorious as Vietnam, Afghanistan is Americas longest war, all Presidents from Roosevelt are complicit. America had been involved  in/with Afghanistan from 1946 until the late 1970’s, as the Americans left, the Soviets arrived.

We are now negotiating with the Taliban, essentially the same deal to end the American involvement in Afghanistan, that Donald Rumsfeld turned down in 2001. Since then there has been 17-years of bloody war, costing America more than a trillion dollars, and taken the lives of more than 4,000 Americans.

Afghanistan is a country that is at the center of the world, almost exactly 10,000 miles from either coast of America. Long before the War on Terror, long before the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the Americans were there. Buoyed by their success in WWII and in an effort to counter the Soviet Union threats of expansion, in 1946 American Engineers, their wives and families started to arrive in Helmand province in unprecedented numbers, they lived in a campus that became known as “Little America“.

M-K Completes Dam Projects in AfghanistanThey worked for the worlds biggest construction company at the time, Morrison Knutson. The King of Afghanistan had bought them in to replicate what had been done in Nevada, roads, dams, canals and even a new model city. The Kings plan had been to harness the power of the giant Helmand River and turn Afghanistan into a modern society like the west. Thats when everything started to go wrong.

In an era that is long forgotten and projects that were ultimately doomed to fail, it was the first, and possibly the best example of “too big to fail”. It did, we are still paying that price today, even before the Russians invaded, America had sunk $80-million into Afghanistan.

It’s the forever war, will President Trump actually succeed, no.

REFERENCE MATERIAL

The New York Times “The Daily” covered Afghanistan yesterday(Feb 4th), disappointingly they never included anything about the whole “Little America” project. It is still one of the best summaries of what happened since the Russians invaded.

BBC NEWS has a great infographic style documentary on Helmands Golden Age from 2014 by Monica Whitlock. It is a good read and contains many pictures from Morrison Knutson engineer Glenn Fosters films. It also includes many clips of his color films, sadly they are geo-locked and not available in the US. You can though find much of the same material on Youtube. As an accompanying piece, Monica Whitlock also recorded an episode of the BBC World Service “The Documentary Podcast“, also from 2014. In an episode called “Damming Afghanistan: Lost Stories from Helmand” you can download and hear it here.

NPR has a 2012 interview with author Rajiv Chandrasekaran about his then new book, Little America – The War Within the War for Afghanistan. Entitled “A Cautionary Tale About Transforming Afghanistan”, by Greg Myre, it is online here and can be downloaded here. It includes an amazing slideshow.

The US Agency for International Development, bureaus for Program and Policy Coordination, Bureau for the Near East, have a great detail report on Afghanistan, it can be read here, in its original 1983 form.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

Leave a Reply