The current commander for the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, did a presser for Pentagon journos yesterday, 23 January. Fairly standard state-of-the-war spin, there were few remarkable comments to come out of that briefing. Except for his statements about the capabilities of the Taliban.
And that’s because they are widely known and widely recognized at — that they can only destroy. They can kill. They can intimidate. They can blow up a Lebanese restaurant. They can commit suicide bombings. They can assassinate selected people.
The Lebanese restaurant he’s referring to is La Taverna, which the Taliban blew up last Friday, killing 21 people, mostly foreigners. So far he’s on track for the latest version of the Taliban…let’s call them Taliban 3.0. Taliban 1.0 fought to gain power in Afghanistan. Taliban 2.0 were the folks who ran the place for a bit, and now 3.0 is the current iteration of the main bulk of the insurgency. He goes on.
But what they can’t do is they can’t build. They can’t create education. They can’t create health care. Under Taliban rule, hardly anybody had access to health care. Today, everybody’s within about an hour or two drive of a hospital that has doctors and nurses and has a wide variety of other medical capabilities.
I highlighted his statement about healthcare, because it’s here where I worry about LTG Milley’s ability to do actual math. Because to have healthcare, and healthcare facilities, unless Willy Wonka’s found a way to make clinics, you need actual money. Which is what the Taliban never had.
Can’t buy me love, but it sure buys some clinics
The message Milley and the rest of the international community needs us to believe is that things are better than they were under the Taliban. And that the reason they’re better is because the Taliban aren’t in charge. What this narrative ignores is the fact that the Taliban never enjoyed the kind of aid that Karzai’s government has received in a nearly steady stream since the US invasion in 2001.
While most of the criticism leveled at the Taliban focuses on their ideology, the dearth of healthcare under the Taliban was not due to a beliefe system, but due to financial considerations. The Taliban flat out did not have the money necessary to fully support the kind of healthcare system a country needs.
But in Milley’s world, the evil that is all things Taliban is the only reason for the shortfall. I worry that the commander of the IJC does not understand the maths. And with the billions that we’ve pumped into this country, much of it focused on defense spending, what has that gotten us post-Taliban?
American officers deployed as mentors in Afghanistan’s main military hospital discovered a shocking secret last year: Injured soldiers were routinely dying of simple infections and even starving to death as some corrupt doctors and nurses demanded bribes for food and the most basic of care.
Outgunned by the Taliban and often derided by some as little more than uniformed thieves, police officers in Afghanistan do not have an easy job. But in recent months, their lives have gotten even tougher: Afghanistan’s police officers have not been paid since November, and some have not seen a paycheck since October.
Rather than providing a secure transport link between the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the country’s second city, Kandahar, Highway One has become a highway of death.
Results oriented awesomeness
So even with the billions that have been spent here, the Afghan government hasn’t been doing such a great job on its own, either. And the healthcare Milley’s talking about is of the basic variety. Most Afghans still live hours away from any kind of major medical or trauma care. And that’s assuming that they don’t get blown up on the way to the hospital.
It’s true that things were worse under the Taliban. It’s also true that things were worse before we discovered that the world was round. While their ideology was indirectly related to the reasons they didn’t have money (no one, except the Saudis, wants to be the one funds the terrorists, right?), the state of infrastructure under the Taliban was due to a lack of a funding, not fundamentalism.