Let’s not forget how we got [to reforming prisons in Afghanistan]: about eight years ago a small group of anti-American criminals hijacked four airplanes and flew three of them into buildings in the United States. The ringleaders of the plot were in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government (at that time under Taliban control) refused to give them up. So the United States invaded to overthrow the Taliban and capture the al Qaeda leadership. Unfortunately, we failed to get the latter, and we bungled the subsequent reconstruction effort by going into Iraq, thereby enabling the Taliban to make a comeback. So now we’re escalating there once more, in a potentially open-ended effort to build a functioning and legitimate Afghan state. And now that means fixing their prison system too. How does one say “mission creep” in Pashto?
I was at dinner with some my folks the other night and making the point that whole endeavor in Afghanistan stands be self-defeating. That is, since terrorism’s raison d’etre is mostly combating U.S. Policy, it’s hard to see — at least in a very general sense — how doubling-down on more U.S. hard-power abroad is really going to ammeliorate things. That said, Afghanistan is a bit different: al Qaeda’s Afghanistan presence resulted from a friendly Taliban, not a U.S. presence in Afghanistan per se, but similarly, you have to look no further than Iraq to find an example of how increasing U.S. power in the area led to the creation of more terrorist groups to fight U.S. soldiers.
I think with narrowly definied, achievable objectives (what happened to eliminating safe havens?) the risk of creating a long term backlash isn’t very high (at least not as high as it would be with full-scale occupation a la Iraq). Likewise, the odds of fomenting resistance increase the longer you stay and the more you begin to resemble an occupying force. In this regard, mission creep is a real danger.