It is now clear after a dozen years from the initial invasion of Afghanistan what went wrong with American policy. Most Americans have forgotten that a large portion of the “invasion” force was composed of Afghan warlords and their armies. Afghanistan in 2001 and Afghanistan in 2014 is a large geographical areas in which dozens of tribal groups live as they have lived for a few thousand years. About a thousand years ago, these people converted to the Islamic religion, but they have always, and still are, governed by rules, traditions, values that predate the arrival of the Islamic religion. Americans sought to impose a “democratic ethos” to “Afghanistan.” But, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld trio imposed upon tribal peoples a concept of nationalism that simply did not exist. Their idea of “nationalism” was their tribe, not the nation of Afghanistan.
Back about 2004, a British think tank proposed focusing upon tribal leaders rather than upon the government in Kabul. The argument was to create local armed forces which would guarantee peace and security within their tribal areas. Instead, the Bush, and then the Obama administrations continued their idea of “nation creation” when the population was tribal creation. Our failure to grasp that security lay within the power of tribes allowed the Taliban to return to power in many areas of Afghanistan.
We also failed to understand that growing poppy was the road to economic success for countless Afghan farmers. So, we destroyed their crops and drove them into the hands of the Taliban which preferred to allow poppy growing as long as they got a cut of the sales. We should have purchased the entire poppy crop, and made farmers our loyal allies!