During the Presidential debates, not one journalist will ask Obama nor Romney the single most uncomfortable question: “How does a ragtag army of Afghan volunteers (Taliban) prevail not only against the trillion dollar U.S. equipped and paid Afghan National Army but also against history’s most powerful quadrillion dollar (with future pay and benefits) U.S. armed forces as well?” So by default, I’ll take a shot. When the U.S. fought in Korea or Vietnam, both China and the Soviet Union paid for and supplied the weapons for the opposing forces. When the Soviets fought in Afghanistan—also alongside the Afghan National Army—against the Taliban, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia paid for and supplied the weapons for the Taliban. Today (according to U.S. Intelligence), no outside country is paying for nor supplying weapons to the Taliban against the U.S. So how in blazes are they winning?
An important component of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan has been nation building. In order to build a prosperous middle class in Afghanistan, the U.S. tries to buy as many supplies from local merchants as feasible. Our military pays vastly higher prices for these items than it would by buying them here and shipping them there. In fact, the price the U.S. pays for these supplies is higher than their cost anywhere else in the world. Profiteering Afghan merchants all know the U.S. is leaving. They also know the Taliban is staying. So they pay Taliban “tribute” insurance on those inflated profits.
Given the high cost of paying U.S. soldiers in the field (the vast majority of the troops deployed under the ISAF mandate in Afghanistan are support troops who never leave their bases) and the low cost of supporting a Taliban fighter (who have no bases), every solder we put into Afghanistan supports 100 Kalashnikov-toting, IED-dropping Taliban fighters.
So let’s do the math. A simple remotely triggered mine (U.S. intelligence estimates them at $10 in parts) can take out a $1,000,000 armored vehicle. Also assuming that we cannot win a decisive victory when our troops are outnumbered by 100:1; this is a simple recipe for an endless self-sustaining war.
So to answer the unasked question of who supplies and supports the Taliban. We do.
We are left with three solutions
1) Eliminate all nation-building activities (since this is the rationale for us being in this war, this is not going to happen.)
2) Convert our support troops into fighters in the field (since most soldiers enlist for the benefits promised them by recruiters, this is not going to happen.)
3) Since #1 and #2 are political impossibilities, we’re guaranteed a Vietnam-like experience.