Arnon Grunberg



On the continuation of old discussions – Robin Wright in The New Yorker:

‘In April, 2017, the United States unleashed a twenty-two-thousand-pound bomb on a complex of caves and tunnels used by isis-k, or the Islamic State Khorasan, in eastern Afghanistan. Nicknamed “the mother of all bombs,” it was the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat. It was so big that it had to be pushed out of the rear of a warplane. The bomb was so controversial that the Pentagon had to conduct a legal review to insure that it did not violate the international Law of Armed Conflict. “It is expected that the weapon will have a substantial psychological effect on those who witness its use,” the Pentagon said, in an evaluation of it in 2003.
Only it didn’t. The mother of all bombs killed fewer than a hundred of the group’s fighters, and had a negligible long-term impact on isis-k. (The “K” stands for Khorasan, the name of an ancient province that once included parts of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.) isis-k is now arguably the most militant group in Afghanistan. It has also carried out some of the country’s worst recent atrocities. In the first four months of this year, the jihadi extremist movement carried out seventy-seven attacks across Afghanistan, the United Nations reported. In May, a bombing at a girls’ school in Kabul killed ninety people, many of them students, and injured more than two hundred and seventy others. On Thursday, a lone isis-k bomber wearing a suicide vest walked to the perimeter of Kabul’s international airport and blew himself up. Thirteen marines and Navy personnel were killed; at least a hundred and seventy Afghans died. It was one of the deadliest attacks in more than a decade against the United States, the world’s premier military power.’


‘The United States may indeed manage to kill more isis-k fighters and destroy some of their modest arsenal. But the central flaw in U.S. strategy is the belief that military force can eradicate extremist groups or radical ideologies. On Friday evening, a senior Biden Administration official acknowledged that the United States “can’t physically eliminate an ideology. What you can do is deal, hopefully effectively, with any threat that it poses.” Past Administrations have tried lethal strikes. In August, 1998, President Bill Clinton ordered Operation Infinite Reach, a series of cruise-missile attacks on Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and on a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that U.S. intelligence erroneously linked to Osama bin Laden. The strikes were in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than two hundred and injured more than four thousand. That U.S. operation had limited impact. Three years later, Al Qaeda operatives carried out the 9/11 attacks, killing nearly three thousand in the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Despite the killing of bin Laden, a decade ago, the more skilled Al Qaeda fighters were the force multipliers in the Taliban’s sweep across Afghanistan this year.’


‘isis-k was founded in late 2014 by disaffected members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and later joined by members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian militants. The United States has long tried to contain isis-k, as have both the (now defunct) Afghan government and the Taliban—it was the lone issue on which the three warring parties agreed. Since 2016, U.S. strikes have killed the movement’s first four emirs. In 2018, at its peak, isis-k was ranked as one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world, and claimed to have up to four thousand fighters, Jones said. It has operated in Kabul and also in Nangarhar, Kunar, Jowzjan, Paktia, Kunduz, and Herat provinces. But, by the end of summer, 2018, it had been pushed out of much of northern Afghanistan. And in 2019, the group was “nearly eradicated” in its eastern strongholds, after a series of offensives by U.S., Afghan, and Taliban forces, the Congressional Research Service reported. At one point, the U.S. effectively provided air support for Taliban operations against isis-k. In November, 2019, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani boasted, using an alternate name for isis, “We have obliterated Daesh.”’


‘The Taliban, with at least seventy thousand fighters, far outnumber isis-k, which is not a formidable ground force, Katz said: “isis will continue to carry out attacks, but it is not a force that can threaten the Taliban in any significant way.” isis-k, in turn, wants to exploit the vulnerability of the new Taliban government—which has yet to form—to become the leading edge of isis worldwide, Jones told me. “There’s essentially anarchy in Afghanistan right now,” he said. “It creates opportunities for groups to take advantage of the political vacuum.” The key will be whether isis-k can recruit new members and transform itself from a terrorist group into an insurgent movement that can control territory and fight it out with the Taliban.’

Read the article here.

After 9/11there were plenty of discussions whether you can defeat terrorists and terrorist organizations with bombs, drones and of necessary boots on the ground.

Other options than force do not seem to be very attractive or popular, let’s say anger management, debating clubs et cetera.

But we learned from Iraq that many young men fighting for terrorist organizations or organizations deemed to be terrorist are willing to switch sides if you give them money.

We know in hindsight that it was a huge failure to not give a seat to the defeated Taliban at the Bonn conference (2001).

Think of Versailles.

Since we don’t live in a world where all people act reasonably and have enlightened themselves in the Kantian sense of the word, in other words not so much through meditation, we can and must expect the continuation of all kinds of battles (for power, money, love, natural resources, human resources and steak frites).

It’s not very relevant whether you can defeat an enemy like ISIS-K forever, what you want is to limit the damage the organization can do.
It’s unavoidable that counterterrorism might claim the lives of civilians. If you decide to bomb young men on their way to their suicidal mission you might hit innocent bystanders, the question is: what kind of risks are you willing to take? And what’s the biggest risk? Wait and don’t do anything? Or take them out.
I would say that the Israeli doctrine is the doctrine of the world, except for Europe where they pay the Americans to do the dirty jobs: kill first, talk later.

Also, besides the psychological effect, what did Bid Laden gain from 9/11? What was gained from the perspective of the terrorists from the attacks in Paris, Madrid, Nice et cetera?

Yes, it helped the extreme right in the West, but was that their purpose? Maybe. It wanted to destroy the social fabric of open, liberal societies and to a certain degree the terrorists did do damage to these societies. But the gains were extremely limited and the young men who travelled to the caliphate in Syria were if I’m not mistaken mostly disappointed. Or they were killed, also a disappointment.
Drugs trafficking might be a more attractive option if you are young and looking for adventure, glamour, and some money on the side. The meaning of it all is the adventure. And we know from ‘Scarface’ that money and coke are often meaningful enough.

For Afghanistan the main question is whether the anarchy will turn out to be another civil war. My bet is that most of the people ready and capable to fight such a war have little appetite for another war. They know the outcome: a stalemate again.

Whether it’s ethical and sustainable for the US to become the number one nation responsible for killings by drone in the fight against terrorism is a whole different question. For the time being Obama’s drone policy will also be Biden’s weapon of choice.

The alternatives are off the table.
Boots on the ground. No.
Nation building i.e. social improvement, give them a job and they will change sides. No, not really.

And we have the Taliban, our new friends, to do the ruthless killings on the ground against ISIS-K. Common interests are enough for some modest love.