March 30th, 2009
04:15 PM ET

Graveyard myths

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more from Peter Bergen on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

The New York Times
Peter Bergen

As President Obama orders an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, he faces growing skepticism over the United States’ prospects there. Critics of the troop buildup often point out that Afghanistan has long been the “graveyard of empires.” In 1842, the British lost a nasty war that ended when fierce tribesmen notoriously destroyed an army of thousands retreating from Kabul. And, of course, the Soviets spent almost a decade waging war in Afghanistan, only to give up ignominiously in 1989.

But in fact, these are only two isolated examples. Since Alexander the Great, plenty of conquerors have subdued Afghanistan. In the early 13th century, Genghis Kha n’s Mongol hordes ravaged the country’s two major cities. And in 1 504, Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire in India, easily took the throne in Kabul. Even the humiliation of 1842 did not last. Three and a half decades later, the British initiated a punitive invasion and ultimately won the second Anglo-Afghan war, which gave them the right to determine Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

The Soviet disaster of the 1980s, for its part, cannot be credited to the Afghans’ legendary fighting skills alone, as the mujahideen were kept afloat by billions of dollars worth of aid from the United States and Saudi Arabia and sophisticated American military hardware like anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, which ended the Soviets’ total air superiority.


soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. rod

    What part about centuries of attempted military domination / occupation = failure in Afganyland don't leaders understand? Our objectives are too broad and blurred, therefore, unattainable. Don't we have enough trouble at home without going abroad to create more trouble for ourselves. I supose if I had a big interest in a military supply company, a war under any pretense would be good for me. Makes me wonder what is our continued interest really might be?

    March 31, 2009 at 5:56 am |
  2. JDylan

    Larry- Isolationalists? We have tried that approach on more than one occasion. What comes to mind with this practice resulted in the British burning the White House to the ground and Pearl Harbor. If your neighbors house is on fire don't stay in yours and hope it doesn't spread to because it will.
    John McCain just said it won't be enough. Have we heard this before? Well, he was right on Iraq so why not listen to him this time a little sooner?

    March 31, 2009 at 1:46 am |
  3. William

    We need to bring our troops home from Germany, Okinowa, Japan, and every other country on the planet and stop thinking the American dream fits all people everywhere.

    March 31, 2009 at 1:35 am |
  4. Brandon from Fort Worth

    if u add thousands of troops to any battle field you will definetly see a temporary cushion of sucess. The question for the surge is will it give you long lasting sucess and in the case of Iraq the answer will be NO everytime. Iran is now the only powerhouse in the region. Not to mention we actually paid warlords to stop shooting at us. O yeah and why did we go into Iraq "WMD" who. Afghanistan however is the spot where we believe the crazies who attacked us are located so Afghanistan is the only justified war that we are in. The finall reason why this surge and the Iraq surge are not the same. In the Iraq surge the numbers of troops were all that it entailed, in the Afghanistan surge numbers of troops is a small portion of the answer. followed up with an clear goal of victory to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden. Closely followed by the ability now to cross in to Pakistan which Obama has given the OK on. That is the difference in the Iraq and Afghanistan "surge".

    March 31, 2009 at 12:33 am |
  5. Dave of Detroit

    I am really tired of hearing about "Surges" and "Exit Strategies" when someone should be asking why the U.S. is once again taking a Unilateral Position in invading another Country when Candidate Obama made it clear that there would be no troop involvement without the sanction and Committment of United Nations Troops-basically, I am tired of the U.S. taking the hit for a war on global terrorism when all the other Nations that have been attacked have decided to withdraw both their troops and support. How many Countries are we going to invade and rebuild at a huge military and life cost before we get the message? We commit 150,000 troops for the war in Iraq-our allies withdraw all of their forces or station them in "Safe" areas-This is an untenable situation and needs to be stopped immediately!!!!

    March 30, 2009 at 11:31 pm |
  6. Kerri

    Listen Americans, you need to wake up and listen to what is happening outside of your borders. There is a tremendously terrifying enemy that is preparing unbelievable plans to obliterate us in North America (I am in Canada) and its about time that you started to open your eyes to this. Perhaps you should search online and find this documentary – Pakistan's Taliban Generation. When you find out what these people are doing then you will realize that you can no longer hope to be isolationists. Your Government has created hatred like you and I will never know in parts of the world with untold poverty. Just look outside your borders and see what is brewing. It makes the present economic climate seem like a good ole fashion cold compared to the terrifying hatred that is being bred to destroy the world we have come to accept as ours. Please wake up Americans!

    March 30, 2009 at 11:13 pm |
  7. Joe G. (Illinois)

    Why would Obama compare previous wars fought against Afghanistan? America is not in war with Afghanistan.. America is at war with an individual (Bin Laden) and those few who fallow him.. Not Afghanistan..

    March 30, 2009 at 9:39 pm |
  8. Neo

    He needs to address if Bush was involved in any way with 911 and then talk about sending more troops. I don't understand why this "war" is unwinnable.

    March 30, 2009 at 7:24 pm |
  9. Larry

    We should not have any military presence outside of our borders, nor be part of the U.N. . Stop importing anything. Recall all of our ambassadors and consuls. We need to go back to being isolationist.

    March 30, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  10. Lash Larue

    I thought Obama,did not believe the SURGE worked in Iraq? Now he is in favor of the SURGE,but we will not call it that.It might indicate that Bush was right.

    March 30, 2009 at 6:06 pm |
  11. Frank Passanante

    We need to harvest out those that seek our death. It's a stretch to see Obama with a weapon and the stomach to lead on the field of honor and blood. Alas, he is an organizer not a leader. He reminds us in a grim way that we must be careful for what we wish for.

    March 30, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  12. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    The “graveyard of empires” it is---and the graveyard it will remain--it is not a myth--it is a historical fact. Everyone wants "democracy,"--–but you can "import" democracy-–it must occur within--–and graveyards are meant to be be filled-–so let it be filled by those who desire democracy--you can never be free when others are fighting for your freedom-freedom comes at a high price-–and it is never "free."

    March 30, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  13. Annie Kate

    If we send more troops into Afghanistan we should very clearly state the scope of our involvement and what criteria needs to be met for our involvement to end. Maybe that will keep us from being over there for 20 years.

    March 30, 2009 at 3:47 pm |