Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Afghanistan: One Disaster After Another

NATO simply can't win for losing. Almost ten years into the occupation of Afghanistan and western troops are re-discovering the lesson that the Soviets learned before them (and the British before them and...): this country is the graveyard of empires.
As the 2011 deadline approaches for the withdrawal of troops from numerous countries including, supposedly, the US, Afghanistan is more in the grip of the Taliban insurgency than at the start. Obama's much vaunted surge into the cities a la the Soviets circa the mid-80s, appears to be failing spectacularly according to every measure. They haven't even managed to "pacify" the minor town of Marjah with thousands of US troops, and just today had to replace their hand-picked government representative as part of a "reform" effort. It's no wonder that the plans to implement a similar "pacification" in Kandahar city has been postponed indefinitely. The town still isn't safe for travel.
When the U.S. Special Envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, and the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, visited Marjah in late June to meet with local leaders, they were greeted with small-arms fire from Taliban fighters in the vicinity.
This failure is coupled with the British debacle of withdrawal from the town of Sangin with their tails between their legs. This was followed by three of their troops being shot and killed by a soldier in the Afghan National Army who was working alongside them. In the last 48 hours alone a total of 12 NATO soldiers have been killed in fighting, 8 of them American.
Alongside the military setbacks that are undermining the credibility of the American-led international occupation, the political situation has also become a disaster. Attempts to apply the Petraeus model of winning victory by bribing Pashtun tribes in the south is an acknowledged failure - without the hammer of the Shi'ites death squads as he had in Iraq to apply pressure on Sunni resistance fighters, there is little incentive to go along with the American invaders. It doesn't help that the government of Hamid Karzai is seeking a negotiated solution with the Taliban that can only mean an American withdrawal, or that the plan to "Afghanize" the conflict is in total disarray. A report in the Independent newspaper is a damning indictment of NATO's showcase strategy for withdrawal and stability.
The strategic plan of creating an Afghan security force to replace US and British troops fighting in Afghanistan is in serious disarray with local forces a fraction of their reported size, infiltrated by the Taliban at senior levels, and plagued by corruption and drug addiction...
And the way in which their capacity has been assessed over several years, during which time tens of billions of dollars have been spent on building up Afghan security forces, is so flawed that it has been scrapped.
Less than a quarter of the army and less than one in seven police units are rated as "CM1" – meaning they are capable of operating independently. Yet the true picture is worse.
With record levels of both civilian and military casualties and all of NATO's strategic bolts fired and missing, it's hard to see how anything can be salvaged. Nor is it clear that Obama or NATO has any alternative strategy on offer except to pray for time. What is clear is that if NATO is defeated in Afghanistan, it will throw into crisis the strategy of using NATO as a non-UN, American controlled force to multiply America's imperial reach - at a blood and treasure discount price. Such an end result can't be a bad thing. And the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan will be necessary for any reconciliation, rebuilding and true liberation for the people of Afghanistan to be possible.
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