Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Question Unanswered

The latest edition of The Walrus features an interesting assessment of "the mission" to Afghanistan and how it's really going.

The article quotes Brigadier Richard Nugee, chief spokesperson for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, as saying, "The single thing we have done wrong and we are striving extremely hard to improve on is killing innocent civilians."

Assuming General Nugee isn't implying that NATO needs to get better at killing innocent civilians, the question becomes how it intends to stop killing so many innocent Afghans? The way to cut civilians deaths is to stop relying so heavily on air strikes and artillery bombardment, especially in built-up areas but breaking that reliance also means massive increases in troop levels.

The authors raise and then skirt the real issue:

...even if the political will is there, the resources may be lacking. Peace-building experiences in Africa and the Balkans suggest that the overall international contribution to Afghanistan remains substantially below the levels of military and economic support usually necessary to rebuild a state. ...However, this conclusion suggests and uncomfortable set of alternatives: either we aren't truly committed to Afghanistan, or such nation-building projects are beyond our capacity.

Bingo! There it is, asked but not answered. Are we going to truly commit to Afghanistan and, if so, where are going to find another 25,000 soldiers and billions more in aid or have we taken on a task that is simply far beyond the capacity we've established there? Can we really achieve more in Kandahar province than the other NATO nations are willing to do in the rest of the country? Is pulling more than our fair share apt to make a lasting difference in Afghanistan's future or are we just putting in time at the expense of our soldiers' lives?


Red Tory said...

"Peace building"... Heh. I love it. So much better than "nation building".

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes indeed, it genuinely is an exercise in nation-building, one that's been bungled for six long years. We still nurture the myth that the warlords, narcos and common thugs that are the spine of the Karzai government constitute a legitimate parliament. We try not to focus on the Herculean task of creating a legitimate, alternate economy to replace the poppy industry but we're nowhere without that. In terms of social reform? We haven't got a clue. Yes, we've taken on nation-building and we've sent exactly $1.25 to do it.
That's the game Harpo and Hillier continue to play - fudge everything, define nothing. The sharper the focus on "the mission", the more likely we are to see what we've truly taken on and we're not going to like that at all.