Friday, July 18, 2008

Afghanistan Coming Unglued

More news about Afghanistan and, as expected, little good in it.

The Aussies have leaked a secret NATO study showing we're not winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. To the contrary, a majority of those polled now see ISAF unfavourably. Maybe it has something to do with shelling and bombing the hell out of their villages, maybe not.

The Australian report was from last Saturday's Syndney Morning Herald:

"AUSTRALIAN troops in southern Afghanistan face worsening security and their battlefield successes against the Taliban are not winning the support of local people, a confidential report and secret polling show.

The Sun-Herald has obtained a confidential security report that warns the capital, Kabul, will become virtually cut off from the rest of the country and is likely to be the target of a "spectacular" terrorist attack.

It says security in Oruzgan province, where about 1000 Australian troops are based and where Signaller Sean McCarthy was killed last week, will deteriorate, with the likelihood of more casualties among foreign troops.

The report, by international security consultants, says tactical successes against the Taliban are not being translated into long-term improvements in the lives of Afghan people.

The report's warnings are underlined by a secret poll undertaken for NATO that reveals Oruzgan residents are increasingly negative towards foreign troops and regard their level of security as poor and getting worse."

In Oruzgan province alone, where the Australians serve alongside the Dutch, 60% of the population has been found to be anti-NATO.

The Globe & Mail reported that the Canadian military has been reviewing the Soviet failure in Afghanistan in hopes of avoiding the same mistakes.

Researchers said the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a major hindrance. The mujahedeen used the porous frontier to smuggle arms and resources into Afghanistan in the 1980s and are offering Taliban supporters the same supply route for insurgents and weapons today.

...In a separate memo that year, the same authors warn that NATO forces will never be able to stabilize Afghanistan until the country's economy is sufficiently stable and growing to allow the fledging Afghan government to cover a substantial amount of its own security and welfare bills.

The main reasons behind the fall of the pro-Moscow regime in Kabul were not defeat on the battlefield nor military superiority of the resistance but the regime's failure to achieve economic sustainability and its overreliance on foreign aid,” says a document called Economic Development in Afghanistan during the Soviet Period 1979-1989: Lessons Learned from the Soviet Experience in Afghanistan.

...The authors say Afghanistan should redevelop its petroleum wealth as part of the solution. “Revenues from the sale of natural gas were a substantial part of Afghan state income until 1986. The development of oil and natural gas industries has great potential to benefit the Afghan economy."

...Douglas Bland, chair of Defence Management Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, said a key lesson from the 1980s is not to leave in a hurried manner as the Soviets did.

“One of the big lessons for us is, don't beat a hasty uncontrolled retreat because the place then really goes nuts,” Prof. Bland said. “The exit strategy has to be some very carefully considered process and based on a strong local security situation.”

Canadians should be prepared for the fact that Canadian soldiers and policemen and others will be employed in security duties in Afghanistan for a very long time.”

Unfortunately Mr. (Dr.) Bland overlooks a fundamental point - time is not on our side. We're infidels to the Afghan people. We're ethnically, culturally, economically, politically, linguistically and religiously alien to them. We're just the latest gang in centuries of Euros to set up shop in that country, stay a few years and then leave. General David Petraeus knows that counter-insurgency operations such as the Afghan effort have a markedly short shelf life before the foreign soldiers transition, in the eyes of the locals, from liberators to occupiers. The NATO report leaked by the Australians shows we're already losing these people in droves.

Did someone mention "oil"? Why, of course, by all means build up Afghanistan's oil and natural gas infrastructure. Pipelines. That's the ticket, eh? One problem. We don't control the countryside. We're a tiny, garrison force. We don't have but a fraction of the troops we need just to defend against the Taliban. Who in hell is going to defend vast stretches of pipelines that can be so easily destroyed with just a small amount of explosives? If the Taliban can virtually surround Kabul and cut it off from the rest of the country, pipelines will be destroyed as fast as they're built - just another way of so many to undermine the Afghan people's confidence in their government.

Then there's the pipeline route. It's planned to run through Farah, Kandahar and Helmand provinces, all Taliban hotbeds. From there it's straight into Pakistan's Baluchistan province, itself embroiled in an insurgency (with some American support). If the bad guys have a reserve of people willing to blow themselves up at the first sight of a NATO patrol, how hard will it be to persuade folks to place explosives on vulnerable pipelines?

The Globe's Paul Koring went to Moscow to see what he could learn about the Russian experience in Afghanistan and got an earful from retired four star general Ruslan Aushev who spent five years with the Soviet army during the occupation:

“You are just repeating our mistakes,” Mr. Aushev said in an elegant, memento-filled office close to the Russian Duma.

“Most Afghans still live in a feudal society, in villages far from the cities,” he said. “For them, there is no difference between being bombed by the Soviets and now being bombed by the Americans … and it won't succeed.”

The Taliban may not be able to win militarily but they can't be defeated and sooner or later the Western alliance will be forced with pullout,” he warned.

Support for the insurgents will grow the longer the foreign armies remain in Afghanistan, he said. Although the Soviets deployed more than 100,000 soldiers across Afghanistan – roughly double the number of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops currently deployed – and trained an Afghan army three times the size of Kabul's current security forces, it was never enough, Mr. Aushev said.

If we wanted stability we would have needed 800,000 soldiers,” he said, echoing the estimates of some unheeded American generals who called for much larger occupation forces in Iraq."

The leaked NATO report is interesting. It clearly contains nothing that our adversaries - the insurgents, the drug barons and the corrupt politicians and government officials who collaborate with them - don't already know. The risk to NATO is that the information might reach the voters in its member nations and further erode support for the hapless adventure in Afghanistan. After all the core element of guerrilla warfare is the struggle for the "hearts and minds" of the public and that's a struggle NATO has to win both in Afghanistan and at home. If it loses either, it loses both.

We ought to be wary about the latest oil and gas proposals. Look at the facts. Our forces, alien as they are to the Afghan peoples, have been in-country since 2001, seven years already. We're now propping up a decidedly unpopular central government and a power structure predatory to its citizens. We're wearing out our welcome. Petraeus himself warned of the very limited shelf-life of counterinsurgency warfare in which the "liberator" comes to be seen as the "occupier." We're now in the "occupier" stage and we can only reinforce that perception, and play into the Taliban's propaganda machine, if we get involved in developing, managing and militarily defending the country's gas and oil resources.

With the Afghan mission already faltering, adding an oil dimension to it can only undermine its credibility with the Afghan peoples. We need an influx of American troops to help hold off the Taliban, not to defend long tracts of steel pipe. If the American army doesn't secure the pipelines, the job will fall to someone else. Can you say Blackwater?


Unknown said...

Obama and McCain finally found something to agree on: Afghanistan is where the real war's at! While McCain still wants to fight in Iraq some more, Obama thinks Iraq is totally last year's war and we should just throw everything we have at Afghanistan. Regardless of what they think of Iraq, the verdict is in. Afghanistan is the war to watch!

How must Iraq feel to be yesterday's quagmire? If only these two chaotic regions could talk...

Red Tory said...

Colour me unsurprised.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to care about this dismal little war. The issue has been taken off the table thanks to the complicity of the Liberals in extending the mission for fear that if they didn’t they’d be excoriated for “cutting and running” or some such bullshit.

The Mound of Sound said...

I, too, find Dion's capitulation on Afghanistan inexcusable. He thought himself not yet ready to fight an election and protected his own political aspirations by collaborating with Harper to appease Brussels and Washington.

WesternGrit said...

Interestingly, Big Oil was able to have a conversation with both Obama, AND McCain (both expected conversations), and convince them of the need to support the pipeline. They're also hoping to play on the politics of "hopefully" catching Osama, and avoid the death zone in Iraq...