Thursday, December 16, 2010

Whistling Past the Afghan Graveyard

I Know, Let's Give Them More Guns

Good news:  Western military forces are making headway in Afghanistan and it's good enough that Washington can begin withdrawing its forces next July.

Headway seems to be defined as the suppression of the Taliban presence in Kandahar and Helmand provinces due to the recent military offensive.

If the Afghan report sounds good to Washington, it probably sounds even better to the Talibs.   We're sticking to this notion of a military solution to Afghanistan's troubles and that's music to the ears of the Taliban.  When we turn up the heat, they lay low.  We've had ten years, plenty of time, to watch the rebels disappear only to return when it suits them.   That's what you do when you're outnumbered and hopelessly outgunned by a foreign army, you fall back on the one decisive advantage you've got - time.   You win simply by surviving with your capabilities more or less intact.

Elsewhere on the front page of today's New York Times is another Afghanistan story, this one about the spreading presence of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.   That's what they do.  You press here, they go somewhere else.

The Pentagon’s year-end review will emphasize hard-won progress in the south, the heartland of the insurgency, where the military has concentrated most troops. But those advances have come at the expense of security in the north and east, with some questioning the wisdom of the focus on the south and whether the coalition can control the entire country. 

 The NATO command has largely defined Afghanistan's instability in terms of the Taliban insurgency, which is the most recent fight here, but hardly the only one that looms in people’s memories. For many, the period 20 years ago when mujahedeen warlords divided the country into fiefs shapes their current fears. It was the behavior of the warlords, among other factors, that drove people into the arms of the Taliban in the 1990s. 

Pablo Percelsi, the director of operations in northern Afghanistan for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has had a staff and presence here for 30 years [warns], “The Taliban are only a small part of the equation.
“You have the whole fabric of the militias,” he added. “There are groups that collect money, and they collect it from civilians and by doing kidnapping and bold actions against internationals.”

NATO’s current strategy aims to transform many of these militias into local police forces that would augment the often thin national police. However, many local Afghan officials worry that the plan legitimizes the groups, some of which are made up of little more than thugs, and amounts to putting government uniforms on gunmen whose real loyalty is to their local strongman. 

Isn't that interesting.   It's only taken a decade for us to realize that the Talibs aren't the only bunch that undermine the future of Afghanistan.  So are the guys we're supporting, the thugs we want to equip and arm.  I'm sorry but that's what happens when you perpetuate a culture of tribalism and warlordism - which is precisely what we have done in Afghanistan.  We have never attempted to douse the embers that will reignite the Afghan civil war once we clear out.  This is what you get for a decade of indifference and rank stupidity.

My head hurts.   Can we go home now?

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