Τρίτη, 15 Σεπτεμβρίου 2009

A Somber Warning on Afghanistan

A Somber Warning on Afghanistan
GENEVA — Western powers now in Afghanistan run the risk of suffering the fate of the Soviet Union there if they cannot halt the growing insurgency and an Afghan perception that they are foreign invaders, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former U.S. national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter.In a speech opening a weekend gathering of military and foreign policy experts, Mr. Brzezinski, who was national security adviser when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, endorsed a British and German call, backed by France, for a new international conference on the country. He also set the tone for a weekend of somber assessments of the situation.He noted that it took about 300 U.S. Special Forces — fighting with Northern Alliance troops — to overthrow Taliban rule after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.Now, however, with about 100,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, those forces are increasingly perceived as foreign invaders, much as the Soviet troops were from the start, Mr. Brzezinski said.For President Barack Obama, Afghanistan is the foreign policy issue that has “perhaps the greatest need for strategic review,” said Mr. Brzezinski, who met with Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign last year, and endorsed his candidacy but was not a formal adviser.“We are running the risk of replicating — obviously unintentionally — the fate of the Soviets,” Mr. Brzezinski said in his speech Friday night.The presence of so many foreign troops underpins an Afghan perception that the Americans and their allies are hostile invaders and “suggests transformation of the conflict is taking place,” he added.A new international conference would help devise a more refined strategy, Mr. Brzezinski said in a brief interview Sunday. Using the military to support a development strategy would help prolong the European presence, he suggested — “our European friends are less likely to leave us in the lurch.” If the United States is left alone in Afghanistan, Mr. Brzezinski said Friday night, “that would probably spell the end of the Alliance.”A discussion on Afghanistan on Saturday featured, among others, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British foreign secretary’s special representative for Afghanistan and a former British ambassador to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Israel.“All is not doom and gloom in Afghanistan,” Sir Sherard told the conference, the Global Strategic Review of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, a nongovernment organization. But “walking away would destroy everything that has been achieved.”“The pullout option is not one that any government could responsibly follow,” he added, emphasizing, that America’s role was crucial. “While Obama remains committed, we remain committed.”In calling last weekend for a conference on Afghanistan, Britain and Germany seemed anxious both to dispel the tension that has arisen surrounding the election there last month, in which foreign observers say there were clear incidents of fraud, and to shift emphasis away from the rising numbers of foreign troops.Sir Sherard suggested the solution lay in devolving political power back to tribal elders who have traditionally held sway in Afghanistan, and funneling money for development through them. With 68,000 troops from the United States expected by the end of the year and some 40,000 from other countries, numbers — and the rising number of deaths and casualties — are going to influence not only hostile Afghans but Western public support for the Afghan mission. Speakers at the conference said that Americans are unlikely for long to support maintaining many times the number of troops from Britain, Germany and France, the three European allies who have sent the most soldiers to Afghanistan. What is needed now is “the intelligent application of military force” alongside long-promised development strategies, Sir Sherard said, evoking what he called a dream that, by 2011, a truckload of pomegranates would be able to pass unhindered from Afghanistan through Pakistan and into India, that Western students could study Afghan archaeological ruins, and that posters in the Pashto language inviting Pashtuns to “come on over” from the Taliban would be tattered remnants — unneeded rather than unheeded — on the roadsides of southern Afghanistan.


What Price Afghanistan?
Is Karzai's massive election fraud the final nail in the COIN strategy's coffin?
Justin Raimondo, September 14, 2009
Has the U.S. lost the Afghan war, even before President Obama’s "surge" is plugged in and the "COIN" strategy is put in place? "Clear, hold, and build": – that’s the "new" counterinsurgency doctrine [.pdf] beingtouted by the Center for a New American Strategy (CNAS), Obama’s favorite national security think-tank, as the salvation of our faltering Afghan campaign. The idea is to build "democratic" institutions and give the Afghans a stake in defending their government and society from the Taliban onslaught that is supposedly threatening them at every turn. Yet what if their democracy turns out to be not worth defending? What if their president, a preening fashion plate with ties to organized crime figures(including his brother), decided to steal an election, proclaim himself chief of state in spite of massive evidence of election fraud, and refused to even speak to his American sponsors, let alone go along with a U.S.-brokered compromise with his chief election rival?Well, we don’t have to what-if, because all of the above – and worse – is exactly what’s happening. As predicted in this space, the Afghan election was a monumental fraud: about 15 percent of the polling stations supposed to be in operation never opened for business. All these – just coincidentally, you understand – registered an overwhelming margin of victory for President Hamid Karzai. As fast as the "Independent" Election Commission (IEC), consisting of Karzai’s sock-puppets, counts the ballots, the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission (ECC) throws them out as obviously fraudulent – a process that seems fated to end in a self-canceling conundrum for the administration, and a perfect vacuum the Taliban are ready to fill.With the rug pulled out from under their precious COIN strategy, the Americans are faced with a problem: what to do with Karzai? They can’t just dump him. They havetoo much invested in him already. Yet they can’t let him get away with this outrageous fraud, either – not because the Afghan people wouldn’t put up with it (turnout was poor, apathy the real victor), but because it wouldn’t play in Washington, D.C., where the real decisions about Afghanistan’s future are being made.The new election is out of the question: winter looms, and the logistics won’t allow for it. A coalition government might patch things up, except that neither Karzai – who expects to be vindicated – nor Abdullah, his chief rival, are about to agree to that. This leaves, as the Washington Post averred, a "nominal Karzai presidency with a strong team of foreign-backed aides," i.e., an Afghan government put on emergency life-support, with extra-generous infusions of bribes-cum-aid keeping the corpse just fresh enough to appear presentable.For whose benefit would this zombie government be kept in operation? Surely not that of the Afghan people, who, after all, didn’t vote for it, don’t support it, and would just as soon see it wind up in the ash-heap of history, along with the Soviet-backed regime of Babrak Karmal and the British Raj. Yet this isn’t at all about Afghanistan, or the interests of its people. As is the general rule in foreign policy matters, it’s all about domestic American politics – which is why Obama is determined to wage war on the "Af-Pak" front to begin with.With Democratic lawmakers such as Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. Russ Feingold already calling for an Afghan timetable for withdrawal and polls showing a significantslackening of support among the general public, the collapse of Afghanistan’s "democratic" experiment couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Obama administration.The Taliban now control some 80 percent of the country, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates assures us, "I think some of the gloom and doom is somewhat overdrawn." This statement seems inexplicable, unless he was referring to the situation in Congress, where the majority Democrats (and most Republicans) support Obama’s war aims. The dissent of Levin, Nancy Pelosi, and others is over how to achieve those aims, not whether they are achievable or even worth achieving.The "antiwar" faction wants to Afghanize the war effort and begin expanding the Afghan army by several degrees of magnitude, as was done in Iraq. This means more, not less, infusions of military and economic aid from the U.S., including tens of thousands of U.S. military "trainers" plunked down in the midst of the fighting, where they would be sitting ducks for the Taliban and the shifting allegiances of various Afghan warlords.This is posed as an alternative to an Afghan "surge," in which even more troops would be added at the request of field commanders, but the reality is that this administration – cautious to a fault – will probably do both: that is, send more troops and try to Afghanize the war effort by pouring resources into the Afghan military and police. Of course, the Soviets tried this and succeeded only in exhausting themselves and creating a regime with a very narrow base of support, limited almost exclusively to its bought-and-paid-for military apparatus. The Afghan communist regime collapsed less than two years after the Soviet withdrawal. Karzai wouldn’t even last that long.The Soviets, too, had problems with their satraps: they had to purge the hard-line Communist Khalq faction – and, according to Vasili Mitrokhin, they tried to poisonHafizullah Amin, the radical commie leader – before installing someone more amenable to the Kremlin’s diktats. And, in the end, even that didn’t work. They were forced out, and the forerunners of today’s Taliban fighters – our allies at the time, feted as "freedom fighters" in Reagan’s White House – took Kabul.When you look at it, our war aims in Afghanistan are virtually identical to the Soviets’ – and one would think we’d learn some lessons from their utter failure (and subsequent rapid decline). Like the Kremlin, circa 1980, we are pledged to build a strong central Afghan government, one that has gained the allegiance –or, at least, the passive compliance – of the people. Our intent, like theirs, is to "reform," i.e., modernize Afghan society, at least to some extent, a goal that seems to elude us as much as it did the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and their Red Army allies. The Afghan people, it seems, want no part of modernity, either the Marxist version or its Euro-American doppelganger, and all attempts to impose it by force are doomed to fail spectacularly.Recall Gen. Eric Shinseki’s much-cited dissent from the Bush administration’s Iraq war strategy. While the Rumsfeldians were insisting the country could be occupied with a relatively light force of under 100,000, Shinseki said it would take hundreds of thousands to keep order. The Democrats made a big deal out of Shinseki’s dissent as a prime example of the Bushies’ unrealism – and yet one wonders what Shinseki makes of Afghanistan. According to their own counterinsurgency doctrine, as promulgated by the Naglites over at Obama’s favorite national security think-tank, the total number of troops required for a successful operation is around 670,000 at a minimum. With projections of the new and supposedly improved Afghan army and police accounting for some 350,000, it would be up the Americans and their rapidly bailing allies to supply the rest. This means a hefty increase over and above the 20,000-plus reinforcements currently scheduled – by 250,000-plus troops!There is no political support in Europe or the United States for such a commitment. One can only imagine how President Obama thinks he is going to be able to defy reality – and for how long.It wasn’t long ago that the situation in Iraq was considered so dire that more than a few commentators contemplated the prospect of a helicopters-taking-off-from-the-rooftop-of-the-American-embassy retreat, as in Vietnam. This prospect was practically eliminated when the Iraqis themselves asked us to set a definite timetable for rapid withdrawal. However, the helicopter scenario seems a lot more likely in the context of the Afghan war, where our hold on the countryside is far more precarious and the enemy more confident and dug in at the grassroots.The Obamaites no doubt know all this. While they aren’t as smart as they’d like us to believe, they aren’t exactly dullards, either. They know the best they can do is hold on by their fingernails. Above all, they must somehow prevent the complete collapse of the Karzai government and, with it, any semblance of a rationale for staying. As it is, the U.S. commander says he sees no sign of al-Qaeda anywhere in the country, so that excuse is gone, as well. All that remains is bureaucratic and mental inertia: so much of our rulers’ personal and political prestige – along with our money – has been invested in our Glorious Afghan Adventure that to pull out now would prove fatal to many careers. Aside from the institutional bias in favor of war and preparations for war that permeates the policymaking process, there is the Democrats’ ancient fear of being attacked as "soft" on security issues.It is a fear based on myth, one faithfully promulgated by the neoconservatives over the years and extant to this day, when it is almost universally acknowledged by partisans on the Right as well as the Left that the war was a strategic disaster. The neocons, who left the Democrats in a huff when the party turned against the Vietnam War, have ever since then accused the party of "losing its nerve." For decades relentless chorus of shrikes has been singing the same old song, smearing anyone who resists their world-conquering schemes as being an America-hating, terrorist-sympathizing, commie "isolationist." Or worse. Why the Democrats are supposed to fear them and their tired mantra must remain a mystery, I’m afraid. The American people, for their part, oppose the Afghan war, as recent polls show. Why appease the carping chorus of conservative warmongers and their collaborators over at CNAS?That’s a question for another day. Suffice to say here that the Afghan elections inaugurate the beginning of what promises to be a remarkably rapid and steep slide in our fortunes over there. How the Obamaites will handle this remains to be seen, but however they choose to react, of one thing we can be sure: it won’t be a reaction that has much to do with the military and political situation on the ground. The real battlefield is in Washington, D.C., the Imperial City, where the fate of nations – and of our own fighting men and women –


Deadly Afghan ambush shows perils of ill-supplied deployment
GANJGAL, Afghanistan — Manning a machine gun on a ridge overlooking this remote Afghan village, U.S. Marine Cpl. Steven Norman tried desperately to lay down covering fire for some 90 Afghan security forces and U.S. military trainers who were trapped in an ambush in the valley below.Each time he'd raise his head to let loose a burst, however, the insurgents in the encircling mountains and the fortress-like hamlet itself would drive Norman down, drenching his position with cascades of machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire."I was pinned down hard core," recalled the slight 21-year-old from Moultrie, Ga., part of a team from the Okinawa-based 3rd Marine Division based in the nearby town of Sarkani. "I'd look where they were shooting, and I would shoot back. But I was pinned down."Norman and other combat veterans who were caught in the Sept. 8 ambush that killed three U.S. Marines, a Navy corpsman and nine Afghans said it was the deadliest, most intense combat they'd faced in Afghanistan or Iraq. The insurgents never ran out of ammunition, they recalled, and some even wore helmets, flak jackets and military-style magazine pouches."They were firing from every direction. They were well placed. We could hardly see them," Norman said. "They were very coordinated in their fire. When we'd suppress that fire, they'd hit us from somewhere else."The ambush and the nearly nine-hour battle in the rugged mountains of eastern Kunar province illustrated many of the toughest challenges inherited by the Obama administration and U.S. commanders and their soldiers, who're scrambling to regain the upper hand in an eight-year-old guerrilla war that's growing bloodier and more unpopular in both countries by the day.Intelligence is inadequate. The Afghans and their U.S. trainers expected to face no more than a dozen insurgents in Ganjgal on their mission to sweep the village for arms and meet with the elders to discuss implementing an agreement to accept the local government's authority.Instead, the contingent of 80 Afghan troops and border police and about a dozen U.S. military trainers walked into a three-sided storm of fire from automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and at least one recoilless rifle.The lack of timely air support — it took about 80 minutes by a reporter's watch for helicopters to arrive, despite assurances that they'd be five minutes away — was a consequence of the manpower and equipment shortages bequeathed by the Bush administration's failure to secure Afghanistan against a resurgence of the Taliban, al Qaida and allied groups before turning to invade Iraq.There are a limited number of U.S. helicopters in Kunar, a stretch of craggy mountains and serpentine valleys bordering Pakistan where airpower gives a vital edge to overstretched U.S. troops fighting guerrillas who know every nook and trail of the area. Unbeknownst to those trapped in the Ganjgal kill zone, however, the available aircraft were tied up in the Shiryak Valley to the north in a battle in which two pilots were wounded, U.S. commanders said.The denial of heavy artillery fire to those trapped in Ganjgal also has roots in the Bush administration's decision to divert resources to Iraq and the resulting stress on the U.S. military.New rules limiting the use of artillery imposed by U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal after he took command of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan this summer are intended to curb civilian casualties caused in part by his contingent's reliance on artillery barrages and air strikes to compensate for their shortage of ground troops.The rising toll has enraged ordinary Afghans, whose support is key to the U.S. goal of marginalizing the hardest core insurgents. It's also provided the Taliban with recruits and a propaganda bonanza and allowed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to score domestic political points by deflecting blame for the deepening crisis onto his American and European patrons.The worst single loss of U.S. military trainers of the war brought out the deep bitterness with which many soldiers view the new rules. They feel unfairly handcuffed, especially in the case of Ganjgal, where women and children were seen running ammunition and weapons to gunmen firing from inside the hilltop hamlet.There are circumstances — and Ganjgal was one — when the rulebook should be tossed out, they said."We basically screwed our guys over," said Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer, 21, of Greensburg, Ky., who braved enemy fire to retrieve the bodies of his fallen comrades from outside the village. "They expect us to bring stuff to the fight, and (U.S. commanders) didn't give it to us."That anger was magnified by a realization that the insurgents in Ganjgal had somehow learned of the operation in advance and were waiting for the contingent to enter the valley as the sun rose."We walked right into it," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, of Louisville, Ky., the trainers' commander, said ruefully as he nursed a wounded forearm.Their Afghan counterparts, who arrested two of nearly 30 suspects rounded up in the village after the insurgents withdrew, shared the Americans' frustration.Col. Mohammad Avzal, the commander of the Afghan army unit the Marines are training, said the insurgents were waiting in dense groves and villages nearby to return to Ganjgal after Afghan and U.S. forces departed again. That means another battle and more casualties are in the offing."We are angry that we pulled out," said Avzal, who walked the same trails and hid in the same caves when he fought as a guerrilla against the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a day after the ambush. "But we would have had to continue the mission in that valley for at least three days."As they waited to infiltrate back into the village, the guerrillas were heard discussing on their radios "everything that happened, about their guys who got killed and how their (duffel) bags are still left inside Ganjgal," said Marine Lt. Ademola Fabayo, 28, of New York City, who helped lead the operation.The failed operation drove home other problems and complexities that U.S.-led forces are grappling with as they pursue President Barack Obama's counterinsurgency policy of redoubling underfunded civilian aid programs and transferring greater responsibility to the Afghans for running their own affairs.Ganjgal and villages farther into the mountains are way stations on a traditional smuggling route that insurgents use to move men and weapons into Afghanistan from Pakistan, unhindered by Pakistani security forces, according to U.S. and Afghan officers.Insurgents also use the area around the hamlet to fire rockets and mortars into U.S. Forward Operating Base Joyce with such frequency that the stronghold where the U.S. trainers and the Afghan troops live has been christened "Rocket City."So when Afghan Border Police commanders developed an idea to extend the government's writ to the area, U.S. officers jumped at it, despite the contingent's reputation as the most corrupt of Afghanistan's security organizations. Not only might such an operation smother the rocket fire on the U.S. base, but it also could kick-start reconstruction projects and help build cooperation between the two Afghan forces, which the U.S. trainers said is essential to weaning them from their dependency on the U.S. military.The border police proposed that the Afghans and their U.S. trainers mount a patrol into Damdara, an insurgent-controlled village near Ganjgal, to convince the area's elders that they'd receive protection against the insurgents and U.S.-funded aid projects if they accepted the authority of the local government.Avzal's officers agreed to participate, but in return they demanded the border police's commitment to stage a similar operation into Ganjgal, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The plan initially succeeded. The operation earlier this month into Damdara — which ended with the insurgents turning loose some desultory Kalashnikov rifle fire and a rocket-propelled grenade that caused no casualties as the Afghans and Americans exited the area — appeared to convince the elders in Ganjgal to renounce the Taliban.They broadcast a renunciation and their willingness to accept the local government's writ over the local radio after negotiations with Afghan and U.S. officials.Afghan army officers drew up a plan for a weapons search and a meeting with the Ganjgal elders to discuss the establishment of Afghan police patrols. U.S. officers refined the plan.
Then things began to go wrong.
The operation was first set for Sept. 7. A day earlier, Marine Lt. Fabayo; Army Capt. William Swenson, of Seattle, a border police trainer; and Capt. Talib, the Afghan army officer who developed the plan, met with Lt. Mohammad Nader, the border police operations officer, to finalize his unit's participation. A reporter sat in on the meeting."I'm not ready for this mission," Nader said. "The group that you are trying to get for this mission is (committed to) escorting a supply convoy."The others were stunned. They worried that a delay would give the insurgents time to take revenge on the elders or force them to renege. Swenson asked to speak to Nader's superior. He was resting and refused to leave his room."Let's do the mission concept at least," Swenson told Nader. "We can do the timeline and the concept, but just not what day we will do this. We can let this slip to another day.""All's I'm saying is that I have to get ready for the escort mission," Nader replied. "We will be talking about a plan without the approval of the commanders."The effort to hammer out a compromise was further hampered by the need to translate between English and Nader's Pashtu, one of Afghanistan's two main languages, and also by translations between Nader and Talib, who speaks only Dari, the country's other major tongue.Meeting later with staff officers from the 10th Mountain Division's "Task Force Chosin," Fabayo and Swenson discussed alternatives to delaying the operation, including using ordinary Afghan police to replace the border unit. They rejected the idea, reasoning that ordinary cops were no substitute for border officers, who're trained and equipped as light infantry.Moreover, the pair worried that they'd compromise their goal of building trust and cooperation between the border police and the army.The meeting ended with a decision to delay the operation by a day while the border police commander, who was on leave in Kabul, was contacted and persuaded to order his unit to participate, even though that meant losing the helicopter cover that had been reserved for the operation on Sept. 7.It was then that the "Task Force Chosin" delegation assured Fabayo and Swenson that if they were needed, helicopters would "be five minutes away."At the same meeting, a warning that Nader sounded to mission planners became the epitaph of the mission."The Ganjgal people have an expression," he said: "It's up to you to come into the valley, but it's up to us to let you out."
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