Open thread: the future of Afghanistan

It now seems entirely clear that Afghanistan will not become a liberal democratic state as a consequence of the US/NATO intervention. Where once politicians spoke of a conversion akin to those of Germany and Japan after World War II, the highest ambitions now seem to be for a state that is internally coherent, able to defend its borders, and unwilling to play host to Al Qaeda sorts. Gross disrespect for women’s rights, a theological bent to government, and the continued existence of warlords all seem to have become acceptable in the eyes of the interveners, or at least inevitable.

Given that, what should the objectives of those states currently fielding troops there be? Are there any special considerations for Canada? At this point, what would ‘success’ and ‘failure’ look like, and how good and bad would they be for Afghans, Canadians, and the world at large?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

146 thoughts on “Open thread: the future of Afghanistan”

  1. The future of Afghanistan?

    Not bright.

    Warlords, opium, theocracy, repression, war, poverty, instability.

  2. “as a consequence of the US/NATO intervention.”

    So, that includes all the support for the Taliban then? It was certainly “US intervention”.

  3. What should the objectives of the invading troops be? How about “leave”?
    What should the objective be of Russian troops in Chechnya? What about the Russian troops in Afghanistan in the 80s? What about the Nazi troops in the Czech Republic? Invading forces shouldn’t be there, i.e. should leave. “Objectives”?

  4. Even if leaving would produce a civil war?

    This is anything but an indefinite invasion with the intent of perpetual domination. The nations involved in ISAF are mostly trying to get out as fast as they can.

    Note also that ISAF is mandated by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions S/RES/1386, S/RES/1413, S/RES/1444, S/RES/1510, S/RES/1563, S/RES/1623, S/RES/1659, S/RES/1707, and S/RES/1776(2007).

  5. France, Germany, U.K.: Trading Troops for an Exit Strategy

    European leaders are considering an exit strategy from Afghanistan that includes a short-term plan to send additional troops to train up Afghans to protect and defend themselves, and a long-term goal of withdrawal by a mutually agreeable date.

    According to a report in the London Evening Standard on Sept. 10, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering sending another 2,000 U.K. troops to Afghanistan in exchange for a clear withdrawal timetable for European forces from the United States and if similar deployments are offered by other European countries. The announcement follows Brown’s offer to host an international summit on Afghanistan in December. The summit, dubbed the “exit strategy summit” by the U.K. press, was suggested by Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a letter sent to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Sept. 8 (published Sept. 9 by the French presidential office). The exact text of the letter calls for “new benchmarks and timelines in order to formulate a joint framework for our transition phase in Afghanistan” which would involve “handing over responsibility step-by-step to the Afghans.”

    The European strategy on Afghanistan is emerging and it is clear that it involves getting the Afghans trained up to fend for themselves as soon as possible. While training Kabul’s security forces was Europe’s emphasis from the beginning in Afghanistan, recent foreign policy speeches by Merkel and Brown have stressed this point, suggesting that Europe is lobbying hard for the policy of “Afghanization” and that it will make any future troop commitments hinge on assurances by the United States allowing Europe to disengage from Afghanistan at a set date.

  6. The ‘Deteriorating’ Situations in Iraq and Afghanistan
    Monday, August 24, 2009

    THE CHAIRMAN OF THE U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF, Adm. Michael Mullen, said in a CNN interview on Sunday that the situation in Afghanistan was “deteriorating.” He also expressed concerns over suicide bombing attacks last week against Iraq’s foreign and finance ministries that left some 100 dead and more than 1,000 wounded, saying that sectarian violence had the potential to undo the fragile post-Baathist political arrangement.

    Mullen’s comments point to a potentially dangerous situation emerging in the theaters where the bulk of U.S. military forces are engaged. His comments run counter to U.S. expectations for both countries; Washington has hoped that improved security in Iraq would facilitate a drawdown of forces, which would then allow the United States to focus on Afghanistan — defined by the Obama administration as the main battleground in the jihadist war. Yet the situation in both countries appears to be taking a turn for the worse.

  7. “Both Brown and Merkel reiterated in recent foreign policy speeches that Afghan ability to defend themselves should be the focus of Western efforts. Recently, a British government spokesman explicitly referred to this strategy as “Afghanization,” a clear (or perhaps unintended) reference to the U.S. policy of “Vietnamization,” which was essentially an exit strategy hinged on the ability of the South Vietnamese to stand on their own feet so the United States could withdraw. The reality, however, is that if the emphasis is on a firm deadline, rather than on the capabilities of the native forces, the “-ization” may not produce satisfactory results in the long run, which is exactly what happened in Vietnam. The fact that Europe wants a firm deadline suggests that disengaging from Afghanistan has priority over the training of Afghan forces. If the emphasis were on the latter, the withdrawal date would be contingent on success of the training.

    With Gen. McChrystal soon expected to officially and publicly call for more international support in Afghanistan, the European strategy seems to be -– judging from Brown’s apparent offer of more troops -– to trade potential short-term troop increases for a firm withdrawal deadline. For Merkel, this will be a viable strategy once the Sept. 27 general elections are over. For Brown, a firm deadline could be a useful campaign boost before the U.K. general elections, which must be held within nine months. Considering the kind of political pressures in London and Berlin, it is difficult to dispute the logic for setting such a deadline.

    The question now is what specific deadline the Europeans will request. In his recent speech defending Britain’s Afghan policy, Brown suggested that the international forces in Afghanistan should be able to competently train Afghan forces by the end of 2010, although he did not specifically say that was the deadline for withdrawal. It is unlikely, however, that the U.S. administration would agree on any such short deadline. Spain’s defense minister, whose country takes over the rotating EU presidency in January 2010, may have given a more insightful hint of Europe’s position when she said on Sept. 9 that 2014 would be “reasonable.” The U.S. would most likely accept such a deadline in return for the kind of troop increases that Brown has suggested.”

  8. There are major differences between the NATO campaign in Afghanistan and the Chechnya and Czechoslovakia examples.

    The actions of NATO forces are not motivated by territorial ambitions. The occupation is intended to be temporary, with a lot of stress on making Afghanistan capable of governing and defending itself. The NATO actions are supported by the UN Security Council and in compliance with international law. Finally, the NATO forces have the support of the elected government of Afghanistan.

    When NATO countries chose to invade, they took on a responsibility to leave Afghanistan in a reasonable condition. Abruptly pulling out would not achieve that, though it is not entirely clear what would (hence this thread).

  9. “Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where the situation is far worse than in Iraq, the United States has been trying to craft a strategy for combating the Taliban insurgency, which has spread beyond the Pashtun areas in the south and east to provinces in the northwest. The Obama administration also has a problem to deal with that stems from Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election. President Hamid Karzai, who easily won elections in 2004, likely will have to go through a run-off this time against his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

    With first-round votes still being counted and official preliminary results not due until early September, Abdullah rejected Karzai’s claims of victory and claimed to have won more than half the vote. Now, he is accusing the Karzai government of massive electoral fraud, throwing the election process into crisis. For the United States, which was hoping the election would be wrapped up quickly and the status quo maintained, this is an unexpected and major problem. At a time when Washington needs coherence in Kabul in order to deal with the core issue — the Taliban — the array of anti-Taliban players it has been relying on have begun to clash. Therefore, before it can deal meaningfully with the Pashtun jihadist insurgency, Washington first must repair the system it built after ousting the Taliban regime almost eight years ago.

    Washington has been hoping to bring closure to its military engagements in the jihadist war in order to deal with other critical issues, such as the rise of Russia and the crisis with Iran. But in both Iraq and Afghanistan, to varying degrees, Washington is facing reversals: The political arrangements it has been trying to establish are threatening to break down.”

  10. Also, if NATO is there fighting alkaida- has anyone noticed their demands are not so distinct from the concensus view on israel- disputed only by the US? Why do we hate democracy so much?

  11. It isn’t easy to find online what (if any) resolutions the Afghan Parliament has passed in relation to ISAF. It may be worth noting that the parliament wouldn’t even exist in the absence of the NATO force. If you can find some, link them.

    As for the demands of Al Qaeda, they culminate with the creation of a new Islamic caliphate. To equate their demands with what you consider to be the ‘consensus’ view on the Israel-Palestinian conflict is deeply inappropriate. It bears noting, once again, that the plight of the Palestinians is used most often by Arab regimes as a cynical means of boosting their domestic legitimacy. For the most part, they would not be happy to see a Palestinian state.

  12. Palestine may well be one motivation for Al Qaeda. At least some books argue to that effect:

    Mr Riedel concludes that the source of al-Qaeda’s ideological fervour is the Israeli-Arab conflict, the central “all-consuming issue” for al-Qaeda. This contradicts many members of the Bush administration who contend that Palestine has little to do with today’s problems in the Middle East.

    That being said, the fact that an organization shares one of your views shouldn’t be sufficient to make them legitimate overall in your perceptions. Nor should it make any tactic they choose to employ acceptable or legitimate

    To say: “We shouldn’t worry about Al Qaeda because they want a Palestinian state to exist” strikes me as very poorly thought out indeed.

  13. War and politics in Afghanistan
    McChrystal in the bull ring

    Sep 3rd 2009 | KABUL
    From The Economist print edition
    NATO is running out of time in Afghanistan

    CALL it the “Matador Doctrine”: a beast charges pointlessly at the bullfighter’s cape, exhausting itself and suffering endless small wounds, until it succumbs to a weaker opponent. Stanley McChrystal, NATO’s commander in Afghanistan, says his troops have been acting like a powerful but stupid bull lunging after insurgents; without a change of tactics NATO may yet have its ears cut off by the Taliban.

    After nearly eight years of war, the allies’ weariness is showing. The latest opinion polls say the American public is gloomy about the fight in Afghanistan and increasingly resistant to sending more troops there. Parts of the Democratic Party, in particular, are hostile to the war and the White House is nervous. General McChrystal knows he has little time to turn things around.

    On August 31st he submitted his long-awaited review to NATO leaders, saying “the situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable.” The assessment is confidential (and bleak, it is said) but the commander’s priorities are known, not least from a directive to his troops of five days earlier containing the bull-and-matador simile. They are: protect the Afghan population rather than kill or capture insurgents; build up Afghan forces; boost the legitimacy of the government in Kabul and improve the co-ordination of civilian aid. The Taliban and the Western-backed Afghan government are fighting for the allegiance of the Afghan people, says the general; the people will decide who wins.

    Such ideas have been American orthodoxy on counter-insurgency for nearly three years, adopted successfully in Iraq and less successfully by previous commanders in Afghanistan. General McChrystal’s directive on the need for units to drive vehicles courteously is little different from the order issued by his sacked predecessor, General David McKiernan, and posted at NATO bases: “We can’t win if you drive recklessly.”

    But if the theory is the same, the implementation may be different. General McChrystal has already sharply reduced the frequency of air strikes even as Western military casualties are at their highest since the fall of the Taliban. His report emphasises the “reintegration” of Taliban fighters—don’t call it “reconciliation”—to try to draw away as many as possible of those who fight for money or tribal honour rather than for religious ideology.

  14. “We shouldn’t worry about Al Qaeda because they want a Palestinian state to exist”

    I didn’t mean to say this. What I meant to say was we should not allow those who are much less moral than us to be on the right side of a moral divide, and use this to strengthen themselves. The strong US support for Israeli settlements and lack of support for a return to the 67 borders is the wrong position, and this gives radicals a lot of power. Of course the radicals have no interest in the US taking the correct position.

    Another point – if we care so much about democracy in Afghanada, we could certainly weaken the warlords by ceasing to subsidize their drug business with our archaic domestic drug laws.

  15. On drugs, we could also succeed much better in winning hearts and minds if we stopped opium eradication programs. The addition of anti-drug aims to the security/nation-building agenda is essentially a counterproductive one.

    As for Palestine, a solution would certainly be welcome. I just think it’s naive to think that a radical change in the US position would magically produce a pleasant two-state outcome.

  16. Afghan votes ‘need 10% recount’

    Ballots from 10% of polling stations in Afghanistan’s presidential vote need to be recounted because of indications of fraud, a top election official says.

    About 2,500 polling stations across the country were affected, Grant Kippen of the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said.

    His comments come amid reports of serious tensions within the UN mission over the issue of electoral fraud.

    A substantive vote recount could force incumbent Hamid Karzai into a run-off.

    With 95% of the vote counted, Mr Karzai had a 54% share, electoral officials said on Saturday.

    But if fraud investigations cause this figure to drop below 50%, he and closest challenger Abdullah Abdullah, who has 28% of the vote, would have to go to a second-round vote.

  17. Murtha to Obama: No more troops
    Mon, 09/14/2009 – 11:33am

    House defense spending cardinal John Murtha, an early bellwether of congressional opposition to the Iraq war, has made his strongest comments yet opposing more U.S. troops for the war in Afghanistan.

    The Pennsylvania lawmaker and Vietnam veteran, who plays a crucial role in forming the budgets that would fund an increased troop presence, is skeptical of the basic logic of adding personnel.

    “In Vietnam it took 500,000 troops and that didn’t solve the problem. So we have to take a different approach,” Murtha told The Cable in an exclusive interview. “I think that’s what McChrystal is trying to do,” he said, referring to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, who recently delivered a status report to the White House on the situation there.

    Murtha’s dissent comes at a critical juncture, with the Washington debate heating up and public support for the war effort dropping. The Pennsylvania congressman is only the latest senior Democratic lawmaker to come out against a troop increase, following similar statements last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin.

    But opposition from Murtha, who has deep contacts among the military brass, could ultimately prove more problematic for an Obama administration that has yet to launch a full-throated to defense of the war. In 2005, the congressman’s call for a rapid pullout from Iraq rallied the anti-war camp and led to a series of fights with the Bush administration over restrictions that Democrats sought but ultimately failed to attach to war funds. This time, he’s going against a president of his own party.

  18. U.S., Afghanistan: Bin Laden’s Message and al Qaeda’s Status

    September 15, 2009

    An audio recording attributed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, distributed by al Qaeda’s media wing As-Sahab, surfaced on various jihadist Web sites on Sept. 13. Though it came out two days after Sept. 11, the message was designed to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The recording addressed the U.S. public but was in Arabic, without any English translation. The delay in the recording’s release, along with the lack of an English translation, seems to indicate al Qaeda’s continuing decline.

    An audio recording, allegedly of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and distributed by al Qaeda’s media wing As-Sahab, surfaced on popular jihadist forums on Sept. 13, two days after the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. The 11-minute 20-second recording directly addressed the American people, offering justifications for the attacks primarily based on the United States’ continued support for Israel.

    That al Qaeda wants the United States to withdraw support for Israel is nothing new. Frankly, the lack of slick As-Sahab production and of 9/11 martyr references notwithstanding, not much in this recording was different from bin Laden’s previous messages. However, what is unusual is the delay in the release of the message, which was meant to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and the lack of an English transcript of a recording directed at the American public. Furthermore, the message contained little warning or threats and was more rhetoric than anything. All told, these could be clear signs that al Qaeda prime is continuing its serious decline.

    The delay in the recording’s release indicates that al Qaeda experienced difficulties completing the project on time. There are a few possible reasons for this. First, the popular jihadist Web site notorious for posting As-Sahab related media, Al-Falouja, was very recently hit by a cyberattack launched by an unknown foreign government. In fact, there was a leak not long before the recording’s release that a message from al Qaeda was forthcoming; but the release most likely was delayed because of the attack. While there are other Web sites to use to get the message out, we are not certain that the cyberattack did not affect distribution on other sites, thereby delaying the release.

    It is also entirely possible that the audio recording’s release was delayed because of communication problems caused by increased operational security concerns. Several al Qaeda leaders have been targeted in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan — including Abu Kasha al-Iraqi, targeted in a May 2009 UAV strike, and Ilyas Kashmiri and Mustafa al-Jaziri, who reportedly were killed in a UAV strike. Consequently, members of the group have taken steps to further compartmentalize their operations (including communications) for fear of having a Hellfire missile or guided bomb land on their heads. With the increased operational security concerns and compartmentalization, communication within the group undoubtedly has become more difficult. This very well could have led to the delay in the release of the recording.

  19. Can We Bribe Our Way to Victory?
    How distributing cash—to Karzai, Abdullah, and other bigwigs—could help us win in Afghanistan.
    By Fred Kaplan
    Posted Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009, at 6:13 PM ET

    The debate over whether to send more troops to Afghanistan has never been about the importance of the mission. It’s been about whether sending more troops will make much difference.

    This distinction came up this morning, just briefly, at hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The agenda was to confirm the witness, Adm. Michael Mullen, for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (a motion that will almost certainly be approved unanimously). But the main topic of discussion was Afghanistan.

    The committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has proposed speeding up the training of the Afghan National Army before deploying any more of our own men and women in uniform. Adm. Mullen and many of Levin’s colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, countered that mere training wasn’t enough to reverse the Taliban’s momentum on the battlefield.

    However, the unlikely figure of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised the key issue of the day. He began his questioning of Adm. Mullen by asking whether the Taliban had any tanks. No, Mullen replied. Graham then asked how many airplanes they have. None, the admiral answered, perhaps wondering where this line of inquiry was going.

    Then Graham zeroed in. If that’s the case, he asked, how is it that the Taliban are gaining ground? The problem isn’t the Taliban, it’s the Afghan government, isn’t that right?

    Mullen agreed. The problem, he said, “is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government.”

    Graham pushed the matter. “We could send a million troops, and that wouldn’t restore legitimacy in the government?” he asked.

    Mullen replied, “That is correct.”

    A few minutes later, under questioning from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mullen elaborated: “The Afghan government needs to have some legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The core issue is the corruption. … It’s been a way of life for some time, and it’s just got to change. That threat is every bit as significant as the Taliban.”

  20. If NATO pulled out abruptly, Afghanistan would probably return to Taliban control.

    Then, Al Qaeda would be free to cross back over from the tribal regions of Pakistan.

    Preventing that is a legitimate and legal role for NATO forces.

  21. Afghanistan: A Steeper Climb for the United States

    September 17, 2009

    With Afghanistan’s raging insurgency and electoral crisis, a lack of troops, sagging Western domestic support for the war, and a very short political window of opportunity, the Obama administration faces an increasingly difficult situation in Afghanistan.

    U.S. President Barack Obama said Sept. 16 that an immediate decision on additional resources for Afghanistan is not pending, and that the process of getting a strategy right there is ongoing.

    The announcement comes amid other mounting challenges to the United States in Afghanistan. These include fallout from the disputed Afghan presidential election, resistance from Congress for additional combat troops (linked to growing public opposition to the war), and domestic pressures on NATO allies regarding their respective commitments to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan — to say nothing of an increasingly powerful Taliban offensive. These challenges will make it difficult for the United States to achieve its stated goals in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.

    In the eight years since the U.S. moved to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, Washington and its NATO allies have struggled to complete the process of “regime change.” Over the years, there has been a clear decline in the effectiveness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government — which replaced the Taliban — with Karzai now facing the threat of regime change himself. His Taliban enemies have staged an increasingly effective comeback to the point that CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus said April 21 that the United States and its NATO allies are dealing with an “industrial-strength” insurgency. But despite being the core issue the United States faces in Afghanistan, the Taliban is by no means the sole challenge.

  22. Victory in Afghanistan ‘is vital’

    Defeat for allied forces in Afghanistan would have an “intoxicating impact” on extremists around the world, the new head of the British Army has warned.

    Gen Sir David Richards said the failure of a coalition of such powerful western nations would show terrorists that “anything might be possible”.

    In a near simultaneous speech a top US commander acknowledged that violence in Afghanistan was getting worse.

    But Gen David Petraeus also said the mission was “do-able”.

    In his first major speech since taking over last month as the Chief of the General Staff, Gen Richards said defeat would have an “enduring grand strategic impact” on Britain’s global reputation.

    Speaking at London’s Chatham House, he also said he was optimistic the allies would get the strategy right.

    Defeat could have an “alienating and potentially catalytic effect” on millions of Afghans, he said.

  23. ‘Time against’ Afghanistan forces

    UK and other Nato forces in southern Afghanistan do not have time on their side, the British general soon to take charge of troops in the area has said.

    Maj Gen Nick Carter, who will take charge of 45,000 troops in six weeks, said there was an opportunity to “make a difference” in the next year.

    But he said without the “luxury” of time, forces needed to show “positive trends” as quickly as possible.

    “We can’t be everywhere. We’ve… got to focus on achievable objectives.”

    He added: “And I think security where we know the population is living, freedom of movement on the key highways – that means the Afghan economy can start to kickstart itself, and that people can begin to take a stake in their community – is the way in which we will achieve success.”

    Efforts to win Afghan hearts and minds

    By Lyse Doucet
    BBC News, Wardak province

    Lt Chuck Anderson carefully removes his, as well as the bulky helmet that also obscures his face. He extracts his own wire rimmed glasses from somewhere inside his body armour as drops of sweat trickle down his head in the blazing heat of the day.

    The face of 24-year-old Chuck from America emerges, beaming a big smile at white bearded Haji Rahmatullah and a gaggle of curious Afghan children who scurry to the apple orchard to inspect the strangers in camouflage gear.

    The rest of the American patrol take up positions along the stream meandering through the picturesque village of Tesha in Wardak province, just west of Kabul.

  24. U.S. commander warns of ‘failure’ in Afghanistan

    Army General Stanley McChrystal calls for a ‘dramatically’ and even ‘uncomfortably’ different approach to fighting the war

    Anne Gearan

    Washington — Associated Press Last updated on Monday, Sep. 21, 2009 09:53AM EDT

    The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan has reported to President Barack Obama that without more troops the U.S. risks failure in a war it’s been waging since September, 2001.

    “Resources will not win this war, but under-resourcing could lose it,” Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in a five-page Commander’s Summary. His 66-page report, sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Aug. 30, is now under review by Mr. Obama. “Although considerable effort and sacrifice have resulted in some progress, many indicators suggest the overall effort is deteriorating,” Gen. McChrystal said of the war’s progress.

    Geoff Morrell, a deputy assistant secretary of defence for communications issues, said in a statement the assessment “is a classified, pre-decisional document, intended to provide President Obama and his national security team with the basis for a very important discussion about where we are now in Afghanistan and how best to get to where we want to be.”

    While asserting that more troops are needed, Gen. McChrystal also pointed out an “urgent need” to significantly revise strategy. The U.S. needs to interact better with the Afghan people, he said, and better organize its efforts with NATO allies. “We run the risk of strategic defeat by pursuing tactical wins that cause civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage. The insurgents cannot defeat us militarily; but we can defeat ourselves,” he wrote.

  25. Who’s Afraid of A Terrorist Haven?

    By Paul R. Pillar
    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Rationales for maintaining the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan are varied and complex, but they all center on one key tenet: that Afghanistan must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda. Debate about Afghanistan has raised reasons to question that tenet, one of which is that the top al-Qaeda leadership is not even in Afghanistan, having decamped to Pakistan years ago. Another is that terrorists intent on establishing a haven can choose among several unstable countries besides Afghanistan, and U.S. forces cannot secure them all.

    The debate has largely overlooked a more basic question: How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? More to the point: How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.

    In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens.

    By utilizing networks such as the Internet, terrorists’ organizations have become more network-like, not beholden to any one headquarters. A significant jihadist terrorist threat to the United States persists, but that does not mean it will consist of attacks instigated and commanded from a South Asian haven, or that it will require a haven at all. Al-Qaeda’s role in that threat is now less one of commander than of ideological lodestar, and for that role a haven is almost meaningless.

  26. Players in the Afghanistan Sandbox
    by Renard Sexton @ 4:45 AM

    While reports are varied regarding the implications of the Afghan election recount, and the chance of a coalition government in the meantime seems slim, the coming week will likely include some hard-spun rhetoric and policy debate, particularly from the international players in Afghanistan.

    The upcoming German Federal elections (27 September) are the most pressing political deadline for the major NATO partners, which have been thrown into turmoil over the controversial air strike on 4 September. At the same time, the top US commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has given a frank assessment of the US strategy in the country, assigning failing marks to both the NATO forces and the Afghan government. He contends that “without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely,” says the Washington Post.

    British fatigue with the Afghanistan conflict has been long-standing, enough to prompt US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other senior US military officials to question the UK’s “political will” on the subject last December.

    The summer’s infamous “helicopter row” further politicized the British engagement, with the Tory opposition calling Gordon Brown to the mat over alleged reductions to helicopter production budgets in the early 2000s. Representative of broader claims that British troops are poorly equipped and vulnerable as a result, the Conservatives used the issue to challenge Labour’s overall progress in conduct of the war. With the foreign policy legacy of the Blair and Brown “New Labour” governments strongly linked to success in Afghanistan, and David Cameron’s insistence that the Conservatives would also pursue an aggressive Afghistan policy (albeit a “smarter” strategy), however, it is unlikely that the UK would entertain a serious reduction or pull-out in the coming several years.

  27. US in Afghanistan failure warning

    The US mission in Afghanistan will “likely result in failure” unless troops are increased within a year, the top general there has said in a report.

    Gen Stanley McChrystal made his assessment in a copy of a confidential report obtained by the Washington Post.

    He recently called for a revised military strategy in Afghanistan, suggesting the current one is failing.

    More than 30,000 extra US troops have been sent to Afghanistan since May – almost doubling the US contingent.

    The number of US troops in Afghanistan is already set to rise to 68,000 by the end of the year.

    Gen McChrystal, who took over as military commander in May, is expected to make a separate request for tens of thousands of extra forces to be deployed. He also says that training for Afghan forces needs to be speeded up.

    A senior adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the government was not against more international troops being sent – but their success would depend on where they were sent.

    “Our official stance is that until our security forces are strengthened, both in terms of numbers and quality, there won’t be a long-lasting peace in Afghanistan,” Sebghatullah Sanjar told the BBC.

  28. Their American trainers spoke of “upper body strength deficiency” and prescribed pushups because their trainees buckle under the backpacks filled with 50 pounds of equipment and ammo they are expected to carry. All this material must seem absurd to men whose fathers and brothers, wearing only the old cotton shirts and baggy pants of everyday life and carrying battered Russian Kalashnikov rifles, defeated the Red Army two decades ago. American trainers marvel that, freed from heavy equipment and uniforms, Afghan soldiers can run through the mountains all day — as the Taliban guerrillas in fact do with great effect — but the U.S. military is determined to train them for another style of war.

  29. “My educated guess is that such an army simply does not exist. It may well be true that Afghan men have gone through some version of “Basic Warrior Training” 90,000 times or more. When I was teaching in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, I knew men who repeatedly went through ANA training to get the promised Kalashnikov and the pay. Then they went home for a while and often returned some weeks later to enlist again under a different name.

    In a country where 40% of men are unemployed, joining the ANA for 10 weeks is the best game in town. It relieves the poverty of many families every time the man of the family goes back to basic training, but it’s a needlessly complicated way to unintentionally deliver such minimal humanitarian aid. Some of these circulating soldiers are aging former mujahidin — the Islamist fundamentalists the U.S. once paid to fight the Soviets — and many are undoubtedly Taliban. “

  30. Defining US and NATO Priorities

    Monday 14 September 2009 10:00 to 11:00

    Chatham House

    Ambassador Ivo Daalder, US Ambassador to NATO (2009- ); Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution (1998-2009)
    Chair: Dr Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House

    Type: Members event
    NATO, arguably the most successful political-military alliance in history, continues to work to provide security against current and emerging threats. The speaker will discuss a range of concerns at the top of NATO’s agenda including the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, the importance of ensuring a cooperative and frank relationship with Russia, and the need for a new Strategic Concept. Under President Clinton the speaker was Director for European Affairs on the National Security Council staff responsible for coordinating US policy towards Bosnia.

  31. It’s Not About the Troops
    Only a legitimate Afghan government can beat the Taliban.
    By Fred Kaplan
    Posted Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009, at 5:26 PM ET

    The push is on for President Barack Obama to send more troops to Afghanistan, perhaps as many as 40,000 more. Boxing in Obama was almost certainly the aim of whoever gave the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward a copy of the 66-page internal memo by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

    Most of the news stories about the memo have emphasized its conclusion that, without more U.S. troops, the war will probably be lost to the Taliban. But the memo (reprinted in full on the Post’s Web site) says many other things, too. In fact, high up in his report, McChrystal emphasizes that focusing only on troop requirements “misses the point entirely.”

    The point that this focus misses, the general writes, is that this is a war against insurgencies and therefore requires “a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign,” in which the main objective is not so much to destroy the enemy but rather to protect the Afghan people—to provide them with security so that the Afghan government can deliver basic services.

    When it comes to defeating the Taliban, the memo adds, a “responsive and accountable government”—one “that the Afghan people find acceptable”—is every bit as important as a secure environment.

  32. “Since Obama took office, key figures within the administration, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have been making public statements attempting to moderate popular expectations for the war in Afghanistan and discussing the need to shift away from a broad and wholesale exercise in nation-building to more focused and achievable goals like counter-terrorism and hunting al Qaeda specifically. And even with a small surge in troops, important changes to rules of engagement under McChrystal’s command and an offensive well under way in Helmand province, the situation in Afghanistan was slipping from bad to worse even before Obama took the oath of office. Matters have only deteriorated since. As a consequence, the strategic situation has continued to evolve and the administration has yet to make a definitive choice on the nature of the mission and the commitment of forces to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan.

    That decision appears to be coming soon. There are two key historical examples to consider, the first of which is when U.S. President Lyndon Johnson escalated the Vietnam conflict in 1963. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, there were 16,000 American advisers in South Vietnam. When Johnson took the oath of office, a space race with the Soviets was in full swing and civil rights issues were heating up domestically. Few would have imagined that the war in Vietnam would come to define his presidency. But Johnson almost immediately committed to Vietnam, and by the end of his presidency the U.S. military was directly involved in front-line combat operations across Vietnam and there were more than half a million troops in country. The war and the failed American effort there have come to define his presidency.”

  33. The Taliban in Afghanistan: An Assessment
    September 28, 2009

    “The Taliban are a direct product of the intra-Islamist civil war that erupted following the fall of the Afghan Marxist regime in 1992, only three years after the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Dating back to the 1950s, the Soviet-allied communist party in Afghanistan sought to undermine the local tribal structure: It wanted to gain power via central control. This strategy was extremely disruptive, and resulted in a deterioration in order and the evisceration of the traditional local/regional tribal ethnic system of relations. But these efforts could not dislodge regional and local warlords, who continued to fight amongst each other for territorial control with little regard for civilians, long the modus operandi in Afghanistan.

    After the Islamist uprising against the communist takeover and the subsequent entry of Soviet troops into the country in 1979, disparate Afghan factions united under the banner of Islam, aided by the then-Islamist-leaning regime in neighboring Pakistan, which was backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia. In terms of the Taliban movement, Pakistan was the most influential, but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were also involved — mostly through financial support. The Saudis had political and religious ties as well.

    During this time, madrassas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan became incubators, drawing young, mostly ethnic Pashtun youth, who would in turn facilitate the later rise of the Taliban in the early/mid 1990s in the wake of the decline of the mujahedeen factions.

    The madrassas were instrumental in providing assistance, allowing orphans or displaced war refugees to study in Pakistan while Afghanistan experienced a brutal civil war. Refugees were taught a particularly conservative brand of Islam (along with receiving training in guerrilla tactics) with the intention that when they returned to Afghanistan, Pakistan would be able to control these groups, maintaining a powerful lever over its volatile and often unpredictable neighbor.

    These radicalized fighters, many of whom originated in the madrassas and considered themselves devoted students of Islam, labeled themselves “Taliban.” The name “Taliban” comes from the Pashtun word for student — “Talib” — with Taliban being the plural form. The Taliban restored some sense of law and order by enforcing their own brand of Shariah, where local warlords previously ruled as they pleased — often to the detriment of civilians. The Taliban, issuing arrests and executing offending warlords, avenged injustices such as rape, murder and theft. As a result, the Taliban won support from the locals by providing a greater sense of security and justice. “

  34. “Though a loose command and control structure denies its enemies from targeting any central nerve center that would significantly disrupt the group’s existence, the nebulous structure of the Taliban also prevents them from being a single, coherent force with a single, coherent mission. The Taliban fighting force is far from uniform. Fighters range from young locals who are either fighting for ideological reasons or are forced by circumstances to fight with the Taliban, to hardened, well-trained veterans from the Soviet war in the 1980s, to foreigners who have come to Afghanistan to cut their teeth fighting Western forces and contribute their assistance to re-establishing the “Islamic” emirate. This also leads to variable objectives. On the most basic level, the desire to drive out foreign forces from the area and control it for themselves is a sentiment that appeals to every Taliban fighter and many Afghan civilians. The Taliban know that foreigners have never been able to impose an order on the country and it is only a matter of time before foreign forces will leave, which is when the Taliban — being the single-most organized militia — could have the opportunity to restore their lost “emirate.” For now, the presence of foreign fighters restricts their ability to administer self rule. This common sentiment is what keeps the Taliban somewhat united.

    However, the Afghan national identity is easily trumped by subnational ones. While there is consensus for opposing foreign militaries, agreement becomes more tenuous when it comes to the presence of Afghan security forces. Tribal and ethnic identities tend to trump any national identity, meaning that the ethnic Baluchi in the south are unlikely to support the presence of an ethnic Pashtun military unit from Kabul in their home village. These tribal and ethnic splits explain why Afghan security forces are frequently targeted in attacks.

    But Taliban forces across Afghanistan share one goal: removing foreign military presence. The Taliban have plenty of fighting experience outside of their opposition to the Soviets. Militants know that direct confrontation with foreign military forces typically ends poorly for the Taliban because, given enough time, foreign forces can muster superior firepower to destroy an enemy position. For this reason, the Taliban rely heavily on indirect fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which avoid putting Taliban fighters directly in harm’s way. When the Taliban fighters do confront military forces directly, it has generally (though not universally) been in hit-and-run ambushes (often supported by heavy machine guns and mortars) that seek to inflict damage through surprise, not overwhelming force.”

  35. The Taliban in Their Own Words

    By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau | NEWSWEEK
    Published Sep 26, 2009

    During wars and after them, the real voice of the enemy is rarely heard. Propaganda is plentiful, as are prideful boasts—and the Taliban have certainly been quick studies at the modern art of information warfare. But the fears and ambitions of ordinary fighters are too often buried under statistics and theories propounded from thousands of miles away. That’s been even more true in Iraq and Afghanistan, where reporters who might accurately convey the other side’s perspective are at risk of being kidnapped or killed for their efforts.

    After eight long years of war in Afghanistan, however, America and its allies can ill afford not to understand who the enemy is and why they fight. To put together this remarkable oral history, told through the words of the Taliban themselves, NEWSWEEK turned to contributing correspondent Sami Yousafzai, who has been covering the conflict for the magazine since 2001. Over that time he has developed and maintained contact with dozens of Afghan insurgents, including the six whose stories are told here.

    Working with NEWSWEEK’s Ron Moreau, Yousafzai spent more than a month crisscrossing Afghanistan and Pakistan to meet these sources. He has known them all for some time, and in the past their information has generally proved reliable. Their accounts may sometimes be self-serving—most Afghan civilians recall the Taliban regime far less fondly, for one thing—but the facts are consistent with what Yousafzai knows about the men from earlier reporting. While it’s impossible to confirm the credibility of everything they say, their stories offer a rare chance to understand how the insurgents see this war, from the collapse of the Taliban, through their revival and, now, their budding ascendancy.

  36. War in Afghanistan
    Collateral damage of every sort

    Sep 10th 2009 | BERLIN AND KUNDUZ
    From The Economist print edition
    The West’s mission in Afghanistan is under attack on many fronts

    WITH tension high after a difficult and partly rigged election, the last thing NATO forces in Afghanistan needed was for scores of Afghan civilians to be killed by yet another fumbled attack. But on September 4th a German commander called in an American air raid near Kunduz, in the north, against Taliban insurgents who had stolen a pair of fuel trucks. Scores were killed, not all of them Taliban. The repercussions were felt across Afghanistan, and in Germany itself.

    Four of the five main parties contesting the parliamentary election in Germany on September 27th support the deployment of troops in Afghanistan. But most voters do not. So a conspiracy of silence has kept one of the touchiest issues out of the political debate. The silence has now been shattered. Citing a NATO fact-finding mission, the Washington Post reported that about 125 people were killed, many of them civilians, on the basis of intelligence provided by a single Afghan informant.

    General Stanley McChrystal, the new American commander of ISAF, the NATO-led force, has stressed the importance of reducing civilian casualties, and was said to be “incandescent”. The German government’s first reaction was confused. The defence minister, Franz Josef Jung, insisted that only Taliban died, but later admitted that this might not be so. The defence ministry says 56 people died.

  37. “It may be (I don’t know for sure, and I doubt anyone on the outside has any great insight on the matter) that Obama has only recently come to understand that, according to classic counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, his “limited aims” cannot be accomplished by limited means; that simply chasing insurgents from one hillside or valley to another isn’t going to turn the tide; that COIN, if it has much chance of success, requires an ambitious agenda of nation-building, a strategy—and enough troops and resources—to protect the Afghan people so that their government can supply justice and basic services, which will in turn inculcate popular loyalty to the government and thus dry up support for the insurgents.”

  38. Taliban return to power unlikely: White House aide
    Sun Oct 4, 2009 2:11pm EDT

    By Caren Bohan

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top aide to President Barack Obama said on Sunday he did not see an imminent risk that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban and said strong strides had been made against al Qaeda’s presence there.

    “The good news that Americans should feel at least good about in Afghanistan is that the al Qaeda presence is very diminished,” White House national security adviser James Jones told CNN.

    “The next step in this is the sanctuaries across the border” in Pakistan, Jones said. “But I don’t foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling.”

    In the deadliest battle for U.S. troops in more than a year, eight American soldiers were killed after tribal militia attacked two combat outposts in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan, the military said on Sunday.

  39. Pakistan: The Taliban Struggling Under New Management?

    October 5, 2009

    A suicide bomber detonated at the United Nations’ World Food Program offices in the Pakistani capital Oct. 5. This attack — the first suicide bombing in Islamabad in months — shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) can still hit soft targets in relatively secure areas. However, there are several indicators that the TTP is weakening.

  40. Emerging Goal for Afghanistan: Weaken, Not Vanquish, Taliban

    By Scott Wilson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, October 9, 2009

    As it reviews its Afghanistan policy for the second time this year, the Obama administration has concluded that the Taliban cannot be eliminated as a political or military movement, regardless of how many combat forces are sent into battle.

    The Taliban and the question of how the administration should regard the Islamist movement have assumed a central place in the policy deliberations underway at the White House, according to administration officials participating in the meetings.

    Based on a stark assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and six hours of debate among the senior national security staff members so far, the administration has established guidelines on its strategy to confront the group.

  41. Does anybody care to guess whether we will see a major surge in the number of US forces deployed in Afghanistan? Say, an increase of 20,000 or more?

  42. Tough call.

    Maybe more troops for counterterrorism, fewer for nation building/counterinsurgency.

  43. “Then two things happened. Iraq went to pieces, which reminded military strategists of COIN doctrine. The success of the surge made that doctrine mainstream in military circles.

    As the election approached, Democrats needed to find a war they could support so they could be against Iraq without being called doves. They were willing to send soldiers and Marines into harm’s way so long as it would help them get elected in November 2008.

    After the election and the success of the surge in Iraq, many military people decided it was time to implement the COIN doctrine in Afghanistan. At the same time many Democrats decided they no longer needed to be for that war, since the election had been won and their Congressional majorities had been secured.

    So here we are today, with some Democrats now supporting the light footprint approach that Donald Rumsfeld had championed when this whole thing started. If this isn’t an absurd turn of events, I don’t know what is.

  44. “That said, military victory would require 400,000 to 500,000 additional troops, the wide use of land mines (even if Princess Diana spins in her grave), and the killing of the enemy and its civilian supporters in the numbers needed to make them admit the game is not worth the candle. This clearly is not a viable option. We do not have enough troops, and U.S. political leaders, many U.S. generals, and the anti-American academy and media do not think “military victory” is an appropriate or moral goal; their mantra is: “Better dead Americans at home and abroad than criticism from Europe, the media, and the academy.”

    Overall, then, we are well along the road to self-imposed defeat in Afghanistan, and about the best we can do is give McChrystal the troops he needs to slow defeat. After doing that, we can figure out how to get out of Afghanistan in an orderly manner, while preparing to absorb more al Qaeda attacks in North America.”

  45. An alternative approach, then, is to protect not all of Afghanistan but just a few of its largest cities—say, Kabul, Kandahar, and Ghazni—and to throw at them all the resources they can absorb: military, civilian, financial, the works.

    The purpose of this would be twofold.

    The first would be to prevent the Taliban from taking over the central government, which is the main reason for having Western troops there at all.

    The second would be to create “demonstration zones” for the eyes of Afghans all over the country. If these zones really can be secured and supplied, if they are seen as enclaves of relative peace and prosperity, then Afghans everywhere will want the same thing and reject the Taliban (whose strength today stems less from their fundamentalist ideology than from their ability to provide order and services).

    Meanwhile, under this alternative approach, U.S. and NATO forces would keep training Afghan soldiers and police, while special-ops troops and air power would continue to take out “high-value targets” such as top Taliban fighters (even pure counterinsurgency advocates don’t think counterterrorist tactics should be cut off completely).

    It’s hard to say how many more U.S. troops would be needed for this alternative approach—but almost certainly far fewer than 40,000.”

  46. Karzai Aide Says Runoff Vote Appears Likely

    WASHINGTON — A runoff election between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, appears likely, the Karzai government’s ambassador to Washingtonsaid Thursday.

    The comments by the ambassador, , Said Tayeb Jawad, are the first time that Mr. Karzai’s government has publicly acknowledged the probability of a runoff.

    In an interview on Wednesday and in a follow-up telephone conversation on Thursday, Mr. Jawad said that although he had no direct contact with the commission auditing the vote, the Karzai government was preparing for the commission to announce on Saturday that a runoff was necessary.

  47. The Afghanistan war
    Reinforcing failure?

    Sep 24th 2009 | WASHINGTON, DC
    From The Economist print edition
    A profound rethink about the strategy in Afghanistan is under way in the White House, pitting the president against his generals

    WHEN he was campaigning to be president, Barack Obama said over and over again that Afghanistan was the necessary war, the one that was justified by al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 but which had been starved of resources because of the unnecessary war in Iraq. Since taking office he has been as good as his word. He deployed an extra 17,000 troops, declaring in March that if the Afghan government fell to the Taliban, the country would “again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.” In May he fired General David McKiernan and sent a new man, General Stanley McChrystal, to command the American and coalition forces. Now, however, the new man is asking for still more soldiers—and it is not at all clear that Mr Obama will let him have them.

    General McChrystal’s assessment of the job he faces in Afghanistan, leaked in the Washington Post on September 21st, has detonated an explosion in the capital. His report says bluntly that success is uncertain, that the overall situation is deteriorating in the face of a resilient and growing insurgency, and that America and NATO are in urgent need of a completely re-engineered and “properly resourced” counter-insurgency campaign. The general does not specify how many additional forces he will need (though the rumour-mill says it will be in the region of 30,000). Indeed, he is careful to say that resources alone will not win the war. But he does say that “under-resourcing could lose it”. And although he thinks it would be ideal if Afghan security forces could lead the fight, he concludes that they will not be strong enough for a while. Once the coalition has adopted its new strategy, the general adds, we must “signal unwavering commitment to see it through to success.”

  48. To all UN supporters who call for Canada to leave Afghanistan: please read UNSC S/Res 1386 that authorises our precense. What would Byers say?

    “Adopted unanimously by the Security Council at its 4443rd meeting, on 20 December 2001

    Acting for these reasons under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, Authorizes the Member… States participating in the International Security Assistance Force to take all necessary measures to fulfill its mandate;”

  49. The End of NATO?
    There is little sense of Afghanistan as being an international operation.
    By Anne Applebaum
    Posted Monday, Oct. 19, 2009, at 8:00 PM ET

    Only very, very rarely do the casualties of one country make it into the media, the political debates, or the prime ministerial speeches of another country. There has been an international coalition operating in Afghanistan since 2001. NATO has been in charge of that coalition since 2003. Yet to read the British press, one would think the British are there almost alone, fighting a war in which they have no national interest. The same is true in France and in the Netherlands. The American press hardly notes the participation of other countries, even though some—Britain and Canada—have borne casualties at a higher rate than the United States relative to the size of their contingents on the ground.

    There is almost no sense anywhere that this is an international operation, or that there are international goals at stake, or that the soldiers on the ground represent anything other than their own national flags and national armed forces: Most of the European critics of the Afghan war want to know why their boys are fighting “for the Americans,” not for NATO. Most of the American critics dismiss the European contribution as utterly useless or else ignore it altogether. As Jackson Diehl pointed out in Monday’s Washington Post, the central debate about future Afghanistan policy is taking place in Washington without any obvious contributions from anybody else. Though, I’m not going to blame the U.S. administration alone for this: It’s not as if Europe has put forward a different plan—and there was certainly a moment, back at the beginning of this administration, when that would have been very welcome.

  50. Chomsky on Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan:

    “Canada almost reflexively supports the US, so the question goes back to why the US-UK are in Afghanistan.

    We know the official reasons, which are repeated over and over. We do not have internal documents outlining the real reasons, so we have to speculate. We know that the official reasons are not credible, but there are plausible motives. The first was to establish what the US-UK call “credibility”: that is, demonstrating to the world that we have the resources of violence to impose our will and respond to any challenge. That aside, Afghanistan has been prized for its geostrategic significance for centuries. Right now, it extends the encirclement of Iran and counters a serious potential challenger, the Shanghai Cooperation Council. It is the “backyard” of Pakistan, an important ally since its founding. It opens doors to the riches of Central Asia, including the possibility of the long-contemplated TAPI pipeline. I presume that if and when records become available these are the kinds of considerations we will discover.

    The TAPI pipeline is a long way off, probably. I doubt that that’s the specific reason for assigning Canadian troops to Kanadahar.

    Noble intentions? Just about every aggressor in history, including the worst monsters, has professed noble intentions, and its possible, even likely, that those engaged in these crimes believe them.


  51. The US, UK, and Canada would like nothing better than to abandon Iraq and Afghanistan. The only reasons they don’t are:

    (a) doing so might kick off regionally destabilizing wars
    (b) doing so might re-create conditions in which non-state actors are capable of inflicting severe harm against the US, UK, Canada, and allies
    (c) doing so might undermine the credibility of NATO, or even cause it to break up entirely
    (d) the above outcomes would be unpopular domestically, and could cause severe problems in the medium to long term.

    By now, it is obvious that we would be happy to trade any chance at producing liberal democratic states in these places for greater assurance that some combination of these outcomes would not arise.

  52. Hamid Karzai, once feted as a hero in Ottawa, is now viewed as a liability and the continuation of his presidency after the fraud-tainted Afghan election promises to polarize the debate over Canada’s mission.

    The Conservative government reacted to the cancellation of a scheduled runoff vote by trying to keep the issue low-key. Prime Minister Stephen Harper joined other Western allies in congratulating Mr. Karzai on re-election, while mixing in a lecture about the need to combat corruption.

    The problem for Mr. Harper’s government is clear, however: In a counterinsurgency strategy that rests on building the credibility of a domestic government, Mr. Karzai is the only option for an ally, but a flawed one.

    Officials in Ottawa said they will now stress support for Afghan institutions over support for one man. Trade Minister Stockwell Day, chairman of the cabinet Afghanistan committee, fielded an inquiry in Question Period without once naming Mr. Karzai, calling the elections “a project of Afghanistan as a people.”

  53. “By now, it is obvious that we would be happy to trade any chance at producing liberal democratic states in these places for greater assurance that some combination of these outcomes would not arise.”

    Translation – we should support a dictator friendly to the west?

  54. I was describing what Canada, the UK, and US have already basically accepted, not what they might prefer in an ideal world.

    That being said, there doesn’t seem to be anyone currently capable of establishing a strong central government in Afghanistan, or even one that can prevent Taliban take-over without western troops.

  55. Afghan pullout plans underway, top general says
    At least a year needed to prepare troops for mission’s mandated end in 2011

    OTTAWA – The head of the Canadian military says plans are already underway to pull troops out of Afghanistan in 2011.

    And Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the chief of defence staff, says he expects the 2,800-soldier gap left in Kandahar by Canada to be filled by American soldiers, thousands of whom already operate in the country’s most dangerous region.

    “I’ve put out instructions back in August on our planning and preparation with regard to 2011,” he said. “Our allies are well aware, NATO is well aware of our intentions because … it takes a year or so to prepare all the troops … to replace us.”

  56. From Times Online
    November 12, 2009
    US ambassador warns against Afghanistan troop surge

    The US ambassador to Afghanistan has dramatically intervened in the debate about troop reinforcements, warning President Obama against committing tens of thousands of extra troops to the country.

    Karl Eikenberry, a retired army general who commanded US forces in Afghanistan from 2005-2007, detailed his concerns in two classified cables last week.

    Yesterday President Obama questioned Mr Eikenberry about his views by video-link during a meeting of his White House war cabinet, as he continues his lengthy deliberations on the question of troop numbers for Afghanistan.

    Mr Eikenberry’s concerns reportedly focused on the behaviour of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president recently re-elected for a five-year term in a poll tainted by allegations of systematic fraud. He is said to have questioned Mr Karzai’s suitability as a long-term strategic partner, because of widespread corruption in his first administration and the presence of warlords and drugs smugglers in positions of influence.

  57. Options on the Table

    President Obama is finalizing a decision on a way forward in Afghanistan. Here’s what different decisions would mean, and why any of them could ultimately come up short.
    By Andrew Bast | Newsweek Web Exclusive

    Months of deliberation about a way forward in Afghanistan are now quickly winding toward a conclusion. On Wednesday, President Obama met with his national-security team to hear final arguments over the war strategy. One thing is clear: the fight will continue in Afghanistan for years to come. But several questions remain: Where should the fight take place? How many troops are needed? And, perhaps most importantly, whose war is it?

  58. Part of the Taliban movement is prepared to negotiate with the United States if Washington is ready to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told CNN on Nov. 11. Muttawakil added that there is a huge difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban, as the former has an international agenda while the Taliban pose no threat to the world. He also said the Taliban are prepared to assure the world that Afghanistan will not be used as a launching pad for transnational attacks. Just one day before that, top Afghan Taliban commander Mullah Toor Jan (aka Abdul Manan) in the southeastern Afghan city of Spinboldak told Pakistani news channel Aaj TV that the Afghan Taliban movement has nothing to do with Pakistan’s main Taliban rebel group, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Mullah Toor said that the Afghan Taliban only attacks U.S. and NATO forces, and that al Qaeda has no influence over the Afghan Taliban.”

  59. On why the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a geo-strategic war over the future of energy resources –

    On why humanitarian concerns are not a reason to stay – invading armies do not have the right to make decisions. Incidentally, you can make the same argument that we make now to conclude that the Soviets should not have pulled out in the 80s, and within the parameters of the question the answer is correct. The question is incorrect because it presupposes that invading armies have the right to make the decision –

  60. Confessions of an Uncertain Columnist
    My mixed feelings about the war in Afghanistan.
    By Fred Kaplan
    Posted Monday, Nov. 30, 2009, at 12:50 PM ET

    Columnists are supposed to have firm views and express them with steadfast certainty. Since I write a column called “War Stories,” the least a reader might expect from me is a clear opinion on whether the United States should escalate or pull out of the war in Afghanistan.

    Recently, a friend told me that he couldn’t quite figure out where I stood on the issue. I replied that I couldn’t quite figure it out, either.

    My columns, I confess, have hedged, hemmed, and hawed around the question. When I’ve proposed or endorsed a specific strategy, I’ve carefully noted that it’s an approach the president should take if he decides to deepen U.S. involvement in the war. Sometimes, I’ve ended the piece with a caveat or a pointed question that suggests deeper involvement might not be such a good idea. Yet I’ve stopped short of taking a stance on whether he should or shouldn’t send more troops or whether doing so is or isn’t a good idea.

  61. “If he decides on a counterinsurgency strategy (which emphasizes protecting the population more than chasing terrorists), the Army field manual’s calculations suggest that something like 400,000 troops would be needed—and, even under the most optimistic assumptions, there’s no way that U.S., NATO, and Afghan armies combined will amass anywhere near that many forces anytime soon, if ever.

    This is why much of the strategy will likely involve cultivating Pashtun tribal leaders to fight the Taliban and prodding relatively moderate Taliban groups to turn against the more militant ones—in short, buying key people off, whether through persuasion, money, weapons, ammunition, logistical support, or the supply of basic services.

    Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, has long been saying that success in Afghanistan has to involve, to some extent, striking a deal with enemies. “This is how you end these kinds of conflicts,” he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation in October 2008. There is, he added, “no alternative to reconciliation.””

  62. Obama’s War Begins
    But where does it end?
    By Fred Kaplan
    Posted Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009, at 11:58 PM ET

    The war that President Barack Obama laid out at West Point Tuesday night—its rationale, strategy, tactics, and resources—is different, in ways large and small, from the war that George W. Bush fought (and didn’t fight) in Afghanistan.

    Obama is sending 30,000 additional U.S. troops (beyond the 21,000 extra he sent in March, more than doubling our commitment overall). He is shifting their approach from strictly shooting and shelling bad guys to protecting the population and building up Afghan forces. And he is declaring a finite limit to our involvement.

    Some of his policies he explained well. On others, he left many questions open and raised a few new doubts.

    The issue that has caused the most controversy is his statement that our troops will begin to come home in July 2011.

    Critics say that this sends the wrong signal to the Afghan people; that if they think we’re leaving in less than two years, they won’t trust us to protect them in the first place; and that, in any case, the Taliban will simply lie low and “wait us out.”

  63. “Obama insisted that his deadline-that-isn’t-a-deadline would put pressure on the Afghan government. “The absence of a time frame for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

    But Obama said nothing in the speech that put actual pressure on the government. The surge can succeed militarily but won’t be worth anything if Hamid Karzai doesn’t change his behavior and the Afghan army doesn’t improve.

  64. U.S. President Barack Obama’s Speech (Full Text)

    “Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them – an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to 0. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 – the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda’s terrorist network, and to protect our common security.

    Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy – and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden – we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the UN, a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.”

  65. Waziristan
    The last frontier
    Dec 30th 2009 | PESHAWAR AND WANA
    From The Economist print edition

    Waziristan, headquarters of Islamist terror, has repelled outsiders for centuries. Now the Pakistani government is making a determined effort to control the place

    Waziristan, home to 800,000 tribal Pushtuns, is a complicated place. It is the hinge that joins Pakistan and Afghanistan, geographically and strategically. Split into two administrative units, North and South Waziristan, it is largely run by the Taliban, with foreign jihadists among them. If Islamist terror has a headquarters, it is probably Waziristan.

    For terrorists, its attraction is its fierce independence. Waziristanis (who come mostly from the Wazir and Mehsud tribes) have repelled outsiders for centuries. Marauding down onto the plains of northern Punjab—now North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)—their long-haired warriors would rape, pillage and raise a finger to the regional imperialist, Mughal or British, of the day. No government, imperialist or Pakistani, has had much control over them. “Not until the military steamroller has passed over [Waziristan] from end to end will there be peace,” wrote Lord Curzon, a British viceroy of India at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

    With 50,000 Pakistani troops now battling the Taliban in Waziristan, even that may be optimistic. One of the current drivers of the steamroller is Major-General Tariq Khan, head of the army’s 60,000-strong Frontier Corps (FC), whose forebears, rulers of neighbouring Tank, were often robbed by the hill-men. For him, Waziristan is “the last tribal area”.


    JANUARY 25, 2010 WILL BE REMEMBERED as the day when much of the planet buzzed about diplomatic talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban movement. The chatter comes in the context of a number of conferences that will be held over the course of the next week that focus on dealing with Afghanistan’s jihadist insurgency. The countries being represented at the meetings — including the United States, the Central Asian states, Europe, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, India and China — have a stake in what happens in Afghanistan.

    Each of these players has a different view on how to engage the Taliban in a negotiation process, but there seems to be an emerging consensus that when all is said and done, the Afghan jihadist movement –- in one form or another –- will be part of the government in Kabul. In other words, there is a general acceptance that if Afghanistan is to be settled, the Taliban have to be dealt with as legitimate political stakeholders. The difference lies in the degree to which the Taliban can be accepted.

    From the point of view of the United States and its NATO allies, ideally the surge should be able to weaken the momentum of the Taliban and the overall counterinsurgency that divides them. This would result in a significant number of pragmatic elements being stripped from the core that surrounds Mullah Omar and other leaders. The United States and its Western allies are not, however, naive enough to believe that this can be achieved in the short span of time laid out in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy. Therefore, the West could learn to live with the hard-line Taliban as long as it can separate itself from al Qaeda, though there is still the matter of how the Obama administration will be able to sell this on the home front, especially in such a dicey political climate.

    Pakistan, the second most important player when it comes to dealing with the Taliban (given Islamabad’s historic ties to the Afghan jihadists), would ideally like to see the Taliban gain a large share of the political pie in Kabul. Such an outcome could allow Islamabad to reverse the loss of its influence in Afghanistan and use a more Pakistan-friendly regime as a lever to deal with its security dilemma with India. That said, a political comeback of the Taliban in Afghanistan would also bring significant security threats to the Pakistani state, given Islamabad’s own indigenous Taliban insurgency and the complexities that exist between the two.

  67. “The battle for Helmand province, the first campaign of President Barack Obama’s surge, was supposed to be fairly swift: U.S. forces clear out the Taliban; the Kabul government, with international assistance, sweeps in with basic services for the local people; and all across the land, Afghans see the advantage of siding with the authorities against the insurgents.

    But the Taliban keep coming back at night, and the services still haven’t been delivered, so the operation hasn’t made much impression at all.

    In part as a result, the next and much harder step, the battle for Kandahar, the Taliban’s stronghold, has been scaled back. U.S. officials, who once labeled it an “offensive,” now talk—as Undersecretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy did at today’s hearing—about taking a “more deliberate approach,” with security forces moving in slowly along with civilian aid (though it’s not clear how governance is supposed to take hold before the area has been secured).

    Meanwhile, even after his four-day trip to Washington last month, during which Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other top officials reassured him of their lasting support and friendship, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is proving to be an increasingly loopy partner.”

  68. Bring on the Coalition of the Digging
    Why are we so focused on the problems Afghanistan’s vast mineral deposits could bring?
    By Christopher Hitchens
    Posted Monday, June 21, 2010, at 11:10 AM ET

    The breathtaking news of the latest estimate of the latent mineral wealth of Afghanistan, already partly understood but now confirmed by two systematic aerial surveys conducted in 2006 and 2007, has already been downplayed as a possible force-multiplier of the country’s existing miseries. Huge deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and lithium (a key ingredient in the manufacture of laptop batteries) could not only intensify the determination of the Taliban and their allies to retake the country and enrich themselves into the bargain; it could also give an incentive to the country’s other enemies: its warlords and its parasitic oligarchs and those among its neighbors who are less choosy about what kind of government the nation ends up having. Indeed, it was only a short while ago that the Afghan minister of mines was removed, under U.S. pressure, for allegedly taking a $30 million bribe to steer an enormous copper-extraction deal to China, a country whose resource imperialism is already a disgrace everywhere from North Korea to Darfur.

    The story of countries that are poor because they are rich is an old one: The Congo has been a scandalous example since the time of its private ownership by the Belgian royal family in the 19th century, and to the list of nations subject to depredation by resource exploitation one could also add Haiti, Angola, India, and (to be fair) China. Afghanistan has no infrastructure or professional civil service, no tradition of extractive industry, and no mechanism for sharing resources among its wildly discrepant provinces and regions. A Klondike beyond the Khyber could be the last thing it needs.
    Still. This is at least a trillion-dollar national-resource treasure in a country that so far has had a GDP with scarcely any pulse. The governments of NATO—which include countries with vast experience in mining, from Germany to Canada and from Britain to the United States—have had almost no real work to do on the economic front except to distribute aid, itself often a cause of resentment, and waste time trying to “interdict” Afghanistan’s only other existing resource, which is opium. Is it conceivable that such an alliance of earth-moving and digging powers could not at last find something genuinely constructive to do in a country where they already have a U.N. mandate for rebuilding and reconstruction? It is true that the Afghan parliament and government have no tradition of oversight, but the parliaments and press and NGOs of the alliance can be pushed to ensure that this is not a mere gouging exercise of the sort in which China likes to engage and that the Afghan people are the main beneficiaries. It seems too good an opportunity to pass up. It also seems like an opportunity far too important to be left in the tender hands of the Taliban.

  69. It is almost impossible to recall the true horror of the situation that confronted the coalition forces in Iraq during the middle years of this decade. Al-Qaida was able to operate with virtual impunity—and with the assistance of large stockpiles of Baathist war materiel—in several provinces and across big swaths of Baghdad. It was able to blow up the offices of the United Nations with a huge weapons-grade bomb and to destroy the most emotionally important Shiite shrine in Iraq: the Golden Dome at Samarra. Its beheaders and video-torturers roamed freely. In some towns in Anbar province, a provisional “Islamic State of Iraq” was established, and victory parades were held, celebrating the defeat of the United States and its allies. Back in the United States itself, the demand for withdrawal from Iraq came quite close to reaching critical mass. As I tried to write at the time, this could have meant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the psychopathic killer who then had the Bin Laden franchise in Iraq, claiming to have out-fought the United States in open combat. The consequences of this—the frenzied bloodbath within Iraq, the collapse of a keystone state in the world economy, the chronic destabilization of the region, and the strengthening of ultra-fundamentalist groups everywhere—would have been infinitely worse than any defeat for our aims in Afghanistan.”

  70. “Were so much not at stake, it would be tempting to give up and call the troops home. Yet, although Western leaders have done a poor job at explaining the war in Afghanistan to their voters, a defeat there would be a disaster. The narrow aim of denying al-Qaeda a haven, already frustrated by the terrorists’ scope to lodge in unruly parts of northern Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, would become impossible to achieve. A Western withdrawal would leave Afghanistan vulnerable to a civil war that might suck in the local powers, including Iran, Pakistan, India and Russia. Sooner or later, the poison would end up harming America too: it always does. Defeat in Afghanistan would mark a humiliation for the West, and for NATO, that would give succour to its foes in the world. And do not forget the Afghan people. Having invaded their country, the West has a duty to return it to them in a half-decent state.

  71. Afghanistan war logs: Massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation

    A huge cache of secret US military files today provides a devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan, revealing how coalition forces have killed hundreds of civilians in unreported incidents, Taliban attacks have soared and Nato commanders fear neighbouring Pakistan and Iran are fuelling the insurgency.

    The disclosures come from more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports about the conflict obtained by the whistleblowers’ website Wikileaks in one of the biggest leaks in US military history. The files, which were made available to the Guardian, the New York Times and the German weekly Der Spiegel, give a blow-by-blow account of the fighting over the last six years, which has so far cost the lives of more than 320 British and more than 1,000 US troops.

  72. Afghanistan war logs: Secret CIA paramilitaries’ role in civilian deaths
    Innocent Afghan men, women and children have paid the price of the Americans’ rules of engagement

    “The Nato coalition in Afghanistan has been using an undisclosed “black” unit of special forces, Task Force 373, to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. Details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida are held on a “kill or capture” list, known as Jpel, the joint prioritised effects list.

    In many cases, the unit has set out to seize a target for internment, but in others it has simply killed them without attempting to capture. The logs reveal that TF 373 has also killed civilian men, women and children and even Afghan police officers who have strayed into its path.

    The United Nations’ special rapporteur for human rights, Professor Philip Alston, went to Afghanistan in May 2008 to investigate rumours of extrajudicial killings. He warned that international forces were neither transparent nor accountable and that Afghans who attempted to find out who had killed their loved ones “often come away empty-handed, frustrated and bitter”.

    Now, for the first time, the leaked war logs reveal details of deadly missions by TF 373 and other units hunting down Jpel targets that were previously hidden behind a screen of misinformation. They raise fundamental questions about the legality of the killings and of the long-term imprisonment without trial, and also pragmatically about the impact of a tactic which is inherently likely to kill, injure and alienate the innocent bystanders whose support the coalition craves.”

  73. While it is interesting to get some new details, I haven’t seen anything in these leaked documents so far that I would consider surprising.

  74. “SOME people, including the group that supplied them, thought more than 75,000 secret military records released on July 25th contained devastating revelations about the war the West has been fighting in Afghanistan for the past nine years. Many more saw nothing new, but nonetheless feared that page after page of ugly detail would bring home to the public just how badly the Afghan campaign has turned out. In fact, the most voluminous leak in the history of warfare holds an altogether different message—that, for the moment, the West is tackling Afghanistan with what is probably the right strategy.

    Debate in Washington about what to do in Afghanistan centres around two military strategies. One is counterterrorism (CT), championed by the vice-president, Joe Biden, which would give up trying to build a state and concentrate on killing enemies. Under CT, troops stick mostly to safeish areas, using airpower to hit terrorist havens. The other is counter-insurgency (COIN), championed first in Afghanistan by the sacked General Stanley McChrystal and now by General David Petraeus, the new commander there. This seeks to win over the population by assuring their security, creating the conditions for stability and isolating militants.

    Until 2009 the strategy was pretty close to CT. Then, after Mr Obama ordered a review, COIN came out top. Now its cost has begun to shift opinion against it among America’s politicians. Progress is hard to spot and soldiers are dying; COIN is expensive and the government of Hamid Karzai commands little affection and less respect. But the diary, which describes Afghanistan before the COIN doctrine was favoured, shows that you cannot rely on CT alone for long. Poor intelligence and extravagant firepower kill civilians. This feeds the insurgency and undermines a Western presence of any sort. In the longer run, you may destabilise Pakistan; and you do nothing to hollow out Islamic terrorism—which cannot be contained for ever.”

  75. Sadly for Afghanistan, the predominant view among diplomats and long-term observers of the country is that the counterinsurgency strategy will probably fail—and certainly do so if foreign powers have now decided not to take the time needed to build an Afghan state able to resist the insurgency and the nefarious activities of meddling neighbours. A sense of gloom was evident in some quarters. A European diplomat dismissed the country as a problem only for its region, adding that “I can’t think of a single reason to die for Afghanistan.”

    With such thoughts in mind, most of the speeches seemed surreally beside the point. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s troublesome president, gave by far the most surprising. In some ways it was the talk that his many critics have waited six years to hear. He said brightly that the country’s minerals (which have been absurdly hyped in recent months) could be worth trillions and so could “make state building affordable”. He said he hoped the country could become “the Asian Roundabout” for trade on “the new Silk Road” with “a dynamic service sector”. Old civil servants would be pensioned off, young thrusters recruited. Corrupt officials would be swiftly prosecuted. He called for long-term development, not a “quick impact” approach favoured by foreigners.”

  76. Afghanistan: Why the Taliban are Winning
    September 1, 2010 | 1237 GMT

    With additional troops committed and a new strategy in place, the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is making its last big push to win the war in Afghanistan. But domestic politics in ISAF troop-contributing nations are limiting the sustainability of these deployments while the Taliban maintain the upper hand. It is not at all clear that incompatibilities between political climates in ISAF countries and military imperatives in Afghanistan can ever be overcome. And nothing the coalition has achieved thus far seems to have resonated with the Taliban as a threat so dangerous and pressing it cannot be waited out.

    In other words, while the original objective was never achieved in Iraq and the United States has been scrambling to re-establish a semblance of the old balance of power, the original American objective has effectively been achieved in Afghanistan (though the effort is ongoing). Most of what remains of the original al Qaeda prime that the United States set out to destroy in 2001 now resides in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Despite — or perhaps because of — the remarkably heterogeneous demography of Afghanistan, there is no sectarian card to play. Nor is there a regional rival, as there is in Iraq with Iran, that U.S. grand strategy dictates must be prevented from dominating the country. Indeed, an Afghanistan dominated by Pakistan is both largely inevitable and perfectly acceptable to Washington under the right conditions.

    The Taliban are winning in Afghanistan because they are not losing. The United States is losing because it is not winning. This is the reality of waging a counterinsurgency. The ultimate objective of the insurgent is a negative one: to deny victory — to survive, to evade decisive combat and to prevent the counterinsurgent from achieving victory. Conversely, the counterinsurgent has the much more daunting and affirmative task of forcing decisive combat in order to end hostilities. It is, after all, far easier to disrupt governance and provoke instability than it is to govern and provide stability.

    This makes the timetables dictated by political realities in ISAF troop-contributing nations extremely problematic. Counterinsurgency efforts are not won or lost on a timetable compatible with the current political climate at home. Admittedly, the attempt is not to win the counterinsurgency in the next year or the next three years (the U.S. timetable calls for troop withdrawals to begin in July 2011). Rather, the strategy is now one of “Vietnamization”, in which indigenous forces are assembled and trained to assume responsibility for waging the counterinsurgency with sufficient skill and malleability to serve American interests.

  77. The West Bank Attack and Israel’s Negotiating Strategy

    September 1, 2010 | 1028 GMT

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington on Tuesday for peace talks to be held on Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Just three hours prior to his arrival, Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car at the entrance of the Jewish settlement Kiryat Arba near the West Bank city of Hebron. Four Israelis — two men and two women (one of whom was pregnant) — were killed in the attack.

    Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was the first group to claim responsibility for the attack, followed by Fatah’s armed wing, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and a new group calling itself Al Haq. Multiple claims for attacks and collaboration among groups is common in the Palestinian territories, but the claim itself does not matter as much as the political message the attack intended to convey.

    Hamas, in particular, is signaling to U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel that they are dealing with the wrong man. Abbas certainly cannot claim to speak for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has questionable authority in his own Fatah-controlled West Bank. As the Tuesday attack illustrated, Abbas cannot control the Palestinian militant landscape whether he wants to or not. In other words, if Israel and the United States are really seeking peace with the Palestinians, they need to open a dialogue with Hamas.

    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed that Israel would “exact a price” from those responsible for the killing of the four Israeli civilians. Hamas and its militant associates are hoping that price comes in the form of Israeli military operations in the West Bank. Abbas was already hanging by a thread politically, but Israeli military activity in the West Bank would deliver another big blow to the Palestinian leader’s credibility, potentially give Hamas an opportunity to regain influence in the West Bank and help derail Thursday’s peace talks.

  78. Afghanistan’s troubled national army
    Fixing the unfixable
    Until the army works, foreigners can’t go home. Therein lies a problem

    Aug 19th 2010 | Kabul

    IF REPENTING past sins is the first step to redemption, then the American effort to create a half-decent Afghan army is off to a promising start. Admissions of past blunders pour from William Caldwell, the three-star general with the job of overhauling both the army and the police. “In November we realised we were going to have to revamp everything—it just wasn’t working,” the frank general says.

    November was, coincidentally, when General Caldwell took over from a line of predecessors who had specialised in repeating that all was going to plan. He was horrified to find the “entire focus on quantity not quality”. The ratio of instructors to students was 1 to 80, he says. On one base, it was 1 to 466. “There were no training standards…It was just, eight weeks and you’re done.” Some contractors failed even to show recruits how to calibrate the sights on their weapons.

    Nine years after the Taliban regime was toppled, the American-led coalition is still struggling to build an army from the ragtag remnants of former mujahideen groups. Only when it does so will foreign soldiers be able to go without provoking a collapse of the government. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, says that Afghan forces should be ready to take over by 2014.

    But there is a desperately long way to go: a recent American government inspection found only 23% of Afghan soldiers could work unsupervised. During operations, they remain almost totally reliant on NATO troops, who suffer twice as many casualties. In one recent debacle in Laghman, a province east of Kabul, 300 Afghan soldiers, acting independently of NATO, were ambushed by the Taliban and many were killed or captured.

    Lots of resources are now being diverted to the army. The number of foreign trainers has been doubled, improving those instructor-pupil ratios. Army pay is up from $120 to $165 a month. A national advertising campaign shows soldiers draped with more bandoleers than Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo would think decent. As a result, recruitment is ahead of target, with the army now 134,000 strong. The goal is to get to 171,600 by October next year, requiring as much additional growth as has been achieved in the past five years.

  79. “But Obama’s effort to preserve the war’s legend, which was ribboned throughout his speech, raises the specter of an even greater challenge of preserving the legend of a different war — the war in Afghanistan, which Obama says will begin to wind down for America in July of next year. It remains a very open question whether events will unfold in that nettlesome conflict in such a way as to allow for a reassuring legend when the troops come home. That open question is particularly stark given the fundamental reality that America is not going to bring about a victory in Afghanistan in any conventional sense. The Taliban insurgency that the United States is trying to subdue with its counterinsurgency effort is not going to go away and, indeed, the Taliban will likely have to be part of any accommodation that can precede America’s withdrawal.

    Thus, the Obama administration has become increasingly focused on what some involved in war planning call “the endgame.” By that, they mean essentially a strategy for extricating the country from Afghanistan while preserving a reasonable level of stability in that troubled land; minimizing damage to American interests; and maintaining a credible legend of the war that is reassuring to the American people. That’s a tall order, and it isn’t clear whether the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, under U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, can affect the magnitude of the challenge one way or another.

    Very quietly, top officials of the Obama administration have initiated a number of reviews inspecting every aspect of this endgame challenge. Some involve influential outside experts with extensive governmental experience in past administrations, and they are working with officials at the highest levels of the government, including the Pentagon. One review group has sent members to Russia for extensive conversations with officials who were involved in the Soviet Union’s ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Others have traveled to Pakistan and other lands, including the United Kingdom, Germany and France, to master the diplomatic implications of any Afghan exit strategy. “

  80. Parliamentary polls in Afghanistan
    Bloody democracy
    Elections this month should not be quite as awful as last year’s presidential one

    Sep 2nd 2010 | Kabul

    THE presidential poll in Afghanistan is still the stuff of nightmares for the technicians, diplomats and officials who had the misfortune to be involved in it. They shudder at the orgy of Taliban violence unleashed across the country on voting day, August 20th 2009, the most violent day in recent years. Voters stayed away from many polling stations, leaving corrupt supporters of the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, to stuff ballot boxes with perhaps 1m votes. And during the months of ballot auditing and recounts that followed, the business of government ground to a halt.

    Relations between Afghanistan’s Western backers and Mr Karzai also sank to a wretched low after the West dared to point out the extraordinary level of electoral fraud. “God, it was just terrible,” says one shaken foreign election expert. “It just can’t happen again.”

    Yet the return of such misery is precisely what many fear when Afghans go to the polls again, on September 18th, to elect 249 members of parliament. The Kabul analyst of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, is among those giving warning that Afghanistan is once again about to “go over the cliff”. Violence and intimidation are on the rise against candidates, three of whom have been killed. Late in August the bodies of five election workers who had been volunteering for a female candidate in Herat were found, apparently shot by the Taliban. A record 406 female candidates are running, but many have been the targets of insurgents and unenlightened local power brokers.

  81. “There are two implications here. First, presidents need to be smart; they have to ask lots of questions; they can’t just let the officers roll them, like George W. Bush did. But second, because Obama fully grasped the underlying issues of the decisions on Afghanistan, this really is “Obama’s war.”

    The tragedy is that, for all the intelligent thinking and meticulous strategizing, the war may well be unwinnable, by any definition of that term, for reasons beyond Obama’s—or Petraeus’ or Mullen’s or any American’s—control.

    Throughout the book, Woodward’s favored figures—Gen. Jones, Derek Harvey (a dedicated Defense Intelligence Agency officer stationed in Afghanistan), and especially Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute (Bush’s “war czar” who was kept on by Obama for his continuity and intelligence)—keep warning those around them that the war looks futile.

    There are two elements to the U.S. strategy: fighting the Taliban and providing protection to the Afghan people, on behalf of—and in order to build political support for—the Afghan government. However, these prescient characters keep warning that as long as Pakistan provides safe haven to the Taliban insurgents in the mountains along the country’s border, there is no way to defeat, or seriously degrade, the Taliban. And as long as Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government is grossly corrupt and distrusted by his own people, there’s no way to build support for him, either.

    In this sense, the internal struggle over whether to go with a counterterrorist strategy or a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy is beside the point. The conditions for success aren’t present for either.”

  82. The taliban are afghans. We go there to shoot afghans. We went there to depose afghans from power, while we support plenty of other regimes far worse by the standards we condemn the taliban.

    The war will end when we leave, and we allow afghans to decide for themselves what kind of government they are going to have. Revolution can not be imposed from without. And we are not there to impose revolution – we are there to secure western geo-strategic interests. And we will fail – and partially because we (the people) will no longer permit the atrocities we (western colonialist powers) used to able to use against third world populations.

  83. “There has long been a myth about the unwillingness of Americans to absorb casualties for very long in guerrilla wars. In reality, the United States fought in Vietnam for at least seven years (depending on when you count the start and stop) and has now fought in Afghanistan for nine years. The idea that Americans can’t endure the long war has no empirical basis. What the United States has difficulty with — along with imperial and colonial powers before it — is a war in which the ability to impose one’s will on the enemy through force of arms is lacking and when it is not clear that the failure of previous years to win the war will be solved in the years ahead.

    Far more relevant than casualties to whether Americans continue a war is the question of the conflict’s strategic importance, for which the president is ultimately responsible. This divides into several parts. This first is whether the United States has the ability with available force to achieve its political goals through prosecuting the war (since all war is fought for some political goal, from regime change to policy shift) and whether the force the United States is willing to dedicate suffices to achieve these goals. To address this question in Afghanistan, we have to focus on the political goal.”

  84. “Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan. The guerrilla does not rely on a single piece of real estate (in this case Afghanistan) but rather on his ability to move seamlessly across terrain to evade decisive combat in any specific location. Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism is not centered on Afghanistan and does not need Afghanistan, so no matter how successful that war might be, it would make little difference in the larger fight against transnational jihadism.

    Thus far, the United States has chosen to carry on fighting the war in Afghanistan. As al Qaeda has fled Afghanistan, the overall political goal for the United States in the country has evolved to include the creation of a democratic and uncorrupt Afghanistan. It is not clear that anyone knows how to do this, particularly given that most Afghans consider the ruling government of President Hamid Karzai — with which the United States is allied — as the heart of the corruption problem, and beyond Kabul most Afghans do not regard their way of making political and social arrangements to be corrupt.

    Simply withdrawing from Afghanistan carries its own strategic and political costs, however. The strategic problem is that simply terminating the war after nine years would destabilize the Islamic world. The United States has managed to block al Qaeda’s goal of triggering a series of uprisings against existing regimes and replacing them with jihadist regimes. It did this by displaying a willingness to intervene where necessary. Of course, the idea that U.S. intervention destabilized the region raises the question of what regional stability would look like had it not intervened. The danger of withdrawal is that the network of relationships the United States created and imposed at the regime level could unravel if it withdrew. America would be seen as having lost the war, the prestige of radical Islamists and thereby the foundation of the ideology that underpins their movement would surge, and this could destabilize regimes and undermine American interests.”

  85. Military and civilian leaders like to talk about the “Afghan face” of the war. Whenever possible, they say, Afghans should be leading patrols, making decisions, and otherwise controlling operations. Americans should be advisers—nothing more. It’s the wartime equivalent of teaching them to fish rather than giving them fish.

    You see this play out on the micro level every day. When an ANP asked an American adviser for batteries, the adviser refused, asking how he would get batteries if the Americans weren’t here. When shots rang out a block away from a traffic checkpoint, the ANP took off to investigate without waiting for American approval—a reckless move, but also a sign of self-sufficiency. When one ANP came to Sgt. Lisa Morgan complaining about his boss, Morgan told him to go through his chain of command, rather than turn to the Americans.

    The Afghan face extends to public relations, too. The recent Kandahar offensive isn’t called “Operation Fill-in-the-Blank.” It’s called Hamkari Baraye Kandahar, which means “Cooperation for Kandahar” in the Dari language. (Never mind that most Kandaharis speak Pashto, not Dari.) When the operation to push the Taliban out of District 6 began, commanders were careful to call it “Afghan-led” and emphasize that Americans played only a support role.

    But the “Afghan face” is largely makeup. Any “Afghan-led” operation requires coalition approval. Afghan police salaries originate as dollars and euros. ANP organizational structures are designed on American laptops. The Afghan face is also inconsistent. Sometimes the MPs would make a point of putting the Afghans out front. Other times they’d patrol through a village on their own, with no sign of the ANP anywhere.

  86. This article by Peter Taylor is worth reading. Taylor has done a huge amount of work trying to understand and present the history of the Northern Irish conflict, so if anyone is in a position to make a comparison, it might be him:

    Taylor produced 3 hour BBC documentary series’ on Northern Irish Loyalists, and on British Security forces, and a 4 hour documentary series on the Provisional IRA. They can be found on “youtube”.

  87. Chomsky: US-led Afghan war, criminal

    Renowned Jewish-American scholar Noam Chomsky says US invasion of Afghanistan was illegal since to date there is no evidence that al-Qaeda has carried out the 9/11 attacks.
    “The explicit and declared motive of the [Afghanistan] war was to compel the Taliban to turn over to the United States, the people who they accused of having been involved in World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist acts. The Taliban…they requested evidence…and the Bush administration refused to provide any,” the 81-year-old senior academic made the remarks on Press TV’s program a Simple Question.

    “We later discovered one of the reasons why they did not bring evidence: they did not have any.”

    The political analyst also said that nonexistence of such evidence was confirmed by FBI eight months later.

    “The head of FBI, after the most intense international investigation in history, informed the press that the FBI believed that the plot may have been hatched in Afghanistan, but was probably implemented in the United Arab Emirates and Germany.”

    Chomsky added that three weeks into the war, “a British officer announced that the US and Britain would continue bombing, until the people of Afghanistan overthrew the Taliban… That was later turned into the official justification for the war.”

    “All of this was totally illegal. It was more, criminal,” Chomsky said.

    The 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan was launched with the official objective of curbing militancy and bringing peace and stability to the country.

    Nine years on, however, the American and Afghan officials admit that the country remains unstable and civilians continue to pay the heaviest price.

  88. The Taliban will take the talks as further evidence that NATO will soon give up and withdraw. Plainly, they must be proved wrong. The negotiations must not be a fast-track Western exit strategy—much less the precursor to a pre-decreed withdrawal. There will have to be many more months of tough fighting before the talking is in earnest, assuming that will happen; and the process could take years to conclude.

    The results of the surge, which should be discernible early next year, will help define that endgame. Yet it seems unlikely that the Taliban leadership would settle for less than the significant control over southern Afghanistan it currently wields. And Mr Karzai’s Western benefactors should insist that any deal includes safeguards for Afghanistan’s recent liberal progress towards parliamentary democracy and women’s rights. There are said (perhaps optimistically) to be moderate Taliban leaders who could accept such abominations.

    America and its allies should meanwhile do more than taxi the Taliban to Mr Karzai. The West has largely kept out of the talks for fear of discrediting them. Yet Mr Karzai, who stands to lose whatever the Taliban gain from a settlement, has shown himself to be an unworthy interlocutor for Afghanistan’s future. He must be persuaded to accept a distinguished foreign Muslim, acceptable to both sides, as a mediator.

    Pakistan, a longtime meddler in Afghanistan, also needs careful handling. Worried for its security, it wants a say in the negotiations. That is not wholly unreasonable; but it should be restricted to bilateral discussions with Afghanistan’s government. Pakistan must not be allowed to mediate talks with the Taliban. That would be undue reward for the support role it has played in the group’s resurgence.

  89. General Petraeus says that, after years of being on the back foot, NATO and its Afghan allies are pressing forwards. Areas of Helmand and Kandahar have recently been secured. And there has been a fivefold increase in night raids by allied special forces against Taliban commanders. The insurgents interviewed in Kabul admitted that this had caused them problems, though they claimed to be adept at fleeing their beds the instant helicopters were heard. They also claimed that replacing Taliban casualties was easy. “Every day we are getting fresh, keen young people from the madrassas,” one said. “There are a lot of people on standby to join the Taliban and fight these Christian foreigners.”

    It is impossible to judge these claims. But most analysts, even if impressed by General Petraeus’s progress, are gloomy about Afghanistan. The government appears unsalvageably corrupt. Pakistan shows no interest in driving the Afghan militants from its territory. And their strength may be growing. A report by the Afghanistan NGO Security Office pointed to a 59% increase in Taliban attacks in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2009, and said the surge had “failed to degrade [the Taliban’s] ability to fight.”

    The government may share that view. One of Mr Karzai’s ministers said that, so long as the Taliban were “winning”, reconciliation would be “an empty phrase”. He added: “If I am Taliban, why should I accept a reconciliation proposal of the Afghan government? I know the government is in bad situation, it has lost the support of the Afghan people and the international community is ready for exit.”

  90. The future of NATO
    Fewer dragons, more snakes
    NATO is about to adopt a new strategic concept. Can it keep pace with the way the world is changing?

    Nov 11th 2010 | from PRINT EDITION

    NEXT week’s NATO summit in Lisbon is likely to be one of the most crucial in the 61-year history of the military alliance. Officially, the 28 members are meeting mostly to approve a new “strategic concept” that frames the threats NATO faces and the ways in which it should defend against them over the next decade.

    It is 11 years since the last such concept was adopted. In that period, both the world and NATO itself have changed greatly. But attention will focus on more immediate worries: above all, the prospects for the long war in Afghanistan, the response to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the need to “reset” NATO’s ambiguous relations with its old enemy, Russia, after the chill caused by the invasion of Georgia in 2008. All this comes at a time of tumbling European defence spending and fears that America, preoccupied by strategic competition with China and by global terrorism, sees NATO as less vital to its security than in the past.

    The new strategic concept itself should be easy to agree to. It is a sensible document, the result of a report drafted by a “group of experts” led by a former American secretary of state, Madeleine Albright. Last month NATO officials were claiming that it was “98% there”, and although members continue to differ on some issues, such as the alliance’s future nuclear posture (of which more later), those will be papered over in Lisbon.

  91. Though he was drowned out by the roar of events, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates outlined his vision for America’s military in the years ahead, one that the world needs to take close note of.

    The setting, last Friday, was the fabled West Point military academy for what is expected to be Gates’s last official appearance there before retiring later this year.

    And what he had to say no doubt shocked a number of young officers with visions of military commands dancing in their heads.

    In fact, America’s defence chief came remarkably close to calling both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns fundamental mistakes and pretty much said that the age of far-off, big wars is over.

    “In my opinion, any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined’ as Gen. [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it,” Gates said.

    Coming from such a highly respected bi-partisan — Gates is Republican whom Barack Obama kept on — this message is sure to resonate long after he’s gone and will likely be much quoted in times of crisis.

    More intriguingly, there can be no doubt Gates’s speech was fully approved beforehand by the Obama White House, which means the president will be clearly identified with it.

  92. Afghanistan security
    Break for the hills
    A mass Taliban jail break comes at an unwelcome time

    IT WAS, said the president’s spokesman, a “disaster”. Some 500 prisoners, mostly Taliban fighters, had escaped in the early hours of April 25th from a prison holding insurgents in southern Afghanistan.

    The caper involved an 18-man crew working from outside the prison undetected for five months. They dug a tunnel some 320 metres (1,050 feet) long into the heart of the Kandahar jail. The tunnellers started their work from a compound that housed a construction company. They deftly concealed the excavated soil. They put in metal beams to support the tunnel as it ran under one of the country’s main highways, and they installed lighting and ventilation.

    As well as flaunting the Taliban’s ability to pull off remarkable stunts, the episode also exposed, yet again, the feebleness of Afghan security forces. The Afghan army and police are meant to take over the handling of the country’s security from the Western-led international coalition by the end of 2014. The president, Hamid Karzai, joined the chorus of people claiming that the escapees must have got inside help from prison guards. Insurgent infiltration of the security forces is a subject of mounting concern. A series of deadly attacks have taken place, especially against coalition forces, by men in Afghan uniforms. The latest came on April 27th, in Kabul, when an Afghan pilot killed eight American soldiers and a civilian contractor. It is unclear whether the pilot, who was killed, had Taliban sympathies.

  93. The conventional understanding of war is that its purpose is to defeat the enemy military. It presents a more limited and focused view of military power. This faction, bitterly opposed to Petraeus’ view of what was happening in Afghanistan, saw the war in terms of defeating the Taliban as a military force. In the view of this faction, defeating the Taliban was impossible with the force available and unlikely even with a more substantial force. There were two reasons for this. First, the Taliban comprised a light infantry force with a superior intelligence capability and the ability to withdraw from untenable operations (such as the battle for Helmand province) and re-engage on more favorable terms elsewhere. Second, sanctuaries in Pakistan allowed the Taliban to withdraw to safety and reconstitute themselves, thereby making their defeat in detail impossible. The option of invading Pakistan remained, but the idea of invading a country of 180 million people with some fraction of the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan was militarily unsupportable. Indeed, no force the United States could field would be in a position to compel Pakistan to conform to American wishes.

    The alternative on the American side is a more conventional definition of war in which the primary purpose of the U.S. military in Afghanistan is to create a framework for special operations forces to disrupt al Qaeda in Afghanistan and potentially Pakistan, not to attempt to either defeat the Taliban strategically or transform Afghanistan politically and culturally. With the death of bin Laden, an argument can be made — at least for political purposes — that al Qaeda has been disrupted enough that the conventional military framework in Afghanistan is no longer needed. If al Qaeda revives in Afghanistan, then covert operations can be considered. The problem with al Qaeda is that it does not require any single country to regenerate. It is a global guerrilla force.

  94. There are a number of facts that Canadians should consider when reflecting on the mission: we exit with the Taliban stronger than it was when we came; we exit with a corrupt government in place as the only alternative to the Taliban; we exit with the Afghan army and police ineffectual protectors of democracy; we exit with only traces of successful foreign aid expenditures (despite all the money spent); we exit with the drug trade in full and unmolested swing; we exit with the Taliban unwilling to sign on to a peace deal because they know the westerners will soon be gone, so why deal?

    For what Canada gained – and I acknowledge that pleasing the Americans and giving our troops combat experience are worthy achievements – we lost 157 heroic soldiers, sent many more home physically and/or psychologically wounded, and spent billions of dollars that could have done a lot of good in other poor countries – or, for that matter, at home.

  95. Mr Cameron is confident in such tight spots. When public opinion is uncertain, Mr Cameron relishes explaining his case. Visiting Camp Bastion, an Ozymandian citadel that has sprung from the Afghan desert, he said the goal was not to create a “perfect country”, but an Afghanistan able to secure itself and deny terrorists a safe haven. In his telling, early thoughts of nation-building were unrealistic, then during the Iraq war the allies took their eyes off Afghanistan. Now, though winning hearts and minds is “helpful”, security unlocks the Afghan puzzle. Mr Cameron thinks that—for all the risks—setting a departure date (and making clear some Taliban will feature in a final political settlement) focuses minds in Kabul and among the British armed forces too. If his generals disagree, he will overrule them. In short, he is a man at ease with the exercise of formal authority.

  96. Afghanistan’s army
    Plum recruits

    A ragtag bunch of raw men have come along amazingly

    BY THE time they returned to base, the men of the 205th “Hero” corps had spent a long night hiding in a field, staring through the shimmering lens of a night-vision device and lying in wait for insurgents to sneak through a hole in a security wall. By late morning they were out again in the lush, lethal fields of Zhari, a district due west of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan where hidden bombs and firefights are a part of daily life. One of the areas they patrol is just a short walk from the very mosque where the Taliban began their rise to power in the 1990s.

    These recruits to the Afghan National Army (ANA) now carry out many patrols without any help from NATO soldiers. The men keep their proper distances from each other in order to lessen the dangers from a buried improvised explosive device (IED). They scope the horizon through the sights of gleamingly maintained rifles. As he should, the platoon leader keeps in constant radio touch with colleagues.

  97. he initial goal of the invasion was to dislodge al Qaeda, overthrow the government that had supported it and defeat the Taliban. The first two goals were accomplished quickly. The third goal has not been accomplished to this day, nor is it likely that the United States will ever accomplish it. Other powers have tried to subdue Afghanistan, but few have succeeded. The Taliban are optimized for the battlefield they fight on, have superior intelligence and have penetrated and are able to subvert government institutions, including the Afghan military. They have the implicit support of elements in a neighboring major nation — Pakistan — that are well beyond American means to intimidate. The United States has no port from which to supply its forces except the one controlled by Pakistan and only complex and difficult supply routes through other countries.

  98. An experienced writer and commentator for the Guardian, Mr Steele has visited Afghanistan in every phase of the civil war and is well placed to compare the end of the Soviet era and the present “transition”, the favoured common euphemism for foreign withdrawal.

    He demolishes some Western myths about Afghanistan that betray short memories and government spin. The Soviet years, for example, tend to be portrayed as a period of bitter repression under a puppet regime, which was defeated by a popular, Islamist uprising, backed by America and Pakistan, and which crumbled as soon as the Soviet Union withdrew its occupation forces in 1989.

    There is another way of looking at the same history. At no stage did the Soviet Union have as many troops in Afghanistan as America and ISAF do now. It was never defeated. It withdrew because Mikhail Gorbachev realised the Soviets could never win. The regime they left behind was quite resilient. Only as the Soviet Union began to unravel in 1991 and withdraw its aid did the regime collapse shortly after. The mujahideen boast of having brought down the Soviet Union. The reverse is just as true: it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that brought the mujahideen to power.

  99. Soon NATO will start cutting its 130,000 troops in the country, to perhaps as few as 20,000 by 2015. Many fear an economic depression when foreign spending dries up. But a new forecast by the World Bank suggests that, if it is lucky, Afghanistan can avoid disaster, even if that means only treading water for the next decade. For one thing, most foreign spending never came into the country in the first place, because it paid the salaries of foreign soldiers and their suppliers. Much aid spending has also gone on foreign salaries and Landcruisers. That spending will not be missed.

    The World Bank thinks current GDP growth of 9% a year will fall to 5-6%. Rapid population growth, however, means that, measured by GDP per person, one of the world’s poorest countries will hardly get any richer. Even this forecast depends on heroic assumptions: years of good harvests, no worsening of security as NATO leaves, an open-ended Western commitment of $7 billion a year to pay for Afghanistan’s police and army, and the successful exploitation of the country’s vast but untapped mineral wealth. (Mining experts are sceptical about that, though the minister responsible insists that a state-owned Chinese company which won the rights to a vast copper deposit in 2008 will end its foot-dragging and begin work soon.)

  100. Afghanistan and the West
    How to end it
    The West has made many mistakes in Afghanistan. Withdrawing support after 2014 would be another one

    MOST people have long since made up their minds about the Western campaign in Afghanistan. After a murderous adventure in Iraq, it has seemed like a waste of money and lives—a futile attempt to force modernity upon the corrupt rulers of an unwilling country. Yet, as governments gather in Bonn next week, a decade after the first assault on al-Qaeda’s Afghan training camps, they need to look beyond that bleak assessment. The real threat to Afghanistan today is the conviction that the outside world is powerless to make a difference.

    The Bonn meeting comes a few months after the NATO-led force has begun to wind down. Its 130,000 Western troops are due to have pulled out by the end of 2014 and the plan is to leave a small force of 20,000 Americans to help Afghanistan’s own security forces bear down on the insurgency. Although Bonn is not a donors’ meeting, the outside world needs to show that, even if its soldiers are going home, support for Afghanistan will remain. That means giving Afghans money and a chance of half-decent elections.

  101. The main military effort has been in the south and south-west, concentrated on the former Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. There is no doubt that the Taliban has taken a terrible beating in those areas. In particular, the targeting of what ISAF calls “mid-level commanders” appears to have been effective. ISAF commanders say that the average life expectancy of these fighters is less than three weeks. The impact of this attrition is that the Taliban’s command and control is under severe pressure. The insurgents can no longer mount co-ordinated or complex attacks in the south, and are increasingly reliant on the indiscriminate use of fairly crude improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide-bombings.

    One result is that the Taliban are much more likely to kill civilians, whose support they ultimately depend on, than foreign or Afghan forces. ISAF reckons that across the country, 85% of civilian casualties in 2011 were caused by the Taliban. This year’s opinion survey by the Asia Foundation found that the number of Afghans who have no sympathy with the Taliban has risen from 36% in 2009 to 64%. The latest ISAF figures for the number of enemy-initiated attacks from January to October in the Pushtun heartland provinces of Helmand and Nimroz show a fall of 29%. In the east, however, attacks rose by 21% and now account for 39% of attacks across the country. As the military campaign switches to the east, the potential for more damaging border clashes with Pakistan is bound to grow (see article).

  102. Afghanistan’s fading hopes
    All the wrong messages
    Expediency and parsimony will undermine the modest aims of the Afghan strategy

    THE news from Afghanistan gets grimmer. The massacre of 16 civilians, nine of them children, by an apparently deranged American army sergeant came swiftly after the killing of six British soldiers by a roadside bomb. That followed a wave of violent protests, leading to 29 deaths including the murder of two American military advisers, which resulted from the burning of copies of the Koran on an American base. Shortly before that, video footage showed American troops urinating on the corpses of recently slain Taliban.

    These dreadful events reinforce the widespread feeling in NATO countries that Afghanistan is a hopeless cause, that the presence of Western troops is making things worse, and that the sooner they are brought home the better (see article). Barack Obama, America’s president, and David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, who met this week, were keen to point out to war-weary voters that an end of sorts is in sight. Both leaders are now talking about American and British troops pulling back from their lead combat role by the middle of 2013. Mr Obama, who will have reversed the 33,000-strong troop surge he ordered in late 2009 by the end of this summer, would like to announce a further drawdown of forces in good time for the presidential election in November. This will be made to look just about consistent with NATO’s policy of foreign combat forces leaving by the end of 2014 after a transition in which the responsibility for security, region by region, gradually passes to well-trained Afghan forces.

  103. What hope for Afghanistan?

    SIR – You reiterated the same upbeat expectations for Afghanistan that NATO officials have long trumpeted (“Towards a better land”, October 27th). Yet despite the cheerful assessment, not one Afghan army battalion can operate independently of American advisers. A third of soldiers abandon their posts and refuse to fight. How such a fragile force of phantom troops will stave off civil war after 2014 remains unexplained.

    You maintain that “support for the Taliban is limited.” That is false comfort. The Taliban persist in the face of heavy losses with a seemingly limitless pool of recruits and cross-border sanctuary in Pakistan. Focusing on the Taliban also ignores the northern non-Pushtun insurgents, who harbour legitimate grievances against both foreign forces and the Afghan central government.

    Finally, you think that speeding up troop withdrawals will jeopardise progress. What will undo any promising gains is not withdrawal per se, but Afghanistan’s competing nationalisms and ethnic and factional differences. Sadly, those dynamics have proven to be impervious to the presence of foreign troops. One of NATO’s biggest mistakes was to pay insufficient attention to Afghanistan’s internal politics.

    Malou Innocent
    Cato Institute
    Washington, DC

  104. The future of Afghanistan
    Too important for pique
    The best way to cope with Hamid Karzai’s latest stunt is to deal with his successors

    The Americans’ presence is critical for the logistics, air support, intelligence and “medevac” they provide and for the continued flow of military and development aid. The bulk of the $4 billion needed to sustain the ANSF every year will come from American coffers, while other international donors have promised a similar amount for civil programmes.

  105. Hamid Karzai’s vilification of America is risking his country’s security

    Mr Karzai has also gone out of his way to raise the temperature over two other issues. The first is over civilian deaths from a NATO bombing strike on January 15th on the village of Wazghar in Parwan province north of the capital, Kabul. The second is a dispute over the release order of 88 detainees at Bagram prison, which America handed over to Afghanistan last year. Angry American officials say that 17 prisoners to be freed were involved in making bombs that killed 11 Afghan soldiers and they claim that most of the other detainees also have blood on their hands. But Mr Karzai describes Bagram as “a place where innocent people are tortured and insulted and made dangerous criminals”.

  106. IT IS just over a year since NATO formally ended its combat mission in Afghanistan. It left behind 13,000-odd soldiers to “train, advise and assist” Afghan security forces taking the lead in the fight against the Taliban. Of the foreign troops, America has provided about half (with a further 3,000 deployed on counter-terrorism operations against what remains of al-Qaeda). Twelve months on, the results of the so-called “transition” look grim. Both Afghanistan’s political condition and its security have sharply deteriorated.

    Determined to exploit the departure of Western forces, in 2015 the Taliban maintained their usual spring offensive much longer into the winter than in the past. The insurgents now control more territory than at any time since American forces kicked the Taliban out of power in 2001. Among recent blows were the short-lived but still shocking fall of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban in September; a raid last month on the south’s Kandahar airport, one of the most heavily defended bases in the country, that killed at least 50 people; and the deaths of six Americans near Bagram air base on December 21st.

    Worst of all has been the steady erosion of government control in Helmand province in the south. It had been recaptured from the Taliban in 2009-11, at considerable cost, including American and British casualties. Recently the Taliban have closed in from the south and north towards the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Of 13 districts in Helmand, five, including the key districts of Musa Qala and Sangin, are now controlled by the Taliban, with another five or more being contested. This week American special forces in the Nad Ali district came under heavy fire; one man was killed. Retaking Helmand, the heart of Afghanistan’s opium country, is a priority for the Taliban, who desperately want the money that drug-peddling generates. Out of nearly 400 districts across Afghanistan, the Taliban controls a tenth and contests another tenth.

  107. Conquering chaos
    Why states fail and how to rebuild them

    Fixing fragile nations: lessons from Afghanistan and South Sudan

    The Taliban are as shrewd as they are brutal. Afghanistan is close to becoming a failed state again. To avert that catastrophe, the government must provide adequate security and establish something resembling the rule of law. But it is tricky to set up a functioning legal system when judges and police officers keep getting murdered. Moreover, the government can hardly claim to be keeping people safe when they fear being blown up on their way to work.

    Since Barack Obama drastically reduced the number of American troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban have made alarming gains. NATO forces there fell from a peak of 132,000 in 2011 to around 13,000 today. Only about 60% of Afghans live in areas controlled by the government. Others live under Taliban control (about 10%) or in areas that are violently disputed.

    Adding to the uncertainty, no one knows what Donald Trump’s Afghan policy will be. In the past he has said both that American troops should leave Afghanistan, and that they should “probably” stay. Afghans are nervous. “We hope this new American administration will be supportive too,” says Ashraf Ghani, the president.

  108. America has spent more rebuilding Afghanistan than it spent rebuilding Europe under the Marshall Plan

    After WWII, the US launched the Marshall Plan to help Europe rebuild, spending about $120B in inflation-adjusted dollars on the project, which lifted the war-stricken European nations out of disaster and launched them into post-war prosperity; the US has spent even more than that on rebuilding projects in Afghanistan since the official cessation of hostilities there, but Afghanistan remains a crumbling, corrupt, failed state where violence is rampant, opium exports are soaring, and soldiers and civilians alike are still dying.

    Op-Ed Contributor
    The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan

    Despite appropriating over three-quarters of a trillion dollars on Afghanistan since 2001, Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls, with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for nonexistent soldiers; according to the report, “The number of troops fighting alongside ‘ghost soldiers’ is a fraction of the men required for the fight.”

    Large-scale corruption persists, with Afghanistan third from the bottom in international rankings, ahead of only Somalia and North Korea. Adjusted for inflation, American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total expended to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan; yet to have any hope of surviving, the Afghan government will for the foreseeable future remain almost completely dependent on outside support.

    And things are getting worse. Although the United States has invested $70 billion in rebuilding Afghan security forces, only 63 percent of the country’s districts are under government control, with significant territory lost to the Taliban over the past year. Though the United States has spent $8.5 billion to battle narcotics in Afghanistan, opium production there has reached an all-time high.

  109. The consequences have been dire. In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, the American commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, warned that current American troop levels are inadequate to prevent the Taliban from continuing to retake territory, especially in Helmand province, the heartland of the insurgency, and Kunduz. SIGAR (the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a post created by Congress) reckons that the proportion of the country under uncontested government control fell during the 12 months to November 2016 from 72% to 57%, although about 64% of Afghans still live in uncontested areas and only 8% in areas fully under the Taliban’s control (see map).

    Even then, Mr Cordesman argues, Mr Trump will also have to pep up Afghanistan’s political leaders. Corruption, as much as insecurity, has stymied international efforts to revive Afghanistan’s sickly economy. Without some progress on that front, no amount of external military support will kill off the insurgency.

  110. All this marks a reversal of Barack Obama’s policy, which was to pull nearly all the remaining American troops out of Afghanistan. In the end, faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation, he backed off a bit, leaving 8,400 American soldiers and around 6,500 from other NATO countries. It was not enough, General Nicholson told Congress. The Taliban insurgency is making steady territorial gains and the Afghan army and police are suffering an unsustainable number of casualties. Sounding as upbeat as he could, he described it as a “stalemate”.

    There is no doubt that the new plan is needed to check the Taliban’s momentum. But on its own, it is unlikely to be enough to force the Taliban to the negotiating table. Getting the divided and dysfunctional Afghan government to do more to fight corruption is another crucial step. Most important, argues Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer now at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank in Washington, will be a concerted attempt to change neighbouring Pakistan’s behaviour. As long as Pakistan’s “deep state” continues to see the Taliban as a strategic asset and to provide it with sanctuary and material support, it will have no incentive to negotiate. Given the failure of Mr Obama’s policy of bribing and cajoling Pakistan into becoming more co-operative, it would not be surprising if the new administration tries something different.

  111. The Taliban have everything they need to fight indefinitely: money from opium, weapons from previous wars, local networks for intimidating detractors, sanctuaries in Pakistan, and an almost unlimited supply of new recruits from rural Pashtun areas whose life narratives start and end with defending Islam and rejecting foreign rule. They also have a degree of strategic patience that the United States will never match. There’s an old Pashtun saying: “I took my revenge after one hundred years and I only regret that I acted in haste.” Neither 4,000 nor 40,000 more troops will change these basic facts.

    Crafting good Afghanistan policy starts with asking good questions. “Why aren’t we winning?” isn’t one. For starters, the war isn’t ours to win; it is part of an intra-Pashtun tribal conflict that precedes Afghanistan’s founding in 1747.

    Furthermore, the U.S. military can’t “win” in Afghanistan because its goals are not exclusively military. Outside military forces will not win the Afghans’ hearts and minds, make the government legitimate, or change ordinary Afghans’ stories about their leaders, communities, histories, or the law. In fact, America’s militarized approach has actually diminished Kabul’s legitimacy because the mere presence of foreign troops fuels narratives of crusaders and colonialists.

    This over-reliance on military power has only increased since Trump took office. Thus far, the president’s only actions on the war have been to delegate Afghanistan policy to the secretary of defense and to trumpet the dropping of the “mother of all bombs” — the largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal.

    All experts agree that the Afghan war will end in a negotiated settlement rather than a military victory, yet the president is seeking massive cuts to the State Department that would presumably do the negotiating. More than six months into the Trump presidency, there still is no U.S. ambassador in Kabul or assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia. Diplomacy isn’t just undervalued in Afghanistan; it’s absent.

  112. That’s not to say Congress unilaterally opposes the broad outlines of what Trump wants to do.

    Republican hawks like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have been waiting for a president who will surge troops, not draw them down like Obama did. And some military generals have said it’s a good idea not to telegraph a timeline of when the United States will leave Afghanistan, again like Obama did.

    But other lawmakers are skeptical about ramping up a war that has been going on for 16 years, killed more than 2,400 American troops and now upward of 60 percent of Americans oppose escalating. Trump didn’t assuage their concerns when he failed to back up his war-drum rhetoric with basic specifics, like how many troops he’d send, when, for how long and in what capacity.

  113. Call it the “Trump Doctrine” if you like — and some did — but it had all the hallmarks of Trump’s usual fungible rhetoric. And it shed almost no light on what he plans to do differently, apart from apparently de-emphasizing nation-building and reemphasizing killing terrorists. He didn’t even directly address how many more troops he would send.

    Perhaps the biggest takeaway was Trump’s insistence on force — “overwhelming force,” as he put it. “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image; those days are now over,” he said.

    Trump added in another section of the speech: “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.”

    And another: “Our troops will fight to win. From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over the country and stopping mass terror attacks against Americans before they emerge.”

    If only someone had thought of this before!

    The problem is that this is not a “clear definition” of victory; it is a series of nebulous goals that pretty much any U.S. president would subscribe to. It does not give us a sense for what will truly change about the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, nor does it shed light on when it will ever end.

  114. Digging In for Next Decade, U.S. Expands Kabul Security Zone

    KABUL, Afghanistan — Soon, American Embassy employees in Kabul will no longer need to take a Chinook helicopter ride to cross the street to a military base less than 100 yards outside the present Green Zone security district.

    Instead, the boundaries of the Green Zone will be redrawn to include that base, known as the Kabul City Compound, formerly the headquarters for American Special Operations forces in the capital. The zone is separated from the rest of the city by a network of police, military and private security checkpoints.

    The expansion is part of a huge public works project that over the next two years will reshape the center of this city of five million to bring nearly all Western embassies, major government ministries, and NATO and American military headquarters within the protected area.

    After 16 years of American presence in Kabul, it is a stark acknowledgment that even the city’s central districts have become too difficult to defend from Taliban bombings.

    But the capital project is also clearly taking place to protect another long-term American investment: Along with an increase in troops to a reported 15,000, from around 11,000 at the moment, the Trump administration’s new strategy for Afghanistan is likely to keep the military in place well into the 2020s, even by the most conservative estimates.

  115. Digging a hole in the ocean
    A gripping account of America’s longest war
    Steve Coll explains why successive presidents have failed in Afghanistan

    “Directorate S” is the sequel. In it Mr Coll sets out an impressively detailed, stylishly crafted and authoritative chronicle of America’s post-invasion efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    These details enliven strong analysis. America’s primary goals after 9/11, he argues, were twofold. Unfortunately they required contradictory methods. Preventing Pakistani nuclear weapons going astray depended on close co-operation with the Pakistani state, notably its army and spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But achieving a second goal—destroying al-Qaeda and other violent Islamist groups—has proved far harder. In that, Pakistan has more often been a hindrance than a help.

    Rightly, Mr Coll spreads the blame for all this disappointment. America’s spies and soldiers failed to kill bin Laden early in the Tora Bora mountains. Their use of torture and excessive aggression strengthened their opponents. American political leaders, allergic to “nation-building”, would not fund peace efforts and were distracted by Iraq. Anyway, they could never agree on exactly what they hoped to achieve in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan president, proved unreliable and too fond of warlord allies.

    Oddly, for an otherwise exhaustive book, Mr Coll neglects some notable episodes. He omits the murder of a Pakistani investigative journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad (widely blamed on the ISI, though it denies involvement). Nor does he mention al-Qaeda’s unnervingly successful, large-scale attack in 2011 on Mehran, a military base in Karachi, which Shahzad was investigating. That raid, and the killing of bin Laden, humiliated the ISI. Mr Coll also passes over al-Qaeda’s attack on an American base in Khost, on the Afghan-Pakistani border, which killed eight CIA staff in 2009, the agency’s biggest human loss in over a quarter of a century.

  116. Rubin’s chief advice is to work hard at the diplomacy. Recognize that other countries have an interest in Afghanistan and engage them. A successful outcome is entirely dependent upon involvement from India, Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran. Rubin suggests appointing a special envoy, ideally conferred with broader legitimacy under the authority of the United Nations.

    But whatever the process, crucially, Washington will have to decide whether it is willing to get serious about Afghanistan. It cannot, for example, keep fantasizing about overthrowing the Iranian regime while simply hoping for a settlement in Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan have the means to ensure that Afghanistan stays unstable forever. The largest regional issue is for Washington to decide how much to involve India, which would shift the strategic landscape altogether

  117. Ballots amid bullets
    Afghans vote as the war drags on
    A messy election suggests that America has no option but to talk to the Taliban

    Afghanistan’s government is in desperate need of democratic approval. America’s own Department of Justice deems it to be “lawless, weak, and dysfunctional”. It is plainly unable to provide security. Insurgents control about a fifth of the country, and a similar area is contested. According to the un, the Taliban are threatening more of the country than at any time since American-backed forces chased them from power in 2001. The result is that nearly 2,700 civilians were killed in the first nine months of the year (see chart), the highest number since 2014.

    The armed forces fare little better. America has lavished over $70bn on Afghanistan’s security services since the beginning of the war. Yet 30-40 Afghan soldiers and policemen are being killed daily, up from 22 in 2016, even as recruits dry up; 10,000 died in 2017 alone. “There have been armies that have taken much bigger casualties and been sustainable,” says Christopher Kolenda, a former American soldier who took part in past talks with the Taliban. “But those armies believed in the government and system they were defending.”

  118. As he concluded his eighth round of negotiations with the Taliban on August 12th, Zalmay Khalilzad, America’s envoy for Afghan peace talks, did not quite say that a deal allowing the extraction of American troops was done. But he came close. After “productive” discussions in the Qatari capital of Doha, the two sides were down to “technical details”, he said. It has taken a year of formal meetings to arrive at this point (and years of quiet chats before that). But it is too soon to celebrate. Those details will be devilish.

    The talks involve a relatively straightforward bargain. America will start pulling its 14,000 troops out of Afghanistan. In return the Taliban will promise that Afghan territory will not become a staging ground for international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State. That would satisfy the main demand of Taliban insurgents, and address the problem that led America to invade 18 years ago. “I hope this is the last Eid where #Afghanistan is at war,” Mr Khalilzad tweeted, referring to this week’s Muslim festival (Kabul residents marking it are pictured).

    Mr Khalilzad is likely to need the support of regional powers. Pakistan has backed the Taliban from its earliest days and shelters its leaders. The country has played a vital role in pushing the group to negotiate. Some fear that India, by revoking the statehood of Jammu & Kashmir on August 6th, may have complicated matters. Pakistan has hinted that it might refuse to co-operate with the Afghan peace process unless America backs Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.

    It is unlikely to do so. Pakistan has every incentive to lubricate talks. A peace deal might ease Pakistan’s strained relationship with America, and a return to power by the Taliban would be a blow to India, which has strong ties with Mr Ghani’s government. Neighbours would worry about renewed instability that could spill over Afghanistan’s borders. For Mr Trump, that would be someone else’s problem.

  119. The Taliban control much of the country, cannot be defeated and the war’s toll on Afghans is intolerable. It also indicated how much America, 18 years after it bombed the jihadists from power, has capitulated to them.

    This is dispiriting but not surprising. As the war has dragged on, the American government’s leverage over the Taliban has been eroded by its floundering and their success. According to Ronald E. Neumann, a former ambassador to Kabul, America has undertaken nine major policy shifts in Afghanistan—or three per sitting president—since launching the war. Mr Bush was against nation-building, then for it. Mr Obama ramped up the war, then ended it. Mr Trump lambasted the war for years, seemed momentarily energised by the prospect of succeeding where his predecessor failed, and now—aching for a foreign-policy win—may simply want the troops out before next year’s election. No wonder the Taliban’s leaders, at the helm of a profitable insurgency and confident of victory sooner or later, are not minded to compromise.

    To stand a fair chance of arresting Afghanistan’s descent to civil war, America will have to persuade the militants it has more sticking-power than they think. Mr Khalilzad implies it is willing to. He maintains the withdrawal will be “conditions-based”, which suggests it could go into reverse if the Taliban do not get more enthusiastic about peacemaking. And indeed, Mr Trump has better cards than the militants may imagine. With another 8,000 Western troops in Afghanistan, the alliances that sustain America’s effort look solid. Neighbouring Pakistan and China helped push the militants to the table. And America’s current level of commitment to Afghanistan appears sustainable; Congress and the media generally ignore the conflict.

  120. Indeed, the United States has so far doled out nearly one trillion dollars for the war in Afghanistan (the true cost of the war will be trillions more) and everyone’s on the take: from defense industry executives, lobbyists and US political campaign coffers to Afghan government officials and poppy farmers to anyone and anything in between.

    What’s more is that this military-industrial-congressional complex is largely insulated from public accountability, so what’s the incentive to change course? The Pentagon’s entire budget operates in much the same way: unprecedented amounts in unnecessary appropriations resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud and abuse. Yet Congress continues to throw more and more money at the defense department every year without ever requiring it to account for how it spends the money. In fact, the war in Afghanistan is small potatoes by comparison.

  121. This arrangement is far from perfect, in lots of ways. America could not force the Taliban to end hostilities altogether before the signing of the deal. Either because central commanders cannot control their disparate fighters or because they are unwilling to, the best the insurgents would offer was a “significant” reduction in violence. In addition, nobody can be sure what will emerge from the inter-Afghan talks. Elements of the liberal democracy that America attempted to build in Afghanistan are bound to be dismantled. By making peace with the Taliban on such woolly terms, America is in effect conceding that it cannot win the war, and that the very group that sheltered Osama bin Laden and repressed Afghans with a brutal form of Islamic government should once again have a big say in how the country is run.

  122. It was only in 2001 that American forces toppled the Taliban regime, when the mullahs who led the movement refused to hand over Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks. But nearly two-thirds of the population is less than 25 years old, and so has little or no memory of the Taliban’s rule. They are having to brush up on their history, however, as they contemplate the prospect of the Taliban returning to power in some form. The American troops that have propped up the Afghan government and held the Taliban at bay for the past 19 years are on their way out. Over the past four months the number of American soldiers in the country has fallen by a third, from around 13,000 to 8,600. The administration of President Donald Trump has pledged to reduce their strength still further, as part of a deal it signed with the Taliban on February 29th. In exchange the Taliban are supposed to cease providing shelter to foreign militants and—an element of the peace plan that is proceeding much less smoothly—enter into talks with the Afghan government.

  123. “These discussions, should they go ahead, will give Afghans a glimpse of how much the Taliban have changed their spots since the 1990s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they have not been clear what they want for the country, beyond the departure of American troops. Their statements speak vaguely of Islamic government. When asked whether their attitudes to women have changed, they say only that women’s rights will be protected in accordance with Islamic teachings. Although they claim no longer to oppose girls going to school, for instance, girls do not seem to be allowed to remain in education past puberty in the rural areas controlled by the Taliban, according to a report published this week by Human Rights Watch, a pressure group.”

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