TCS Daily


Why Success in Afghanistan is Slow in Coming

By Richard Weitz - December 12, 2006 12:00 AM

NATO's problems in Afghanistan dominated much of the discussion at its recent summit in Riga. During the past year, the Taliban has launched increasingly effective operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The fighting this year, the heaviest since 2001, has already killed over 3,000 people, including 150 foreign soldiers. At present, the Taliban insurgency may encompass as many as 10,000 combatants and an extensive civilian support base whose members provide supplies, shelter, and intelligence.

Although the 40,000-man Afghan National Army (ANA) has become more effective, its units still cannot defeat major Taliban attacks without direct Western assistance. At present, two groups provide this support. The first group—the 8,000 troops under the U.S. Combined Forces Command, which falls under exclusive American control—is mainly charged with conducting antiterrorism missions. The formal mission of the second—the 32,000 troops deployed under the NATO-commanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which includes a large U.S. military contingent of 12,000 soldiers—is to help maintain security, support the development of national institutions, and assist with economic reconstruction. Other countries contributing large numbers of troops to ISAF include Britain (6,000 soldiers), Germany, Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, and France.

In August 2003, NATO took charge of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) established in Afghanistan by the United Nations. ISAF's formal mission is to help maintain security, support the development of national institutions, and assist with economic reconstruction. From its original focus on providing security in the capital region of Kabul, ISAF has been extending its mission to other regions of the country—first to the north, then the west, and most recently to the south and east. Under the command of British General David Richards, the NATO troops assigned to ISAF have engaged in the first land war in the alliance's history

At Riga, NATO's political and military leaders argued that the alliance must take certain urgent measures to help stabilize the Afghan government. First, they maintained that the allies needed to provide additional troops, especially in the volatile south. A week before the summit, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, head of U.S. Command Forces Command-Afghanistan, complained that NATO governments had only provided 85% of their promised troop contributions. Despite urgent pleas on this score, Poland and the United States alone recently agreed to increase, modestly, the size of their contingents in Afghanistan.

Second, NATO leaders have called on member governments to curb the use of national caveats, which limit the permissible use of their forces. Although NATO countries keep the details of these caveats secret to avoid assisting the Taliban insurgents, NATO Supreme Commander James L. Jones complained in October 2006 that alliance commanders have to deal with some 50 operationally important national restrictions when planning missions. All 26 NATO countries have troops operating in Afghanistan, but only 6 did not impose advanced operational restrictions on their use before the summit.

Some of these caveats restrict the locations where troops can operate; others limit the type of operations they can engage in. For example, several NATO governments—as well as non-NATO members such as New Zealand—permit their troops to participate only in non-combat civil affairs missions as part of the two dozen Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) run by ISAF or the U.S.-led Combined Forces Command. The international community adopted the PRT concept after it became clear that countries would not provide sufficient peacekeeping troops for a country of 30 million inhabitants. At present, fewer foreign troops are deployed in Afghanistan than in Kosovo, which only has two million residents. The PRTs work with national and local Afghan groups to promote economic and political reconstruction in many though not all Afghan provinces. They are led by different nations and vary in size, but with an average of fewer than one hundred members, these mixed military-civilian teams must depend on NATO combat troops for their ultimate protection.

In the weeks before the summit, other governments criticized Germany in particular for its restrictive military policies in Afghanistan. At present, almost 3,000 German troops operate in the country's northern sector. Along with certain other foreign countries (including France and Spain) with smaller contingents, German leaders have adamantly refused to deploy large numbers of their forces to other sectors where the fighting is more intense. As a result, American, British, Canadian, Dutch, and other NATO forces have had to counter the Taliban's resurgence in southern Afghanistan without direct German military assistance.

Since Riga, German officials have stressed that, like other NATO troops, their forces remain ready to operate anywhere in Afghanistan in an emergency. Nevertheless, the German government plans to keep most of its forces in Afghanistan's northern sector, which German officials note encompasses 40% of the country. Less vocally, they complain about NATO's overly militarized approach to the Afghan conflict. The German public widely prefers that German soldiers engage in civic reconstruction and other non-combat missions with the PRTs.

The failure of the Riga summit to secure either a substantial increase in the size of the NATO contingents in Afghanistan or freedom to use the existing forces most effectively forebodes tough times for the Afghan government and their Western allies in the years ahead.


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64 Comments

Bailing out a sinking ship
Maybe success is slow in coming because we're ignoring the roach factory next door, for political reasons.

Wahhabi medressas are churning out fresh Taliban faces faster than we can blow them away, right next door in a northern Pakistan that has become a Taliban state. But we have to ignore that, since Musharraf is our friend, and since the Saudis, who fund the medressas, are immune from all criticism.

Meanwhile the much vaunted "government of Afghanistan" has little writ beyond the Kabul suburbs. The rest of the nation is ruled by warlords and by the T's, except for the Persian sphere in the western provinces, which appears to be stable and quiet.

Maybe we could ask the Iranians, who don't care to have an ignorant bunch of Wahhabis next door, to help out a bit more with our efforts to keep the ship afloat.

Elephant in the room ignored in the Weitz discussion
Pakistan, supposed a U.S. ally, has allowed the Taliban to to create a safe haven in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, including the Tora Bora region where Bin Laden was and may well still be.

Until and unless something is done about this, the situation is going to be very hard to fix. If the government can't protect its assets, it's going to be back to the bad old days in Afghanistan.

Detailed story about this is yesterdays' New York Times.

December 11, 2006
Taliban and Allies Tighten Grip in North of Pakistan

By CARLOTTA GALL and ISMAIL KHAN
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Islamic militants are using a recent peace deal with the government to consolidate their hold in northern Pakistan, vastly expanding their training of suicide bombers and other recruits and fortifying alliances with Al Qaeda and foreign fighters, diplomats and intelligence officials from several nations say. The result, they say, is virtually a Taliban mini-state.

The militants, the officials say, are openly flouting the terms of the September accord in North Waziristan, under which they agreed to end cross-border help for the Taliban insurgency that revived in Afghanistan with new force this year.

The area is becoming a magnet for an influx of foreign fighters, who not only challenge government authority in the area, but are even wresting control from local tribes and spreading their influence to neighboring areas, according to several American and NATO officials and Pakistani and Afghan intelligence officials.

This year more than 100 local leaders, government sympathizers or accused “American spies” have been killed, several of them in beheadings, as the militants have used a reign of terror to impose what President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan calls a creeping “Talibanization.” Last year, at least 100 others were also killed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/11/world/asia/11pakistan.html?em&ex=1166072400&en=e46bdb8067b19a97&ei=5087%0A

(cue cry of MSM defeatist!! from usual group of true believers)

Occupation Troops
With regard to both Afghanistan and Iraq, most military analysts cite the need for more occupation troops. The U.S. and other NATO countries rely solely on volunteers.
Why not start a program to allow people from other countries to enlist in NATO forces? The foreign soldiers would not require the right to become citizens of NATO countries. Millions of recruits from around the world would be willing to enlist at a reasonable payscale. If only one NATO country accepted foreign enlistments, a deal might get written with the wealthier countries to pay a large occupation army.

slow coming
If they say that old people come more slowly, maybe it's the same with old, worn out countries. It could be that it's not the amount of troops there, but that they're only allowed to fight like girls. The germans want to hide up northe where there's not much going on. And the other down south have to hold back because all the lawyer with them might think it's not PC to wipe out all the terrorists at a funeral for their fallen comrades(that happened a couple of weeks ago, and I wonder how many of them have rejoined the battle to kill western guys?). The terrorist are counting on us to give up the fight on the evidence that western forces always do so since WW11.

Learning from history
"The Soviet armed forces that invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 consisted of about 40,000 officers and men and their equipment. The fierce resistance by Afghan guerrilla forces mujahidiin, literally meaning warriors engaged in a holy war. forced the Soviets to increase the size and sophistication of their military units, and in late 1985 a United States government official estimated that Soviet units in Afghanistan comprised about 118,000 men, of which about 10,000 were reported to be in the Soviet secret police and other special units."

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/afghanistan/cs-invasion.htm

So 118,000 Soviet troops, highly mechanized, weren't enough to get the job done. How many troops would you say we have in Afghanistan now? I think NATO has 26,000, and we have another 6,000 or so.

So what you appear to be saying is that we need to recruit another hundred thousand soldiers of fortune, or possibly another mujahedeen force recruited from the tribes. Isn't that what we did back in 1980?

How much good did that end up doing us? We armed and trained Osama.

Bombing funerals
And how about all the wedding parties we've bombed? Have we been careful only to bomb weddings of Taliban fighters? Or did we even ask them who they were, before dropping our payloads from 15,000 feet up?

Rubbish
The Afghan government has increasing control over about 80 per cent of the country. The trouble is largely confined to the Helmand and Khandahar provinces, which also happen to be the principal poppy growing districts, and also the principal areas of the Pashtun tribes, currently on the outs with the northern-oriented government. The government is taking steps to bring them into government, but the negotiations are delicate. It's therefore no accident that nearly all of the fighting is happening in these two areas and therefore no accident that the Canadians in Khandahar are suffering most of the casualties over the past year in the Khandahar deployment.

To pretend that the entire country is a complete disaster and that no progress whatsoever is being made, as your post suggests, is simply wrong. Afghanistan is not Iraq. The principal problem with NATO forces in Iraq is that only four of them, the U.S., Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, can be used in combat. All the others largely have to be kept out of the fighting as a condition of their deployment.

More rubbish from both of you
No fighting? Did you hear about a little episode called Operation Medusa this summer Dietmar? The British and Canucks killed Taliban by the thousands, when the silly idiots tried to fight a standup battle in the Panjway district. Two battalions wiped them out in less than 10 days. The Taliban have been hiding, by contrast with their activity in the first half of this year, ever since. A few car bombs is about it, because the outlying firebase network is sufficiently well developed that what few mortars the Taliban have left mostly get destroyed immediately when they open up at night. After the bombardments this spring, Khandahar base is starting to look as secure as Kabul.

So your remarks about lawyers calling the shots for the troops down south is pure rot. The British, Canadians and Dutch are all there to fight not hide like the rest of the Euroweenies. And the Poles are sending their elite parachute unit in February, and they're going to fight, not pontificate.

As for you, Roy, please see my other post in response to you.

Not a total disaster
To say, for instance, that because a handful of German soldiers are scattered across the vast expanse of the northern provinces those areas can be said to be "controlled" by them is a serious stretch. Nearly all of Afghanistan is in fact controlled by local warlords.

Any time you see a byline from Helmand, Kandahar or the provinces bordering Pakistan it reminds you that those are the only places where the American or NATO presence is being disputed militarily. That is not to say that the Karzai government is in control everywhere-- or that our forces are.

Modest gains are in fact being reported from those areas the Americans still control. Read these glowing reports:

http://usinfo.state.gov/sa/south_asia/new_afghanistan.html

Meanwhile the opium growing regions have expanded to nearly double their historic levels. So the true picture is in the eye of the beholder. Let's see whether we leave or the Taliban leaves.

Deployment of Troops
" At present, fewer foreign troops are deployed in Afghanistan than in Kosovo, which only has two million residents"

Because (A) it is safe for them nobody is shooting (at least not at them) (B) Germany like occupying Eastern Europe, what do they care about Afghanistan.

So you agree
that some progress is being made. That's the difference between Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq was and is a lost cause, but Afghanistan is not. Not to understate the problems, however, at least some of the slippage in Afghanistan starting about three years ago was the result of neglect by the U.S. while it went off on its Great Iraq Adventure.

Germany in Afghanistan?
The author complains that Germany is not using its troops as cannon fodder in southern Afghanistan. Why, pray tell, should Germans be in Afghanistan at all? The United States, egged on by the British and the Jews, destroyed Germany and robbed it of almost half its territory in two world wars, under the specious pretext of “moral superiority.” The Germans already suffer enough from a Stockholm Syndrome as a result. Let the United States pull its own chestnuts out of the Afghanistan fire!

Your statement
is morally repugnant. "Egged on by the British and Jews". So perhaps you think that the fall of the Third Reich was a bad thing?

"Robbed it of half its territory in two world wars," did we? I don't suppose it ever occurred to your tiny mind that Germany was the aggressor in both those wars and paid the appropriate price for its disgusting behavior as a nation among nations.

Aside from that utter stupidity of yours, NATO is an agreement for collective defense. Its members are to provide assistance collectively and not beg off from the difficult missions. The U.S., Britain and all the others spent billions and deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers for half a century to defend Germany against communist aggression, but now you say that Germany owes nothing back to the collective defense effort of NATO? This is worse garbage than that put out by the soft-headed socialists. It's the sort of isolationist garbage that put the right wing in the U.S. into such disrepute in the 1920s and 1930s.

Germany's abstention from Afghanistan means that Germany still hasn't learned the price required for collective security and that freedom means more than relying on the efforts of others.

Roy, this is silly
because the Soviet invasion had virtually the entire population of Afghanistan opposed to it. By contrast, the Taliban have extremely limited support in only a few areas of the country. Their heavy reliance on foreign recruits shows just how limited their local manpower bases are. The two situations are in no way comparable, any more than the British suppression of local Iraq revolts in the early 1940s are illustrative of the U.S. difficulties in Iraq.

It's not
the bad old days in Afghanistan so much as the prospect of bad new days in Pakistan. That there's a mini-Taliban state in part of Pakistan suggests that they've been getting pushed out of Afghanistan. Given the Taliban military disasters this summer, that's not surprising. Given the illegitimacy of Musharraf's regime, it's hardly surprising that he's making some disgusting compromises to stay in power.

"Winning" in Afghanistan
In the spirit of finding a point of agreement, yes... we kind of lost control of Afghanistan when we lost interest. The wily Osama had slipped away, and the adventure was no longer fun. So we forgot that war and started another war, in order to keep our momentum going.

There were of course other reasons. The first thing that would have genuinely endeared us to the Afghans would have been if we had brought jobs. Two bucks a day per head would have gotten us many thousands of unemployed, desperate people ready to break rocks and build roads, or learn how to pour concrete, or to do any of the jobs we elected instead to give billions to contractors to do. These outfits tended not to employ the locals, but instead used more easily billed giant equipment imported from the US, and Filipinos to do the odd jobs Americans earning 90K a year didn't want to do.

In a word, we could have done a more thoughtful job of nation building, using the local help. This infusion of honest wages could have done a world of good-- had anyone thought of things that way.

For instance, opium. Its production has been characterised as a crime, and so we spend billions in ineffectual eradication efforts. But what it actually is is the cash crop of a subsistence economy-- the only cash business they have going, aside from a few apricots, melons and some wheat.

We could have paid the farmers for as much as they could grow, paying market prices. Then we could have built furnaces in the major cities to run on opium, and generate much needed electricity. It would have been a fine plan, and would have absorbed the opium crop, made good citizens out of the producers and best of all, it would have been a lot cheaper than the route we actually took.

Also, it would have been effective.

So what happens now? The only bright idea anyone has is just to hire more soldiers to kill more people in the countryside. I may be a little slow, but I don't see how that approach wins friends for America.

A few points
The market approach to opium can work at any time it's put in place. Either buy the opium or pay farmers as much for wheat or vegetables as they got from opium. Either way will work. The hangup of course is the idiotic attitude western governments have to economies based on hallucinogens.

With respect to much of what you've posted, it's true about two years ago, but out of date this year. Local unemployment has been dropping as a result of western development programs, and there's been a large amount of road-building over the past year. So your characterization of "The only bright idea anyone has is just to hire more soldiers to kill more people in the countryside" is not true. There's far more going on in Khandahar than just that. It is true that there is far more progress in urban areas than in rural ones, but that's true about anything.

What's happening is that the burden of nation-building has been transferred from the U.S. to NATO. Aside from the squeamishness about some NATO nations getting involved in southern combat, things are moving forward, albeit more slowly than our 15-second-news-clip, Blackberry online, right-this-second universe might like. However, it would be a great mistake to assume that everything in Afghanistan is bad simply because nothing in Iraq has worked out. Is the Taliban being pushed back? Yes. Is progress being made in most of the country? Yes. Both of these as fast as we would like? No. But at least unlike Iraq, there's a positive direction.

It absolutely is
If the Taliban have a safe haven right over the mountains in Pakistan, there's not chance of ever peeling them out. The Taliban "military disasters" don't really matter in an insurgent situation; insurgents can lose battle after battle and still win the war. And the Germans and other allies are not going to stick around forever if the US can't bring its client state Pakistan in line to seal the border.

>Given the illegitimacy of Musharraf's regime, it's hardly surprising that he's making some disgusting compromises to stay in power.

The disgusting compromises are being made by the US, which refuses to push him for fear of bringing the whole structure donw. But the Taliban historically is a creating of the Paki ISI, and history is now repeating itself.

But remember
most of the Afghanis can stand Pakistanis, and becoming a government in exile will do nothing in the long run for their support in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been losing support for some time because of their reliance on expatriates.

Musharraf is another story. He can't be pushed because his government will collapse.

As to sealing the border, more likely is the prospect of bringing the Afghani national army up to reasonable standards and sealing the border, at least to some degree, on the Afghan side. That's a far more reasonable prospect than expecting anything very useful from Pakistan. Again, as I pointed out to Roy, the human conditions in Afghanistan are very different than they are in Iraq.

3K troops hardly abstention
Perhaps Germany simply doesn't want to engage in whack a mole with the U.S. military. Why are 3K German troops critical when we have 40K AFA, 20K U.S. troops plus the British, Canadian and Dutch troops chasing the Taliban?

I suspect it's because their effectiveness is disproportionate to their numbers, and that this effectiveness is due in part to their insistence on dealing with one set of problems before jumping into another.

If NATO countries won't abide by their treaty we should scrap it
Remember September 11th?

Just as we would have been obligated to come to Germany's aid if the Soviet Union attacked, the NATO treaty obligates Germany to come to the aid of the United States.

Your ungrateful attitude stinks! If you believe what you said than you deserved the destruction that Hitler brought upon your country. Of course you conveniently forget about how the United States funded the rebuilding of Germany after the war.

Ingrates like you deserve to live as second class citizens under Shari ah law.

The Taliban
The Taliban's natural state is Pushtunistan, which sits astride the border. They are already the de facto government on the Paki side, and the movement is being fed by the medressas. We're never going to turn the corner on this until we invest the manpower, resources and wit to get to the heart of the matter. It's like trying to fix a roach infestation without cleaning up your garbage can.

Outside Pushtunistan the actual rulers of Afghanistan are the warlords-- meaning if you want to set yourself up in business you have to come to them-- not to the Karzai government. We have relinquished the role of running the country to them by not taking a serious interest in governance on a local basis. And the Karzai government simply has no write in the countryside. My impression is that they are seen as just the warlords controlling Kabul.

Here's a map of the situation in 2004. It has changed somewhat since then, but gives us an impression of who's running the show:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/afghanistan/images/afghan-map_warlords_2004.gif

Note that this was before the Ts came back.

Also you say "Their heavy reliance on foreign recruits shows just how limited their local manpower bases are." Understand these are all Pushtun. The "foreign recruits" living in Peshawar and Waziristan are the same old Pushtuns as those living on the Afghan side of the line.

Some very interesting material is coming out now pointing toward the whole Taliban phenomenon as being born in the DP (displaced person) camps during the years of the Soviet occupation, and after. Prior to the camp experience, this particular brand of intolerance was not a feature of Pushtun life. It's a stress reaction.

I hope you're right
I would like to think that NATO is making progress in the area of nation building. The Afghans could use it, since the warlords are a backward economic element. And the Americans have shown they have no talent for other-directed activities of any sort. To them it seems that others are just divided into the two categories of enemies or irrelevant people.

I hope this is a real trend, and not just a case of a couple of articles finding print about some local projects being completed. It wasn't that long ago that all the NGOs were leaving Af. because their security could not be guaranteed anywhere in the country. Medecin sans Frontieres, for instance, were tough enough to stay in Chechnya. But they were forced to leave Af. due to the security issue.

weddings
You think they bombed so many weddings, or regularly look for them to bomb? If they even did once or twice, probably the lawyers were off that day. But I keep worrying about how many terrorists they let go the other week have killed of western boys already.

re Madussa
Yes, I know it and celebrate it; perhaps the lawyers were taking time off at some spa that week, so the troops didn't have to fight like girls like they usually do.
But do you deny the the incident a few weeks ago when they really did identify a few dozen terrorists at a wedding party, and the lawyers wouldn't allow to troops to take them out?

Yes, weddings
What their eyes in the sky look for is groups of people shooting guns into the air. This describes an Afghan wedding.

They've shot up quite a few of them. Thanks a lot, yanks.

still not true
A satelite, or high flying drone, or plane, can tell if small arms are just being shot off, or shooting at something specific like a low flying helicopter. They can also usually tell when the good guys are shooting at people below. Even if your statement were true, then it would mean that they would be bombed for being stupid. That's because if word gets out that when you shoot into the air you will get bombed for it, then you would be stupid to do that.

Out of Area
NATO is the North Atlantic. They have therefore already exceeded their treaty duties to get to Afghanistan. Rqually NATO's charter specificly disallows any aggressive action so everybody exceeded their role in bombing Yugoslavia during the War in Support of Terror.

It's important
because combat roles fall disproportionately on only a small part of the NATO contingent in Afghanistan. Even in the combat areas, the troop density is too low to effectively chase the Taliban out. By refusing to engage or refusing to patrol at night, contingents like the Germans might as well not be their with respect to combat. Contrary to your claim, because of their national caveats, their combat effectiveness is disproportionately low for their numbers.

re. the Taliban
Roy, your first para, agreed. Your second para, agreed with one caveat that the Karzai government appears to be gaining ground in some rural parts of the country, mostly confined to the north and west.

About the foreign recruits, yes, some of these are Pushtuns from the other side of the border. The foreigners I was referring to was the significant number of Saudis, Syrians and others found in Khandahar after the cleanup from Medusa.

Finally, we agree that the Taliban is a DP phenomenon from the Soviet invasion.

In conclusion, I see this as a complex situation, but one far different from that of Iraq.

No they can't
or are you forgetting the bombing by the Air Force of a Canadian battalion on an exercise?

The President of Aghanistan seems to disagree....
Pakistan’s Support for Militants Threatens Region, Karzai Says

By CARLOTTA GALL
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec. 12 — In strikingly strong language, President Hamid Karzai warned Tuesday that a failure to bring peace to Afghanistan would destroy the whole region, and laid the blame squarely on neighboring Pakistan.

As if to underscore Mr. Karzai’s warning, as he arrived here, a suicide bomber blew himself up in neighboring Helmand Province, narrowly missing the provincial governor but killing eight civilians and bodyguards in his office.

“Afghanistan either has to be fixed and be peaceful, or the whole region will run into hell with us,” Mr. Karzai told a small group of journalists during a visit to this southern city, his hometown, which has been reeling from almost daily suicide bombings in the last 10 days. “It’s not going to be like the past, that only we suffer. Those who cause us to suffer will burn in hell with us. And I hope NATO recognizes this.”

Mr. Karzai charged that elements of the Pakistani government were still supporting Islamic militants, as they had in the past, and that if such sources of terrorism were not defeated, Afghans and international soldiers would continue to die.,,,

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/13/world/asia/13afghan.html

Actually he doesn't disagree
because this doesn't contradict what I wrote. Yes, the stakes are important in Afghanistan, and that's what Karzai is saying.

canadian batt.
No, I didn't forget that ACCIDENT. Friendly fire always will happen in war. Indeed, not only in war but also in peacetime. So you should even subtract the number of casualties by the number of guys who die anyway, from accidents, even in peace, and in in their own barracks at home. Happens all the time, and they even know what the average numbers are. But if you really are saying that they bombed those can. guys on purpose, then it's just more of the same boring anti-americansim as usual.

I said no such thing
Go back and read my post again. You claimed it was possible to distinguish between friend and foe from the air, and I said it was often not possible, citing the incident as evidence.

Where in blazing h*ll do you get off accusing me of stating that the U.S. air force did it deliberately? Please retract that ridiculous accusation.

I said.......
something like "they usually can tell" , I know that friendly fire accidents can happen. But when they identify enemies like those terrorists at that wedding, then they should take them out. I deplore the use of human shields by those guys.

Assessing Afghanistan
Just curious, CH. You seem to have some familiarity with Afghanistan. Ever been there? Any operational links? (Don't tell me any secrets I wouldn't want to know about.) :)

Disclosure: all I know is what I read in the funny papers. But today we have a vast array of on-line and print resources readily accessible.

A subject I find very interesting is that the Saudis, apparently being as immune from criticism as are the Israelis and Pakis, have for years been funding the foundation and maintenance of Wahhabi medressas worldwide. It's a convenient way to export their religious firebrands, by asking them to go firth and proselytize elsewhere, with official government funding. These schools flourish wherever primary education is nonexistent. And in the context of the DP camps of northern Pakistan, their teachings have fallen on fertile ground indeed.

I'll be watching for confirmation that Karzai is catching on in some areas. Things change, and that's a change I've been unaware of.

Agree totally, no comparison between traditionally undeveloped Afghanistan and Iraq, center of Arab culture and civilization's historic cradle.

Sorry, Roy
I don't claim to have any particular insight or unique sources. It's just a topic I have followed with great interest ever since the initial invasion and overthrow of the Taliban. I've been far more interested in Afghanistan than Iraq, because it was the first direct action in the war on Islamic terrorism. Your sources therefore are much the same as mine. As a former historian by training, I can only claim to have some small ability to interpret events as compared similar events or patterns which have occurred in the post.

As to government support, it appears to be on the rise in some significant areas of the country, and certainly the Taliban suffered a very heavy setback this summer, which is why they're back to relying on IEDs now. Most of the mortar bombardments have largely ceased around Khandahar this fall, and what information I've seen in the media suggests it's because NATO's counterbattery has gotten sufficiently good that even shoot-and-run mortar missions have become too dangerous for them. It's a small point really, but the question is whether NATO and the Afghan national army are getting more control on the ground or less. I suggest that the evidence this year mostly shows somewhat more control. I don't take terrorism attacks too seriously below a certain point. Terrorism is an act of weakness when one side is too weak to fight in conventional terms. The Taliban tried that this summer and got hammered by a smaller number of NATO troops than they had. So back to square one for them with IEDs.

Like everything, things can change. Even if there are some signs that things are going well now, that in no way implies they will necessarily continue to do so. Of some particular concern on the NATO side is the possibility of "burn-out" of some of the NATO members through too much combat because of the lack of support from other NATO members.

On Iraq, centre of Arab culture, home of Babylonia and Sumeria, yes and even more. It was in 1975 a highly developed nation with large, sophisticated centres of science and technology, with a growing industrial base providing more economic growth than just oil, with a significantly higher standard of living than much of the Arab world. Three wars, Iran, Gulf 1992 and the most recent invasion brought it crashing down. At least two of these were self-inflicted, and that usually results in a lot of fury over who is to blame for the loss of nation, wealth and status and the descent into national poverty.

The use of human shields
Fellows, fellows... Let's all agree that the US makes mistakes with unusual regularity in the Afghan air war. Whenever the victims of these mistakes are Afghan we can easily name them "terrorists".

And when the victims include women and children we can label them "terrorists and their families".

And when their victims are so large in number that that doesn't look right, we can label them "Terrorists using human shields".

My question is this. What do we call them when their victims include forward foot soldiers like Pat Tilman?

Lets hope that NATO exercises a bit of discretion in their own choice of targets. It's depressing to see the civilian toll our indiscriminate air war has been taking on the Afghan people.

Agreed...
...that the prime culprit in Iraq's downfall has been Mr S Hussein, with gleeful assistance from the administrations of GHW Bush and B Clinton.

The place had everything going for it. An endless supply of cash from their bottomless oil wells, a socialist constitution and governing philosophy that advocated returning the profits to the public, an educated and sophisticated population, largely exempt from religious intolerance... the list of their advantages goes on.

Then Saddam came along, and the potential of the nation got squandered. I'm still leafing through the events of the post-British era, but have to say that the conversion of the government into an autocracy, and the subsequent war for the sake of war against Iran were disastrous for the country.

It also reminds me, at least superficially, of a certain other nation that has gone the route of declaring an imperial presidency (or "unitary executive") and shoring it up with a convenient War Against Evil.

This seems to be a familiar route some people take when acquiring power. I'm thinking also of the Argentine junta's declaration of a convenient war on the unjust and inhumane British occupation of their sacred Malvinas. :)

A nice article on the politics of that war can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_to_the_Falklands_War

It's sad that such a fine people as the Iraqis have had their culture so thoroughly dehumanized. Centuries will have to pass before these wounds have healed.

The problem
has been in some measure that the secular administrations of Syria and Iraq under the Baathist party were degraded in part through quarrels with the United States over Israel and Palestine. However disagreeable these regimes may have been, they were the first examples of secular administrations to emerge out of post-WW1 colonial administrations by Britain and France. Remove them, whether necessary or not, and the only remaining governance with any legitimacy (in the eyes of the people) becomes various forms of theocracy. Only Jordan has managed to avoid falling into the trap of sectarian rule.

Iraq under Baathist rule was far from ideal prior to Hussein. Socialist constitution meant a large proportion of the country's wealth appropriated into private pockets, but it was still far better than the kleptocracy under Hussein. By that point, Baathism had become degraded into a cult of personality in both Iraq and Syria and effectively both countries had converted into monarchies (they don't use that term, but it's the same thing).

Unstable monarchs often look to foreign wars to distract from serious problems at home. Usually it fails, and S. Hussein's attempts in 1980 and 1991 were no exceptions. Why after 5000 years to monarchs keep trying the same failed strategy? Stupidity is universal.

Karzai is not saying 'the stakes are important,' he's saying the Pakis are a big problem
I mean, why on earth would he deny that "the stakes are important?" Who on earth denies the stakes are important.?

Of course Pakistan
is a big problem. Nothing in my posts said it wasn't. Quite the contrary. The fact that Pakistan is a problem does not mean that improvements in Afghanistan can't happen.

To many generals
Once again this is a issue of to many generals and is why multi-national operations are such a pain. Is it any surprise that the spineless french and germans refuse to fight? Either we (they) are there to fight and win or they are there for symbolism. If there is to be a so called multi-national force then they need to be there as troops prepared to answer to a sole command authority who can deploy and use all assets as needed.

America
To certain posters America can do no right unless we withdraw and cower..

Not to mention
The billions and billions the US payed to rebuild Germany after WW2. What about the billions payed by the US to keep Berlin free during the Soviet era? The wall didn't fall for free...

All of which means
adding your comments and my comments together is that Theedrich is a dolt, and an anti-semitic dolt at that.

I agree with most of this
though I am uncertain about "Americans have shown they have no talent for other-directed activities of any sort". We can't let generalizations be shaped by the specific failures of one particular administration. The U.S. has in the past been rather good at it, i.e. South Korea which was a spectacular mess in 1955, but look at it now. The moral here, I suppose, is that these things take time and persistence, and perhaps a generation or two.

About the NGOs getting chased out, agreed. Except your point illustrates the futility of imagining, as some dreamers are wont to do, that nation-building can happen without providing security against recidivist movements such as Taliban. I'm certainly not going to defend the administration here; their near abandonment of Afghanistan in the run-up to Iraq was very bad policy (aside entirely from the dismal effect on Afghanis).

Most of our discussion is, as you point out, articles drawn almost at random. We're simply going to have to wait to see what the larger pattern unfolds. That said, I'm not blind to the historic record; Afghanistan has blighted the hopes, ambitions, delusions of nearly every empire that's ever existed. The British lost armies there, the Russians lost armies there. Alexander the Great got more trouble and lost more men in Afghanistan than the rest of the Persian Empire in its entirety. Even the Mongols probably hated the place.

This has always been
a problem for NATO, the specific covenants placed on various national contingents. There is a difference, for example between France and Germany. The French were certainly prepared to fight in 1991 Gulf War and did so. One technical note, France is not a member of NATO; it has an affiliation only, as Charles De Gaulle pulled France out of NATO in the 1960s. They have fought numerous times in various places in North Africa. It's not a question of spine so much as what they see to be in their national interest. But they're not the only ones. The list of non combat participants includes Italy, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Denmark, Norway.

I did not know that
I did not know that France pulled out of NATO. Interesting. Yes, the French pursue national interests. My main complaint is that they do so often to everyone else detriment. Also, as to spine, I could argue that they once had spine but lately I see the French two faced and weak. I am no fan of Chirac.

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