By lex, on October 22nd, 2010
“All hard, all the time,” were the words that General David Petraeus used to describe the fight in Afghanistan. For the distant viewer, the difficulty is enhanced by an inability to tease out a consistent narrative of the situation there: Are coalition forces gaining ground at a reasonable cost, or losing lives in a fruitless campaign? Will the Taliban sheltering in Pakistan be brought to heel by the application of cross-border fires, or are they merely bargaining for time? And what about redevelopment aid, and the training of the Afghan National Army?
Consider today’s headline in the Washington Post: Security Ruling Prompts Firms To Shutter Major Afghan Projects
U.S.-funded development firms are beginning to shut down massive reconstruction projects because the Afghan government has refused to rescind a ban on their use of private security guards, according to U.S. officials and aid workers here.
The decision to start shuttering the projects, collectively worth hundreds of millions of dollars, could have far-reaching effects on the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban, disrupting a central component of the strategy to counter the insurgency at a critical moment in the war. Programs to assist Afghan farmers and improve local government, which are vital to the overall U.S. effort to stabilize the volatile southern and eastern parts of the country, are among those that will be affected, the officials said.
The consequences of the ban on development firms employing private guards “will be catastrophic,” said one U.S. official involved in the issue. “If these projects grind to a halt, we might as well go home. They are essential to the counterinsurgency strategy.”
But according to the Christian Science Monitor, these security firms are “rogue” agents that sap the ANA of its best forces by offering higher wages:
(There) is a growing chorus of warnings from both within the US military and on Capitol Hill that the Pentagon’s dependence on contractors is undermining its own war efforts. A Senate Armed Services Committee investigation this month further concluded that the widespread use of contractors puts at risk the US exit strategy of training Afghan security forces – Afghan soldiers and police routinely leave the service to take more lucrative jobs with private defense companies.
The Senate investigation also turned up mounting evidence to suggest that largely unmonitored Pentagon contracts with private security companies – half of which are Afghan-owned – may also be lining the pockets of Taliban insurgents who agree not to attack convoys in exchange for cash.
“If you want to know the driving force of corruption in Afghanistan, it’s not Afghan culture,” warns Anthony Cordesman, a security specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s American contracting.”
In the USA Today, Hamid Karzai’s half brother says that troops are sweeping the Taliban ** from their refuges:
“Most of them I believe left before the military operation started,” Ahmed Wali Karzai said. “They are running … I don’t know (where).”
NATO and Afghan forces began an operation to wrest control of Kandahar province in July, an attempt to regain the initiative in the nine-year war by taking the battle to the heartland of the insurgency along the Pakistani border.
“Things are changing very well. There’s a lot of progress in security… Some (Taliban) were arrested. Some were killed,” Karzai said. “There’s no single Taliban base in Kandahar province right now.”
Karzai heads a provincial council in Kandahar and says government officials are moving in to set up institutions in areas cleared of Taliban by security forces. Improving residents’ quality of life is crucial to winning long-term popular support and maintaining control of territory.
In the city of Kandahar, one resident said people were less afraid now to turn in information about insurgents.
“The Taliban are weak now and people are not so afraid of them, so now people can help the government,” said teacher Salam Bacha Barakzai, 41. “You can see that Taliban are being arrested everywhere. That’s because the people are helping.”
But the minimally trained ANA balks at the first fire and refuses to treat its own wounded, depending upon coalition forces, according to the London Times:
The first explosion came from a low mud wall, seven metres in front of the lead Afghan soldier — hurling him backwards and filling his face with shrapnel.
Moments into Operation Omid IV, the largest Afghan-led foray since British troops deployed to Helmand, the Taleban’s silent assassins had struck. Two Afghan soldiers were seriously wounded and in urgent need of medical attention.
The rest of the patrol dropped instinctively to their knees and scanned the nearby orchard, the lanes and the highwalled mud compounds for signs of an ambush. This was as far as they went…
As the dust cleared from the explosion in Saidan village, however, there was a conspicuous shortage of Afghan medics rushing forward to help. The Irish Guards took charge and began bandaging their wounds. After a bit of cajoling, the Afghans helped too.
“They are capable of the first aid,” said Dr Leon Roberts, a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps. “But a lot of the medics take their badges off and blend in with everyone else. They rely on us to get the casualty out to a safe place and to get a helicopter to the point of injury.”
The US is said to welcome moves to bring the Taliban ** to peace talks:
The US is giving fresh emphasis to talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan, boosting the impression that the political process is moving after months of difficult news from the battleground.
However, coalition officials, Afghan politicians and former Taliban figures all insist it is too early to conclude that months of secret meetings between the Kabul government and insurgents have pushed the war to a turning point.
“The pace of these discussions is picking up,” said P.J. Crowley, spokesman for the US state department. “But obviously this is a process that, having been planned over several months, is really still in its early stages.”
General David Petraeus, Nato commander, has ordered his forces to help facilitate the contacts – sometimes by offering safe passage to Taliban leaders travelling to Kabul in Afghan government aircraft – while at the same time sharply increasing the tempo of air strikes and commando raids on insurgent leaders.
But the Washington Times reports that the Taliban under NATO escort lack influence within the insurgent ranks:
The Afghan government’s reconciliation effort with the Taliban is being hamstrung by a lack of participants who wield clout within the militant group and a “peace council” viewed by many Afghans as more eager to maintain the status quo.
Only one or two Taliban commanders are participating in the peace talks, according to a Western official and a former Afghan official who both spoke on the condition of anonymity. They declined to name the commanders to protect the militants’ safety.
“It is not clear that many of these [Taliban representatives] have the power to deliver,” the Western official said.
Matt Waldman, an independent analyst who has interviewed Taliban commanders in Afghanistan in recent months, said he doubts the Taliban representatives who are participating in the talks have the support of militant commanders on the ground.
“There is evidence that there are divisions within the movement and that some of those leaders may not have the influence that they once did,” Mr. Waldman said at the New America Foundation on Thursday.
He noted a “striking lack of deference” on the part of field commanders toward Taliban leaders living comfortably in Quetta, Pakistan.
These conflicted narratives are nothing new: The same reasons for hope and dismay were on display during the Iraq surge in 2007. The same general was responsible for executing the strategy.
There is a major difference, however, in the steadfastness of the troops’ commander-in-chief. In 2007 we had a president willing to stake his political legacy on giving the troops what they needed to fight and win in a desperate struggle. Agree or disagree, no one could doubt his determination and single-mindedness.
Not so much.
Afghanistan is not Iraq. Perhaps the campaign there is destined to fail, as so many military adventures have in the Afghan past. But if that’s so, then what the hell are we still doing there?
And if it’s not, then where is the president?
** 10-11-2018 Original links gone; replacements found – Ed.