Friday, June 27, 2008

Oh yeah, that war

It's not just opium that's growing...

The US, UK and it's NATO allies have been conducting a war in Afghanistan for getting on seven years now. The stated intentions were to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power. In this world of "internet time" and instant gratification, it feels like this war is moving in quicksand, or worse yet, maybe in reverse. The first two goals are probably further away from being accomplished than 2001, with Osama harder to find than Waldo and al-Qaeda stronger than ever. It did feel like the third goal was accomplished for good since Dec. 9, 2001 when the Taliban reportedly lost their final territory, but the last year or so has seen a resurgence in their power.

So, what's gone wrong? Well, in a nutshell, the US was too busy in Iraq and the rest of the world was too busy being pissed off with the US to realize how desperate the situation was becoming. I guess they forgot that this is Afghanistan, a country that hasn't been kind to foreign imperialism for a good 2500 years since Darius the Great extended his influence over the region. Ok, maybe the US could be forgiven for forgetting this, but the British? The first Anglo-Afghan war (they've had a few now) from 1838 to 1842 was a disaster for them with the low-light coming in the form of a massacre of about 16,000 retreating British military personnel and civilians. And really, the Americans should remember that it was them who helped supply Mujahidin fighters in their struggle that saw the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan. The list of military debacles within it's borders is truly impressive, but the binding factor that binds them together is the intense tribalism that is constantly pushing the country apart.

No, it's not going to change. The same forces that have been driving Afghanistan up the failed state charts the past few years (8th in 2007, up from 10th in 2006 and 11th in 2005) will be around a lot longer than the NATO troops. The latest call for help is from a German NATO general who said that 6,000 additional troops are urgently required to control the situation. The funny part is that without these troops, he claimed the war would be prolonged. This follows the similar request for more troops from the outgoing commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Gen Dan McNeill as he passed the baton to another American, Gen David McKiernan. The "success" of the surge in Iraq has led them to believe that more troops will help restore order in Afghanistan. The Soviets couldn't do it with 150,000 troops, today the Afghan army has about 58,000 and the ISAF number about 52,000, so even with 50,000 more soldiers on the ground they are doomed to failure just as the Russians almost 30 years ago.

Recent events only highlight the inability to bring the country under control. In Kandahar, home to the second largest air force base in the country, a prison break was orchestrated that freed over a thousand prisoners, with maybe 400 of them being Taliban fighters. Cross border fighting into Pakistan, with US air strikes killing Pakistani soldiers adds another dimension. The resurgence of the neo-Taliban threat is real as the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims are won over to the extremist elements, pushed by the ever growing war on terror. McBush claimed he'd stay in Iraq for 100 years, no when seems to notice they'll have to be in Afghanistan even longer.