Posts Tagged ‘ Kandahar ’

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Paradox

By Bret Stephens for The Wall Street Journal

Any serious observer of the war in Afghanistan will tell you that we can’t win without striking hard at the safe havens the Taliban and its allies enjoy in Pakistan. That means going beyond drone strikes and deploying ground forces in places like North Waziristan.

Any serious observer of Pakistan will also tell you that such strikes would complicate, and perhaps fatally compromise, our relations with the country whose cooperation we require to win in Afghanistan.

Both observations are on the mark. Isolating the battlefield is a cardinal rule of warfare. So long as the Taliban can shrink away to Pakistan to lick their wounds and plot their return—as they have in the wake of their recent reversals in Kandahar—then we have failed to isolate them. Yet if Pakistan should begin to turn against us—as they briefly did earlier this month following the accidental killing of Pakistani border guards in a NATO strike—then we are the ones who will be isolated.

So how do we finesse the Pakistan paradox?

It helps to see the country for what it is. Pakistan suffers from an abandonment complex rooted in historical facts, especially the Pressler Amendment that cut off Pakistan-U.S. military ties throughout the 1990s. Those fears are compounded by a national paranoia that is the product of conspiracy theory, misplaced indignation and jingoism. The country’s elites typically divide between secularists, mainly feudal aristocrats or corrupt parvenus like President Asif Ali Zardari, and Islamists of either conservative or radical bent.

Standing astride the Islamist-secular divide is the military, which profits from cultivating both connections and is Pakistan’s most competent—and least accountable—institution. Down below is an ethnically fractious and largely destitute population of 170 million people, just emerging from a flood that swamped 20% of the country.

From this unsavory stew it’s unrealistic to expect a high degree of clarity or consistency in Pakistani policy. At best it leans one way or the other, never very far and rarely for very long. Mr. Zardari’s government has deployed the army against the Taliban, or parts of it, and consented to a dramatic increase in Predator strikes. But that’s happening concurrently with the intelligence service, or ISI, providing material aid to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, and failing (or more likely refusing) to break up the so-called Quetta Shura of Mullah Mohammed Omar.

If there’s an overarching logic here it’s that Islamabad wants to preserve its options. Uncertainty about U.S. staying power in Afghanistan helps explain why Pakistan will not entirely forsake its erstwhile clients in the Taliban and the mujahedeen. Pakistani fears are further exacerbated by America’s recent tilt toward India. And while the Obama administration has made much of its aid packages for Pakistan—$1.5 billion a year on the civilian side, followed last week by the announcement of another $2 billion for the military—Pakistani officials complain that only a small fraction of the funds have been disbursed.

What, then, to do? First, instead of publicly lecturing Pakistanis on how they need to get tough with the Taliban, the administration would do better to make good on its existing commitments. Say what you will about Mr. Zardari’s abilities, he has aided the U.S. military effort in a way his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, supposedly a pro-American strongman, never did.

That’s a relationship to build on, quietly and incrementally, not to tear down. So it would be helpful if the administration doesn’t repeat the mistake of blabbing to Bob Woodward, whose book may have helped Mr. Obama seem more presidential but didn’t do any favors to his presidency.

Equally helpful would be to stop mindlessly demanding that military assistance to Pakistan go toward fighting the Taliban instead of arming against India. The missing ingredient in Pakistan’s counterinsurgency effort isn’t the right military tool kit, such as night-vision goggles or Apache helicopters. It’s the will of the Pakistani general staff to cooperate more fully in the fight. If that cooperation can be secured by selling conventional weapons such as F-15s and M-1 tanks to Pakistan, so much the better.

(As for India, it has less to fear from a reasonably well-armed, confident Pakistani army that has strong ties to the U.S. than it does from a poorly armed Pakistan that mistrusts the U.S. and continues to consort with jihadists as a way of compensating for its weakness.)

Finally, the administration ought to understand that Pakistan’s reluctance to defeat the Taliban at any price is a mirror image of our own reluctance. The July 2011 “deadline” to begin withdrawing troops was bound to affect Islamabad’s calculations, and not for the better. The sooner we junk it, the better the cooperation we’ll get.

It’s an old American habit to lament the incompetence and duplicity of our wartime allies, and Pakistan abounds in both qualities. But unless we are prepared to deal with Pakistan as an adversary, we must make do with it as a friend.

U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan May Involve Greater Use of Special Operations Forces

By David S. Cloud and Julian E. Barnes for The Los Angeles Times

U.S. special operations troops in Afghanistan have stepped up a campaign to kill or capture insurgent leaders, senior U.S. officials say, an effort that began in March and is likely to expand as Army Gen. David H. Petraeus looks for ways to show progress.

Senior U.S. military officials said the raids by special operations troops have killed or captured 186 insurgent leaders and detained an additional 925 lower-level fighters in the last 110 days. That would mark a rare success for American troops in a war that has otherwise gone poorly in recent months.

The operations have been most effective in and around the southern city of Kandahar and in eastern Afghanistan, according to American military officials, who requested anonymity in discussing information that had not been released publicly, and outside analysts. Already, they said, there are signs in these areas that roadside bomb attacks have decreased and the Taliban control is weakening, as senior leaders are killed or captured.

A successful effort would support the contention made by Vice President Joe Biden and other administration officials who are skeptical of the military strategy in Afghanistan: Special operations troops, with their small footprint and skill at tracking and killing the enemy, can be more effective than conventional forces in the difficult conflict the U.S. faces in that country.

Biden has argued for shrinking the U.S. effort and relying largely on special operations troops and airstrikes to disrupt the Taliban and Al Qaeda, officials say.

President Obama has sided so far with those who favor using large numbers of U.S. troops as part of a far-reaching counterinsurgency effort, a point that he reiterated last week in naming Petraeus to replace Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of the war in Afghanistan.

But if the special operations effort is the most successful element of the war effort, Biden and those who agree with him could be in a stronger position to argue for shrinking the U.S. military presence when the strategy is reexamined, perhaps as soon as the December review Obama has promised.

Supporters of the more limited strategy advocated by Biden believe special operations should be the main military effort in Afghanistan. Petraeus, however, argues that special operations troops are just one tool, albeit a highly effective one, in fighting an insurgency.

While leading the U.S. military force in Iraq, Petraeus advocated a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy aimed at combating militants with both special and conventional forces. He is expected to utilize the same strategy in Afghanistan.

Current and former Petraeus advisors also said the general will try to quickly reverse the perception that the Afghanistan war is going badly. When he appears before the Senate on Tuesday for a hearing on his nomination to lead the allied war effort in Afghanistan, he is likely to emphasize recent successes by special operations forces.

“Trumpeting the successes of ISAF [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s International Security Assistance Force] operations, Afghan operations, should be part of the strategy,” said Peter Mansoor, who served as Petraeus’ executive officer in Iraq. “The strategy is clearly to knock the Taliban back, but if you don’t show the world that is happening, what is the use?”

A senior military official in Afghanistan said the killings of leaders since March have reduced the effectiveness of the Taliban, making the militant movement less capable of threatening the Afghan population.

Officials did not release the list of 186 insurgent leaders they say have been killed since March. Last week, however, they did name two insurgent leaders slain last month in Kandahar.

In eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. has been trying to take out key commanders in the Haqqani network, a Taliban-aligned insurgency that maintains a safe haven in Pakistan, said Jeffrey Dressler, a researcher at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.

“We have seen over the last four weeks an increase in special operation maneuvers,” Dressler said. “And it is having a significant impact on the Haqqani network’s ability to operate.”

But Haqqani fighters still are able to use their base in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region to try and mount suicide bombings across the border in Kabul, the Afghan capital, and has been linked to several recent attacks, including a mortar barrage that disrupted a peace conference convened by Afghan President Hamid Karzai this month.

U.S. officials hope that continued special operations raids against insurgent leaders will encourage lower-level followers to lay down their arms and reconcile with the government in Kabul.

Skeptics of the administration’s overall strategy see the results of the special operations campaign as a powerful argument for shifting away from the counterinsurgency campaign crafted by McChrystal toward the strategy advocated by Biden.

“This is a great opportunity to reconsider the direction of the strategy and move it more towards what is showing some success, the strategy Vice President Biden advocated from the beginning,” said Charles J. Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general who writes extensively on counterinsurgency strategies.

A plan focused first on killing insurgent leaders will ensure that the U.S. does not have to remain in Afghanistan for decades building up the central government, he said.

But advocates of the current strategy said special operations forces alone can disrupt insurgent movements, hindering their advance, but are not enough to stabilize a country and help it take charge of its own security.

“There is a misconception that in counterinsurgency there isn’t any sort of assassinations or special operation forces doing targeted killings,” Dressler said. “As we have seen from Iraq, that is not the case. It is a critical part of counterinsurgency.”

Situation in Afghanistan Remains Unstable Despite Gen McChrystal’s Troop Surge

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