[R-G] A clean Afghan handover is a long way from reality
shniad at gmail.com
Thu Nov 19 14:10:34 MST 2009
Nov. 18, 2009
A clean Afghan handover is a long way from reality
Corruption and incompetence make NATO's exit strategy look more like a pipe
Every NATO country mired in Afghanistan, including Canada, agrees that
military and security tasks must be handed over to the Afghan army and
police. The goal is correct, but the reality is otherwise.
Like almost everything else in Afghanistan, a chasm exists between goal and
realization. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been trying to ready
the army and police, but it's been like training a cat to bark.
Now British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, governing a country where two
citizens in three want out of the mission, says military strategy should be
handed over to “full Afghan control” beginning in 2010. U.S. President
Barack Obama continues to ponder four options, all costly and risky, that
are predicated on turning over military and security to the Afghans. He and
his advisers are reportedly seeking an “exit strategy” that must involve a
massive increase in training for the day U.S. and other NATO forces leave.
Canada, of course, has decided to withdraw combat forces in 2011, although
government spokesmen say Canadians might continue “training” Afghan
This word “training” sounds so neutral and beguiling, like a community
college class in which a teacher with a Maple Leaf stands with a pointer in
one hand and a piece of chalk in the other. But U.S.-style training means
sending soldiers into field combat with the trainees to teach them how to
kill, take territory, capture prisoners and, generally, win.
In any event, this mantra about handing matters over to an enlarged and
trained Afghan army and police is the “exit strategy” so devoutly desired
but difficult to execute.
“ It's equally unlikely that President Hamid Karzai will root out
corruption, as Western countries define it.”
While Mr. Obama ponders his options, the Afghans remain a force of largely
illiterate soldiers led by corrupt, incompetent officers. Every year, one
out of every four or five recruits quits, which makes increasing their
overall numbers rather difficult. According to The New York Times, recent
internal U.S. government reports indicate that the number of Afghan
battalions able to fight independently has actually declined in the past six
Two public reports – from the Inspector-General of the U.S. Defence
Department and the Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction,
both available on the Web – point to a mix of progress and setbacks.
However, nothing in them suggests that training an effective Afghan military
or police will be easy or speedy. Certainly, these forces will not be up to
serious tasks in the next year or two.
The idea, therefore, of thrusting in tens of thousands of additional U.S.
soldiers to stem a deteriorating security situation, then withdrawing them
and letting the Afghans smartly carry on the fight, appears more pipe dream
than grounded in reality.
It's equally unlikely that President Hamid Karzai will root out corruption,
as Western countries define it. Corruption permeates all elements of Afghan
society and massive amounts of corruption put the President and some of his
warlord friends back in power. It's asking a lot for a country's military
not to act corruptly when the country's civilian leaders are doing it.
When NATO entered Afghanistan in force, it divided up the country, with each
member taking primary responsibility for certain regions and tasks. The
British were supposed to lead the drug interdiction effort, the Italians the
reform of the justice system, the Germans the training of the police force,
and so on.
None of this has worked. Outside Kabul, Afghanistan remains a kind of
narco-state, with poppy growing and heroin production being the economic
motor of the countryside and a ready source of insurgent financing. Justice
officials and police are considered largely ineffective and sometimes
Meanwhile, NATO's stated goals keep shrinking. For example, take U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's weekend comments that Washington's
major objective in Afghanistan is to defeat al-Qaeda.
By most accounts, very few al-Qaeda forces are in Afghanistan. If that
really is the goal, then sending 30,000 to 40,000 additional soldiers from a
country in debt up to its neck, to be followed by a handover to the myth of
an effective Afghan army and police, seems like a recipe for heartbreak.
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