President Barack Obama today unveiled a self-fulfilling Afghanistan war assessment devoid of any substantial feedback from native Afghans and one wholly disconnected from the objective reality of retrogressing conditions on the ground.
Driven by the ambiguous objective of “dismantling” Al Qaeda, the review fell short of adequately addressing two key reasons U.S. efforts will likely fail – the corruption and illegitimacy of President Hamid Karzai’s government and insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan. In addition, physical security has been deteriorating throughout the country despite the administration’s claims to the contrary.
Obama underlined in the diagnostic, summarized on the White House website, that the overarching goal remains defeating Al Qaeda and preventing the region from threatening U.S. security interests in the future.
However, it is widely-held that Al Qaeda has a limited presence in the area and is much more of a threat in countries like Yemen, thus if that is truly the war’s premise it might be fair to conclude: AfPak mission accomplished!
But to most Afghans it seems like our obvious goal is defeating the Taliban – not Al Qaeda – and according to a recent poll a majority of Afghans in the South perceive the war to be an onslaught against Pashtuns while some even believe it’s an attack on Islam.
Matthew Hoh, former State department civilian officer and Director of the Afghanistan Study Group, recently explained why Obama’s rationale for war defies commonsense. Hoh described Al Qaeda as a virtual network of individuals spread out across the globe – a terrorist franchise lacking any of the characteristics common to a formal military organization that could be vanquished via conventional means.
The previous 10-year history of Al Qaeda’s attacks, such as the recent parcel bombs FedExed from Yemen, illustrate the terrorist group’s small-cell, decentralized and individualistic orientation.
Hence, Al Qaeda will not be “disrupted, dismantled and defeated” or affected in the least by the presence of brigade combat teams occupying Southern Afghanistan. It’s illogical to defend against an enemy scattered across dozens of countries by bogging down most of our military resources in one.
Hoh argued that 9 years ago 19 men hijacked four airplanes, yet here we futilely sit in Afghanistan 109 months later with 100,000 troops spending over $100 billion a year in a misguided effort against a movement that is fighting an occupation – not one with designs on transnational jihad.
Obama alleged troop withdrawal will begin in July with the dubious caveat that the scale of said extraction will be contingent upon “conditions on the ground”; meaning one might see a mass troop exodus or the U.S. could potentially be quagmired in Afghanistan until the end times.
Not to mention, at the recent Lisbon conference at the end of November the U.S. outlined a plan to keep forces in Afghanistan until 2014, clearly exposing the obfuscating pretense of a July, 2011 target as nothing more than a laughable political ruse.
The document also unconvincingly claimed that the regime of President Hamid Karzai was committed to increasing transparency, reducing corruption and improving “national and sub-national governance” while the U.S. “supported and focused investments in infrastructure that would give the Afghan government and people the tools to build and sustain a future of stability.”
Yet there is little evidence the Karzai administration has the will or capacity to change its praetorian ways, as the Afghan President continually abuses power and interferes in the prosecution of reprobate government officials while still being perceived by the population as a U.S. puppet who has seized and retains power through patent electoral chicanery.
Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali, with his stranglehold on Kandahar, a province that is the birthplace and spiritual cradle of the Taliban and one he runs like a mob boss, is single-handedly fueling the insurgency according to countless credible tribal sources.
WikiLeaks cables revealed that U.S. officials in Afghanistan and individuals within Karzai’s own cabinet have characterized the leader as paranoid, erratic and corrupt. Juan Cole, another member of the Afghanistan Study Group, rightly wondered why soldiers in the Afghanistan National Army would be willing to risk their lives for such an untrustworthy figure.
It should ignite the outrage of all Americans that our troops are sacrificing themselves in a self-defeating effort on behalf of a government that is a destabilizing force and is the leading factor for the growth of the Taliban movement especially in the last five years.
As written in a New World Strategies Coalition white paper, if it is true, as French army officer and counterinsurgency theorist Roger Trinquier put it, that “the sine qua non of victory in modern warfare is the unconditional support of a population”, and if the U.S. wholeheartedly believes in the most basic precepts of COIN strategy – then Karzai’s very existence as head of state is irreconcilable with capturing Afghan hearts and minds.
Not only is NATO struggling militarily but it’s losing on the development and humanitarian aid fronts as well, due to billions being misspent on wasteful projects, according to Patrick Cockburn, as dollars invested have simply fed a corrupt patronage system while relief workers are getting killed at a record clip.
The recently deceased U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, once pointed out that “our [U.S.] presence is the corrupting force” in Afghanistan as contractors paid by the US government have been paying off the Taliban.
According to Bob Woodward, Holbrooke said that Obama’s 30,000 troop surge in December 2009 would not work. Per The Washington Post, Holbrooke’s last words to his Pakistani doctor were: “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.”
The review also indicated that the U.S. and Pakistan have “strengthened their relationship” but that strengthening has not led Pakistan to do a thing about militant safe havens in places like North Waziristan and Quetta that inflict havoc upon U.S. operations on the Afghan side of the border.
WikiLeaks reports revealed that U.S. officials believe, supported by U.S. intelligence reports, that no amount of aid will incentivize Pakistan to shift its obsessive focus from India.
And intel assessments have also validated that Pakistan’s intelligence services have continued its covert support for the Afghan Taliban in defiance of U.S. demands and despite Pakistan being the recipient of billions in U.S. aid earmarked for rooting out these insurgents.
General David Petraeus, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and war supporters like Peter Mansoor and Max Boot have been adamantly proclaiming military “progress” has been made against the insurgency and have personally witnessed how the population has been made more secure, which makes one wonder what color the sky is in their world.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an organization which has an up-close-and-personal view of casualties on a daily basis and rarely makes public statements, reported that levels of violence are at the highest they’ve been in 30 years.
2010 alone has been the bloodiest year of the war with nearly 700 foreign troops being killed. Yet civilians have borne the brunt of the casualties. According to the UN, 1,271 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, a 21% increase versus the same period in 2009.
The ICRC has also reported a spike in the number of wounded patients admitted to the main hospital in southern Kandahar which has attended to more than 2,650 patients with weapons-related injuries in 2010 compared to 2,110 in 2009.
Where is the evidence of this so-called progress and what data exists that would lead any rational individual to conclude that Afghanistan is any more secure than it was since the overthrow of the Taliban?
Until something is done about the Karzai government and militant safe havens in Pakistan “conditions on the ground” shall never likely meet U.S. standards to justify a withdrawal of any material proportion.
Furthur, Obama’s report was based on data collated by Petraeus and company with close to zero indigenous input, accounting for its delusional outlook.
Obama advisors are correct in their assertion that the review was not “prescriptive” in nature, but then again how could such an assessment ever produce any meaningful recommendations considering it was derived from skewed perspectives and fantasy?
No analysis on earth akin to the White House’s rubberstamp of Petraeus’s policies will ever lead to coherent solutions, especially one oblivious to certain particulars called facts – regardless the level of inconvenience they might pose to U.S. chimerical aspirations.
(Michael Hughes is a journalist and foreign policy strategist for the New World Strategies Coalition (NWSC), a think tank founded by Afghan natives focused on developing political, economic and cultural solutions for Afghanistan. Mr. Hughes writes regularly for The Huffington Post and his work has appeared in CNN.com and Ruse the magazine. Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in History).
NOTE:This is a cross post.