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Why is America Failing in Afghanistan?

- DR. Abdul-Qayum Mohmand

Analysis of “CIA World Factbook” (1981-2012): Dimensions of anti-Pashtun Conspirac

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The Real Reason the US Invaded Afghanistan
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For Afghans, Two Outrages, Two Different Reactions
Double blow to west’s Afghan strategy
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Afghanistan: Lessons in War and Peace-building for US
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Q+A - Haqqani: From White House guest to staunch U.S. enemy
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Afghan nominated as ambassador to Britain was accused in US of fraud
U.S. deal with Taliban breaks down
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Abdul Basir Stanikzai
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Afghanistan's Karzai complains about interference
Karzai, US ambassador at odds over private security

Karzai Tells Washington Post U.S. Should Reduce Afghan Operation Intensity

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What the Afghans Want
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We've lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan

The strategy is sound – but success is not assured
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Echoes of Vietnam

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Will history repeat itself in Afghanistan?

British military intervention in Afghanistan has a chequered history, making it easy to conclude that British forces will fail again



Covering Crucial Afghanistan Operation

Source: Huffington Post

Kabul, Afghanistan - Having been in Afghanistan for four months, traveling around the country and reporting on the war, now the "crucial operation" of the war is in full swing. And where am I? In the brutal grip of one devastating hangover! In the empty Mustafa hotel - the other journalists fled to the "biggest operation of the war."

In boiling hot Helmand Province, the fellow journalists are investigating every footstep, every footstep allowed to be reported; shooting pictures from every angle, every angle allowed. Some 4,000-plus US Marines are storming down the Helmand River Valley in "the mother of all Afghan operations," to borrow a phrase from the recent past. Yet, I'm not wondering why I'm still in Kabul. What I'm wondering is why all the other journalists left the party. It doesn't make sense. What they are now reporting in that miserably hot desert they could have reported on from the comfortable and cool lounge of the Mustafa hotel.

Here is my report, from the comfortable and cool.

This large Marine force is being divided into small groups and are establishing fortifications on the edge of towns and villages. After the Marines, with Afghan forces, establish initial security -- actually, the area is already secure, enforced by the Taliban - then will come development projects. Small public projects, water spigots, irrigation ditches, repairing school roofs, weekly medical clinics. Small projects that the Marines hope are greatly appreciated by the Afghans. If security holds, then the NGOs will arrive to manage larger projects, such as electrification, road improvements, crop substitution programs, etc. At the same time, private contractors will work to give some coherence to the political system.

First, however, are Marines are organizing meetings with village elders. They understand white hair is greatly respected in Afghanistan. The Marines will ascertain the needs of the villages and decide what they and the reconstruction teams can deliver. But there is a catch, a crucial catch. For community improvements to happen there must be ongoing security, which requires the cooperation of local Afghans. They must become the E&E -- the eyes and ears -- of their communities and furnish intelligence to security forces. Otherwise the Taliban will be the E&E of the community and....

Finally, the Afghan Army and government are being presented as partners with the Marines and US reconstruction teams. The security forces and development improvements are intended to enhance the image of the Afghanistan government -- the national government, but also provincial and district governments. The ultimate goal is to bring local Afghans closer to their government. Not an easy task. The Afghan government has never done anything for these citizens, especially in the Taliban controlled south, and the government's closest representatives, the police, are rightfully viewed as parasites.

So that is the overall plan of this new campaign now storming through the stronghold of the Taliban. Success will obviously take several years, if there is any success.

So, why did my fellow journalists race to southern Helmand Province? This is not a conventional war, but an irregular war. The focus is not on killing the enemy but on protecting the people and enabling development. They won't see any serious fighting -- only brain-dead foamers believe the Taliban will go head-to-head against large numbers of Marines, with their mean Apaches circling overhead. A few hundred Marines, one company, would have been sufficient to dampen any Taliban enthusiasm to fight.

In fact, in the last two days -- since this "crucial" operation in the south shot out of the starting blocks -- more NATO and US soldiers and Marines have been killed in the eastern part of the country along the border with Pakistan than in the south.

As for the Taliban's plan - they've had months to craft one since for months everyone has known the Marines were going to storm south -- step one is to evade the storming Marines. The Taliban has melted into the friendly population while others are squirting across the border into Pakistan. Forget the Pakistan Army blocking the border; it's a "forest" in the desert. Those Taliban remaining in southern Helmand will be crucial for intelligence and logistical support, while many of those leaving Afghanistan will later re-infiltrate to fight. That is step two, fight later. This is as far as the Taliban strategy goes. It's as far as any insurgency ever goes: disperse, unite, disperse.....

Now, instead of blitzing the desert, why didn't the Marines simple unfold themselves over several weeks? It would have been easier and more efficient and possibly safer, right? There is no reason to stretch resources and tax humans when not absolutely necessary.

This current mad dash in the south is reminiscent of the mad rush to Baghdad, both predicated upon "faster is better." Strange, since the US military is a huge bureaucratic machine that doesn't do anything fast, which is probably why they want to do something fast. But in the mad rush to Baghdad, the Marines and Army refused to stop and secure hundreds of munitions depots - "time is of the essence!" Yet, those left unguarded explosives were soon blowing up Americans. It was a stupid plan, with deadly consequences.

But I'm missing the real story of this mad blitz into the desert. Moving large numbers of troops, pressing relentlessly forward, the stress and strain, the bold goals proclaiming this is a "decisive operation!" Simple and dramatic in short time frame. It's made for TV! Ideal for newspaper headlines! Great for brief radio dispatches! The audience back home gets hooked. Ratings go up!

Not this time, however. Americans are tired of war stories, having too much reality in their heads. But the media is desperate, so they have rolled out as a big-time story the the "largest operation of the war."

War stories generally hide more than they expose. What seems to be exciting and important is most often the preface to the substance of war. The truly important - in Helmand the establishment of trust between two sides, the building of projects, the deepening of trust, the building of institutions -- unfold painfully slow over years, and never in a straight line, never without frustration and disagreements. Before the first success is even recorded our pumped journalists will be long gone.

When they have left, I will leave Kabul and catch a flight down to Helmand. Then the Marines will be in full operation. The civil affairs teams will be delivering their first projects. The NGOs will be having their projects approved. The Taliban will be laying IEDs and conducting hit-and-run attacks. The training of the Afghan police will be in full-swing. The real war will have started. The real war is the war to win "the hearts and minds" of Afghans in the Taliban's strongest stronghold. Then the real reporting needs to happen. Meanwhile, I'm staying put in the Mustafa Hotel's lounge. Hey, for now I have it all to myself.

 We've lost sight of our goal in Afghanistan
Source: The Observer, UK

The problem with conflict is that the way we describe it does not necessarily conform to reality. We think in terms more appropriate to a bygone era: by the desire to seize, destroy or conquer. The present war in Afghanistan is a case in point. We have been encouraged to believe that with the application of sufficient military force, backed by some state building, victory can be achieved and the country can be transformed into a modern democratic state after our own ideals.

The thousands of US troops, backed by their British allies, who have fanned out into Helmand province are propelled by two equally flawed ideas. The first is that the Taliban can be defeated in a conventional sense. The second is that by displacing the Taliban's activities during the run-up to August's presidential election a political space can be created that will legitimise the corrupted Hamid Karzai government which the West has for so long, and so obviously, propped up.

If the campaign in Helmand appears purposeful at all, it is because we choose to make it seem so through a combination of how it is presented (depictions of military manoeuvres devoid of real meaning), and because for too long we have uncritically accepted that the end is achievable - in Gordon Brown's words, "democracy must win".

But the reality is that the war in Afghanistan is increasingly aimless and lacking in coherent strategy. Brown's notion that a strong Afghan state can be quickly forged is contradicted by the nature of the competition for power inside Afghanistan: between Kabul and the regions; between the Pashtu-speaking south and the rest of Afghanistan; and between weak state institutions and powerful social affiliations.

To "win" a war in Afghanistan requires that we know what winning might look like. Not the idealised picture imagined in distant western capitals, but an end state that would leave Afghanistan best equipped to deal itself with its own myriad internal challenges. This means a final burying of the rhetoric of "war on terror" and the idea that what happens in Afghanistan presents a serious security threat that challenges us in an existential way.

What is equally urgent is a serious debate about what we are doing in Afghanistan, and what we can - and cannot - realistically achieve. Without that, the war in Afghanistan can only drag on, with deaths on all sides.


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