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PORTSIDE  September 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2011, Week 3

Subject:

Once Again US Afghan Policy is Hobbled by Divisions

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Tue, 20 Sep 2011 20:08:58 -0400

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (116 lines)

Once Again US Afghan Policy is Hobbled by Divisions

By Ahmed Rashid
Financial Times 
September 20, 2011

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7d6fd072-e2d8-11e0-93d9-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1YWGJs8k7

Much has rightly been made of the audacious attack on Kabul
last week by a group of heavily armed Taliban insurgents,
which was clearly aimed at sabotaging peace talks between the
Taliban, the Americans and the Afghan government. Rather less
attention however has been given to the other pressing issues
threatening the talks - the deep divisions within President
Barack Obama's administration over their future, and his
apparent failure to exercise control over his officials.

Last week's 20-hour siege followed August's attack on the
British Council in Kabul, and showed once again that the
Taliban can now penetrate Kabul's "green zone" with ease. In
retaliation US Special Forces now mount up to a dozen raids
every night, killing and capturing Taliban and civilians in
what are often hit-or-miss operations, fuelling Afghan public
anger at the Americans.

In these circumstances European governments and the majority
 of Americans want a speedy troop withdrawal from
 Afghanistan. But it is not only hardline American generals
 like David Petraeus, the former commander in Afghanistan,
 who now heads the CIA, who are dragging their feet. Senior
 US diplomats are doing so as well. "The Taliban needs to
 feel more pain before you get to a real readiness to
 reconcile them,'' said Ryan Crocker, the prestigious new US
 ambassador to Kabul who arrived in June.

In a blistering interview with the Wall Street Journal he
also said the conflict should continue until more of the
Taliban are killed. With such statements he riles Nato and US
officials by openly undermining the drive to hold talks.

Gen Petraeus was well known for wanting to continue to fight
the Taliban until well into next year, even as Nato troops
are being pulled out. Whether his views will carry weight in
the more sceptical CIA still has to be seen. However European
officials - and some US ones - describe Mr Crocker as the
spokesman for a new cabal in the US administration who want
to delay talks with the Taliban for the time being and reduce
the insurgency first, by killing as many as possible.

"What Crocker is saying is totally destructive to what we
have agreed upon,'' says one senior European official. "His
language humiliates the Taliban which is not the way to bring
them to the table,'' says another. European officials are
deeply concerned that the attempted dialogue will stall in
the wake of such comments.

The ambassador's statements are reducing the chances that the
 Taliban will go ahead with their plan to open an office in
 Qatar, as was expected to happen as the next step towards an
 agreement. Moreover his fiery statements are exactly what
 the Taliban irreconcilables want to hear, because they
 sabotage negotiations that representatives of the mainstream
 Taliban faction may be having with Kabul and Washington.

"Crocker's hardline comments play into the hands of the
 hardline Taliban who want the talks sabotaged anyway," says
 the first European official. What is clearly missing is
 leadership. The State Department team, led by Marc Grossman,
 has been engaged for some months in talking to the Taliban,
 but senior officials including even Mr Obama and secretary
 of state, Hillary Clinton, appear to be doing nothing to
 discipline their officials. Mr Obama rarely talks about
 Afghanistan and he barely mentioned it at the tenth
 anniversary commemorations of the 9/11 attacks in New York
 last week.

Yet both Mr Obama and Ms Clinton have publicly and
vociferously supported the need for talks with the Taliban.
Reconciliation is the official name of the new US strategy.
Beset as he is by domestic difficulties, in particular on the
economy, Mr Obama needs to become more proactive on
Afghanistan and seek to drive forward the talks rather than
merely to be a "back stop" for them.

Ironically the "hardliners" in Washington have no support
from traditional Republicans who want the US troops to come
home. There is no presidential candidate among the
Republicans who wants to prolong the war. In Europe every
government wants a quick exit for its troops. European
officials meanwhile fulminate at what they see as chaos in
Washington where foreign policy appears to be set by an
ambassador - while a president cannot decide which side to
back. _______________

The writer is author of Descent into Chaos and The Taliban

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2011

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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