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PORTSIDE  April 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE April 2012, Week 3

Subject:

The U.S. & The Afghan Train Wreck

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Date:

Mon, 16 Apr 2012 21:44:23 -0400

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The U.S. & The Afghan Train Wreck

By Conn Hallinan

April 16, 2012

Dispatches From The Edge

The recent decision by the Taliban and one of its
allies to withdraw from peace talks with Washington
underlines the train wreck the U.S. is headed for in
Afghanistan. Indeed, for an administration touted as
sophisticated and intelligent, virtually every decision
the White House has made vis-a-vis Afghanistan has been
a disaster.

On Mar. 15 the Taliban ended preliminary talks with
Washington, because, according to a spokesman for the
insurgent organization, the Americans were being
"shaky, erratic and vague." The smaller Hizb-i-Islami
group followed two weeks later.

That both groups are refusing to talk should hardly
come as a surprise. In spite of the Obama
administration's talk about wanting a "political
settlement" to the war, the White House's strategy
makes that goal little more than a mirage.

The current U.S. negotiating position is that the
Taliban must cut all ties with the terrorist group al-
Qaeda, recognize the Afghan constitution, lay down
their arms, and accede to a substantial U.S. military
presence until at least 2024. The U.S. has 100,000
troops in Afghanistan, its allies another 40,000. The
current plan calls for a withdrawal of most of those
troops by the end of 2014.

What is hard to figure out is why the White House
thinks any of its demands-with the exception of the al-
Qaeda proviso-have even a remote possibility of being
achieved? Or exactly what the Americans think they are
going to be "negotiating" with Mullah Omar of the
Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hezb-i-Islami, or
Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Group?

The Obama administration's initial mistake was to surge
some 33,000 troops into Afghanistan with the aim of
beating up on the resistance and forcing it to
negotiate from a position of weakness. That plan was
always an illusion, particularly given the ability of
the insurgents to fall back into Pakistan to regroup,
rearm, and recruit. In any case, the idea that 140,000
foreign troops-the 330,000 member Afghan National Army
(ANA) is incapable of even defending itself-could
defeat a force of some 25,000 guerillas fighters in a
country as vast or geographically formidable as
Afghanistan is laughable.

As a series of recent attacks demonstrate, the surge
failed to secure Kandahar and Helmand Province, two of
its major targets. While NATO claims that insurgent
attacks have fallen as a result of the U.S. offensive,
independent data collected by the United Nations shows
the opposite.

In short, after a decade of war and the expenditure of
over $450 billion, Afghanistan is a less secure place
than it was after the 2001 invasion. All the surge
accomplished was to more deeply entrench the Taliban
and elevate the casualty rate on all sides.

The second U.S. error was to estrange Pakistan by
wooing India in order to rope New Delhi into
Washington's campaign to challenge China in Asia.
First, Obama ditched his campaign pledge to address the
volatile issue of Kashmir, the flashpoint for three
wars between Indian and Pakistan. Second, the White
House ignored India's violation of the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty and allowed it to buy uranium on
the world market-the so-called 1-2-3 Agreement-while
refusing that same waiver to Pakistan. Add the American
drone war and last November's deadly attack on
Pakistani border troops, and most Pakistanis are
thoroughly alienated from the U.S. And yet a political
solution to the Afghan war without Islamabad is simply
impossible.

The U.S. demand to keep Special Forces troops in
Afghanistan in order to continue its war on "terrorism"
is not only a non-starter for the insurgents-the
Taliban are, after all, the target of thousands of
deadly "night raids" carried out by these same Special
Forces-it is opposed by every country in the region
save India. How the White House thinks it can bring the
Taliban and its allies to the table while still trying
to kill and capture them, or maintain a military
presence in the face of almost total regional
opposition, is hard to figure.

The more than 2,000 yearly night raids have eliminated
many of the senior and mid-level Taliban leaders and
atomized the organization. When it comes time to
negotiate, NATO may find it has literally hundreds of
leaders with whom it will have to cut a deal, not all
of whom are on the same page.

That the insurgency would lay down its arms has a
quality of magical thinking to it. Not only is the
insurgency undefeated, but according to a leaked NATO
report, captured Taliban think they are winning. The
report-based on 27,000 interrogations-also found that
"Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governancy
over GIROA [Government of the Islamic Republic of
Afghanistan], usually as a result of government
corruption, ethnic bias and lack of connection with
local religious and tribal leaders."

There is no popular support for the war, either in
Afghanistan, the U.S., or among its allies. The most
recent ABC Poll found that 69 percent of Americans want
the war to end, and according to a poll in the
Financial Times, 54 percent of the British want to
withdraw immediately.

As for supporting the Afghan constitution, why would an
undefeated insurgency that sees its enemies in disarray
and looking at a 2014 U.S.-NATO withdrawal date, agree
to a document they had no part in drafting?

None of this had to happen. Back in late 2007, Saudi
Arabia carried a peace offer from the Taliban in which
they agreed to cut ties to al-Qaeda-a pledge they
reiterated in 2008-and accept a time table for foreign
troop withdrawals.  In return, a national unity
government would replace the Karzai regime until
elections could be held, and the constitution would be
re-written.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations ignored the
offer, apparently because they thought they could bring
the Taliban to heel. It was thinking that verged on the
hallucinatory.

The trump card holders these days are holed up in the
high peaks or hiding in plain sight. Opium is booming
in Helmand Province because the Taliban are protecting
farmers from drug eradication teams, even blowing up
tractors that are used to plow the crop under.

As the 2014 withdrawal date looms, the White House's
options are rapidly narrowing. If it holds to its plans
to quarter troops in Afghanistan, the insurgency will
fight on, and Washington's only regional ally will be
India, a country that can deliver virtually nothing
toward a peace agreement. If it insists the insurgency
recognize the Karzai regime and the constitution, it
will be defending a deeply corrupt and unpopular
government and a document that excluded the
participation of country's largest ethnic group, the
Pashtun. Pushtuns make up the core of the Taliban.

How the U.S. managed to get itself into this mess needs
to be closely examined. The State Department under
Hillary Clinton has become little more than an arm of
the Pentagon, and the White House has shown an
unsettling penchant for resorting to violence. In the
meantime Afghanistan is headed for a terrible smashup.

The World Bank estimates that 97 percent of
Afghanistan's economy is military related. The war is
drawing to a finish, and there is no evidence that the
U.S. or NATO has any intention or ability to keep the
aid spigots wide open.  Europe is in the middle of an
economic meltdown and the U.S. economy is struggling.

NATO provides about $11 billion a year to support the
Afghan army, a figure that will probably drop to about
$4 to $5 billion after 2014. There is already talk of
reducing the 335,000-man Afghan army to a more
manageable and less expensive force of 230,000.

There is a window of opportunity, but only if the Obama
administration takes advantage of it. A strategy that
might work-when it comes to Afghanistan there are no
guarantees-would include:

- A ceasefire and stand down of all offensive
operations, including the highly unpopular "night
raids."

- Shelving any long-term plans to keep combat troops or
Special Forces in the country, andshutting down the
drone war in Pakistan.

- Urging the formation of a national unity government
and calling for a constitutional convention.

- Sponsoring a regional conference aimed at keeping
Afghanistan neutral and non-aligned.

- Insuring aid continues to flow into Afghanistan,
particularly aimed at upgrading infrastructure,
improving agriculture, and expanding education.

At home, the Congress should convene hearings aimed at
examining how the U.S. got into Afghanistan, who made
the key decisions concerning the war and regional
strategy, and how the country can avoid such disasters
in the future.

It may be too late and, in the end, NATO may tuck its
tail between its legs and slink out of Afghanistan. But
the deep divisions the war has created will continue,
and civil war is a real possibility. The goal should be
to prevent that, not to pursue an illusory dream of
controlling the crossroads to Asia, a chimera that has
drawn would be conquerors to that poor, ravaged land
for a millennium. ____________

Conn Hallinan can be read at
dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com and
middleempireseries.wordpress.com

___________________________________________

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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