Saturday, July 22, 2006

Afghanistan is running out of time.

It all depends on what we set out to do. The initial incursion into Afghanistan was to capture or eliminate the followers of Osama bin Laden and remove the Taliban government which was sheltering him. That required an overwhelming, thorough and sustained military effort. Anything short of that would leave a country devoid of political stability and lacking the necessary foundation from which to rebuild. In fact, it left this: (Emphasis mine)

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.
The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said today. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".

Corrupt local officials were fuelling the problem and Nato's provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan were sending out conflicting signals, Gen Richards told a conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "The situation is close to anarchy," he said, referring in particular to what he called "the lack of unity between different agencies".

He described "poorly regulated private security companies" as unethical and "all too ready to discharge firearms". Nato forces in Afghanistan were short of equipment, notably aircraft, but also of medical evacuation systems and life-saving equipment.
And it should have been benign. Operations in Afghanistan, particularly early on, were highlighted by the fact that attacks were either not followed up or they were botched for purely political reasons in the first place. The result was a Taliban which was given an opportunity to rebuild. Warlords, instead of being crushed were courted as allies with little consideration given to the future cost of their employment.

The picture Gen Richards painted today contrasted markedly with optimistic comments by ministers when they agreed earlier this month to send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan at the request of British commanders there. Many of those will be engineers with the task of appealing to Afghan "hearts and minds" by repairing the infrastructure, including irrigation systems.

Gen Richards said today that was a priority. How to eradicate opium poppies - an issue repeatedly highlighted by ministers - was a problem that could only be tackled later.
Because, unlike the politicians, Richards sees the military imperative. The enemy in Afghanistan, the Taliban, has never really been defeated. Richards is well aware that cultural and political problems cannot be addressed until the military situation is fully resolved.

It's too bad Tommy Franks didn't understand that and was tip-toeing around the political micro-managers of the Bush administration. It's too bad he didn't use his war college education and demand that the principle of overwhelming force be adhered to fully. It's too bad Franks allowed Rumsfeld and his half-baked, non-uniformed corps of neo-con ideologues to rob the military leadership on the ground of their necessary tactical command. It's too bad Franks didn't do what was right and demand three times the number of troops to secure Afghanistan after it was clear Osama and a large part of his organization had been allowed to escape.

It's too bad that the politicians were so absorbed with the idea of an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq, thus turning Afghanistan into a side-show. It's still the festering boil it always was.

Too bad, because as Richards says, NATO cannot afford not to succeed in Afghanistan. But the politicians, particularly the Bush neo-cons, have made it possible.

(H/T Cat for the link)

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