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No End in Sight to the War-Spawned Chaos Engulfing Afghanistan

The war has been awful for all involved--and without peace negotiations, it will stay that way.
 
 
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Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division conduct a patrol in a small village in eastern Afghanistan.
Photo Credit: Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez/US Army/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

Gunmen in Pakistan on Monday set ablaze five trucks carrying NATO equipment out of Afghanistan as the international military alliance winds down it combat mission there, officials said.

—Agence-France Presse, 3/1/13

There is nothing that better sums up the utter failure of America’s longest war than international forces getting  ambushed as they try to get the hell out of the county. And yet the April 1 debacle in Baluchistan was in many ways a metaphor for a looming crisis that NATO and the United States seem totally unprepared for: with the clock ticking down on removing most combat troops by 2014, there are no official negotiations going on, nor does there seem to be any strategy for how to bring them about.

“I still cannot understand how we, the international community and the Afghan government have managed to arrive at a situation in which everything is coming together in 2014—elections, new president, economic transition, military transition—and negotiations for the peace process have not really started,” as Bernard Bajolet, the former French ambassador to Kabul and current head of France’s foreign intelligence service, told the New York Times.

When the Obama administration sent an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 as part of the “surge,” the goal was to secure the country’s southern provinces, suppress opium cultivation, and force the Taliban to give up on the war. Not only did the surge fail to impress the Taliban and its allies, it never stabilized the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Both are once again under the sway of the insurgency, and opium production has soared.  What the surge did manage was to spread the insurgency into formerly secure areas in the north and west.

With the exception of the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, virtually everyone has concluded that the war has been a disaster for all involved.

"Shoot and Talk"

Afghanistan has lost more than 2 million people to the wars of the past 30 years. Huge sections of the population have been turned into refugees, and the country is becoming what one international law enforcement official described to the  New York Times as “the world’s first true narco state.” According to the  World Bank, 36 percent of Afghans are at or below the poverty line, and 20 percent of Afghan children never reach the age of five.

The war has cost American taxpayers over $1.4 trillion, and according to a recent study, the final  butcher bill for Iraq and Afghanistan together will top $6 trillion. The decade-long conflict has put enormous strains on the NATO alliance, destabilized and alienated nuclear-armed Pakistan, and helped to spread al-Qaeda-like organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa. 

Only U.S. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe”  Dunford, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) thinks the war on the Taliban is being won, and that the Afghan Army is “steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.” Attacks by the Taliban are up 47 percent over last year, and the casualty rate for Afghan soldiers and police has increased 40 percent. The yearly desertion rate of the Afghan Army is between 27 percent and 30 percent.

In theory, ISAF combat troops will exit Afghanistan in 2014 and turn the war over to the Afghan Army and police, organizations that have yet to show they can take on the insurgency. One of the Army’s crack units was recently  overrun in eastern Afghanistan.  Given the fragility of the Afghan government and its army, one would think that the White House would be putting on a full court press to get talks going, but instead it is following a strategy that has demonstrably failed in the past.

 
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