FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tunnel Darkens for Obama’s Afghan War

Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in London Saturday as US generals express doubts that they are having any success in fighting the Taliban.

The US and NATO commander in Afghanistan Gen Stanley McChrystal, who was boasting of military progress only three months ago, confessed last week that “nobody is winning.” His only claim now is that the Taliban have lost momentum compared to last year.

Karzai’s reception in London and Washington highlights  the political dilemma of the US and UK in Afghanistan since both have more or less openly denounced the corruption of his regime and the mass fraud at the polls by which he was re-elected last year.

In a leaked memo the US ambassador in Kabul Gen Karl Eikenberry said  Karzai was “not an adequate strategic partner” and was interested only in using foreign troops to keep himself in power. One Afghan member of parliament, who did not want his name published, added that “the problem is not that the Taliban is strong but that the government is so weak.”

Equally worrying for the American and British governments is the failure so far of Gen McChrystal’s strategy of using his  troops to seize Taliban strongholds and, once cleared, handing them over to Afghan forces. He sold this plan, under which he was promised an extra 30,000 US troops, last November but all the signs are that it is not working.

Starting in February 15,000 American, British and Afghan troops started taking over the Taliban-held area of Marjah and Nad Ali in Helmand province. Dozens of embedded journalists trumpeted the significance of Operation Moshtarak, as it was called, as the first fruits of Gen McChrystal’s new strategy which was meant to emulate the supposed success of the “surge” in Iraq in 2007.

Three months after the operation in Marjah, however, local people say that the Taliban still control Marjah at night. In this market town shops are still closed and no schools have reopened. Education officials who came at the height of the US-led offensive have fled again. The local governor says he has just one temporary teacher teaching 60 children in the ruins of a school. Aid is not arriving. The Taliban are replacing mines, the notorious IEDs, removed by US troops and often use the same holes to hide them in.

Pentagon officials increasingly agree with the Afghan villagers that the Marjah operation failed to end Taliban control and put the Afghan government in charge. This puts in doubt Gen McChrystal’s whole strategy which also governs the way in which 10,000 British troops are deployed. He is being held to account for earlier optimism such as his claim at the height of Marja offensive that “we’ve got a government in a box ready to roll in.” Three months later people in Marjah say they have yet to see much sign of the Aghan government.

Lack of success in Marjah is feeding doubts about the promised US-led offensive in Kandahar city, parts of which are under Taliban control. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned against destroying the city in order to save it. There has been an attempt by the US military to re-brand the attack “Cooperation for Kandahar.” Local elders have lobbied against it on the grounds that it will bring nothing but ruin to their city.

So far the much-heralded attempt to turn the tide in Kandahar has simply terrified local people about what is to come. US and NATO supply columns thunder through the narrow streets, the soldiers guarding them gesturing menacingly to Afghan vehicles not to get too close. “An atmosphere of terror is hanging over Kandahar,” Ahmad Wali Karzai, the president’s much-criticized brother who is also head of the local council, is quoted as saying. “People are breathing terror here.”

The Taliban is putting more effort into thwarting Gen McChristal’s strategy than the Afghan government is doing to implement it. In Kandahar the Taliban has stepped up a campaign of assassinations against local officials and people who cooperate with the Americans or the Kabul government. US Special Forces carry out their own raids and assassinations. Most of the UN’s international staff has left the city.

When Gen McChrystal’s plan was adopted  by President Obama it promised a quick turn around on the ground in Afghanistan and this is demonstrably not happening. Local people say the Taliban are stronger and more active in Kandahar than they were three months ago. Veteran Taliban fighters are reported to be planning to avoid heavy losses in fighting to come while untrained teenage insurgents are gathering to battle foreign forces regardless of casualties.

Part of the US and British lack of success may be rooted in a failure to understand what happened in Iraq. The US media largely swallowed the official version that an alliance with the Iraqi tribes combined with new military tactics aimed at defending the civilian population had turned the tide against the Sunni Arab insurgency.

There is something in this but not much. The main reasons why the Sunni Arabs ended their insurgency against the US occupation was that they were being slaughtered by the Shia dominated government and the Sunni have been largely driven from Baghdad. There are few useful parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan.

The one development over the last year which has hit the Taliban hardest happened not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. Prodded by the US, the Pakistan army has been taking over the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) along the border where the Afghan Taliban once had safe havens . Soon the army may assault North Waziristan, one of the last Afghan insurgent enclaves and one which is already under repeated attack by US Predator drones. These find their targets because Pakistani military intelligence provides detailed intelligence.

But loss of these safe havens in Pakistan may not be such a body blow to the Afghan Taliban as it would have been three years ago when they controlled less of Afghanistan.

It is impossible to seal the 2,600 kilometer frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan, even supposing the Pakistan army wants to do so.

The semi-official Pakistani view is that the US, Britain and NATO forces have got themselves entangled in a civil war in Afghanistan between the Pashtun community, represented by the Taliban, and their Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara opponents who dominate the Kabul government. They expect the Pashtun to go on fighting until they get a real share in power. One Pashtun, formerly a colonel in the Pakistani army, said: “It will be difficult for the Americans and British to win the hearts and minds of the people in southern Afghanistan since at the centre of Pashtun culture is xenophobia and a hatred of all foreigners.”

PATRICK COCKBURN is the Ihe author of “Muqtada: Muqtada Al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq.”

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail