Competing Strategies in Afghanistan

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 4 months ago

The lobbying and the public relations campaign has been essentially completed, and the stage is set for a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan.  The teammates are Hamid Karzai – who has said that the West has bungled the war on the Taliban- and the British.  But the shift in strategy will not look anything like the surge or security plan for Iraq.  Rather, the British and Karzai are pushing for negotiations with the Taliban, and the British plans have been approved by the Cabinet.

It began with the British experiment with Musa Qala, and even though it went very badly, there has been no change in the long range plans.  Upon his recent visit to the U.S., Karzai made a stop at the New York Times to make sure that he communicated that he wanted the U.S. to stop arresting the Taliban and their sympathizers.  He has repeated this narrative within the last few days, and again made it clear what the real problem is with the campaign.  Western forces are to blame for rising violence in Afghanistan.

Karzai said in an interview on Indian television that the West risks losing peoples’ goodwill and that its forces should have done more to crack down on Taliban and al-Qaeda bases outside the country.

In the interview with CNBC TV 18 aired Monday, he didn’t directly mention bases in Pakistan, but his government has singled out that country in the past.

Karzai’s criticism — including his insistence that civilian casualties must stop — is important in light of his stated plan to stand for re-election next year. The president is often criticized in Afghanistan for being too close to the United States and Britain.

The president said Western forces did not focus on “sanctuaries of terrorists” despite his government’s warnings over the past five years.

“It was a serious neglect of that, in spite of our warning,” he said, adding that other former members of the Taliban who had given up arms were unfairly hunted down within Afghan borders.

“Some of the Taliban who have laid down their arms, who are living in the Afghan villages peacefully, who have accepted Afghanistan’s new order, they were chased, they were hunted for no reason, and they were forced to flee the country,” he said, according to Reuters.

The narrative is nonsensical, since the sanctuaries to which Karzai refers are the very places to which the Afghan Taliban flee for safe haven.  Karzai wants them targeted in Pakistan, but not in Afghanistan.  Nonetheless, the narrative is given additional weight by the British.  Once eager to get back into the “good war” in Afghanistan after the Basra disaster, the British are weary and reeling from the defections of high level generals to the civilian world.  Miliband turned up the rhetoric on the campaign, reiterating the tripe that there is no military solution to the problem, and the same notions were pushed by Des Browne, who not only endorsed talks with the Afghan Taliban, but also the negotiations with the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan.

The final act in this sorry play involves British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

As the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 comes to a close, Gordon Brown is ready to talk to the Taliban in a major shift in strategy that is likely to cause consternation among hardliners in the White House.

Six years after British troops were first deployed to oust the Taliban regime, the prime minister believes the time has come to open a dialogue in the hope of moving from military action to consensus-building among the tribal leaders. Since January 1, more than 6,200 people have been killed in violence related to the insurgency, including 40 British soldiers. In total, 86 British troops have died. The latest casualty was Sergeant Lee Johnson, whose vehicle hit a mine before the fall of Taliban-held town of Musa Qala.

The Cabinet on Friday approved a three-pronged plan that Mr Brown will outline for security to be provided by Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the Afghan national army, followed by economic and political development in Afghanistan.

Pakistan defends its participation in the negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, saying that they aren’t engaged in talks with terrorist, but rather, “peace-loving” people.  Karzai sees the Afghan Taliban as peace-loving too and unrelated to the violence, and has struck deals with some of the hard core commanders.  The Afghanis believes it’s Pakistan’s fault, and the Pakistanis believe it’s all Afghanistan’s fault.

The British are tired and want to”negotiate,” the Norwegians are engaged solely in force protection, and the Germans are paying $30,000 per month to warlords for protection.  Gates has not had yet seen fit to pull the rug from under NATO command and retake authority over the campaign, and before Petraeus even becomes fully engaged in CENTCOM, the plans to capitulate are in full swing with him lacking the organizational authority to do anything about it.

The U.S. Marines who won the Anbar Province have had significant initial success in the Helmand Province in turning back Taliban control.  But whether because of lack of forces or simple unwillingness, NATO is recalcitrant and won’t learn from the example.  The NATO strategy being pushed is not one that will simply coexist alongside the U.S. strategy, any more than this approach succeeded in Basra.  It is literally in competition with the U.S. approach, and will work against the goals of the campaign.  Operation Enduring Freedom is becoming a testimony to a squandered opportunity, and the campaign is in very bad trouble.  If the West has indeed squandered an opportunity to kill the Taliban, negotiating with them is not the answer.


You are currently reading "Competing Strategies in Afghanistan", entry #1138 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Britain,Featured and was published June 8th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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