Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water [read more]
It appears that the showdown between Hamid Karzai and ISAF may finally be here.
An article in today’s Washington Examiner leads with this:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s call to ban private security contractors and dismantle the NATO teams helping to rebuild the country is a high-stakes ploy that will make efforts to aid the Afghan people and contain the Taliban insurgency even more difficult, experts said. Karzai made the announcement in Germany over the weekend, saying it was part of his plan to speed up the process of withdrawal by foreign countries in the coming year. The reconstruction teams operate outside the Karzai government’s control in helping to build schools and provide basic services in remote parts of the country. The level of corruption inside the Afghan government is so high that many officials — both Western and Afghan — say the jobs can’t be done under Afghan government control.
U.S. officials in Afghanistan have not criticized Karzai’s statement, downplaying any suggestion it represented a rift between NATO and the Afghan government. U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Forces, said “ISAF and President Karzai share the same goal of building capacity within the Afghan government to provide security and government services to the Afghan people. We will continue to support his efforts to eliminate the need for private security firms and provincial reconstruction teams, because they provide services that ultimately the Afghan government must provide.”
For Karzai, a public flirtation with the Taliban, while hastening divorce proceedings with the West, makes good internal politics.
“Karzai realizes that time for him is running out with the 2014 deadline looming,” one U.S. official said. “Karzai is beating his chest to show that he is not in the pocket of the U.S. Unfortunately, he has filled his pockets with the money of the Afghan people.”
The point has been made many times and in many places, but here we have a fresh example of why it is so self-defeating to announce dates of withdrawal. Not only does it motivate the enemy by feeding the belief that they can outlast us, but it creates a political vacuum as the withdrawal date looms.
Whatever one may think of Karzai as a leader or ally against the Islamofascists, he has at least gotten this much right: if he is going to continue as head of the Afghan government (and keep his head, literally), he needs to build his own power base and legitimacy that does not depend upon American support. In the long run, that is a good and necessary development. In the short term, when the Afghan government and military are too weak to resist Islamist attacks, such thinking works directly counter to our efforts and makes victory that much harder to secure.
A military official, who works closely with reconstruction teams in the nation’s dangerous southern provinces, said that Karzai’s grandstanding on issues like taking control of reconstruction teams “is hurting the mission.” The official said that corruption in the local and national government has hampered efforts to bring needed supplies and services to the Afghan people.
“This shouldn’t be about politics and trying to play nice with Karzai,” the U.S. military official said. “The Afghan people don’t trust Karzai, so they don’t trust us because we support him. Our soldiers and Marines have given everything. What for, if we’re not going to finish what we started and do what we need to do to get the job done.”
It is worth pointing out, as well, that for all of the back-tracking and recent talk about staying committed to Afghan security, the Obumble Administration has not done a very good job convincing Karzai that the U.S. can be relied upon for support after 2014.
Time for a showdown
This is an intolerable situation for the U.S. It is time for a showdown of sorts with Karzai.
Karzai and his cronies have been shrewd enough to realize that most NGO’s and private firms cannot function in Afghanistan without security. By shutting down the private security firms, Karzai has made himself the only game in town. These aid agencies are literally at Karzai’s mercy and can easily be intimidated and bent to his will.
The U.S. and ISAF are the only, other rivals in the game. It stands to reason that any activities undertaken by these forces are effectively outside of Karzai’s control and, by extension, corruption. Karzai is embarking on a campaign to terminate or re-route every aid project not under his control.
Rather than allow that to continue, however, the U.S. and ISAF must keep the PRT’s and any, other effective aid organizations (such as the one Tim Lynch works for) under their protective cover– or at least away from Karzai’s.
Furthermore, not only should the U.S. continue direct funding to the PRT’s (to the extent that they are effective) and maintain their autonomy, the U.S. should re-direct, over some period of time, a greater share of funding directly to local, U.S. military commanders.
Battalion and company commanders in Iraq proved extremely adept at using their so-called “emergency funds” to leverage their positions in their area of operations. Commanders in Afghanistan can be trusted with the money to a far greater degree than the Karzai government, and these commanders, at the ground level, will know how best to use it.
The only question is how far Karzai is willing to go to challenge this sort of thing.
Right now the U.S. military and the ISAF are the only things that work even half-effectively in Afghanistan. We can maximize this asset if we by-pass the Karzai government and put the aid directly into the hands of our commanders, giving them the broad discretion to use the money as they see fit, including the ability to hire contractors for aid projects and development and, if appropriate, hiring local security forces as a multiplier.
Will Karzai order the ANA or ANP to confront the U.S. military? Not likely. The U.S. and ISAF are providing much of the training of the Afghan security forces; they heavily depend upon U.S. officers and logistics.
The U.S. can and should continue to talk a good game. Like Lt. Col. Dorrian, the unified message should be that we support the goal of a strong Afghan government and the rule of law. The unspoken message— the message privately conveyed to Karzai– is that they have yet to demonstrate a readiness to handle aid money and aid projects necessary at this time to win the war.
If the U.S. is not willing to do this, then it is simply a question of time until Karzai has so hamstrung our efforts there that a 2014 withdrawal is no longer an option but an inevitability.
Do not misunderstand: I do not favor staying in Afghanistan on a permanent basis. But the U.S. cannot afford to leave in abject defeat, either.