Mon, Oct 10, 2011 - Page 9 News List

A decade later and time for peace is running out

The headlines of the last decade in Afghanistan have been about the bloodshed, but behind them lies a political failure at every level

By Declan Walsh  /  The Guardian, ISLAMABAD

The violence spread like a virus. NATO launched Operation Medusa in neighboring Kandahar in the summer of 2006 — the alliance’s first land operation. It was a success, of sorts. Canadian soldiers started the fight and US soldiers finished it, driving the Taliban back over the border toward Quetta. I toured the battlefield with Colonel Stephen Williams, a flamboyant American who played heavy metal music as his artillery pounded Taliban-held compounds.

“Rock’n’roll, man,” he said.

However, the Taliban were also adapting. The insurgency melted out of sight, instead attacking Western and Afghan forces with roadside bombs and suicide attacks. Casualties of Western troops mounted, touching a high of 711 last year. About 2,700 civilians also perished. Beyond the bloodshed, the main problem was that the Afghan government seemed incapable of holding captured ground. In Kabul, Western officials scrambled to come up with solutions.

Every season brought a new initiative — counter-narcotics, building the justice system, rooting out corruption. At first, Western forces demobilized Afghan militias, then they started to arm them. Diplomats attended fundraising events in Tokyo, Berlin and London, trying to maintain flagging interest. The term “Afghanization” — putting Afghan soldiers, civil servants or policemen up front — became an article of shaky faith.

However, no amount of money or soldiers seemed capable of patching up the deeply dysfunctional relationship at the heart of the affair. Anger and frustration turned to resentment and deep mistrust, on both sides. Diplomatic cables from 2009 released through WikiLeaks showed former US ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry describing Karzai as a “paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building.” Another cable noted that Karzai’s deputy, Ahmad Zia Massoud, had been questioned after arriving in Dubai with US$52 million in cash — raising questions about financial propriety at the highest levels of government.

The surge under US President Barack Obama two years ago, bringing the US contingent to more than 100,000 troops, was supposed to rescue the situation. It succeeded in part. Western troops now control a greater swath of southern Afghanistan than they have for years; Taliban violence there is receding. Yet violence has simultaneously surged in the mountainous east, along the border with Pakistan’s tribal belt.

The area is controlled by the notorious Haqqani network — the tribal jihadi clan based out of North Waziristan and the subject of friction between the US and the Pakistani military. The US accuses Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of supporting the Haqqanis, who carried out the daring Sept. 13 attack on the US embassy. The Pakistanis say they don’t know what the US wants — to make peace with the insurgents, or to fight them.

Amid the confusion, the one sure thing is that, by the end of 2014, the US and Britain will have withdrawn most of their troops. Talk of an “endgame” may be premature: Informed officials say that between 10,000 and 20,000 US soldiers will remain behind to support Karzai’s government.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top