Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"The changing guard in Afghanistan," January 16, 2006.

Earlier this month, the Bush Administration announced that it won't seek more reconstruction aid for Iraq. Simultaneously, the US has reduced reconstruction aid in Afghanistan from $1 bn. a year to a little over $600 mn.

On January 4, speaking at the Pentagon, Bush announced that American forces in Afghanistan would be reduced from 19,000 to about 16,500 during 2006, turning the south over to NATO.

Juan Cole, the progressive Middle Eastern scholar at the University of Michigan, believes the troop pull-out is "a good thing" because "Afghanistan is not a country that will accept a large foreign military presence, especially that of an imperial power, for very long" and because "NATO has more legitimacy" than the US--an interesting admission.

Nevertheless, Cole sees the loss of reconstruction aid as "tragic." (Cole Jan 3 06).

Cole asks, "How many times will the US get deeply involved there, help throw the country into chaos, and then just walk away?"

Conservative Jamestown Foundation analyst Akram Gizabi points out that Afghans "remember bitterly the aftermath of the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, when the West -- led by the United States -- left Afghanistan to the mercy of local powers, resulting in the reign of the oppressive Taliban regime. When the Taliban were overthrown, the Afghans, although fiercely independent, welcomed the presence of US troops, which [Gizabi says] they perhaps naively considered to be liberators. Their fears of being abandoned once again were rekindled when the United States sent troops to Iraq in 2003" (Gizabi Jamestown Jan 12 06).

In a recent article, The New York Times reported that quote "Britain and the Netherlands will join Canada in assuming control in the south, along with a much smaller contingent of American support troops." But that's not quite true.

For openers, "the Dutch government is in disarray about its NATO participation in Afghanistan..." (Meyer NATO Quagmire Jan 6 06).

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende tried to paper over the cracks within his three-party coalition and in parliament by announcing that the government is 100 percent in favour of the deployment.

But that's only partly true. "Ministers of his Christian Democrat Party (CDA) and Liberal Party (VVD) have given qualified support, "but junior partner D66 is opposed" (Expatica Jan 12 06).

D66 deputy Bert Bakker told magazine 'Elsevier' that the centre-right coalition government will likely collapse if the mission goes ahead. (Expatica Jan 12 06)

According to ANP journalist Henk van de Poll, "Superficially, the doubts in the Netherlands centre on the dangers of the mission and fears that prisoners taken by Dutch troops may be executed by the Afghan authorities....

"[But below the surface, it] ... has a lot to do with the trauma of Srebrenica, when a lightly-armed Dutch force - denied air support - surrendered the enclave to Serbian troops in 1995. The Serbs massacred up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys.

"Recalling how doubts about that mission were ignored in 1993, Boris Dittrich, leader of D66, is determined not to 'jump on to a speeding train' this time" (Expatica Jan 12 06).

Van de Poll feels that "In contrast to 1993, the deployment plan is 'excellent', the lines of command are clear and in the hands of Nato....

"The Dutch will also be supported by several hundred seasoned Australian soldiers, with further back up from F-16 jets and Apache helicopters" (Expatica Jan 12 06).

At the beginning of the month, however, "Defence Minister Robert Hill confirmed that Australia might delay sending a planned 200-strong military reconstruction team to Afghanistan because of Dutch indecision about sending support troops to the region....

"The Australian team would rely on the Dutch troops for logistics, protection and other support" (Kerin and Smith Jan 3 06).

Col. Don C. McGraw, who directs US military operations in Afghanistan, quote "It's understood that NATO will be in a position to carry on the same counterinsurgency fight that we're running today." endquote.

In fact, where Afghanistan is concerned, the terms peacekeeping, reconstruction, and counterinsurgency warfare are used as if they meant much the same thing.

"In the end of December, Col. Bowles said the Canadians will "assume responsibility for Kandahar." He also said that his force "is prepared to extend the offensive nature of the operation. It's clear that this is not a peacekeeping mission," he said. What, exactly, is this "offensive" plan? There are now unconfirmed rumours that 100 commandos from the elite Joint Task Force 2 are leaving for Afghanistan this month to "prepare the ground" for the 2000-member "battle" group" (Meyer NATO quagmire Jan 6 06).

As Sean M. Maloney who teaches in the War Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada says, "Provincial Reconstruction Teams are not peacekeeping missions: they exist to extend central government influence throughout a nearly post - apocalyptic feudal land. The goal is to combat insurgency using a variety of lethal and non-lethal tools."

SFU's Canadian American Strategic Review offers this advice for those thinking about the Canadian mission to Kandahar: "Be prepared for casualties. Accept them with stoicism, and honour the dead. No country committed to exporting justice, liberty, and prosperity to the world's benighted areas should shrink from the goal every time a warrior falls."

"In the UK, it was announced in September 05 that Britain would send more troops to Afghanistan, making a total presence of 5,000 UK troops under the NATO command of Lieutenant-General Sir David Richards. (Meyer NATO quagmire Jan 6 06).

Maj. Andrew Elmes, a British spokesman for the NATO force -- officially called the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF -- said he expects its soldiers will primarily serve in a peacekeeping function, unlike US troops, who have been initiating battles with insurgents.

"'If you think of a policeman, who is armed but he doesn't go out looking for a fight, that's along the lines we're looking at,' he said of the expanded ISAF mission, which will add 6,000 soldiers to the 9,000 currently in the country" (Witte Cedes duties Jan 3 06).

"France has withdrawn her US + NATO commanded jet planes. There will be a total of 1250 French soldiers in Afghanistan. The Kabul mission will receive 450 new soldiers. There are already 200 French soldiers in the South of Afghanistan. France refuses any military duties.

"Germany will expand its troops from 750 to 3,000. The Kashar World News says that 500 will remain in Kabul, whilst the rest will be based in Mazar-i-Sharif. Germany, like France, refuses military duties.

"Denmark "confirmed the possibility" of an additional 190 soldiers....

"Lithuania will be leading a NATO-led PRT (Provincial Recontruction Team), joined by Croatia and Azerbaijan.

"New Zealand pulled its 50 SAS troops out of Afghanistan. 94 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel will be in Bamyan until June 2006.

"Sweden is to add 300 to its nearly 100 troops working on reconstruction in Mazar-i-Sharif, Northern Afghanistan, for a maximum of 2 years.

[In all] There are now 11,000 ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) soldiers from 37 countries stationed in Afghanistan."

Writing for the blog, Index Research, Sarah Meyer calls it a "NATO quagmire" and says, quote "A recipe for disaster is in place. All the participating countries have a different agenda and none share policy coordination" (Meyer NATO quagmire Jan 6 06).

Simon Jenkins, writing an overview of Britain's role in Afghanistan for The Guardian, called the UK troop additions quote 'the half-baked product of Tony Blair's global machismo'" (Jenkins Folly Jan 4 06).

"Someone should make Blair read General Sir Rupert Smith's recent study, The Utility of Force [says Jenkins]. His view is that an exaggerated faith in hi-tech armies against insurgency is now leading the west to create one ruined nation after another" (Jenkins Folly Jan 4 06).

"[General] Smith points out that operations like those in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq are not like the Falklands or Gulf wars, where the military aim was to eject an enemy army from occupied territories. They are rather 'wars among the people', in which missiles, gunships, fortified bases and search-and-destroy missions are usually counterproductive. The enemy is not a state, vulnerable to 'kinetic force projection' [Paul Martin and the Defence Ministry use the language of projecting force and Canadian values in their contributions to Canada's International Policy Statement released last April. But the enemy, in this case, is ] ...a miasma of conspiracies, hidden loyalties and lasting hostilities whose combatants know no boundaries" (Jenkins Folly Jan 4 06). endquote

A large foreign military presence, even from NATO, may do more harm than good.

On top of that, "Attacks in Afghanistan are now running at more than 500 a month - it's getting as dangerous for westerners as Iraq in some places." (Ripley Foreign fighters Jan 13 06).

Jenkins says flatly, quote "Everything I have heard and read about this expedition suggests that it makes no sense. British soldiers are being sent to a poor and dangerous place whose sole economic resource is opium. They will sit there as targets for probably the most intractable concentration of insurgents, Taliban, drug traffickers and suicide bombers in the world - until some minister has the guts to withdraw them" (Jenkins Folly Jan 4 06). Canadian troops are headed out to the same place. Let's hope the minister with the guts to do whatever is necessary will be one we are about to elect in seven days.

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