Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Busy time for Afghanistan, Headlines for the week of April 21-28, 2008.

Not long ago Russia offered help to NATO in Afghanistan. That story broke a couple of weeks ago. It was the week Dick Cheney was in the Middle East preaching the gospel of nonviolence. That's like the Marquis de Sade preaching chastity.

NATO claims control over ¾ of Afghanistan. NATO spokesperson Mark Laity said on Wednesday (AFP Apr 23 08) dismissed the “perception” that violence is spreading in Afghanistan, saying that most of the insurgency's attacks occur in just 25% of the country.

Meanwhile, this weekend in Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai survived an assassination attempt amid a hail of rockets and bullets during the nation's biggest annual military parade. The event was meant to showcase the Afghan army's growing strength. Among the dead were a 10-year-old child and a member of parliament.

Tanker trucks blown up in Pakistan

The Taliban have begun targeting Torkham. Back on March 20, a convoy of 40 oil tankers supplying NATO forces was destroyed in a series of explosions in a parking lot at Torkham.

Danes and Dutch close embassies in Afghanistan

Danish and Dutch Foreign Ministry officials announced on Wednesday [Reuters 23 April 2008] that both countries have moved all the staff from their embassies in Kabul to secret locations because of concern about security.

The Danes have also moved staff out of its embassy in Algeria since Danish newspapers reprinted an old cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad earlier this year as a protest against a plot to murder the cartoonist

The Netherlands has also moved its embassy in the Pakistani capital Islamabad to a hotel because of concern about security following the release of an anti-Koran film, entitled Fitna, by a Dutch anti-immigration lawmaker named Geert Wilders.

Dutch public still divided over Afghanistan

“According to a poll by Maurice de Hond, 49 per cent of respondents oppose the Dutch engagement in Uruzgan, while 46 per cent support it. Afghanistan has been the main battleground in the war on terrorism.” (Angus Reid Apr 23 08)

Musharraf and China

On Monday (Apr 14 08, see Bhadrakumar Apr 19 08), Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf urged Chinese and Russian to help in stabilizing Afghanistan during an address to students at Beijing's Tsinghua University.

“expressed the hope that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could play a role in stabilizing Afghanistan. He added, 'If the SCO can come along, then we would need to ensure that there is no confrontation with NATO.' SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as full members and Iran and Pakistan as 'observers' “

Bhadrakumar also refers to “the sensational revelation by erstwhile Northern Alliance leaders about their ongoing contacts with the Taliban.” See also =>

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The Mound of Sound said...

NATO controls 75% of Afghanistan? That's laughable. Only if you excise everything but the Taliban could NATO even begin to make such ridiculous claims. That would mean you have to eliminate the influence of the warlords, drug barons and corrupt security services. Of course NATO is essentially doing that in any case, looking the other way as Afghanistan rots from within.

It's just bloody sad.

Jim Terral said...

I agree. I think the NATO claim is a sign of desperation.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jim, an unloseable bet is to ask anyone for just one example of where the tactics NATO is using have succeeded in a counter-insurgency campaign? Being grossly understrength narrows tactical options to garrison-style operations marked with periodic, "search and destroy" forays into bandit country that may kill a few insurgents, usually with a few civilians in the mix, but bring no meaningful security to the people or their villages. Being understrength dictates a reliance on heavy weaponry that is typically antithetical to effective counter-insurgency operations. This "mission" is being screwed up on so many levels trhat it can only end one way.

Did you read the reports that the United National Front, Karzai's opposition, a.k.a. the former Northern Alliance warlords, are trying to strike their own deal with the Taliban? That would unite the Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara tribes with the Pashtun Taliban and potentially marginalize Karzai (not to mention ISAF and the US).

Wheels within wheels.

Jim Terral said...

Again, I agree. But there are answers to your questions.

The British tend to cite the Malay campaign as a successful counterinsurgency campaign. That is important to us, because it has made British commanders critical of American strategy. That, in turn, makes the British press a better source of information than ours, which is under the blanket of Harper's restrictive information policy.

Hillier has cited the Balkans as a successful counterinsurgency campaign.

Some serious strategists distinguish between counterinsurgency and fourth generation war, and freely admit that the definition of the latter is still emerging.

I did read the reports about the UNF approach to the Taliban. NATO and Pakistan are doing the same. As I said before, I think NATO is desperate.

The Canadian Peace Alliance recycles the slogan from the 60s and says "Canada out of NATO." But this misses the point.

Has NATO outlived its usefulness? overstayed its welcome? passed its best before date? Take your pick. Or come up with y9ur own description.

It may have become the ones we warned our children against, the manace with global reach that it was originally intended to protect against.

Don't forget NATO's chaotic command. There is a lot of confusion among critics and outright opponents of the war. We like to believe that our positions will be unified by a good slogan. But Afghanistan is too complex and what used to be the left is too fragmented for that to be a meaningful approach right now.

The CBC has fostered the idea that public opposition to the war is about cost--mostly casualties, but also dollars.

In this week's Time magazine, Samantha Powers, formerly a foreign policy advisor to Obama, identifies at least two more--"war fatigue" and the feeling that Canada's security is not threatened by either Afghanistan or the Taliban.

I think there is more. Public opponents of the war have argued that it was the wrong stuff in the first place, that terrorism should be approached differently. Our first mistake is to call it a "war" and a "counterinsurgency campaign."

Another group I would call critics sees the war as too little, too late. Opponents and critics have a lot in common, but they may also disagree strenuously.

Thanks for your comments. I quoted you on the radio this week. It doesn't have to be, but I hope that was ok with you.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jim, no problem with the radio business. I got my journalistic start in radio in Ottawa in 1971. It remains my favourite medium.

I think Malaya isn't a useful example in assessing Afghanistan. The insurgency involved the ethnic Chinese minority and that enabled the Brits to easily isolate them and drive them into the swamps. We can't isolate the Taliban from their Pashtun support base, especially given that there are so many permutations of Taliban. Some are poor, disgruntled villagers; others more akin to mercenaries; all wrapped around a core of cultural and religious zealotry.

In Malaya the Brits conducted a sustained, in the field counterinsurgency without which they wouldn't have been able to force the communists into the swampy jungles to die.

In Afghanistan, we're woefully understrength. That leaves us forced to rely on a garrison operation with forays on "search and destroy" missions. That's pretty much what failed the French in Indochina and, subsequently, the Americans also when the place became known as Viet Nam.

You can clear territory, temporarily, with heavy firepower but you can't hold it without adequate manpower and if you can't hold it you allow the insurgents to recover the initiative.

I don't know if you've had a chance to read FM 3-24, the US military's newest counter-insurgency field manual. Petraeus was co-author. It attempts to digest the lessons of guerrilla warfare going back to the Romans in Gaul through Lawrence, Giap, etc.

What's most interesting about this field manual is how both the US and NATO/ISAF are completely ignoring its conclusions including Lesson One - you can't conduct a counterinsurgency "on the cheap." It's an enormously manpower-intensive undertaking, a real "go big or go home" challenge.

Anyway, I won't go on. I really enjoyed our exchange.