Tuesday, 15 July 2008

There is no happy ending for Afghanistan

Conor Foley argues that, with the military situation a virtual stalemate, perhaps it is time to reverse Clausewitz's dictum, and pursue military goals by other means:
It was the culmination of one of Afghanistan's bloodiest weeks which, according to the Red Cross, saw 250 people killed or injured. Last month also saw a new record for the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan, 42, which surpassed that of Iraq for the first time. Clearly the repeated claims of western politicians - and credulous journalists - that we are "winning the war" in Afghanistan bear almost no relation to reality. The US suffered one of its heaviest blows on Sunday when nine troops were killed in a Taliban attack in the eastern region. Another 24 people were killed in a suicide bombing. To view this conflict solely in terms of statistics and military clashes, however, is to miss the point about what is actually happening here at the moment.

The international military presence has been expanding rapidly in Afghanistan, doubling from 10,000 to 20,000 in 2006 and trebling to almost 60,000 this year. More troops mean more targets and so, crudely put, the spike in the soldiers' death rate is not surprising. What is more significant is that this massive increase in firepower has not decisively changed the terms of the military engagement. The Taliban still effectively controls a vast swath of the south of the country where government and international forces can only venture out of their heavily reinforced bases with air support. However, the Taliban's attempts to spread the insurgency to non-Pashtu areas have largely failed. There is a stalemate which cannot be broken by military means. (1)
A quick look back over history leads to a pessimistic conclusion - the taliban were supported by the people of Afghanistan not becausre of any deep religious sympathy for their fanatical creed, but because they brough some form of stability to the country after decades of fighting. Anger at the coalition is going to grow, persistently, with every blunder. They haven't managed to obliterate the Taliban and they haven't - as Foley points out - made the parts of Afghanistan they do control safe or prosperous. Support for the Taliban will grow as bitterness towards the coalition increases.

The sorry adventure might not end with the desperation of the evacuation of Saigon, but it looks very like it will end badly for the world's unluckiest country.
1 - "Afghans want a peace deal, and force cannot provide it," by Conor Foley in The Guardian, 15th of July, 2007. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/15/afghanistan)

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