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November 06, 2007

"The Forgotten Front"
Posted by Max Bergmann

Afghan_cover_2 Caroline Wadhams and Larry Korb came out with a new report on Afghanistan today titled the "Forgotten Front." The report concludes that,

The Bush administration has fundamentally misread the situation in Afghanistan and failed to adapt quickly enough to the growing insurgency and shifting dynamics on the ground.

The report recommends "folding counterterrorism efforts into a counterinsurgency strategy" and to increase troop levels by about 20,000. There's lots more on the political and reconstructions side as well.

In light of the situation in Pakistan, the report also argues that,

Musharraf's approach has led to growing Islamist extremism during his rule and a radicalization of Pakistani youth, especially Pashtun youth. 'By undermining Pakistan's large relatively secular parties, he has left mosques and madrassas as the most potent vehicles for political expression.


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The problem with defining counterinsurgency, as in the COIN manual, is that insurgency is never defined. Insurgency is a revolt against civil authority or an established government. In Iraq and Afghanistan the US and its allies invaded, occupied and established puppet governments. The resistance of the Iraqis and Afghanis to these foreign occupations can not properly be called insurgencies--they are occupation resistance and not a revolt against an established government. Think French resistance against the Germans--was that an insurgency? So the "battle over political power, as each side attempts to win over the population" in the Wadhams/Korb piece is not applicable. Rather, here we go with what is called nation-building but is really just old-style British-inspired colonialization. It's so retro.

The current "window of opportunity to reverse the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan" is overly dramatic. The US will keep troops in Afghanistan (and in Iraq) either until they are defeated or the US goes bust. The US's last such adventure, Vietnam, only ended when the troops revolted but that seems not to be an option this time. Recruitment failures can presumably be overcome with more money and private armies. Who cares about windows when you've got the finest military in the world.

We can expect the US to pour more money (borrowed from the Japanese and Chinese!) and more troops into Afghanistan (our European allies have little interest). Regarding Taliban havens in Pakistan, the Pakistan army has tried unsuccessfully to enter the northwest tribal areas. They are not eager to lose more troops there in an operation that can only destabilize Pakistan further.

The Wadham/Kolb proposal to eradicate opium and provide alternate livlihoods is the current plan, but it's not an easy task. Barnett Rubin: "Farmers will initially diversify into other activities and only gradually abandon poppy as they develop greater confidence in other economic activities." Aerial poppy eradication is a mistake and will only drive Afghani farmers to the Taliban.

There are plenty of wild cards in these scenarios. The US used its Muslim surrogates to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, using Stinger shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets with great effect. What happens if the Russians, Chinese or Iranians provide similar weapons?

Bottom Line: The idea that the US is in full control, that "The United States must accomplish two central objectives in Afghanistan" is becoming a world joke, isn't it. And as the US continues to fail its reputation sinks further. More and more nations are looking to China, which has the investment money and doesn't interfere in other nations' affairs.

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