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August 23, 2010

How's That Whole Afghanistan Strategy Going?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today we have several fresh reminders of how increasingly FUBAR our mission in Afghanistan actually is.

First, Dexter Filkins piece on how the Pakistanis used the arrest of Mullah Baradar last February to continue playing their own game in Afghanistan - one that is very different from the strategy underpinning US efforts:

They (Pakistani officials) say they set out to capture Mr. Baradar, and used the C.I.A. to help them do it, because they wanted to shut down secret peace talks that Mr. Baradar had been conducting with the Afghan government that excluded Pakistan, the Taliban’s longtime backer.

In the weeks after Mr. Baradar’s capture, Pakistani security officials detained as many as 23 Taliban leaders, many of whom had been enjoying the protection of the Pakistani government for years. The talks came to an end.

. . . "We picked up Baradar and the others because they were trying to make a deal without us,” said a Pakistani security official. “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.”

The Pakistanis even seem comfortable taking cheap shots at the CIA:

The Pakistanis refused to allow the C.I.A. to interrogate Mr. Baradar or even to be present when they spoke. Another Pakistani official said Mr. Baradar was taken to a safe house in Islamabad, where he was debriefed. It was only several days later that the C.I.A. learned of his identity and were allowed to question him.

The Pakistani official even joked about the C.I.A.’s naïveté. “They are so innocent,” he said.

The thing about this story is that even if isn't true and even if, as one US official claims, the Pakistanis are "trying to rewrite history to make themselves appear more influential" the very tone of this article is basically a screw you to the United States.  But considering the obvious duplicity of the Pakistanis in not going after al Qaeda and in tacitly supporting the Afghan Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan, which stretches back to 2001, none of this should be a surprise.  How many times are the Pakistanis going to be keep moving the football (a la Lucy) and we fall flat on our ass (Charlie Brown) before we realize that they do not have the same goals that we do in Afghanistan? As long as the Pakistanis are supporting the Afghan Taliban - and providing them with sanctuary across the border - we're just not going to make much progress in a counter-insurgency fight.

Now speaking of unreliable allies - how about Hamid Karzai and his efforts clamp down on corruption in Afghanistan? Well first it turns out that he intervened personally to free a high level aide accused of corruption; next he is establishing new rules to restrict the power of two US-backed anti-corruption agencies and now, according to his spokesman, Waheed Omer the real corruption problem in Afghanistan lies not with the Karzai government, but with foreigners:

Mr. Omer said that much of Afghanistan’s corruption was the fault of foreign contractors spending Western reconstruction money, and called on the international community to do more to help Afghanistan combat the problem, which he depicted as more serious than the problem of Afghan official corruption.

. . . Mr. Omer insisted that the Afghan government remained committed to combating corruption, but that most official corruption was petty, such as bribes to provide services or licenses.

There is even this precious quote from an unnamed US official reflecting on Karzai, "In the end, we’re hoping he’ll do the right thing.”

I tell you, we Americans are adorable - I mean just adorable. Look, even if Karzai does the "right thing" how much more obvious could it be that he has little actual interest in curbing corruption in his government. If it takes another round of US arm-twisting to get him to come around that only puts a band-aid on a gushing wound.

I hate to sound like a broken record on this, but no matter how much the US military thinks it "gets" COIN there are far more important factors that determine success in a counter-insurgency fight.

Strike one is not having strong or even legitimate host country support. Strike 2 is when your insurgent opponent has an unmolested safe haven.

And strike three is when six out of ten of your own citizens oppose the war you're fighting.

The very fact that General Petraeus is talking about extending the US presence and pushing back withdrawals to after June 2011 is mind-boggling. It's like Vietnam all over again. At what point do US policymakers wake up and realize our strategy in Afghanistan simply isn't working?

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