Obama’s Conflict-ridden Afghan Plan
Posted on December 7th, 2009

By: Shamsa Ashfaq

 According to a recent US Government Accountability Office audit report, nearly 13,000 attacks were recorded in Afghanistan between January and the end of August 2009. There was an average of 100 attacks a day on international forces, Afghan security forces and ordinary civilians, which makes the figure 2.5 times higher this year than that of 2008. During 2005, approximately 2,400 attacks were reported in Afghanistan. The most recent data available, as of August 2009, showed the highest rate of Taliban-initiated attacks making Afghanistan’s security situation worse.  Worth observing is the fact that violence skyrocketed in Afghanistan after the arrival of 21,000 troops reinforcements to stabilize the country in last August. Irrespective of this fact, top US military command Gen. Stanley McChrystal recommended additional placement of 40,000 additional troops to carry out an effective counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. There are already some 68,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan, contributing to a coalition force of more than 100,000.  And more surprisingly, President Obama and his war cabinet has agreed to send up to 30,000 fresh troops to Afghanistan without realizing that the insurgency in Afghanistan can be blunted but not defeated outright by force.

On 1st December 2009, President Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 US troops to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists in Afghanistan by May 2010 and set a July 2011 deadline for an exit of American troops from the violence-torn country. The reinforcements that would be sent into Afghanistan at the fastest pace possible will now raise the total US force to 98,000. Beginning in July, US troops will begin their transition out of Afghanistan, handing over responsibility for security to newly trained Afghan soldiers and police. However, the pace and end date of withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would depend on the situation on the ground and cannot be predicted. Interestingly, a new survey by Gallup organizations showed only 35 percent of Americans surveyed has approved Obama’s handling of the war while 55 percent disapproved.

If truth be told, rising combat deaths and military costs have sapped public support for the eight-year old war and Obama’s troop increase has prompted protests from left-leaning leaders of his democratic party, the republicans and some outside critics. The critics are certain to argue that the strategy lacks a convincing civilian and political dimension. They worry about the fact that the strategy shift, which is deploying of 30,000 additional US troops into the Pushtun heartland, will break their fighting capabilities faster than the presence of American intruders will boost Taliban recruiting among 6 million Pushtun men.

Democratic Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin said a surge of US forces to Afghanistan would be a serious mistake that could further destabilize Pakistan. There is no denying the fact that the additional US troop’s deployment in the southern regions of Afghanistan such as the Taliban-infested Helmand province would encourage the militants to seek refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas across the border and further unsettle conditions in its Baluchistan province.

In views of Democratic Congressman James McGovern of Massachusetts, sending tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan would only make it much harder for United States to extricate itself from the problems there. According to Medea Benjamin, an American politician and renowned anti-war activist, “Sending 30,000 more troops is really a political decision to make Obama look tough on security, to try to quiet some elements of the right in this country. But, in terms of a war strategy, it really does not make any sense”.  Also the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, had sent memos to Washington expressing deep concern over the deployment of more troops to the country because of the graft issue.

Edward Corcoran, a senior fellow at Global Security Organization, has coined the current effort to provide large numbers of additional troops and solve the problem in short order as misguided for a number of reasons. It appears that the large numbers of foreign troops only validate the Taliban claim of occupation and will inevitably result in more incidents not only inflaming local sensitivities and supporting fundamentalist recruitment but also draining the support of the American public. Also, unable to provide significant economic, social and political improvements, additional troops will have no longer impact, instead it will further invigorate the Taliban and confirm the transient nature of American support.

In an article published in The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson has written that “as he decides to escalate war in Afghanistan, Obama must have kept in mind the geopolitical calculation that has human consequences. Sending more troops means more coffins arriving at Dover, more funerals at Arlington, more stress and hardship for military families. It would be wrong to demand such sacrifices in the absence of military goals that are clear, achievable and worthwhile”. Medics and air force pilots at main US base, Bagram Air Field, in Afghanistan have also started gearing up for the grim reality of the new US war Strategy which is likely escalation in the number of causalities in an increasingly bloody battlefield. Oscillating between the options of counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency would in the ultimate analysis come to naught, as neither can reasonably hope to deliver. There are no quick fixes but to immediately forge a coordinated response to all problems and to top it show the strategic resolve to see it through.

A large army alone is no guarantor of stability in Afghanistan, especially if the domestic forces and the central government that controls them are driven by factionalism and ethnic tensions. Unemployment is estimated at around 40 percent, while access to electricity is among the lowest in the world. Afghans have an average life expectancy of just 43 years and some of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world. Ninety percent of women in rural areas cannot read. However, the US military buildup, due to be phased over few months, will cost $30 Bn. By some calculations, the cost of each extra American soldier per year, up to $1 million, could build 20 schools in Afghanistan. Each and every meal prepared for US soldiers in Afghanistan costs about 28 dollars a head, more than most Afghans earn in a month. In this stark backdrop, still USAID, is budgeting for around $2 Bn only in annual development aid to Afghanistan as compared to spending on the military operation in Afghanistan, which will cost nearly $95 Bn this fiscal year.

The ground realities of Afghan war manifest the fact that unless the political, economic and diplomatic legs of the plan are solid, disproportionally strengthening the military leg could prove counterproductive. And it is evident that unless the US changes both its current policies and present attitudes, failure in Afghanistan is still inevitable.

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