Wednesday, December 26, 2007

AFG: when to take back the keys?

As always, history is a big help. When do you think this quote was made?
The Afghan president says his country is improving -- schools and hospitals are being built and the economy is stronger, but problems remain with insurgents.

"The construction of new schools and hospitals ... are the characteristics of our social policy," he says. "Our brave armed forces have significantly developed ... carry out combat operations, smash extremist bands."
Well, things didn't quite turn out like President Najibullah wanted.
But the time is is not 2007, it is 1987, and the president is Soviet-backed Najibullah, not the Western-backed Hamid Karzai. Yet 20 years later, Karzai is delivering a similar message.

Just two years after Najibullah made that speech his Soviet backers, worn down by constant casualties, withdrew their troops and abandoned the Afghan government to its fate.
Why bring this up? Well, more and more 2010 is looking about the time that the great NATO experiment may be up. Remember my comment about culmination back in SEP 06?

About the time I made my "culmination" statement om '06, I told Papa Salamander that, even at that low point in Iraq, that I was more worried about AFG than Iraq. I stand by that statement, and it is becoming clear with each passing month that the Strategic Risk in AFG grows larger. I would feel better if the trend lines were going the other way, but they aren't.
Now diplomats and the military fear unless something is done to revitalise strategy against the Taliban, Western governments will also lose their will and pull out their troops. Without Western backing, Karzai's government may not last very long.

"If we cannot show progress in the next year or two, or at least show we are moving in the right direction, we will have serious difficulty in keeping some of our partners engaged in Afghanistan," said one senior Western diplomat.

Six years after the Taliban were ousted following the Sept. 11 attacks, support for the war is waning and Canada, Germany and the Netherlands could withdraw troops by 2010, leaving a big hole that other NATO nations may be unwilling or unable to fill.

The 38-nation NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is already hobbled by restrictions that mean most European nations only allow their troops to fire in self-defence and bar them from the more violent south.

U.S. appeals for 3,500 more military trainers, more helicopters and ground troops have largely fallen on deaf ears.

The shortage of troops means NATO, in the words of one analyst, "is left chasing the pieces round the chess board".

Some now question the validity of an alliance that won the Cold War, but is struggling against a rag-tag lightly armed militia. Failure in Afghanistan might damage NATO beyond repair.
It was good to give NATO the chance, but we need to start talking about "Plan-B;" re-Americanize AFG. The hard work will be how to do this diplomatically and politically without totally killing NATO and AFG in the process. The Dutch will leave in 2010. The Canadians may follow. Who will take their place? The Little Red Hen has more volunteers now than NATO does - but then again, can you keep something alive that does not want to make the effort to live? Shouldn't we open our eyes that the window will not stay open forever?
..the Bush administration has deflected Kabul's request for a bilateral relationship into a much more nebulous and less effective relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A relationship with NATO is not what the Afghans want or need.

The transition of the Afghan security and reconstruction missions from U.S. to NATO control was undertaken more with an eye on what is good for NATO than for what is good for Afghanistan, and the Afghans have not benefited from it. They still want an American commitment. Given their centrality in the fight against al Qaeda and their determination in the face of our common enemies, they deserve it.
AFG knows the USA is reliable, the Brits almost as much. They know that to win they need to get their troops up to speed, but until then we need the same ability to operate in the North and West that we now do in the South and East. We need to accept that NATO will not supply the number and types of equipment needed to win. Just as one small example is the helicopter challenge. Watch that as we move towards FEB - that may be the next canary in the coalmine.
In addition to fears that Canada night waver in its commitment, the Bush administration is concerned that other members of NATO are not stepping up to do their fair military share in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been pressing for months — without success so far — to get 16 more helicopters into southern Afghanistan to relieve a U.S. helicopter unit that will be leaving soon. He is also looking to fill other needs, including 3,500 NATO trainers for the Afghan police as well as a minimum of three battalions of ground troops.
Can the West win, albeit slower, in AFG with NATO in the lead? Just like the kid who couldn't help but keep denting the fender on the BMW, we may just have to take back the keys.

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