Just the beginning? —Najmuddin A Shaikh

Given that adequate foreign and indigenous forces will not be available and that such forces as are there will not be regarded as national in the troubled areas of the country it is certain the insurgency in Afghanistan is likely to be long drawn
Sitting here in San Francisco, I have been watching the electoral battle between Barack Obama and John McCain. While it is clear that the economy is the prime issue in the minds of the voters, the war in Iraq runs a close second. And not surprisingly, the war in Afghanistan too is receiving a fair share of attention.

As has been the case for the past seven years, the war in Afghanistan is seen as the good war, as the just war, as the war that has to be fought to save America from the threat of a terrorist attack, as the war for which there is bipartisan support.

This has not meant, however, that either of the candidates has presented a clear strategy on how he intends to pursue the war or bring it to a successful conclusion.

It would perhaps be useful for both candidates and for the incumbent albeit lame duck President to read the report on “Counter-Insurgency in Afghanistan” by Dr Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation. In Pakistan this report attracted attention only because of the assertions it made about Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and about the support that the Taliban were receiving from certain Pakistani quarters.

However, the most interesting parts of the report related not to these accusations that did no more than repeat the allegations that have been appearing in the international press, but to what Dr Jones had learnt from his study of 95 insurgencies.

According to him: “An analysis of all insurgencies since 1945 shows that successful counterinsurgency campaigns last for an average of 14 years, and unsuccessful ones last for an average of 11 years. Many also end in a draw, with neither side winning.”

According to his study, approximately 25 percent of insurgencies won by the government and 11 percent won by insurgents last more than 20 years.

A second point that Dr Jones makes is that it is fallacious to think that foreign forces can defeat insurgencies by winning the sympathy of the population and using unconventional ways of waging war. In his view the quality of indigenous forces and the quality of governance provided has a significant role to play in defeating an insurgency and that most counterinsurgency campaigns are not won or lost by external forces, but by indigenous forces”.

He attributes this partly to the fact that local ownership would give government forces access to information on the insurgents that the local populace would not want to make available to foreign forces.

Lastly, in this context, Dr Jones makes the point that until local capability is built up, the foreign force must maintain a sufficient presence to provide a measure of security.

What does this mean for Afghanistan? In May and June, the losses to coalition forces have been higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq despite the fact that in Iraq, the size of coalition forces is three times that of the forces in Afghanistan. The number of civilian deaths caused by the fighting has risen to 638 in the first five months of this year, which is 62 percent higher than in the comparable period in 2007.

According to media reports there has been a 40 percent increase in Taliban attacks on coalition forces in the provinces bordering Pakistan during the first six months of this year compared to last year, and Afghan and American officials are united in attributing this increase to the sanctuaries in Pakistan. What is not mentioned as prominently is the fact that overall there has been a 25 percent increase in attacks on coalition forces throughout Afghanistan suggesting that the border areas are only marginally worse than the rest of the country.

President Bush has spoken of sending more troops to Afghanistan next year but Admiral Mullen, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, has made it clear that the American armed forces are so overstretched that sending troops to Afghanistan will only be possible if the Iraqis take over some security duties in Iraq and make possible redeployment of forces from that zone.

In the meanwhile, as Dr Jones notes, in Afghanistan, the United States and its coalition partners have one of the lowest per capita deployment levels among all the 17 post-WWII operations that the author had studied and which even included a number of implicitly minor UN operations in Africa and Asia.

The development of local capacity has not progressed. In a report submitted to Congress last month, the Pentagon outlined an elaborate plan for raising the strength of the Afghan National Army to 80,000 and of the police to 82,000, and to take them through various stages of training to enable them to handle the security situation in Afghanistan on their own or with minimal external support.

Yet in the same month, the American General Accounting Office (GAO) — the rough equivalent of our Auditor General’s Office — put out a report that only 2 out of 205 units of the Afghan army were capable of carrying out independent operations. Report after report from the NGO community has highlighted the fact that the police force is more often than not the creature of the local warlord and, instead of providing security, is the most feared source of insecurity for most Afghans.

The Pentagon report also claims that the intention is to have a balanced multi-ethnic force. According to independent analysts however the Afghan army’s recruitment has not been balanced. While official figures have not been released since 2005, it has been estimated that 70 percent of the officer corps is now Tajik and an almost similar disparity exists in the ranks of the NCOs and the jawans. This of course means that the Afghan army will not be seen as an indigenous force when it is operating in Pashtun areas.

It is therefore clear that for many years to come the Afghan National Security Forces — the army and the Police — will not be available in sufficient numbers to handle the deteriorating security situation. In the meanwhile, foreign forces may, by the use of air power and a limited number of boots on the ground, be able to drive the Taliban out of certain areas but they cannot hold these areas.

The recent offensive in Garmser in the Kandahar province was the third time that the coalition forces will have driven the Taliban out only to see them return as soon as the coalition forces withdrew.

Given that adequate foreign and indigenous forces will not be available and that such forces as are there will not be regarded as national in the troubled areas of the country, it is certain the insurgency in Afghanistan is likely to be long drawn. What decisive action will the new American president want to take? How far will the finger point at Pakistan?

The writer is a former foreign secretary

Source: Daily Times, 7/7/2008


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