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Posted on on February 6th, 2010
by Pincas Jawetz (



Militarism in Afghanistan is not enough: The U.S. Afghanistan policy needs a revision, given realities on the ground.
PUBLISHED: 01/31/2010 –

President Barack Obama’s announcement in December 2009 of the deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan has received mixed reactions at home and abroad.

Military compulsion on the ground and political expediency at home are apparently in collision; frustration and anger are growing. Allies in the Afghan war such as France, Germany and Australia have reportedly opposed Obama’s announcement. However, the United Kingdom, Poland and Italy promised to send a small number of additional troops.

By June 2010, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected to be 98,000. There were 29,950 U.S. troops in the International Security Assistance Force under NATO command, which has 64,500 troops, most supplied by the NATO member countries.

Though Obama had promised “change you can believe in” following his landslide victory in the 2008 presidential election, in the meantime he’s faced criticism for his decision to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan. The president announced that he will begin to withdraw troops in Afghanistan by July 2011 to bring an end to the decade-long war; however, the timeline has not convinced the American people, especially those on the left of the president’s own Democratic Party, who are increasingly demonstrating in front of the White House against the war.

Analysts and media in the region of South Asia are also critical of Obama’s new plan. The influential Indian daily The Hindu observes that sending additional troops to Afghanistan may provide “tactical relief to American commanders on the ground;” however, there is no guarantee that this new deployment would bring any “victory against terrorism and extremism.” For this, innovative strategies must be devised.

In a Dec. 3, 2009 editorial, The Hindu identified four deficits in America’s war against the Taliban and al-Qaida: the political consideration or attention, military doctrine, Afghan capability and a commitment from Pakistan where both the Taliban and al-Qaida allegedly have bases. Flurries of questions will continue to surround the comprehensiveness of U.S. policy and military actions in Afghanistan in the Asian media.

Given the reality on the ground, Pakistan is now in a crisis of sectarian conflict and a rising religious militancy. There is also reported presence of al-Qaida members in its territory; thus, Pakistan’s stability, politics, economy and military power are under great threat, as observes the Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Ittefaq.

Analysts comment that it is likely impossible for the United States to win the war in Afghanistan by merely raising the number of troops. On the contrary, it may prolong the war with serious casualties on both sides.

Analysts recommend improving the conditions of the Afghan people by investing in poverty reduction, education and health. But the country has been further devastated by a war that has brought insufferable civilian casualties. Any investment in social sectors would facilitate to decrease the anger of the Afghan people toward the United States. Without this infrastructure, the poverty- and illiteracy-ridden country will not be able to get on its feet.

The U.S. policy should also engage resources to other countries in the region where al-Qaida is reportedly trying to spread its “ideology.” The presence of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, natural challenges and displacements all contribute to the people’s vulnerability, which catalyses the spread of ideological organizations like al-Qaida. Reportedly, a swath of religious schools in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh — allegedly beyond the reach of government monitors — are working as bases for the spread of the militaristic, ideological challenge to the West, especially the United States. To offset this trend, governments need to engage civic institutions, but this deserves investment.

In the latest development, a London conference on Afghanistan has drafted a recommendation to initiate dialogues between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with an aim to dislodge al-Qaida from the country. The Taliban extremist Islamic group is essentially ideologically distinct from the terrorist al-Qaida and seized power in Afghanistan in 1996.

However, the international community must monitor such dialogues to ensure they are strategic and to guard against the Taliban using it as a legitimization and recruitment tool.

These dimensions in the Afghanistan conflict make a challenging situation all the more difficult, but for now, the deployment of more troops to the region seems only to increase our dependence on military strategy. What is needed most desperately in the region, however, is stability, investment and infrastructure.


Robert NaimanPolicy Director of Just Foreign Policy
Posted: February 2, 2010 –

Eat Your Spinach: Time for Peace Talks in Afghanistan – What’s Your Reaction:

In the last week the New York Times and Inter Press Service have reported that the Obama Administration is having an internal debate on whether to supports talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar, as a means of ending the war in Afghanistan. Senior officials like Vice President Biden are said to be more open to reaching out because they believe it will help shorten the war.

Wouldn’t it be remarkable if this remained merely an “internal debate” within the Obama Administration? Wouldn’t you expect that the part of public opinion that wants the war to end would try to intervene in this debate on behalf of talks in order to end the war?

As an administration official told the New York Times,

“Today, people agree that part of the solution for Afghanistan is going to include an accommodation with the Taliban, even above low- and middle-level fighters.”
And in fact, US and British officials have been saying for months that the “endgame” in Afghanistan includes a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban.

Now, suppose you tell Mom that you want to have ice cream. And Mom says, you can have ice cream when you’ve eaten your spinach. Wouldn’t you eat your spinach? If you don’t eat your spinach now, you didn’t want ice cream very badly.

So if U.S. and British officials say the endgame includes a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, and you figure, extrapolating from the last five thousand years of human history, that a negotiated political settlement typically does not just drop down from the sky, but in fact is generally preceded by political negotiations, and you want to end the war as soon as possible, wouldn’t you be clamoring for political negotiations to start as soon as possible? Because the longer political negotiations are delayed, the longer the war will last. If you don’t support political negotiations now, you don’t want to end the war very badly.

If you consider peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban “distasteful,” consider this: every month that the war continues, every month that U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, is another month in which U.S. soldiers will die horrible deaths, be horribly maimed, and be horribly scarred psychologically, perhaps for life. It’s also another month in which the U.S. military is likely to “accidentally” kill Afghan government soldiers (such episodes “are not uncommon,” the New York Times notes) and kill Afghan civilians, as they have done at least twice in the last week, according to the reporting in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

I put the word “accidentally” in quotation marks, not of course because I believe that the U.S. military is killing Afghan soldiers and Afghan civilians “on purpose,” but because when you repeatedly take an action (continuing the war) that leads to a predictable result (killing Afghan government soldiers and civilians) you lose the exoneration otherwise conferred by the word “accidentally.”

Is this not also “distasteful”? Is killing innocent people not more “distasteful” than peace talks?

Gareth Porter, writing for Inter Press Service, reports that an official of the Western military coalition says there has been a debate among U.S. officials about “the terms on which the Taliban will become part of the political fabric.” The debate is not on whether the Taliban movement will be participating in the Afghan political system, Porter reports, but on whether or not the administration could accept the participation of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar in the political future of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Taliban has insisted in published statements that it will not participate in peace talks that would not result in the withdrawal of foreign troops, Porter notes. That raises the question of whether the administration would be willing to discuss the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as part of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

The Obama Administration has stated publicly that it has no long-term interest in maintaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Therefore, should not the U.S. be willing to agree to a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as part of a negotiated settlement? We’re leaving anyway, according to U.S. officials – what’s holding us back from agreeing, as part of a negotiation, to do what we plan to do anyway?

U.S. officials have said that the war is all about the relationship between the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda. When the Afghan Taliban breaks with al Qaeda the war is over, say these officials. Some say that Mullah Omar is ready to break with al Qaeda, including the Pakistani intelligence officer who trained him; while Osama bin Laden’s son Omar says Al Qaeda and the Taliban are only “allies of convenience.” Why wouldn’t we put these propositions to the test through negotiations?

If you think, for the sake of peace, the United States should be willing to agree to do on a timetable that which it claims it intends to do anyway, tell President Obama.

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Lesson from Somalia echoes in Afghanistan
By Adam Folken – Contributing Columnist –

|Published: Thursday, February 4, 2010

Last Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hosted a conference in London regarding NATO’s plans in Afghanistan.  In attendance were U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of NATO operations in Afghanistan, and Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  According to CTV News, both officials expressed plans to advocate peace and negotiations with Taliban forces.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s plan of “reconciliation and reintegration” of potential Taliban defectors complements McChrystal and Holbrooke’s strategies.  These plans represent a growing trend in emphasizing political action over the use of force to suppress the militant insurgency plaguing Afghanistan.  This switch comes nearly nine years after the beginning of the United States’ Operation Enduring Freedom, though it is  better late than never.

The Taliban was the power in Afghanistan prior to 2001, and their ranks draw from various Pashtun clans.  The Pashtun people represent the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and have dominated Afghan politics for centuries.  It is therefore the appropriate move to include Taliban members in negotiations and going the step further in allowing their involvement in the new Afghan government. This was one of many lessons taken from U.S. involvement in the United Nations’ intervention in Somalia.

The fall of Said Barre’s regime in 1991 created a power vacuum in Somalia that resulted in vicious inter-clan fighting.  The collateral damage was devastating to the Somali people, who suffered the conflict and widespread famine.

For the U.N., what began as an international effort to deliver humanitarian aid evolved into a struggle to stabilize and democratize Somalia.  General Mohamed Farrah Aidid, with the support of members of his clan – the Habr Gidr – and other militant factions, repeatedly assaulted U.S. and U.N. forces to drive them out of Somalia.  Many U.S. and U.N. officials wanted Aidid and his supporters marginalized in the new government.  Rather than work with the local power, the U.S. wished to create a more ‘ideal’ system that had little focus on clannism.  The attempts to remove Aidid’s influence served to unite Somalis against the U.S., culminating in a humiliating retreat from Somalia.

The parallels with the situation in Afghanistan are clear.  Local power structures, such as clannism in Somalia and Afghanistan, must be considered when creating a functional government.  If powerful players are not given incentive to play the game, they won’t have to.

Further Recommended Articles:

Canada and Germany’s mission in Afghanistan (The Concordian)
Fein: ‘Graveyard of empires’ challenge for Obama (The Daily Northwestern)

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