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Michael Hughes, Afghanistan Headlines Examiner August 9, 2011 –
A number of prominent security experts have concluded that President Barack Obama’s troop surge has not only fallen far short of its objectives, but has left Afghanistan in a more violent, corrupt and dependent state.
The failure of the strategy to send an additional 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan is primarily due to NATO’s utter inability to protect the civilian population and the U.S. military’s incessant propping up of corrupt powerbrokers and other maligned actors. Thomas Ruttig from the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) told TIME:
"The surge has not worked, despite all the statistics doled out, which I think very often are selective. There have been improvements in the military situation in the south. But what about the military situation in the east and the north and across the border in Pakistan? Those areas are unraveling. If you look from two years ago to now, the situation has deteriorated."
During his farewell tour General David Petraeus boasted that his plan in Afghanistan was a success because “compared to the previous year, insurgent attack numbers are lower”. However, the general’s cherry-picked data didn’t include civilian deaths.
Petraeus’ claims of progress were refuted by three international aid organizations, one of which reported that civilian casualties had spiked by 119% since the surge began.
Part of the problem has been the lack of an adequate “civilian surge” that was supposed to follow the military one. Blaming ISAF leadership, retired colonel Mike Capstick said: “Petraeus’ inner circle pretty much disregarded the civilian side.”
Hence, the full spectrum of the “clear, hold, build” military mantra was never fully executed because the “build” aspect never materialized.
Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel who attended West Point with General Stanley McChrystal, said that Petraeus and his generals went against their own counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine. Instead of protecting the population and rallying the Afghans around the government, Petraeus opted for a more aggressive approach which featured night raids and air strikes.
Another major issue has been the inability to establish viable Afghan security forces. Although the numbers have expanded significantly the performance of the Afghan army and police have been subpar.
Petraeus and his staff often pointed to the shortage of trainers as the culprit. But Macgregor said the finger should be pointed at Petraeus:
“He could have committed an additional 10,000 troops to the NATO training mission had he wanted to do so. In the view of many officers on the ground in Afghanistan, using the general-purpose troops in this way would have provided a greater return on investment than the way the 40,000 were employed. The ISAF was short 900 trainers because Petraeus chose not to utilize the troops at his disposal in support of that mission.”
Petraeus’ night raids and air strikes have killed countless civilians, enraging the local populace and converting many Afghans into suicide bombers.
"Despite his acumen of American politics, Petraeus has been, by and large, completely tone-deaf in how he’s dealt with the Afghans, and that has created distance,” said Joshua Foust from the American Security Project.
The lethal targeting of mid-level Taliban commanders has had a counterintuitive impact because it has simply enabled younger, more hardcore Islamists to fill the void, which has also eliminated the possibility of productive negotiations.
Ruttig asserted that “In 2008-2009 there was a clear tendency within the Taliban, a readiness to explore talks. And that’s just been destroyed by the surge."
One clear tragic mistake was trying to replicate the Sunni Awakening model the U.S. employed in Iraq, as Petraeus failed to grasp that the situation in Afghanistan was much more complicated.
According to Capstick, “For the first few months after he arrived, almost every member of his new team in ISAF headquarters would drop the phrase, ‘in Iraq we … ‘ into conversations – a recipe for disaster in Afghanistan."
The U.S. also empowered corrupt strongmen, seeing them as indispensible to defeating the Taliban militarily. As a result, a new generation of Afghan warlords has been born with the help of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
The figurehead governor of Kandahar province, Tooryali Wesa, told the Christian Science Monitor the biggest challenge has been powerbrokers:
“They had only guns before, but recently in addition to guns they have money. They run most of the businesses, they are awarded contracts from [various international sources], and they are feeding the insurgency.”
In fact, many officials believe Ahmed Wali Karzai and his cabal of corrupt government officials and warlords can take most of the credit for the Taliban reemergence in Kandahar after the post-9/11 takedown.
Scott Seward Smith wrote in a Foreign Affairs piece that the very presence of international forces has also reinvigorated the Taliban movement who have benefitted from the political economy that has arisen around NATO.
Contracts worth billions of dollars for services like transport protection have ended up in Taliban coffers, funneled through Afghan security companies that pay insurgents not to attack convoys under their protection. Smith elaborates:
Put simply, insecurity creates rents — a number of relatives of senior Afghan government officials operate private security companies whose economic viability depends on the lack of public security.
Mishandled international development funds that have, both inadvertently and by design, favored certain clans have caused tribal rivalries to flare while undermining local governments.
Although it’s true the NATO occupation and current funding structure have caused the country to become less secure, Smith believes abandoning the Afghan people is not an option either.
By designing financial assistance programs in a way that forces Kabul to reform, it can help ensure the people that truly need the aid receive it, while also ensuring monies are allocated to sustainable development projects that build long-term capacity.
Smith ends with a warning against allowing Afghanistan to implode by pulling financial support:
It is worth remembering that the Soviet-backed government in Kabul fell in 1992, when Soviet subsidies ended, and not in 1989, when Soviet troops withdrew.
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