Topic: War on Terror
Things in Afghanistan are really, really going from bad to worse these days, which is saying something. Suicide bombers are plying the lobbies of the finest hotels in Kabul and Westerners are sealing themselves away from the people they're supposedly there to help in response, a la the Green Zone in Baghdad. Just as the "fighting season" (the Afghan national pastime) gets under way, senior US officials are piling up the frequent-flyer miles making the rounds of European capitals trying to get our reluctant NATO allies to put their troops where their mouths are -- because God knows we don't have any to spare -- all to no avail, however.
Yesterday in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sec Def Robert Gates twisted arms in the background for more desperately needed troops but in public he insisted that things were going great. "I don't think there's a crisis, that there's a risk of failure. My view is that it represents, potentially, the opportunity to make further progress further in Afghanistan if we had more forces there," he said. Jedem sagt Deutsche Kanzler Angela Merkel "Nein;" and the same goes for Italy, France and the rest of NATO, except for Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and the Poles.
None of our good friends are willing to risk what's needed to do what the US thinks is needed to finally put an end to the Taliban. (Funny I thought we'd already done that in 2001, but never mind that now, there's a GWOT to win.) Gates wasn't so upbeat when he told Congress the day before that NATO risked becoming a "two-tiered" organization with "some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security, and others who are not."
He's not helping his case much by insulting the ones who actually are fighting by saying they know nothing about fighting counterinsurgencies. The Brits for instance must be especially irked by those comments considering they've had a century of experience in these matters and the US is just now getting around to studying their tactics in Northern Ireland. Talk about chutzpa!
Along with Gates' charm offensive Condi Rice is doing her part making another one of her famous "surprise" visits into a war zone this time the one in Afghanistan with her British counterpart David Miliband. Naturally, she treated us to another one of her mind boggling mistatements of the fact: "If you look at the Afghanistan of 2001 and the Afghanistan of now there is a remarkable difference for the better," she said. AP [And then the room broke out in peels of hysterical laughter! If only.]
In any case, she Miliband first made their way down to the Taliban's spiritual capital Kandahar before moving on to Kabul to rough up Hamid Karzai a bit over his intransigence over accepting the UK's choice for the UN's special envoy Patty Ashdown. The Brits and US seem to think they need someone in Kabul to bang heads together to get everybody on the same page, but Karzai is balking. Imagine that. The ingratitude!
Not only is Karzai making waves about Ashdown but he's also been saying some not very friendly things about the way the British have been handling things down in Helmand province. He's especially torked off about the fact they he let himself be talking into sacking Helmond's governor, the incredibly corrupt and brutal tribal leader Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, back in 2005.
He's complained bitterly that since the British came in "the Taliban came," too. Now that he's fact to face with Condi & Co. and their bags of money for his Blackwater USA security detail he's claiming he was misquoted. But it's pretty clear these are not happy times in the GWOT.
Speaking of the aforementioned Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, he's part of a family of the Alizai tribe who are locked in mortal combat with other tribes for control of the opium trade which is booming along with the power of the Taliban. If the Brits are going to get anywhere fighting the Talibs they're going to have to figure out some way to neutralize the Akhundzadas of Afghanistan at the same time they fight the Taliban, a tall order that no amount of troops is going to help.
At least, the British are somewhat cognizant of that they're up against, not so much the US military. A case in point is the story of Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, the first Gitmo inmate to die of natural causes on Dec. 30. An Afghan hero of the war against the Russians and a foe of the Taliban he was picked up by US Special Forces in 2003 on the word of Akhundzada who had a beef with his family. Despite the intervention of several high ranking members of the Afghan government on his behalf, including the Afghan minister of energy and a general in the Border Guards, the US steadfastly refused to allow Hekmati to try to prove that he was innocent.
Of course, we all know W.'s kanga-Yoo court system at Gitmo is everything that could be desired as far as due process is concerned, but it does seem in this case the system might have failded slightly. According to the NYT Hekmati accused Akhundzada of turning him in to the Americans.
Although Akhundzada denied having done the deed, he agrees Hekmati wasn't a Talib. The NYT reports that he attributed Hekmati's arrest to "a mistake by American Special Forces. He said they were often fed false information." Gosh, where have we heard that before?
This case sounds similar to Dilawar, the 22 year-old Afghan taxi driver who was arrested, tortured and killed in 2002 at Bagram by his American interrogators. Based on information provided by an Afghan police chief who was taking bounty money from the Special Forces and then buying rockets to shell them, he was held and beaten until he died. [NYT]
The false imprisonment and death of Hekmati is all the more ironic when one considers an article in this edition of NEWSWEEK about hundreds of Talibs, some of them senior members, being arrested and released for a bribe by the Afghan security forces. One such fighter is Mullah Jumah Khan who was arrested with six of his cohorts in Helmand province in 2006 by the Afghan police.
Within hours of their arrest the police and local tribal leaders had worked out the price for their release, $10,000. The Talibs claim to have a half a million dollars on hand for a bribe fund, just to get their people out of the pokey. Jumah Khan says, "It's funny, we kill each other on the battlefield, but once a mujahedin is arrested, the police become friendly for a price."
And its not just poor Afghan police who engage in this sort of thing, The elite National Directorate of Security an organization, which according to NEWSWEEK, is "controlled by a powerful and nearly untouchable political clique from Panjshir Valley" runs its own secret court system and uses torture to elicit bribes. Nice bunch -- and surely a reliable source of information about who is and who is not a Talib.
Judging by the unbelievable level of corruption in Afghanistan and the way the Tailbs appear to move around most of Afghanistan with impunity with the help of their boat-loads of drug money and the help their still getting from the Pakistani ISI -- it's not like they ever want to see a stable rival to the west, after all, no matter who's in control -- I'd say a "surprise" visit here and there and some happy talk about progress being made isn't going to get the job done by any stretch of the imagination.
More than a few thousand troops, the Afghan war needs a total re-think. Unfortunately, not from the bunch that's been mismanaging the whole show from the beginning. No wonder the Europeans are reluctant to get bloodied in W.'s first blunder.