Saturday, May 06, 2006

Afghan Plan?

Despite the major focus on bringing the situation in Iraq to heel -- if or however that may come about -- and the attendant discussions that that entails, news today that 10 US soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan fails to evoke much of a response stateside, other than the usual expressions of grief. But with 25 US troops now having died this year in a country that appears increasingly beyond the control of US forces, and with no apparent plan to train Afghan soldiers in a manner that would indicate a desire on the part of the White House to eventually leave that country, it is time to ask, just what are we doing there? Is there a plan? There has been nothing to date that has made any sort of appearance. About the only thing remotely resembling a "plan" appears to be nothing but a change of occupying forces from "Coalition of the now completely Unwilling" to a NATO-led group called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

As far as can be determined, the new ISAF troop deployment will continue ad infinitum. Is indefinite deployment simply the default position because too much energy is focused on Iraq, Iran and elsewhere? A too-small invasion force has been notably unable to control the expected resurgence of the Taliban and the expected ISAF won't be any more capable than those troops that are there now:
"The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere," a shopkeeper, Haji Saifullah, told the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, as he strolled through the bazaar of this town to talk to people. "It is all right in the city [Kabul], but if you go outside the city, they are everywhere and the people have to support them."
Is the Bush administration aware of the fact that the security situation in Afghanistan is growing worse by the day, that Taliban and al Qaeda are now forming coalitions with other mujahedeen and that they "control" the greater part -- most -- of that country? I'm sure they are, but to date, appear unconcerned with recent developments. In fact, in remote regions of southern Afghanistan, guerillas routinely attack Coalition patrols with roadside bombs and remote controlled mines. Other reports indicate that Taliban/al Qaeda forces out number, by several times, the imagined Afghan National Army (ANA). And the Taliban is flush with cash, having entered into cooperation, ironically enough, with opium distributors to finance their insurgent operations. Under the ousted Taliban regime, opium production had been nearly eradicated.
By all measures the situation in Afghanistan may be skidding dangerously off the rails. American military deaths in the past year—nearly a hundred—almost equal those for the three preceding years combined. According to a recent internal report for the American Special Forces, opium production has gone from 74 metric tons a year under the Taliban to an astronomical 3,600 metric tons, an amount which is equal to 90 percent of the world's supply. The profit from Afghanistan's drug trade—roughly $2 billion a year—competes with the amount of international aid flowing into the country and helps fund the insurgency.
The subject of a grand plan for Afghanistan is a question the Herald-Tribune asked recently, with the focus on the British position, but the question is equally, if not more important for the US, which has most of the 20,000 troops stationed there and, ostensibly, the greater interest in seeing the country "succeed." Whether this is realistic or not is of little concern at this point. Given the robust lack of serious effort toward security, reconstruction and rebuilding, the question will most assuredly be rendered moot.

Except for a recent theocratic backstep that saw the government try to prosecute an Afghan Christian for apostasy, there can be little doubt that most Afghans are better off now than under the despotic rule of the fundamentalist Taliban; millions of children, including 1.6 million girls, are now attending new schools. But the question remains: how long will it be before the country is lost again? As the Taliban only gains in strength, without a serious commitment to eliminating their ever-growing insurgency, Afghanistan will once again be ruled by those very same mullahs the Coalition had once deposed. And history will very quickly repeat itself.


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