Sunday, September 10, 2006

Swimming with Sharks

Things Are Going Swimmingly In Afghanistan
-- Ann Coulter, August 24, 2006

News comes via Cernig that Captain Leo Docherty, aide-de-camp to the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan, has quit in protest of the botched job -- the "grotesque" war in Afghanistan as he calls it -- as it is currently being run in that ravaged country. The Taliban run amok and gain foothold across the country, while NATO forces run perilously short on supplies, oftentimes "holed up in their compounds," where they wait to be attacked on a daily basis. I guess one could consider this fiasco as "going swimmingly," if by swimmingly one means sinking like rock.
All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British. It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.

We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.
The violence has been reaching the headlines lately, with daily bombings and dozens of dead. British forces lost 18 soldiers in the worst week of fighting seen so far. Doherty goes to explain how the "original plan" was supposed to be carried out:
We’ve deviated spectacularly from the original plan.

The plan was to secure the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, initiate development projects and enable governance . . . During this time, the insecure northern part of Helmand would be contained: troops would not be ‘sucked in’ to a problem unsolvable by military means alone.
And exactly how did they veer from this plan?
Docherty traces the start of the problems to the British capture of Sangin on May 25, in which he took part. He says troops were sent to seize this notorious centre of Taliban and narcotics activity without night-vision goggles and with so few vehicles they had to borrow a pick-up truck.

More damningly, once they had established a base in the town, the mission failed to capitalise on their presence. Sangin has no paved roads, running water or electricity, but because of a lack of support his men were unable to carry out any development, throwing away any opportunity to win over townspeople.

“The military is just one side of the triangle,” he said. “Where were the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office? “The window was briefly open for our message to be spread, for the civilian population to be informed of our intent and realise that we weren’t there simply to destroy the poppy fields and their livelihoods.

Eventually the Taliban attacked on June 11, when Captain Jim Philippson became the first British soldier to be killed in Helmand. British troops have since been holed up in their compound with attacks coming at least once a day. Seven British soldiers have died in the Sangin area.

“Now the ground has been lost and all we’re doing in places like Sangin is surviving,” said Docherty. “It’s completely barking mad.
It is important to note that, as with Iraq, this is not a military failure, but a failure on the part of the efforts allotted by the involved governments, namely, a combination of US and British defense departments and the US State Department and the UK's Foreign Office. Now, one can imagine this happening for one of two reasons, possibly a combination of both. One, the purest incompetence at the upper echelons, like we've seen spectacularly in Iraq, where a refusal to heed military advice and an unexpectedly strong insurgency has led to bloody game of whack-a-mole (of course, Iraq is long past that stage now, where sectarian violence is the main driver).

Two, disinterest. It was patently clear that the Bush administration had no real interest in Afghanistan. Efforts there were just the launching pad of an aggression that would be quickly diverted toward the greater Middle East, specifically Iraq and then onto Iran. Once the brunt of US forces moved to Iraq, it seemed obvious that Aghanistan would be lost. Indeed, even as Karzai was installed in Kabul, the city was about the only safe haven in the country. Opium production has skyrocketed, with Aghanistan's share of world production expected to be 94% by next year. The Taliban controls towns and villages throughout the region and NATO forces are scattered; no real strategy is evident. And much as Iraq, no one can really explain how "staying the course" will turn any of this around.

The deaths of thousands of civilians, the growing hatred of two occupations and the waste and abuse of military resources, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, represent a strategic blunder of epic proportions. Why, exactly, does the media let Republicans get away with labelling themselves strong on "national security"? They appear to know nothing about it. Perhaps they're getting advice from Ann Coulter, who apparently wouldn't know a shark if she were swimming with one.


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