Saturday, September 10, 2011

Afghanistan: Guilt and Fear

Guilt and fear keep us mired in a mission impossible

September 10, 2011 - THE initial decision to strike back after the 9/11 attacks is easy to understand. History, however, will ask not why the West invaded Afghanistan, but why did it stay so long?

Why, a decade after 9/11, were there still 140,000 coalition troops on the ground? Why were there so many civilian casualties in May and June this year, more than in any preceding recorded month? Why had the US been in Afghanistan for twice the length of World War II?

The conventional answer to all these questions is that Afghanistan still poses an existential threat to global security. In March 2009, presenting his strategy for a surge in troop numbers, Barack Obama said, "If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can."

These fears are reinforced by a domino theory that if Afghanistan falls, Pakistan will follow and the Taliban will get its hands on nuclear weapons.


Consider the conventional wisdom that following the fall of Kabul, the West was distracted by Iraq and maintained too light a footprint in Afghanistan, failing to provide sufficient money or troops for the mission. Afghans who initially welcomed a foreign military intervention were alienated by the slow pace of development and the poor governance. This lack of progress created the opening for the Taliban to return.

According to this narrative, it was only Obama's surge of 2009 that, in his words, "for the first time in years put in place the strategy and resources" so that by December last year the US was "on track to achieve [its] goals".

An irony is that the "light footprint" of the early years was relatively successful: al-Qa'ida members were driven out of the country almost immediately and, very quickly, school attendance improved dramatically, health clinics were rolled out and mobile telephony usage exploded. From 2002 to 2005, two million Afghan girls, who had been excluded by the Taliban, went to school, and more than three million refugees returned. Non-state-controlled media outlets were established and elections were held for the first time in decades. These are accomplishments worthy of pride but, sadly, the addition of more troops and resources to the NATO-led mission since 2006 has made the situation worse.

The tens of billions of dollars donated to the government of Afghanistan have undermined its responsibility and leadership. The fashionable agendas of foreigners on short-term tours and their subsequent micro-management have pushed aside the priorities of Afghan ministers. Many of the reconstruction projects sponsored by the West have fuelled waste and corruption. What's more, the increases in foreign troops didn't improve security; rather the reverse. Helmand is less safe now, with 32,000 foreign troops in the province, than it was in 2005, when there were only 300 on the ground. read more>>>

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