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Current Affairs

Afghanistan – The “Surge” in Retrospect




After eight years of bloody conflict in Afghanistan President Obama announced the new ‘AfPak’ strategy on December 2/2009, at West Point Military Academy. With 68,000 U.S. and 35,000 European troops already deployed in Afghanistan. Obama announced the deployment of another 30,000 troops during 2010. This would bring the total of U.S. forces to 98,000 and N.A.T.O. forces would be boosted to 45,000. The second important point was the deadline of three years for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It was projected that the U.S. and allied troops would begin their withdrawal in 2011.

This appeared to closely follow the pattern in Iraq. The infamous “surge’ and its follow-up. But every war is different, fought under different political and geographical conditions. It remains to be seen what the U.S. aims to accomplish in three years which it failed to accomplish in eight. In 2010 the total allied forces would number 143,000, this would entail an expenditure of $ 30 billion annually for U.S. troops alone. The troops would be augmented by private contractors working for the U.S. in Afghanistan numbering 104,101 as in September 2009.The percentage of the Defense Department’s workforce in Afghanistan accounted for by contractors will be 57% . The estimated value of Defense Department contracts in Afghanistan awarded to Texas-based Fluor and Virginia’s DynCorp, which like Xe [Black water] are very big mercenary organizations, is $ 7.5 billion. So the total manpower available to the U.S. in Afghanistan has been 247,101 overt and covert troops and not 143,000 that the world at large believes. The aggregate expenditure on U.S. forces has been more than $ 37.5 Billion for the Year 2010.

Richard Holbrook the U.S. Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan said recently that America cannot foot the total bill for reconstruction of flood affected areas in Pakistan. Obviously – with the Afghan war costing more than $ 3Billion a month, the U.S is hard put to find the finances for reconstruction!!

A careful study of the opinion published in the U.S. media by both civil and military personalities and the official statements of U.S. Government can help in envisaging the course of events in Afghanistan . The Pentagon’s prescription for the situation in Afghanistan called for the implementation of counterinsurgency strategy with greater resources and determination. Some of the measures this strategy entails have been partly or wholly implemented. Briefly, the various steps are— First– The setting up of a viable central authority in Kabul and organization of the Afghan army and police force capable of fighting the enemy, thus shifting the burden from the U.S. and allied forces. Second–The military operations will adopt the strategy of ‘Clear and Hold’ i.e. the U.S. forces will follow the conventional pattern of attacking and occupying given targets. The main focus of this strategy has been the South and South East of Afghanistan. The results however are not very spectacular. Third–Following the pattern of Vietnam and Iraq, a ‘Pacification’ program was launched, which means the assassination of  targeted Taliban leaders on the basis of information received from their agents and with the use of special assassination squads as well as Drones etc. despite a significant increase in Drone attacks on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border and individual assassinations, the U.S. is nowhere near achieving its goal. Fourth– Following the pattern in Iraq, there was generous distribution of U.S. largesse to buy loyalties and ruthless exploitation of tribal, ethnic, religious contradictions to isolate the Taliban and Al-Qaida elements. The announcement of troop withdrawal also had a strategic aspect; it was to act as a sedative for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan on one hand, and on the other facilitate a change of loyalties by any erstwhile combatants if so inclined. This also has been less than a raging success.

Henry Kissinger, the pundit of U.S. foreign policy had along with other helpful recipes, brought forth a very significant proposal. Noting the fortuitous geographical contiguity of Afghanistan with Pakistan, India, Russia, China and Iran, proposes that these countries should be mobilized to join the conflict. One can easily understand the drift of Mr. Kissinger’s proposal and it bodes no good for Pakistan. In the event of failing , the second part of the proposal is for the U.S. to reconsider its options and ” gear its role in Afghanistan to goals directly relevant to threats to American security.” .Although Kissinger expresses abhorrence at the idea of sharing  power with  the Taliban in a coalition government in Afghanistan, the U.S. establishment is doing the ground work for this. The deal will be,” good Taliban” dissociate from and exterminate Al-Qaeda elements thus earning their just rewards.

In America, public opinion is sharply divided. Reports in the media say that 55 % of the public is against the continuation of the war in Afghanistan only 35 % support the continuation of the war. There are stirrings of mass protest similar to those seen during the Vietnam and Iraq wars this trend, if it gains momentum is bound to affect the course of the war in Afghanistan. In the American media another ongoing debate is the ” what if ” debate in which the Vietnam war is being re-fought to new specifications to prove that victory in Vietnam was possible if only the political leadership of America had not lost its nerve..Whatever the outcome of debates like these, this much is certain that the outcome of the war in Afghanistan is going to be determined by the masses– in America as well as in Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, it would be wise to borrow Mr. Kissinger’s dictum and “gear its role in Afghanistan to goals directly relevant to threats to Pakistani security.” Under no circumstances will it be in the national interest to be involved in a war outside Pakistan’s borders.

Bill van Aukens a prominent journalist and researcher writes about the reality behind the façade of U.S.policy pronouncements:

“The number of US, NATO and other occupation troops killed since the beginning of this year is 530, according to the web site icasualties.org, which tracks casualty reports. With more than three months of the year left to go, this already surpasses the 517 fatalities in 2009.

The death toll for US troops had already surged past the total 2009 figure by the end of last month. Thus far, 351 US troops have died in Afghanistan this year, compared to 317 for all of 2009. The latest casualties bring to 2,098 the number of American and other foreign occupation troops killed in Afghanistan since the US invasion of the country in October 2001.

The latest spike in casualties has occurred as all of the 30,000 US troops that the Obama administration ordered to Afghanistan as part of its “surge” are on the ground, bringing the total occupation force to nearly 150,000, with American troops making up two thirds of that total. Many of the additional 30,000 US troops have been massed in Kandahar, the southern Afghanistan province which is considered a Taliban stronghold. The occupation forces have been carrying out “clear and hold” operations in the Argandhab Valley, a key entry-way into the city, and in the neighboring farming districts of Zhari and Panjwayi, west of Kandahar.

Pentagon officials and the military’s uniformed brass are attempting to diminish expectations as to the strategic impact of the new offensive. In part, this is driven by the failure of its last offensive, carried out earlier this year in Helmand province’s Marjah district, to quell Afghan resistance or bring stability to the area. The Pentagon had touted the operation as a key turning point in the war. More fundamentally, however, the military is anxious to dispel any illusions that Washington will make good on the pledge made last December by President Barack Obama to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.

Officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal Tuesday dismissed any expectation that a strategy review that the Obama administration is set to carry out in December will produce any significant change in US operations in Afghanistan.

“Frankly, the way the situation is today, you are not going to see a big difference by December,” a senior US military official told the Journal. “


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