Monday, July 20, 2009

Afghanistan gets two more FUs

Paul Rogers is, as usual, well worth reading as he sums up the current state of the excellent adventure in Afghanistan, and discusses how the current course of the war was decided in the now hazy aftermath of 9/11. His conclusion:
The United States and its Nato allies are now mired in Afghanistan, with little idea of how to achieve their aims. Their predicament goes far beyond the immediate circumstances of a particular summer of violence.

Indeed, it is best compared with events of the 1940s and 1950s. In 1947, Indian independence and partition marked the beginning of the end of several centuries of the colonial era; this was followed by the humiliation of the French military at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 and the British (and French) fiasco at Suez in November 1956 - only two of many more prolonged setbacks. Yet these colonial powers were then unable fully to recognise that the imperial age was ending (see "Afghanistan's Vietnam portent", 17 April 2008).

The world is now in a similar period. It is, put bluntly, no longer possible for western states to occupy countries in the middle east and southwest Asia. It is a lesson that should have been learnt by 2001: but the terrible impact of 9/11, coupled with a throwback regime in the White House - aided by its appallingly misguided British ally - meant that it was not. Eight years on, the consequences are being suffered by young British and American soldiers and (it is too often forgotten) by many thousands of Afghans.

Perhaps the lesson can now, at last, be learned. Barack Obama may be the figure to acknowledge the real nature of an epic historical shift. If he does, then his presidency may in just this one respect prove notable. If he cannot, there is a real chance that it could end in bitter failure.
Unfortunately, there is no sign that Obama, or SecDef Gates, or anyone else in the administrations has learned any lessons. Unquestioning belief in the power of bombs, no matter what the cost, makes any thought of leaving heretical.

Gates sent out conflicting signals, stating that progress 'should be made' within 2 FUs (1 FU = 6 months), while calling for more troops in the military. Gates failed to specify how one would know that there was progress. Or why, if there was progress we should need new troops, since the time it takes to integrate new forces is long.

Finally, Pakistan's operations in Swat and South Waziristan have succeeded in deflating the AfPak war in the media. Look for that to change shortly, Pakistan's still walking along the knife blade.


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