Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What's Really Behind All The Noise About An Early Withdrawal From Afghanistan? It's Not What You Think


Karzai was in Washington last week and suddenly there was all this talk about how U.S. troops, despite his panic, would be leaving Afghanistan sooner rather than later-- and perhaps leaving no troops behind to prop up Karzai's weak government which isn't seen as legitimate by wide swathes of the population. In fact, Karzai is from the same sub-tribe as Shah Shuja, who was restored, briefly, to the throne by the British in the First Afghan War (1838-'42) and of whom Dost Muhammad told his people, "The Shah is now a servant of the Kafir infidels." When the British left Afghanistan, Shuja, widely viewed as their puppet and, like Karzai without credibility among the dominant Pashtuns, was assassinated.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and his US counterpart Barack Obama have agreed to speed up the withdrawal of US combat troops as well as trade security responsibility from NATO to Afghan forces this spring.

After a long and deadly war, Obama announced plans to move US combat troops into an advisory role - slightly ahead of schedule-- and also said any agreement on troop withdrawals must include an immunity agreement in which US soldiers are not subjected to Afghan law.

The president said the path of the US military remains clear and the war is moving toward a "responsible end" in 2014.

But the exact date, as well as how many troops are to remain, is still unclear.
U.S. policy is Afghanistan is not just a complete and costly failure, it no longer has any basis of support among Americans-- neither on the left nor even on the right. Other than the Military Industrial Complex, which has profited so handsomely from it-- and the Members of Congress in their pockets like McCain, Lindsay Graham, Miss McConnell, and Buck McKeon (who have all also profited handsomely)-- everyone in America wants the U.S. to get out-- and get out sooner rather than later. McConnell just got back from a quickie over there and says we need to keep 10,000 troops there after the 2014 pull-out. Here's Rachel Maddow's report on Obama's announcement of the ending of U.S. involvement:

Her analysis (and Steve Clemons')-- the successful attainment of the benchmarks is pure, unadulterated bullshit-- is spot on. But, getting out of that hellhole is a significant development and the completely predictable failure in Afghanistan is long overdue to end.
Recent "reports" from the war front have been of two kinds. Some official or analytical in nature and heavily circulated in Washington portray a war going terribly well. On the other hand, hard news from the ground tell a story of US fatigue, backtracking and tactical withdrawals or redeployments which do not bode well for defeating the Taliban or forcing them to the negotiations' table.

  For example, while the US military's decision to withdraw from the Pech valley was justified on tactical need to redeploy troops for the task of "protecting the population", keen observers saw it as a humiliating retreat from what the Pentagon previously called a very strategic position and sacrificed some hundred soldiers defending it.

Likewise, strategic analysts close to the administration speak triumphantly of US surge and hi-tech firepower inflicting terrible cost on the Taliban, killing many insurgents and driving many more from their sanctuaries.

But news from the war front show the Taliban unrelenting, mounting counterattacks and escalating the war especially in areas where the US has "surged" its troops. And while the majority of the 400 Afghan districts are "calmer", they remain mostly out of Kabul's control.

Those with relatively long memories recall the then defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's claims that most of Afghanistan was secure in early 2003 and that American forces had changed their strategy from major combat operations to stabilisation and reconstruction project.

But the Taliban continued to carry daily attacks on government buildings, US positions and international organisations. Two years later, the US was to suffer the worst and deadliest year since the war began.

Today's war pundits are in the same state of denial. For all practical purpose, Washington has given up on its counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy devised under McChrystal and Petreaus.

Instead, it is pursuing a heavy handed and terribly destructive crackdown that includes special operations, assassinations, mass demolitions, air and night raids etc that have led to anything but winning the country, let alone its hearts and minds.

The killing of nine Afghan children last week-- all under the age of 12-- by US attack helicopters has once again put the spotlight on the US military's new aggressive methods.

The results are so devastating for the conduct of the war and to Washington's clients, that President Karzai not only distanced himself from the US methods, but also publicly rejected Washington's apology for the killings.

Nor is the recruitment and training of the Afghan forces going well. Indeed, many seem to give up on the idea that Afghan security forces could take matters into their hands if the US withdraws in the foreseeable future.

Worse, US strategic co-operation with Pakistan - the central pillar of Obama's PakAf strategy-- has cooled after the arrest of a CIA contractor for the killing of two Pakistanis even though he presumably enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Reportedly, it has also led to a "breakdown" in co-ordination between the two countries intelligence agencies, the CIA and the ISI.

  But the incident is merely a symptom of a bigger problem between the two countries. A reluctant partner, the Pakistani establishment and its military are unhappy with US strategy which they reckon could destabilise their country and strengthen Afghanistan and India at their expense.

That has not deterred Washington from offering ideas and money to repair the damage. However, it has become clear that unlike in recent years, future improvement in their bilateral relations will most probably come as a result of the US edging closer to Pakistan's position, not the opposite.

All of which makes one wonder why certain Washington circles are rushing to advance the "success story."

...The mere fact that the world's mightiest superpower cannot win over the poorly armed Taliban after a long decade of fighting, means it has already failed strategically, regardless of the final outcome.

The escalation of violence and wasting billions more cannot change that. It is history. The quicker the Obama administration recognises its misfortunes, minimises its losses and convenes a regional conference over the future of Afghanistan under UN auspices, the easier it will be to evacuate without humiliation.

Whether the US eventually loses the war and declares victory; negotiates a settlement and withdraw its troops, remains to be seen. What is incontestable is that when you fight the week for too long, you also become weak.

All of which explains the rather blunt comments made in a speech at the end of February, by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates when he said "... any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it."

In the video below, Maddow also explains the issue of immunity for American troops in Afghanistan. No one wants U.S. troops in Afghanistan more than Karzai. If they go, he has to as well-- either that or end up like Shah Shuja, dead. Karzai said he would ask the Afghan people about the immunity issue. But most Afghans want the U.S. troops out and consider immunity out of the question. Although that isn't the way Karzai tells it. He told Christiane Amanpour on CNN that “I can tell you with relatively good confidence that they will say ‘alright, let’s do it. And I’m sure that they will understand.”
At the press conference, President Obama said that he had stressed to Karzai that “the United States already has arrangements like this with countries all around the world, and nowhere does the U.S. have any kind of security agreement with a country without immunity for our troops.”

In the final stages of the U.S. intervention in Iraq, President Obama was unable to obtain a similar agreement, propelling him to withdraw all U.S. forces from that country in December 2011.

Karzai rejected the notion that has been floated that the U.S. might leave “zero troops” in Afghanistan after the pullout is completed at the end of 2014. 

He told Amanpour that Afghans need some type of U.S. presence for “broader security and stability” after the withdrawal. For that reason, Karzai believes Afghans will have to grant the U.S. troops left there immunity.

“The United States will need to have a limited number of forces in Afghanistan,” he said, but was unwilling to give an exact number. “That’s not for us to decide. It is for the United States to decide what number of troops they will be keeping in Afghanistan and what strength of equipment those troops will have.”
The American people don't want it and neither do most of Afghanistan's people. When Obama says "unless there was some kind of immunity, it would not be possible for the U.S. to keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014,: that's his way out-- just like it was in Iraq. This morning Karzai announced the issue of immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be made by the end of the year. "The issue of immunity is under discussion (and) it is going to take eight to nine months before we reach agreement," he told a news conference back in Kabul. He says it will require acquiescence from a Loya Jirga, a grand council. My guess is that most Afghans outside Karzai's immediate circle would rather see Karzai and his clique dead than agree to immunity for foreign troops.

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