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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Discourse 297 Losing Afghanistan (BBT10 - 1)

Discourse 297 BBT10 (1)



Aliyu U. Tilde, Nigeria

The United States can claim anything but victory in Afghanistan. Last week, the war claimed the career of one of its most distinguished soldiers, General Stanley McChrystal. Underneath the excuse of “lapse in judgement” that was generally given to cover the insubordination that led to his sack and subsequent resignation from service lies the undeniable fatigue which the General and his troops were subjected to by the war, a fatigue characterised by the inability to subdue a resurgent enemy who, though small, appear increasingly resilient and progressively emboldened by the failure of a superpower that cannot even put its house in order.

The Americans are losing the war on all fronts. The fatigue of the commanders has infected the minds and pockets of its citizens at home. Recent polls show that the majority who do not support the war is increasing by the day. A poll conducted in early June by ABC News and Washington Post show that 53% of Americans believe that the war is not worth fighting for. In addition, 58% want their troops back, starting July 2011, as shown by the latest USA Today/Gallup poll on the war. Both Obama and David Patraeus have expressed the optimism in their recent statements early that the date is realistic.

The allies are more worn out with the war. America tried only with little success to convince some of them to send additional troops last year. The support for the war among their citizens is far lower than what it is among Americans. Among Germans and French, for example, 80% did not support the surge, seeing the war not as their problem and a waste of resources, according to a leaked and widely quoted CIA/INR document. The Europeans are in greater haste to withdraw. They will not wait for the Americans to show them the way. The Dutch would lead them, starting next December, by withdrawing their 3,000 troops. The Americans would definitely need some tricks to sustain the support of their NATO allies. The absence of Bush and Blair, the chief ideologues of the war against terror, will be felt, though their advice will not be farfetched.

Exit strategy is the oft-repeated word in Washington on the Afghan war since the demise of the Bush Administration. Part of that strategy now is speaking to the Taliban. However, the resurgents are not in the mood of speech, but that of victory: "We are certain that we are winning. Why should we talk if we have the upper hand, and the foreign troops are considering withdrawal, and there are differences in the ranks of our enemies?” they told the BBC yesterday.

I wonder why John Simpson, the World Affairs Editor of the BBC through whom the Taliban message was sent yesterday, had difficulties recognizing the logic of the insurgents. Here is a war whose commanders are frustrated, its citizens tired, its allies half-heated, and its Commander-in-Chief is withdrawing. Defeat is the only word that is not heard of yet, but it could be discerned from every sentence in its discourse. From this point one can easily see the “upper hand” which the Taliban is claiming in this “war of necessity”, as Obama would call it.

Last week, Obama told both Americans and “our enemies” that the substitution of McChrystal with Patraeus is a “change in personnel, not a change in strategy.” However, the new commandant has repeatedly assured parents and the troops that he will not favour military operations that endanger the lives of their soldiers in attempting to protect the civilian casualties. He has also hinted that he will be more aggressive to the Taliban than his predecessor. From this we can predict more civilian casualties, something that would definitely extinguish further the little support for the war that remains among the Allies who will then see more pictures of women and children killed by their troops. Thence, the call for troops withdrawal would resurge with a greater vigour.

The Taliban, on their part, are not scared. They carried out an audacious attack two days ago on a major NATO base in Jalabad. Though it was a suicide bombing that was hardly intended to engage the Allies, it was nevertheless their choice of telling Gen Patraeus, “You are welcome.” With this determination, an exit strategy more dignifying to the US and its allies than an unconditional withdrawal as the Taliban are demanding can hardly be envisaged.

The US and its allies are stuck in Afghanistan, as did the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s and the British before them in the 19th Century. However, while war could on both occasions be prosecuted with unrestrained brutality, the Geneva Convention and the open access to information put the US and its allies in more precarious situations than the Mongols, the British or the Soviets. It is only a matter of time that the world would witness the withdrawal of yet another superpower from a land that is not its, leaving Afghans to determine their future as do citizens of other nations. That is the only road to peace; the only exit followed by other Empires that invaded that stubborn land before and the only one open to the US and its allies today. We hope they will have the wisdom to follow it. War is not necessary; peace is.


2 July 2010

The BBT10 series are monthly articles specifically written for publication in the Berlin Blogger Tour 2010 Group site. They are published on this site a week after submission.

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