The American war in Afghanistan was never a winnable adventure from the very beginning but there were reasons for the sole super power to pretend in 2014 that it had achieved its objectives after 13 years of fighting in Afghanistan. Alas, the Americans are now being denied that luxury. There are two major factors, as of now, which stand between an honorable exit and the US; the Taliban infiltration of the US-backed Afghan army and police and anti-Islam video made by some Coptic Christian safely lodged in the US. The American establishment may not be responsible for the video but that hateful piece of movie has inflicted huge damages on the American efforts to improve its perceptions. The countries that should owe a debt of gratitude to the Americans for such valuable gifts like democracy were on the forefront of anti-US riots which turned violent in the countries of Arab Spring. The video is taking its toll on US war efforts in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Americans have that strange knack of turning friends into foes without much effort.
Let us first take up the issue of the Taliban infiltration into the ranks of Afghan National Army, commonly known as Green-on-Blue. According to former US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the situation is much worse than the US will publicly admit. According to him, the percentage of infiltration is rather higher than the 25 percent figure for enemy infiltrators that US officials have admitted to and that infiltration of the forces the US and NATO train are the Taliban’s primary tactic. The Americans have not accurately assessed their peril. The infiltration is a brilliant Taliban tactic.
This has frustrated the Obama administration’s entire counter-insurgency strategy which was based on building up, training, and arming Afghan police and military to serve as a bulwark against the Taliban after most US forces leave in 2014. With such extensive Taliban infiltration of the very troops US taxpayers are funding and the US military are training, this strategy is an unmitigated failure. So-called insider attacks, in which Taliban infiltrators in the Afghan security forces turn their guns on their NATO counterparts, has become one of the leading causes of death of occupation forces in the war.
Ambassador Crocker also lamented missed opportunities in the US war in Afghanistan, recalling his initial diplomatic involvement when the George W. Bush administration invaded and nearly toppled the Taliban in 2001. He said Iran was eager to ally with the US to help keep the Taliban out of power and maintain overall security in Afghanistan, but that the Bush administration responded to this by labeling Iran as a part of an Axis of Evil terrorist states and then focused on invading Iraq.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is not optimistic either. In his exclusive sit-down with Foreign Policy, Secretary Panetta admitted that some of the “toughest” fighting in Afghanistan was yet to come. Although the war in Afghanistan is winding down by some measures — number of bases, number of troops deployed — loudly touted on the campaign trail this year, the fighting is not finished. Unlike the last two years of the Iraq war, don’t expect American soldiers and Marines to be stuck on shrink-wrap duty sending tons of U.S. war goods and equipment back home.
Panetta said that with the exit of surge forces this month comes the challenge of sustaining the momentum for one more year, to permit the final two hands-off of security regions yet to be determined in the country to Afghan forces a little more than a year from now. That exit point is well established — it is President Obama and NATO’s stated timeline. But getting there is the hard part, says Panetta.
The anti-Islam video has finally proved to be a proverbial last straw on the back of the American camel. Whoever is behind this video is clearly not a friend of those who want some sort of face-saving for the US and Obama Administration in Afghan end-game. The video has tried to prove that American intervention in Libya and Tunis was an Obama misadventure and that pliant regimes in these countries and that in Egypt were in America’s political interests. The video has not only triggered violence, it has given an excuse to Afghan Taliban to intensify their attacks on American forces in Afghanistan. Whoever made the video should be declared as America’s Enemy Number One.
Only a day ago and in a related development, Afghan militants claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a suicide bomb attack near the airport in Kabul that killed 12 foreign workers saying it was retaliation for the anti-Islam film produced in the US that has prompted protests throughout the Muslim world. A woman wearing a suicide vest blew herself up in response to the anti-Islam video, said militant spokesman in a statement. The news plays in to fears in Washington that the unrest sparked by the insulting video will result in a deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, analogous to the violence and riots that followed news in February that US soldiers burned a pile of Qurans. The US military in Afghanistan has already taken precautions, this week scaling back operations with Afghan security forces in an attempt to hedge against an expected rise in insider attacks.
The war in Afghanistan has long been understood as a complete and total failure, but unrest and insecurity in very recent weeks is notable since this is also the same week when the last of the extra 33,000 or so surge troops that Obama ordered into the country are coming home. This will leave about 68,000 US troops left, a signal in the public that the war might be drawing down.
As the Associated Press reported, ”the setbacks are piling up: a spasm of deadly attacks on U.S. and NATO forces by Afghan soldiers and police, including three attacks in the last three days; an audacious Taliban assault on a coalition air base that killed two Marines and destroyed six fighter jets; and a NATO airstrike that inadvertently killed eight Afghan women and girls.”
And now the instability caused by the anti-Islam movie. All of these factors make it much harder for the government to lie to the American public about having achieved victory in Afghanistan, when we are really walking away losers and leaving the country, and our own security, much worse off than before.
Still, British Foreign Secretary William Hague insisted on Tuesday that NATO’s decision to scale down joint patrols with Afghan forces and take other security precautions will have a “minimal” impact on UK strategy, which mimics US strategy, and will not be derailed as a result of the latest unrest.
- Panetta Challenged on View of Taliban’s ‘Last Gasp’ – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- US suspends joint military operations with Afghanistan after attacks (guardian.co.uk)
- US Scales Back Operations With Afghan Forces Amid Increased Tensions (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- Afghan insider attacks worry U.S. (cbc.ca)