Never before in the Afghanistan War, the longest-running military conflict in US history, have so many US troops been wounded in one day. Some 5 Afghans were killed and some 77 American military personnel were wounded at a forward operating base in Wardak Province in the Pashtun south by a suicide bomber with a truck Note that Wardak is not that far from Kabul, the capital, but even at this distance the government is unable to provide security. Most of the US wounded were only lightly so.
This incident inevitably leads to thoughts about whether we shouldn’t try to speed up the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Here are some of the top reasons the US should get out of of that country as soon as possible.
The US and NATO have come to be seen as armies of foreign occupation in some parts of the country, according to Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi intelligence, who says the old Taliban of Mullah Omar are no longer the main issue: “… it is becoming more of a nationalist resistance movement to the presence of foreign troops.”
Former radicals also maintain that Afghans are fighting the US/ NATO troop presence now, and would put down their arms if the foreigners left.
According to Robert Crews of Stanford University, the large US/NATO troop footprint in the country, along with the US-engineered overbearing presidency, which the US uses to try to control the country– all this contributes to fanning the flames of insurgency. That is, Washington thinks that the Taliban and other insurgents can be crushed by Western military force, but in fact that very foreign military presence creates a bigger and bigger insurgency.
The over-centralization of power in the hands of the president has created a virtually permanent crisis with parliament. Nine parliamentarians have just been expelled from parliament by the Independent Election Commission because of charges of electoral fraud. But the IEC is appointed by president Hamid Karzai and those expelled were his political opponents. Some 100 members of parliament are standing with those expelled, and the national legislature is likely to be paralyzed by the dispute for some time. Counter-insurgency requires a strong and capable partner, and the dysfunctional Afghan government does not appear to be it.
A decisive victory over the Afghanistan insurgents cannot be won as long as they have safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of northwest Pakistan. But Pakistan does not control much of this rugged and hostile region. Some Pakistani officers may sympathize with the Taliban or other insurgents holed up there. Since the Pakistani army cannot or will not move against these safe havens in a thoroughgoing way (despite some operations, as in South Waziristan), they will remain in place. The US cannot go in after them with American troops because Pakistan would not allow it. Drone strikes appear not to do the job decisively. Pakistan is a nuclear power with a population similar to that of Brazil, and it would be most unwise for the US to be on a war footing with it. Since the cross-border problem is insoluble, the Afghanistan War is ipso facto unwinnable.
With the killing of Usamah Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia is now more willing to support reconciliation talks between President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban. Likewise, the Taliban now seem to hint that the main obstacle to such talks is the big foreign military force in their country.
At least one in seven troops in the Afghanistan National Army deserted in the first six months of this year– coming to some 24,000. How the total army will be built to 200,000 in just three more years under these circumstances is hard to see. And, some of the deserters join the Taliban or other insurgents.
The Afghanistan National Army is regionally unrepresentative, since the southern and eastern Pashutns mostly decline to join. Thus, Qandahar, Helmand and other provinces in the south contribute very few troops to the national army. In part this result derives from Taliban threats to behead those Pashtuns who cooperate with the US government. But whatever the reason, you can’t have a national army that virtually lacks troops from such major provinces, and the imbalance will itself promote ethnic conflict.