Mullen Calls for More Troops for Afghanistan; UN Mission Split over Election Fraud, May Preserve Karzai

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a formal about-face when testifying before the Senate Armed Services committee, now speaking of the necessity of sending more American troops to Afghanistan.

Last February, Mullen had said he did not envisage sending more than 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Some 17,000 new troops have already been sent there. Mullen seems no longer to be suggesting any sort of cap.

During the hearing, Sen. John McCain said that it made no sense to train large numbers of new Afghan troops and then to just send them into battle by themselves. He said that this approach had been tried several times in Iraq, but that the green local troops mostly declined to fight. But actually, the first time the Iraqi army stood and fought on a significant scale was in Basra in spring of 2008, when it took on the Mahdi Army without US troops. The main role of the US, which had reportedly advised against the operation, was to supply close air support. So if you want to make analogies from Iraq, actually the breakthrough seems to come precisely when the newly trained local troops strike out on their own.

The tendency to make analogies from Iraq to Afghanistan is disturbing. They are not similar. Iraq is an oil state with substantial resources. It used to have a high literacy rate before US/UN sanctions of the 1990s, and even now probably the rate is 76%– so the troops can most often read and write. In contrast, Afghanistan is dirt poor and the literacy rate of its troops is only 10%.

Aljazeera English has video on Mullen’s statement

Meanwhile, disputes are raging over the count of the votes in the August 20 presidential election. The local “Independent Election Commission” is apparently too loyal to incumbent president Hamid Karzai to be completely honest about the extent of fraud. So the task of keeping the election honest has fallen to the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which has both Afghan and foreign members. But even in UN circles there is now a big disagreement. Peter Galbraith, deputy to UN special envoy Kai Eide of Norway, believes that not only should ten percent of the ballots at 2500 polling stations be recounted, but that an extensive fraud investigation should be launched.

The recount could just force Karzai into a runoff with his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah. But it is also possible that Karzai’s lead could remain 50% or more even with this recount. According to Pamela Constable and Karen DeYoung in WaPo, Eide is sanguine about this outcome, believing that a runoff would in any case exacerbate ethnic tensions. He appears to favor the expedient of a national unity government that would give Abdullah Abdullah a place in government. Galbraith in contrast seems to believe that a runoff is the only fair way to proceed, given the voluminous evidence of ballot fraud; and wants to investigate the crime thoroughly. (I could be wrong but I take Galbraith to say that if the trail led back to Karzai and he had to be impeached, so be it.)

The dispute between Galbraith and Eide on these issues grew so heated that Galbraith chose to leave for New York. The Telegraph reports that some members of the UN mission in Kabul believe that Eide’s insouciance makes him an accomplice in the ballot-fraud crime.

Even though a lot of articles about this dispute lead with the expectation that there will be a runoff because of the recount, that Eide won the debate with Galbraith points in the opposite direction– that the fraud will be lightly corrected, and Karzai nevertheless annointed, and an attempt made to draw in his rivals with cabinet posts or other sinecures.

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