The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Sunday, October 21, 2012

News of the Day for Sunday, October 21, 2012

NATO soldier killed in action in southern Afghanistan. No further details as of now.

A fight among Afghan security forces in Khost province leaves 3 dead. Apparently the dispute began as a quarrel among the officers' children.

Note: As this appears to be a comparatively quiet day in Afghanistan, we have the opportunity to look in on the very active discussions going on about the future of that country. Afghanistan has been little mentioned in the U.S. presidential campaign, but no doubt the candidates will be asked about it in the  foreign policy debate tomorrow. Mitt Romney can legitimately claim that the policy has not been very successful in terms of its stated goals, but it is not clear what he might propose to do differently. Here is some useful background. -- C

State of the Afghan security forces is very poor; perhaps it was a mistake to set a large numerical goal for Afghan force strength, as opposed to concentrating on quality. Rajiv Chandreskaran of the Washington Post discusses:

The U.S. military has nearly met its growth target for the Afghan forces, but they are nowhere near ready to assume control of the country. No Afghan army battalion is capable of operating without U.S. advisers. Many policemen spend more time shaking down people for bribes than patrolling. Front-line units often do not receive the fuel, food and spare parts they need to function. Intelligence, aviation and medical services remain embryonic. And perhaps most alarming, an increasing number of Afghan soldiers and policemen are turning their weapons on their U.S. and NATO partners. . . "We've built a force that's simply too big," said Roger Carstens, a former Special Forces lieutenant colonel who spent two years as a senior counterinsurgency adviser at the NATO headquarters in Kabul. "When you try to generate that many people that fast, you create leaders without the requisite leadership, maturity or acumen to get the job done. You can't meaningfully vet anyone. You can't ensure morale and discipline."

UN says that civilian casualties from roadside bombs have been increasing, and that these are the biggest killer of civilians. IEDs "killed 340 civilians and injured a further 599 over the past nine months, an increase of almost 30 per cent compared to the same period last year."

No surprise, the Taliban deny responsibility for civilian casualties, claiming they only use remote controlled weapons that enable them to effectively target combatants, but somebody set the pressure plate bomb that killed 18 women in Balkh on Friday.

Khaama press columnist Wadsam has an optimistic view  of the country's situation, noting that since the removal of the Taliban from power in 2001, national institutions have developed. Excerpt:

Now, we are seeing a totally new Afghanistan. We are talking about the rule of law, human and women’s rights, the ability of the Afghan National Army and having them take over the security of the country. We have clearly come very far from where we were a decade ago. Afghanistan has now made an identity. Today, Afghanistan is recognized as a democratic country with a parliament, a constitution and institutions. Today, the media, the civil societies and the private sector are provided a platform to come together and discuss political and social issues, something never done before.
True enough, they are talking about these matters. But as Wadsam concedes, in some ways it's still more talk than reality. -- C

France is headed for the exit, ASAP.

U.S. diplomat Marc Grossman visits Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan with various officials. As usual, public announcements are a lot of BS. This will be the last high-level contact before the U.S. election.

AP reports a remnant of al Qaeda is attempting to re-establish itself in Afghanistan's mountainous east. The group is now based in Pakistan.

Not exactly news, but trust between U.S. and Afghan forces is at a nadir.