Monday, April 5, 2010

The US's Hopeless Situation in Afghanistan

The NY Times reports today on how "U.S. Admits Role in Killing of Afghan Women" in a messed-up raid in Gardez back in February.  It's heart-wrenching to read.  One of the women who was shot was a pregnant mother of 10; and she - and two women - died as "collateral damage" in a Special Forces raid on a house mistakenly tied to "militants," but that actually housed a police chief and a district prosecutor who came out of the house, with guns, to see what was going on.  According to local informants, the Special Forces raid followed a party to honor the birth of the house owner's grandson.

It's also disgusting to read, because it's being reported (in the Times of London, and denied by NATO - whose credibility now is toast) that the Special Forces guys, knowing they'd screwed up, went so far as to dig the bullets out of the women's bodies and wash out the wounds with alcohol, then lied to their superiors about what had gone down.  That's a cover-up, compounded by the fact that the US military spokesperson then went public with a denial of US culpability before finally reversing that stance.

This, on the heels of Afghan president Hamid Karzai's invective against the US and the UN for interfering in the recent (fraud-riddled) elections - a matter that he considers (justifiably, though certainly self-servingly in this instance) his country's domestic affairs.  As the NYT notes,

Karzai described the Western military coalition as coming close to being seen as invaders who would give the insurgency legitimacy as “a national resistance.”
According to a Parliament member who chose to remain anonymous, Karzai also said to that body: “If you and the international community pressure me more, I swear that I am going to join the Taliban.”

Basically, the US is now stuck with an elected Afghan president who most determinedly is not going to stick to any script the US hands him.  He's cultivating ties with both China and Iran; he's not about to dump his half-brother, whom the US has fingered as a bad-guy drug lord; and he's not going to accede to US demands to clean up his government and share power with local authorities.  The only way the US might rein him in is by threatening to withdraw its troops, and then (if he doesn't cave) actually doing so.  But, then what?

Peter Galbraith (quoted in the NYT analysis) makes an important point:

“There is no point in having troops in a mission that cannot be accomplished. . . . The mission might be important, but if it can’t be achieved, there is no point in sending these troops into battle. Part of the problem is that counterinsurgency requires a credible local partner.”
There is no way this ends well for the US.  Even if the "Taliban" were to disappear tomorrow, Karzai remains the democratically elected president of Afghanistan; the US can't afford a long-term significant military presence there.  Karzai knows the US has to leave, sooner or later, and that his long-term interests lie in cultivating this neighbors China and Iran, who happen to be the US's major competitors for hegemony in that region.

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