5 Mar 2014

The drip drip of foreign blood on Afghan dust

With the crisis in Ukraine sweeping all headlines before it, it is hard to recall that the reason US Secretary of State John Kerry ever stepped on to a plane to Europe in recent days was for Afghanistan, not, initially for Ukraine at all. It was for the Nato summit.


But… “Here’s one we made earlier…” as they used to say on Blue Peter many moons ago. In fact before even America’s longest war had started.

Afghanistan, where the US invaded to rid the country of the Taliban. Where the US is now leaving and the Taliban gain strength, reach and control, all the while.

So the war is lost, in that sense: it’s most basic strategic objective. And now all the noise surrounds the ever deeper and more bitter row between Washington and Kabul over the bilateral security agreement.

More accurately, the row between Washington and outgoing President Hamid Karzai over how many foreign troops can stay in his country after he has gone and most of the Nato forces have long gone too.

Much anxiety expended in recent days since US President Barack Obama instructed the Pentagon to make plans for the dramatic sounding zero option – everyone leaves.

Read more: are we any closer to understanding the Taliban?

What then? Mayhem? The Talibs at the gates of Kabul in a fortnight? We don’t yet know but the very question obscures the wider reality.

In fact the next Afghan president will sign up to the agreement when he – and it will be he – is elected.

That may leave the US little time to implement plans but the big deal over none or 10,000 troops is the wrong question.

However many troops are left – the question should be what can they possibly do of any strategic value to assist and advise the Afghan National Army ?

The key – and hardly ever asked questions – what on earth is such a small force supposed to achieve? What are its objectives? Targets? Goals? And how are they supposed to be measured.

Read more: Afghans’ national suicide note

US forces have for 12 or more years gone out and attacked and killed insurgents. It hasn’t worked. They have for more than twelve years trained over 300,000 Afghan troops and armed police. It hasn’t worked.

US, British and a host of other foreign special forces have gone out and killed insurgents. It hasn’t worked. The balance of power in this war remains just as it ever was.

All this with a force of around 100,000 troops, 40,000 of them American in the past. All this with a current force of around 34,000 Americans and 19,000 other foreigners including the British.

So those numbers failed completely to make any significant strategic change in the war.

Read more: Afghanistan: mission accomplished?

So how is it proposed that a residual 10 or 15,000 can possibly make any impact? Of course air support will be useful here and there to achieve a limited objective and target.

Of course special forces will no doubt continue to kill insurgents and yet more civilians in endless ‘unfortunate accidents’ (which is precisely why Karzai won’t sign up) but frankly, so what?

Where is the strategy? What is supposed to change here in the unchanging war? When are enough targets hit? When are enough soldiers in the new Afghan army trained to the requisite degree? What is that degree too?

I see no answers. I scarcely see the questions even being put. This is no way to run a post-war-war. Just as it has proved to be no way to run the current war.

No discernible strategy, just the drip drip of foreign blood on Afghan dust and the current large and unreported loss of Afghan blood as the new Afghan army is forced to take up where the occupiers failed.

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