Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tipping Point Near in Afghanistan

As a grade-school kid I don't recall paying a lot of attention to the news. I remember my mother watching the Senate Watergate hearings; I remember when Nixon resigned -- it was almost time to go back to school after summer vacation. But I don't have any recollection of the Fall of Saigon. I was in the fifth grade.

I think to most people who don't pay much mind to national and international events -- which is to say most people -- the capture of the capital of South Vietnam by the NLF seemed like an afterthought, something along the lines of, "Oh, that hasn't already happened?"

I mention all this because that is basically where we are at with Afghanistan these days. Kabul is at no risk of falling to the Taliban anytime soon. But the news of the last several months has gone from bad to worse. This morning Joseph Goldstein files another dire report, "Taliban Make Gains Across 3 Provinces in Afghanistan."

Bear in mind that the Taliban gains in the north are in the old stomping ground of the Northern Alliance, the United Front of warlords that beat back the Taliban post-9/11 with the aid of U.S. air power and the CIA. As Goldstein points out, the government of Ashraf Ghani is on the verge of losing control of its first major city, Kunduz, on the border of Tajikistan, to the Taliban:
A renewed Taliban push has also imperiled Kunduz, the second most important city in the north, which sits near the border with Tajikistan. On Monday, the Taliban seized towns on the outskirts of the city and took control of scores of villages in a district to its southeast, a leading pro-government militia commander in Kunduz Province, Mir Alam, said by telephone.
The Taliban’s advance occurred amid a retreat by local militias that are allied with the government, said local officials and militia commanders. On Tuesday, militia commanders and their fighters were blaming the government for providing them with little in the way of support or ammunition. “During the fighting, I ran out of mortar rounds — to buy one mortar round would cost me 2,000 afghanis,” or about $33, said a local militia commander, Mohammad Omar Pakhsa Paran. “Where would I get the money to buy rounds?”
Mr. Pakhsa Paran said that he commanded 700 men and that, until Monday, he had managed to hold off the Taliban for two years from the area he controlled in Khanabad, a district to the south and east of the city of Kunduz. “When I called the police chief and the commander of the second army brigade to ask for the support needed to defeat the Taliban, they did not answer,” he said, adding that two of his men had been killed, 16 wounded and seven captured before a number of militias, his included, retreated. He said that, all told, about 2,000 armed pro-government fighters had retreated.
The city has been under threat since April, with the Taliban forces in the area bolstered by militants from Central Asia.
Government security officials believe the Taliban see Kunduz as a major prize: If it falls, it will be the first city they have managed to seize since their government was toppled in late 2001. In recent months, the insurgents have pushed into the city’s outskirts and seized control of neighboring districts, only to disperse before government forces managed to counterattack. Whether insurgent forces will make an all-out push for the city this time remains to be seen.
But already, there is mounting anger at the government’s inability to keep the Taliban at bay, as civilians fear being killed as the front lines have shifted.
“Is Kunduz a part of the government or does it have no importance?” Amruddin Wali, the deputy head of the Kunduz provincial council, asked in an interview. “The government came here once and made a show of pushing back the Taliban, but they are drowning in their own negligence, and they have let the Taliban come back.”
A spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense is quoted by Goldstein saying don't worry; the government has a plan to recapture territory lost to the Taliban. This is becoming a common refrain. Eventually a tipping point is going to be reached. And we seem to be getting nearer that point as local militia flee and the Afghan National Police surrender:
The Taliban’s latest territorial gains were preceded by a demoralizing blow to the nation’s security forces on Saturday, when nearly 110 policemen surrendered to the Taliban after their base in the northeast came under attack. The episode, which is being described as the largest surrender by Afghan forces in years, illustrates a weakness in the government’s war strategy.
In trying to hold all the territory the American-led coalition turned over to Afghan forces in recent years, the military has spread itself thin across an isolated patchwork of bases that are often beyond the reach of reinforcements. Without the benefit of American air power, the military now finds that its units are often cut off and are being overrun by Taliban forces, which can total over 100 men at a time.
The police base that was attacked last week, in a lawless region of Badakhshan Province, was reportedly well-supplied and heavily staffed. In an interview, Badakhshan’s deputy governor, Gul Mohammad Baidar, said it had supplies for 200 men “that could last for at least three months.”
But when the police on the base found themselves surrounded by a larger Taliban force, the battle lasted for just over two days before the police retreated to a nearby mountain. There, they negotiated a surrender.
“They claimed that lack of on-time reinforcements and air support left them no other choice,” Mr. Baidar said. Most of the police officers came from the surrounding areas and were allowed to return home once they handed over their weapons and swore not to rejoin the government, officials said. An additional 50 or 60 men from elsewhere in Badakhshan are believed to have fled while the surrender was being negotiated.
Afghanistan is increasingly going the way of Syria. Ghani like Assad governs a nation in name only. Territory is carved off on a regular basis. The U.S. will prevent Kabul from falling. But the more territory the Taliban is able to clear and hold, the more untenable Ghani's position at the negotiating table becomes. The end game here is some sort of settlement by the U.S. with the Taliban.

This should not be a problem for the realpolitik Obama administration, which is supporting genocide in Yemen alongside its Wahhabi partner Saudi Arabia at the same time it performed a recent somersault in northern Syria by embracing Turkey's war on the Kurds.

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