Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Afghanistan Formula for Perpetual War

With all that has been happening in the news -- COP21 in Paris; Trump demagoguery with the Iowa caucus less than two months away; a widening international war in Iraq and Syria; terror attacks here, there and everywhere -- it is easy to lose track of Afghanistan.

But we shouldn't because the Greater Middle East is being "Talibanized." I don't mean by this to say that Mullah Mansour is exporting his fighters to other countries. What I mean is that the model par excellence of state powers using their intelligence agencies to aid various Salafi groups in order to pursue geopolitical objectives, blow back be damned, is Afghanistan. Back at the beginning of the current bankrupt neoliberal/neoconservative paradigm was the U.S./Saudi effort to dislodge the Soviet-backed Afghan leader Babrak Karmal. Thirty-five years, a couple of invasions of Iraq and one Global War on Terror later we now have a world war, not to mention a caliphate, in Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile the Western quisling in Afghanistan, the Ralph Nader of Kabul, Ashraf Ghani continues to face mounting losses -- in territory, among his security forces and in any hope that his government has a future.

Yesterday's story by David Jolly and Taimoor Shah, "Afghan Province, Teetering to the Taliban, Draws In Extra U.S. Forces," outlines once again how U.S. Special Operations troops and air power are being rushed into theater to keep the Taliban from controlling a province. In October it was the northern Kunduz Province; now it is Helmand in the south:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Alarmed that large stretches of Helmand Province are falling to the Taliban, American Special Operations forces have secretly taken a more central role in the fighting to save crucial areas of the province, as more air power and ground troops have been committed to the battle, according to Western and Afghan officials.
A Western diplomat said last week that United States Special Operations forces had been engaged in combat in Helmand for weeks, and that there were more American forces fighting there than at any time since President Obama last year announced a formal end to combat operations in Afghanistan.
The extent of the American role has been kept largely secret, with senior Afghan officials in the area saying they are under orders not to divulge the level of cooperation, especially by Special Operations forces on the ground. The secrecy reflects the Pentagon’s concern that the involvement may suggest that the American combat role, which was supposed to have ended in December 2014, is still far beyond the official “train, advise and assist” mission.
The elite ground units in Helmand include both Special Operations troops and the United States Air Force’s Special Tactics Squadron, according to the Western diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering his colleagues.
The American intervention in Helmand is accelerating amid growing reports of demoralized or trapped Afghan security forces and alarm at the amount of territory the Taliban have been able to seize in Helmand this year. If the insurgents are able to sweep away the tenuous government presence in district centers and the capital, Lashkar Gah, it would be a dire setback for the Afghan government, and would give the Taliban a strong foothold in southern Afghanistan.
Asked whether American forces were taking a larger combat role in Helmand, a United States military spokesman, Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, would not reply directly. But he praised the Afghan forces’ efforts so far.
“There’s little question that Helmand is a contested area,” Colonel Lawhorn said. “But the Afghan National Security Forces have conducted no fewer than five major operations there to disrupt insurgent and Taliban activities.” 
Afghan officials in Helmand, however, gave more dire assessments about the state of the battle. 
“The security situation is really bad,” said Toofan Waziri, a Helmand politician and prominent television commentator. Without more foreign air support, he added, “the entire province would probably fall to the Taliban in three days.”
Helmand is important because it is prime poppy growing country. It was also the location of the ballyhooed Stanley McChrystal-Obama COIN troop surge, now broadly acknowledged to be a terrific failure. Parts of Helmand in the north have never been out of the Taliban's control.

The Ghani government is in dire straits. There is no doubt about it. That is why Ghani went hat in hand last week to Pakistan looking for some kind of peace deal, even while the strip adjoining U.S. air base in Kandahar was being shot up and burned to the ground by Taliban. The story to consult is last Friday's "Afghanistan and Pakistan Agree to Reopen Talks With an Absent Taliban" by Mujib Mashal and Rod Nordland. The last two paragraphs sum it up:
While many in Kandahar criticized Mr. Ghani for reaching out to Pakistan, others were sympathetic, saying he had no choice but to keep pushing for talks.

“This is a scattered, spread war in Afghanistan which also involves several countries,” said Abdul Jabar Qahraman, a member of Parliament. “The Afghan government has no other way but to engage them. The Taliban are also a fractured movement. One of them launched an attack on Kandahar, but it is possible that another faction wants to talk.”
Sounds like Syria and Iraq, doesn't it? It is the formula for perpetual war. A conclusion which is unavoidable is that this is a state of affairs that the U.S., with by far the largest military, favors.

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