Friday, March 17, 2017

Afghanistan: Theater of the Absurd

As Secretary of State from ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson threatens preemptive strikes on North Korea -- the U.S. is already committed to at least half-a-dozen war zones -- let's check in briefly this morning on Afghanistan, the original locus of the war on terror, a theater of the absurd of U.S. perpetual war.

Today there was a cross-border raid on a Pakistani military post in the Khyber tribal area. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility. Two soldiers from Pakistan were killed. The standard assumption is that Afghan intelligence supports the Pakistani Taliban, while Pakistan's powerful ISI literally directs the Afghan Taliban.

What caught my eye this morning was a story yesterday, "Afghan Officials Say at Least 50 Died in Attack on Hospital," by Rod Nordland and Jawad Sukhanyar. The attack last week on a military hospital in Kabul apparently was an inside job:
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials sharply increased the tally of dead in an attack last week on a military hospital, saying Wednesday that at least 50 people, including patients and staff members, were killed. 
In addition, 24 people have been arrested in connection with the March 8 attack, including Afghan generals, according to Lt. Gen. Helaludin Helal, the country’s deputy minister of defense for strategic and intelligence affairs. The arrests were for a variety of charges including negligence, incompetence and complicity, General Helal said at a contentious news conference.
Afghan military and police brass were slaughtered in their hospital beds by what was first reported as Islamic State attackers, but now has been reassessed as Taliban. There are statements of as many as two-hundred dead.

Nordland and Sukhanyar sum up the dire situation facing Afghanistan:
Afghans were also critical of the country’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, for posing for selfies with soldiers in front of the hospital immediately after the attack.
The furor over the military hospital attack has underscored public disenchantment with the coalition government. It has struggled for more than a year to agree on a defense minister, and is two years overdue on holding national elections for Parliament.
The military situation has steadily worsened in the meantime, with historically high casualties on the government side; more and more districts that are dominated by insurgents; and growing numbers of Afghans who have been displaced by fighting.
The same day of Nordland's and Sukhanyar's dispatch, Mehdi Hasan of The Intercept published "TRUMP HAS CALLED THE AFGHAN WAR A 'MESS.' HIS GENERALS WANT TO ESCALATE IT":
Since 2001, the hawks have cited a dizzying array of measures, from nation-building to counterterrorism to the war on drugs, all of which have resulted in “mission failed” rather than “mission accomplished.”
Supporting a stable, democratic Afghan government? The U.S.-backed president and his “chief executive” are in the midst of a bitter power struggle; the vice president is a vicious warlord; parliamentary elections have been postponed; and corruption runs rampant — Afghanistan ranks 169 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s latest corruption league table.
Protecting the population? Civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2016 reached their highest level since the U.N. first began recording them in 2009. Last month, on Trump’s watch, U.S. airstrikes in Helmand province were reported to have caused the deaths of at least 18 civilians, mostly women and children.
Reducing drug trafficking? Afghanistan continues to supply around 90 percent of the world’s illicit opium, with production having risen by an astonishing 43 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, more than a million Afghans are now addicted to drugs.
Defeating the Taliban? The insurgents have been on the offensive over the past year or so and now hold more Afghan territory than in any year since 2001. As Politico reported, “The Afghan government controlled 57 percent of the country’s districts in November, … which is a 6 percent loss since August and a 15 percent drop compared with November 2015.”
Despite all of this Hasan concludes that Trump will likely approve another troop surge:
Yet I suspect the belligerent Trump, who promised to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS and who, since coming to office, has escalated U.S. military action in Yemen and deployed U.S. ground forces to Syria, will find it difficult to resist the siren calls of more troops, more bombs, more war.
Like Obama before him, Trump will escalate in Afghanistan. Like Obama before him, Trump will lose in Afghanistan. And the rest of us, shamefully, will continue to look the other way.
There is also a decent story by Zahra Nader on the hollowness of women's rights in Afghanistan.

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