Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Germany has slipped up again in Afghanistan, mistakenly killing five Afghan soldiers after losing three of its own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents in the northern province of Kunduz. For a nation with little appetite for a war 3,000 miles away, the losses couldn’t come at a worse time. Germany is still feeling the repercussions of an incident in September in which its forces called in a U.S. air strike that killed scores of people, at least 30 civilians, the deadliest incident involving German forces since World War 11.
But just what is Germany up against in Kunduz? While the intensity of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan’s southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand has received the most attention, the situation in the Germans part of the north has deteriorated rapidly. Soldiers earlier on could patrol in unarmored vehicles. Now there are places where they cannot move even in armored vehicles without an entire company of soldiers according to this story.
Indeed the Taliban have made a dramatic comeback in Kunduz just as they come under pressure in the south, according to this report in the Washington Post. Local officials and residents say two of the province’s districts are almost completely under Taliban control. There, girls’ schools have been closed down, women are largely prohibited from venturing outdoors unless they are covered from head to toe, and residents are forced to pay a religious “tax”, usually amounting to 10 percent of their meager wages. (You would have to wonder, again, the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban given their extreme view of women is unchanged, but that’s a separate issue at the moment).
It was a strange or at least unusual event. Reuters, other news wires and mostly Afghan journalists were summoned to the presidential palace early in the morning. A frequent and very familiar routine of standing around, waiting and multiple security checks then started .
On this occasion, we were packed onto mini buses with blacked-out windows and told only that we would be leaving the palace and going “some place outside”. The guessing game ended when the buses, flanked by armored Land Cruisers and charging down a busy city highway, honking other vehicles out of the way, turned into another building very familiar to reporters in Kabul: the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
Last month, a senior EU parliamentarian, Pino Arlacchi, said a staggering 70-80 percent of the $34 billion in aid earmarked for Afghanistan since 2002 never reached the Afghan people due to corruption, waste and donors witholding funds.
Although Arlacchi’s figures were only an estimate based on a visit to Afghanistan in March and while few would dispute the fact billions of dollars in aid have been wasted over the last eight years, the numbers can also be somewhat misleading.
from Photographers' Blog:
It all started out with a phone call from Reuters News Pictures Washington Editor In Charge Jim Bourg on Thursday night informing me there was a secret Presidential trip leaving on Saturday to an undisclosed destination which Reuters would like me to travel with the president on. I was told that this was very secretive and that I was not to mention it to anyone and that no details were available yet. I had been with President Obama on his secret trip to Baghdad last year, so it was pretty easy to figure out that the destination this time might be Afghanistan, a trip which had been highly anticipated since Obama became president 15 months ago. I was to expect to be contacted directly by the White House for a meeting to discuss the details. But I was to "open" the White House as the first Reuters photographer arriving there on Friday morning at 7am, my scheduled shift, and to go about my day as planned acting as if everything was normal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That afternoon I was called in to meet with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his office at 4pm, along with some of the other members of the 14 person media travel pool who would be going on the secret trip aboard Air Force One.
If the news reports are true, India’s willingness to talk to the Taliban would represent a seismic shift in strategy for New Delhi and underlines the concern that the Congress-led government has over Pakistan’s influence in any Afghan end game.
India has always publicly opposed any attempts at talks by the Western powers with the Taliban to bring them into any stability plan for Afghanistan — chiding the idea there was such a thing as a “soft side” to the insurgents.
Press conferences at the presidential palace in Kabul can be tedious affairs but the frustration felt by the local press corp topped a new level when U.S. President Barack Obama came to visit Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday evening. Mainly because there wasn’t one — a press conference that is.
For a leader who has come to own the Afghan war, U.S. President Barack Obama’s first trip to Kabul and the military headquarters in Bagram since he took office 15 months ago was remarkable for its secrecy and surprise.
He flew in late on Sunday night, the blinds lowered on Air Force One all the way from Washington, and left while it was still dark.
Early this month Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered what military experts are saying was the final nail in the coffin of the Powell doctrine, a set of principles that General Colin Powell during his tenure as chairman laid out for the use of military force. A key element was that the military plan should employ decisive and overwhelming force in order to achieve a rapid result. A clear exit strategy must be thought through right from the beginning and the use of force must only be a last resort, Powell said, the experience of Vietnam clearly weighing on him.
U.S. military involvement overseas has deviated far from those principles since then but Mullen finally finished it off, according to Robert Haddick in this piece for Foreign Policy. The United States is faced with low-level warfare and the public must accept it as a way of life. The question no longer is whether to use military force; America’s enemies whether in Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen have settled that issue, ensuring it remains engaged in conflict. The question is how should it use its vast power.
from The Great Debate:
In a long report on the war in Afghanistan for the U.S. Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations last summer, one sentence stood out: "If we don't get a handle on the money, we will lose this war to corruption."
The money in this context meant the funds, from multiple illicit sources, that finance the Taliban who are fighting the United States and its allies in a war that is now in its ninth year. Dirty money is greasing corruption on a scale so monumental that Afghanistan ranks 179 (out of 180) on the latest index compiled by Transparency International, a watchdog group based in Berlin.
Gallup has a new poll out testing the mood inside Afghanistan and Pakistan and it remains downbeat. Roughly half of those surveyed in both countries said their governments were not doing enough to fight terrorism, despite the infusion of troops in Afghanistan and military offensives in Pakistan.
The dissatisfaction is even more pronounced the closer you are to the trouble spots. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed in Pakistan’s northwest, which is really the ground zero of the war against militant groups, were unhappy with the government’s efforts. Afghans were even more impatient, with some 67 percent in the east which faces Pakistan’s troubled northwest, registering their disappointment.