Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
U.S. President Barack Obama is in the midst of a wrenching decision on whether to quickly bring home the 100,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan or stay the course in the hope that the situation will stabilise in the country.
The problem is it is still not clear what the huge operation estimated to cost $100 billion a year is intended to do. Here is what Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said last week when asked what would constitute success : “I think we’ll have a much better fix in terms of clarity towards the end of this year in terms of longer-term … potential outcomes — and when those might occur — than we do right now.” The military were in the middle of the fighting season and once that ends when winter arrives, they would be in a better position to make a call. But how many fighting seasons has the military gone through already in Afghanistan ? Their logic is that the 30,000 additional troops that Obama sent in December 2009 have started to turn things around in the southern bastions of the Taliban, and more time is needed to extend the gains in the east where the insurgency is just as stubborn.
But isn’t that the way this war has been fought all these years, and indeed even before during the Russian occupation ? You muscle into one part of the forbidding country with men and armour, the insurgents melt away and launch attacks in another part. You are then left with the option of diverting resources to fight them in a new battlefield, or risk stretching yourself thin holding on to gains while trying to secure new ground.
One U.S. official, the Financial Times reports, (behind a paywall) likened it to an arcade game where the player uses a mallet to bash a random and increasingly frantic series of moles back into their holes. Or as Senator Richard Lugar, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week : “Despite ten years of investment … we remain in a cycle that produces relative progress but fails to deliver a secure political or military resolution.”