Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Bernd Debusmann:

U.S. nation-building in the wrong place?

America's costly efforts at nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq came under intense scrutiny this month in critical reports and a gloomy Senate hearing that prompted a memorable assertion. "If there is any nation in the world that really needs nation-building right now, it is the United States."

That came from a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, who continued: "When we are putting hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure in another country, it should only be done if we can articulate a vital national interest because we quite frankly need to be doing a lot more of that here."

Webb spoke at the confirmation hearing of the veteran diplomat President Barack Obama nominated to be his next ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, who faced questions from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that left no doubt over the growing impatience of U.S. lawmakers with a military and financial commitment that is producing limited progress.

Webb's juxtaposition of spending on Afghanistan and the state of things in the United States - a stalled economy, stubborn unemployment, an aging infrastructure - is made more often in online debates and private conversations than in official hearings. But it is a subtext for a debate likely to grow in the campaign for the 2012 elections and feature both Afghanistan and Iraq as money pits, object lessons for ill-conceived development projects, and lack of foresighted planning.

Is the surge failing in Afghanistan?

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- (Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province.Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Six months into the surge in Afghanistan, Americans and Afghans alike are asking the question whether it has worked and the ugly reality is that it has failed to make a difference, writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post.

To be sure, as U.S. President Barack Obama said last week only half the reinforcements he ordered in December have arrived and there is still more than a year to go before the troop withdrawals begin.

U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan set to overtake Iraq

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- (On patrol in Kandahar proivince.Reuters/Jonathon Burch

(On patrol in Kandahar province. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)

At some point this month or early June, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will outnumber those in Iraq, writes Michael E. O ‘Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. It’s an artificial milestone but it is worth noting because it tells you a good deal about the two wars and where the United States stands in each.

The cross-over is also a measure of how big and rapid has the shift been in America’s military power toward Afghanistan since President Barack Obama took office last year promising to bring the troops home.

A Guantanamo Bay in Afghanistan?

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(A protester outside the White House in Washington dressed as a Guantanamo Bay detainee. Photo by Kevin Lamarque)

The United States is considering a proposal to hold foreign terrorism suspects at the Bagram military base in Afghanistan,  the Los Angeles Times reported this week, a  new Guantanamo Bay just as it is trying to close down the original facility in Cuba.

Burying the Powell doctrine in Afghanistan

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- A U.S. soldier in Helamd. Picture by Shamil Zhumatov)

A U.S. soldier in Helmand. Picture by Shamil Zhumatov)

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.

Terror index: Iraq down, but Afghanistan and Pakistan red-hot

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- A U.S.military convoy in southern Afghanistan

A U.S.military convoy in southern Afghanistan

Iraqis  are voting today for a new parliament and despite the bombings in the run-up to the election, the over-all trend is down, according to the Brookings Institution. Not so in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, America ‘s other war, which remains red-hot according to a country index that the Washington-based thinktank  puts out for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The index is a statistical compilation of economic, puiblic opinion and security data.

It’s quite instructive just to look at the numbers in the three  countries. Weekly violent incidents in Iraq are  about 90 percent less frequent than in the months just before the surge.  Violent deaths from the vestiges of war are in the range of 100 to 200 civilians a month, meaning that mundane Iraqi crime is probably now a greater threat to most citizens than politically-motivated violence, Brookings says in its latest update.

from UK News:

How chaplains find peace during wartime

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A British military chaplain prepares a Remembrance Day ceremony at the British cemetery in Kabul November 11, 2009/Jerry Lampen

Dozens of chaplains from the Church of England are serving with British armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are there when soldiers seek redemption around the time of battle, and they there are, standing in the operating theatre, waiting until the surgeon can do no more.

Sharing information with the enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan

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U.S. military commanders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan are not the only ones watching live video feeds of the battle zone from unmanned Predator surveillance planes. The militants too have been looking at the same images thanks to an off-the-shelf software that allowed them to hack into the data feed from the drones.

“Skygrabber”, originally designed to allow customers to download songs and movies off the Internet, costs barely $26 . It allowed insurgents to tap into the overhead video feeds from the million-dollar surveillance planes, the Wall Street Journal reported recently.

Afghanistan: neither Vietnam nor Iraq, but closer home perhaps

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[Women at a cemetery in Kabul, picture by Reuters' Ahmad Masood]

As U.S. President Barack Obama makes up his mind on comitting more troops to Afghanistan, the search for analogies continues. Clearly, Afghanistan cannot be compared with Vietnam or Iraq  beyond a point. The history, geography, the culture and the politics are just too different.

The best analogy to Afghanistan may well the very area in dispute – the rugged Pashtun lands straddling the border with Pakistan and where  the Pakistani army is in the middle of an offensive, argues William Tobey in a piece for Foreign Policy.

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