Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fisk and Cockburn on 'our terrible war'

Two of the best journalists working anywhere in the world remarking on the Afghan-Pakistan war:

Why does the US think it can win in Afghanistan?
Robert Fisk

... First of all, back in 2001, we won the war in Afghanistan by overthrowing the Taliban. Then we marched off to win the war in Iraq. Now - with at least one suicide bombing a day and the nation carved up into mutually antagonistic sectarian enclaves - we have won the war in Iraq and are heading back to re-win the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban, so thoroughly trounced by our chaps seven years ago, have proved their moral and political bankruptcy by recapturing half the country.

It seems an age since Donald "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld declared,"A government has been put in place (in Afghanistan), and the Islamists are no more the law in Kabul. Of course, from time to time a hand grenade, a mortar explodes - but in New York and in San Francisco, victims also fall. As for me, I'm full of hope." Oddly, back in the Eighties, I heard exactly the same from a Soviet general at the Bagram airbase in Afghanistan - yes, the very same Bagram airbase where the CIA lads tortured to death a few of the Afghans who escaped the earlier Russian massacres. Only "terrorist remnants" remained in the Afghan mountains, the jolly Russian general assured us. Afghan troops, along with the limited Soviet "intervention" forces, were restoring peace to democratic Afghanistan...

Back in the late 19th century, the Taliban - yes, the British actually called their black-turbaned enemies "Talibs" - would cut the throats of captured British soldiers. Now this unhappy tradition is repeated - and we are surprised! Two of the American soldiers seized when the Taliban stormed into their mountain base on 13 July this year were executed by their captors...

What the British couldn't do in the 19th century and what the Russians couldn't do at the end of the 20th century, we're going to achieve at the start of the 21 century, taking our terrible war into nuclear-armed Pakistan just for good measure... (link)
The Independent's Patrick Cockburn:
The US strategy for Afghanistan won't work
Patrick Cockburn

September 15 - "Covert action is frequently a substitute for policy," was an aphorism first coined by the former director of the CIA Richard Helms...

True to Helms's nostrum, Mr Bush has not adopted a new policy, but is resorting to covert operations, the political disadvantages of which are obvious, and military benefits dubious...

In reality, covert warfare seldom works. Up-to-date intelligence is hard to come by. Take, for instance, the repeated claims by the US Air Force that it had killed Saddam Hussein during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was meant to be based on up-to-the minute information, much of which turned out to be spurious...

Covert operations only really succeed when they have strong local allies who want outside support. There are two recent outstanding examples of this. In Afghanistan in 2001, US special forces reinforced the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and, most importantly, gave them forward air controllers who could call in air strikes. Two years later, US special forces played a similar role in northern Iraq, when they provided air support to Kurdish troops attacking Saddam's retreating army.

But if covert forces are acting alone, they are very vulnerable. What will happen to them in Pakistan if they get in a fire fight with regular Pakistani forces? What will they do if they are ambushed by local tribesmen allied to the Taliban? Usually, the first to flee in these circumstances are the local civil authorities and the civilian population, so the Taliban will be even more in control than they were before.

Helms's dictum was right. The Bush administration got itself into a no-win situation in Afghanistan. "The US attack on Iraq," writes the Pakistani expert Ahmed Rashid, in his newly-published Descent into Chaos, "was critical to convincing Musharraf that the United States was not serious about stabilising the region, and that it was safer for Pakistan to preserve its own national interest by clandestinely giving the Taliban refuge." (link)

No comments: