Sunday, March 1, 2009

Surge: who wants it and what effect will it have?

An interesting interview with Francesc Vendrell who was special envoy for Afghanistan for the United Nations (2000-02) and the European Union (2002-08) and is currently a visiting scholar at Princeton University. He is interviewed by Radio Free Europe (which, as I never tire of reminding readers, is funded by the US Congress and has in the past acted as a CIA media asset).

Radio Free Europe: Do you think that U.S. President Barack Obama's recent decision to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan will improve the security situation in Afghanistan?

Vendrell: It would have been preferable if any deployment would have waited until there was a total review of the strategy to be followed...

My impression is that no Afghan public figure is actually calling for more foreign forces...

One has to be careful in terms of increasing the foreign military presence because -- although we have been very lucky that the Afghan population has welcomed, particularly in 2001 and 2002, the arrival of international forces -- I think, we have to be careful that our welcome is not wearing out...

Q: Do you think President Karzai, by increasingly expressing his opposition to U.S. military strategies that result in civilian casualties, is using the situation for campaigning purposes ahead of the presidential elections?

A: I think there are very genuine Afghan grievances. He may be formulating them -- the timing may be somewhat linked to the elections, but I think the grievances are very genuine. Even though the Taliban may also be killing as many civilians, or more, than foreign forces. At the end of the day, Afghans are increasingly unwilling to accept civilian casualties at the hands of foreigners. And he is right in saying that Afghan patience may be wearing thin.

Q: What kinds of challenges can Richard Holbrooke, U.S. President Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, expect?

A: ... I think there are genuine grievances, inside Afghanistan, that have led to either Afghans joining the Taliban, or probably a very large number of particularly [ethnic] Pashtuns sitting on the fence between the government and the Taliban...

Q: What is your prognosis of the issue of talking to the Taliban?

A: The Afghan government and the president need to define a framework about how to proceed with any reconciliation talks with the Taliban. And the president needs to reach a consensus with other legal political forces in Afghanistan as to what this dialogue with the Taliban will consist of. And then, of course, he needs to have on board the key members of the international community. I personally think that one should start by making approaches to some of the local commanders who may be fighting in Afghanistan not because they want to establish an Islamic emirate, but because they have local grievances that have not been met... (link)
I'm sure that most readers are familiar with the rather widespread opinion that the upcoming surge in troop levels in Afghanistan will most likely lead primarily to increased violence in that country and neighbouring Pakistan. Jean MacKenzie, a woman with maximal current experience in Afghanistan, sums up the common wisdom:
Afghanistan troop surge costly
By Jean MacKenzie - GlobalPost

KABUL, Feb 26 - One general with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan refers to the cost of a U.S. troop surge as the "mathematics of death."

And Afghans and the international community agree, the proposed deployment of 17,000 additional U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan will almost certainly mean a spike in the level of violence in the country.

“There is the risk of an increase initially,” Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, told GlobalPost in an interview. “There will be more kinetic action, more operations being conducted.” ... (link)
Finally, from the Wall Street Journal:
"I hate to say it, but yes, I think there will be [more U.S. casualties]," Vice President Joe Biden said on CBS Sunday. "There will be an uptick." (link)

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