NATO is stuck with the Afghan quagmire until the bitter end
This spring the US military will start pulling out of its dual quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both US debacles will be covered up by "outsourcing" the defeat, just as the Vietnam war was "Vietnamized" to avoid the empire-breaking spectacle of US generals surrendering to the Communists. In Iraq it's not clear who will be left holding the baby, but current indications are that it will be the Iranian-dominated ruling Shiite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its death squads, the Badr Brigades, outfitted in US-supplied desert camo and "Fritz" helmets and driving surplus US Humvees.
The designated fall-guy for the Afghanistan quagmire has already stepped into the ring: NATO.
NATO's meek acquiescence to the US in shouldering the burden of its counterinsurgency war - with all its obvious potential for war crimes and human rights abuses - just when the Taliban is beginning its spring offensive with unprecedented new resources in arms, training, technology, and finance, could very well be the death warrant of the alliance, whose continued existence in the absence of the Warsaw Pact is increasingly difficult to justify. Well, "meek acquiescence" may be an exaggeration in view of the months of heel-dragging and mutual recriminations by the British, Dutch, and Canadians, all of whom accused the others of dropping the ball.
No legal and political basis for NATO involvement
2 years after 9-11 with still no conclusive evidence that the Taliban government of Afghanistan had anything to do with the kamikaze attacks on America, the tacit subtext of NATO objections to taking over the war in Afghanistan is that the NATO Charter's Article 5 obligation to respond to an attack on any member state quite simply does not apply. Neither Britain nor Turkey, who have both been targeted by sustained major terrorist attacks sponsored by clearly identifiable states, ever invoked Article 5. They didn't invoke it because they not only knew that NATO would refuse to get involved but they were aware that the UN Security Council had condemned Israel's retaliatiatory military actions in the same circumstances. Article 5 of the NATO charter clearly states that its conception of self-defense is the same as that of Article 51 of the UN Charter. The UN has ruled that retaliatory attacks against states in response to terrorist attacks from their territories does NOT constitute self-defense and therefore contravenes the UN charter. Besides, even if it were proven beyond doubt that the Taliban were behind 9-11, it is hard to argue that a counterinsurgency war to prop up a US-installed puppet government three years after the attack has anything to do with NATO. It is also hard to understand why the US targets the Taliban but declares the Taliban's sponsor Pakistan a "major non-NATO ally."
Kicking and screaming into the quagmire
Although the NATO Secretary-General who got the alliance into the Afghan mess is a Dutchman, Holland was the first to voice its opposition, as the government's junior coalition partner raised a ruckus at The Hague and threatened to bring down the government. The British military joined the chorus, saying that they risked suffering losses in Afghanistan "not seen since the Falklands War." The Toronto Star in turn echoed the Canadian
military's reticence: "as British and Dutch stall, fears grow that Canadians will be left holding the fort."
As one French diplomat working with the EU in Kabul put
it: "The European powers all had to be dragged in one by one, kicking and screaming. They want to be the good allies and create obligation with the US, show their power, but they are very worried about casualties, about domestic fallout and about the costs and possible failure."
An unseasonably warm winter (and I don't mean climate change)
Spring isn't here yet but already the fears of NATO's heel-draggers are being borne
WASHINGTON (AP) - Painting a bleak picture of U.S. military operations overseas, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told Congress on Tuesday that violence in Afghanistan increased 20 percent last year.
"We judge insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001, and will be active this spring," said Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, the DIA chief.
(. . .)
In his written testimony, Maples said Afghan insurgents increased their suicide attacks almost fourfold and more than doubled their use of improvised explosive devices.
"DIA Chief Warns of More Afghan Violence" , Guardian, February 28, 2006
Things have gotten a good deal worse since the DIA chief's testimony. The 2,500-strong Canadian brigade arrived at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on March 1. Four days later they got their first heat shock when a suicide bomber drove into one of their convoys, leaving 11 wounded. In January, another suicide bomber had attacked a convoy and killed a Canadian diplomat who was returning from talks with Afghan drug warlords. On March 9, a
US helicopter was lost in the Wardak province in the south. On March 12, 4
US soldiers were killed by an IED in Kunar province, almost exactly a month
after an IED claimed another four US soldiers in Uruzgan province. On March 18, French troops got IED'd at Spin Boldak on the Pakistani border.
losses among Afghan security forces and administrators piled up at an alarming
rate. A suicide car bombing in Kabul on March 12 just missed the head of the Upper House of the Afghan Parliament, a key regime figure who has been trying to co-opt Taliban-affiliated warlords. Another influential Pashtun leader collaborating with the Karzai regime to co-opt the Taliban, the governor of Ghazni province Taj Mohammed Qari Baba, was assassinated on March 17th. A number of pro-Karzai clerics were also killed, while the Afghan police were attacked in all the areas where the Taliban is active. In Kandahar province the Taliban kidnapped and killed 4 Macedonian workers servicing a US base and IED'd the Afghan police convoy that carried the bodies away, killing 9 police on March 18.
Mullah Omar promises "unimaginable" heat (and he doesn't mean
If the omens weren't already clear enough, Mullah Omar announced loud and clear what everyone already knew: When the snow melted in the mountain passes the time of minor skirmishes would be over and the war would begin in earnest. "With the arrival of the warm weather, we will make the ground so hot for the invaders it will be unimaginable for them," was how he put it.
The Dutch, British, and Canadian media started sounding the alarm even before the troops transports took off for their desolate destinations. The Times wrote:
In interviews with aid workers, soldiers, diplomats and dozens of local Afghans, the consensus is that the largest British military expedition since the invasion of Iraq is a risky and ill-defined mission. . . . They will come up against some powerful vested interests, including the remnants of the militant Taleban movement, ousted from power five years ago, and the hugely powerful drug barons, who stand to lose most from the presence of a rival power.
(. . .)
The terrain is ideal guerrilla country, as the Russians learnt to their cost during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
Contacted by mobile telephone, a local Taleban leader said that preparations were under way for the arrival of the British. â€œWe are prepared to meet them,â€ he declared. â€œWe are waiting for his excellency Mullah Omar (the fugitive Taleban leader) to start the jihad. We will fight any foreign force that comes to our country, whether British or Dutch or any other infidels. We are just waiting for the order to go.â€
Since time immemorial, when great emperors went to war, they summoned contingents of their vassals and tributaries to their standards. So it was in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, when the U.S. decided to invade those nations and demand its allies join the so-called "war on terrorism."
Under irresistible pressure from Washington to aid its highly unpopular military expeditions in either Iraq or Afghanistan, America's allies and NATO partners opted for the lesser evil, Afghanistan.
That is why 2,100 Canadian troops have ended up in a nation in which Canada has absolutely no strategic, commercial, cultural or emotional interests.
(. . .)
Afghan tribes are taking up arms against their foreign occupiers. I saw this happen during the 1980s, when growing hatred of Soviet occupation forces ignited a national uprising.
Today, in the eyes of many Afghans, the U.S. has merely replaced the Soviets. All past occupiers, starting with Alexander the Great, were driven out by the fierce Afghan tribes.
Margolis also wrote: "Canucks are prime targets. They lack effective liaison with circling U.S. warplanes that normally bomb and rocket any attackers within 3 minutes of an assault." He should know, as one of those rare reporters who has actually fought in the wars he covered. The Canadian army's relations with the US Air Force took a particularly rocky turn in 2002 when a US F-16 pilot high on speed killed 4 Canadian troops in Kandahar.
A Washington Post op-ed by Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D, MD) condemned the outsourcing of the war to NATO at this critical juncture, urging the government to beef up the US force rather than replace it with a patchwork of NATO national forces:
. . .the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Maples, was testifying before Congress that the Taliban insurgency is growing and will increase this spring, presenting a greater threat to the Afghan central government's expansion of authority than at any point since late 2001. Under these circumstances, the current plan to replace the 2,500 U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan this spring with contingents of Canadian, Dutch, British, Romanian and Australian troops is a mistake. Given the intensifying Taliban insurgency, these allied forces should augment, not displace, U.S. forces. We should also reassess the administration's proposal to turn over the command of most U.S. troops in Afghanistan to NATO by early next year.
(. . .)
There are real questions about whether NATO will be able to engage the Taliban as aggressively as U.S. forces.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces from southern Afghanistan will also weaken our ability to demand that Pakistan move more forcefully to prevent the Taliban from using Pakistan as a base of operations. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency has had a cozy relationship with the Taliban, and many in the Afghan government doubt Pakistan's commitment to denying sanctuary to Taliban fighters. If U.S. troops won't pursue them, why should Pakistan's?
Off Course in Afghanistan Washington Post, March 21, 2006