Monday, July 10, 2006

Failing in Afghanistan and Iraq; Will Anyone Hold Bush Responsible?

News reports have shown that the Taliban have been strengthening recently, and more and more violence prevails in Afghanistan today since the bombing of the country in 2001. One British reporter, embedded with British troops writes about her thoughts. She notes presciently:

Far from Afghanistan being a model for Iraq, Iraq has become a model for Afghanistan. There have been 41 Afghan suicide bombings in the past nine months, compared with five in the preceding five years. IEDs — improvised explosive devices — have become a fact of life. Three were left in roadside handcarts in Kabul last week to detonate as buses went past.

According to United Nations officials, not a day passes without a school being burnt down or a teacher being murdered, often in front of schoolchildren.

If there is one factor most responsible for the Taliban resurgence it is the war in Iraq, which distracted the attention of London and Washington at a critical time. While US marines were toppling statues of Saddam Hussein and then finding themselves fighting a bloody insurgency, the Taliban regrouped and retrained in Pakistan.

From just a few hundred guerrillas last year, Mullad Dadullah, the Taliban commander, now claims that he has 12,000 men under arms in the southern provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan.

The southern third of the country, which British troops are supposed to “secure for development”, has long been ungovernable and a no-go area for aid agencies. It is all too easy here for the Taliban to tell local people that the West — and the pro-western government in Kabul — promised aid but has done nothing for them. Where the Taliban are not openly controlling districts, they have set up shadow administrations that assume power as soon as dusk falls.

More alarmingly, the Taliban are no longer just in the south but have even moved into the province of Logar, 25 miles from Kabul. Among their Afghan victims they particularly target police and their relatives as well as guards, road builders and interpreters for western contractors. About 1,500 Afghans were killed by the Taliban last year; 400 have died this year.

Last week an Afghan friend travelling from Kandahar to Kabul on a bus was shocked when a bearded passenger got up, walked to the front and replaced the music cassette that had been playing with a tape of Taliban chanting: “For the next 2½ hours we all sat listening to this terrible stuff and nobody said a word. Two years ago that would have been unthinkable.”

So confident are the Taliban that leaders of the once secretive group have started giving interviews on Afghanistan’s new US-funded Tolo television station. This prompted Karzai last month to impose reporting restrictions that he was forced to rescind by the international community, which felt “censorship” did not sit well with attempts to showcase Afghanistan as a liberal democracy.

“People are scared when they see the Taliban on TV,” said Jamil Karzai, MP for Kabul and a nephew of the president. “Every day I get constituents coming and asking: what does this mean, are the Taliban coming back? We could never have imagined we would get in a situation where such a thing was conceivable.”

“We need to realise that we could actually fail here,” warns Lieutenant-General David Richards, British commander of the Nato-led peacekeeping force. “Think of the psychological victory for Bin Laden and his ilk if we failed and the Taliban came back. Within months we’d suffer terror attacks in the UK. I think of my own daughters in London and the risk they would be in.”

She continues:

Just as damaging have been the continuing air raids across Afghanistan, sometimes on wedding parties or innocent villagers, which have led to the loss of thousands of civilian lives. In May this year there were an astonishing 750 bombing raids, according to American Central Command.

Karzai has repeatedly complained to the Americans about the bombers and the lack of cultural sensitivity of raids on the ground — doors kicked down in the middle of the night, male soldiers entering women’s quarters or taking in dogs which are considered unclean.

Another bitter complaint is of American convoys driving too fast and not stopping when they run someone down. It was such an incident in Kabul that provoked a six-hour riot last month — yet two weeks later a US truck ran over a child in exactly the same place.

“How can we go in offering school sets and candy to people when the Americans have just bombed someone’s family or run over their daughter?” asked an exasperated senior ISAF officer.

Few Afghans see any difference between ISAF activities and America’s Operation Enduring Freedom. The result is that even in the mosques of Kabul, mullahs have started preaching that ISAF are “infidels here to destroy Islam”.

Compare that also to what US soldiers experienced recently in an attempt to find Taliban fighters.

After pitching camp in an abandoned building, the U.S. forces began trying to win the confidence of residents. Wallace, who fought in Afghanistan in 2002 against remnants of the ousted Taliban government, said he had been eager to try "the hearts and minds approach" this time.

His men built a new school next to their base, erected a swing set and slides outside and offered to guard the whole compound. But teachers and students were reluctant to return. This week, there were just 74 boys in class -- a fraction of the number working or idling in the main bazaar -- and the playground equipment had been vandalized.

"The bad men don't know we are open, yet," said Safar Mahmad, 58, a teacher, as he listened to a small boy read aloud from a Pashto-language text on nature conservation. "I am safe because I live here in town, but those who have to walk or bicycle from the villages are still in danger."

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Wallace, irritated and impatient, called for the village mullah and elders. He asked them how recently Taliban fighters had visited, how long they had stayed and whether any had been wounded. He said he had proof they had been there. If the elders would only let him know next time, he would happily come and kill the insurgents -- and pay a reward to boot.

Hajji Obaidullah, the most talkative elder, frowned anxiously as he listened. He rubbed his hands and shook his head.

"You have searched my village three times, and you have found nothing," he told Wallace, as dozens of children watched solemnly and donkeys drank from a nearby irrigation stream. "No matter how many times you search it, you will never find anything."

Obaidullah admitted that Taliban fighters had been there from time to time, but only to ask for food. He said that once he had offered tea to U.S. troops, and the Taliban had returned and threatened him.

"The people are afraid of the Taliban, and they are afraid of the Americans, too," he told the officer, who towered over him. "It is our duty to help you, but they may come after you leave. If anything bad happens to you after this, please don't come back here."

How can we let the Taliban back? Is the blinding power of partisanship so strong that so many Americans cannot hold their leaders accountable for failing so terribly at destroying our enemies? There is a massive failure right now both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over on the Belgravia Dispatch, Mr. Djerejian writes in depth over the major problems found in Iraq right now. On the news today you have violence flaring all over Baghdad as secterian violence gets hotter than the July noon sun! In full blatant public view, Shi'ite gunmen killed over 50 Iraqis assumed to be Sunnis. Two car bombs go off killing ten more today.

This is "staying the course". I see no plan written up by military strategists or political leaders and commentators who back Bush over how to deal with this rampant and bloody violence in Iraq right now. Where are they? Where are the policy makers? Is "staying the course" the best you guys can come up with?

"Staying the course" means letting the violence continue while American troops sit idly by. Worse, American troops are now being investigated for adding to that violence. How horrendous this situation is!

There are two options, and staying the course is not one of them, that will solve this massive ugly problem created by the Ameircans in Iraq.

1. Flood the country with American troops.

2. Leave Iraq to the Iraqis.

Staying the course exacerbates the problem because the insurgency was started because of American presence in Iraq. It can only be snuffed out if there is no hiding place, or if we leave. Staying the course does nothing to stop the insurgency. It is not in its last throes, it is in fact getting more and more deadly. June had the highest total of Iraqis killed, with nearly 1600 in Baghdad alone!

While history will not be kind to the Bush administration, that unfortunately does not solve our problem today. Bush has punted the resolution of the war in Iraq to future generations, something he said he would never do:

When you become President you cannot predict all the challenges that will come. But you do know the principles that you bring to office -- principles that should not change with time or with polls. I took this office to make a difference, not to mark time. (Applause.) I came to this office to confront problems directly and forcefully, not to pass them on to future Presidents or future generations. (Applause.)

So here's the question: will anyone hold Bush responsible?

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