Saturday, January 2, 2010

The War Rages On Into The New Year


Afghans celebrate March 21 as the start of the new years, not January 1, but Taliban fighters probably had the western calendar in mind when they launched a series of vicious attacks this weekend. The Taliban killed seven CIA operatives in an attack in eastern Afghanistan, and killed five Canadians in a roadside bombing.

Roadside bombs will be the bane of the occupation. They are inexpensive to make, and with Afghanistan's limited road system, extremely difficult to avoid. While the Taliban's already limited ability to engage us in the battlefield will be further reduced by the surge, the surge will do nothing to reduce NATO vulnerabilities to roadside bombs. As for the CIA killing, rumors are a-swirling of insider betrayal, and the killer was able to smuggle bombs past the security checkpoint without being searched.

But fear not, that Afghan National Army will be ready to step up soon and take our place, so we don't have to be betrayed by double-crossing Afghans and blown up by roadside bombs. Except for one small problem. Buried in the news crush of New Years celebrations and Top Ten lists was an explosive Washington leak: a 25-page report for General David Petraeus declaring that "Nepotism, corruption and absenteeism among ANA leaders makes success impossible...If Afghan leaders do not place competent leaders in charge, no amount of coalition support will suffice in the long term." The report also noted that because Afghan leaders are paid by the number of local soldiers they recruit, Afghan National Army numbers are often inflated by up to 50%.

The surge might provide us some TV-friendly momentary victories. But President Obama, like his predecessor, cannot reconcile NATO's purpose in Afghanistan with a viable strategy for achieving it. If transferring power to Afghans in 18 months is the goal, we should acknowledge now that the transfer will be an ugly, hasty excuse to get the hell out of there, which is, of course, something I don't think we need 18 months to figure out.

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