Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Afghanistan: It’s Too Late. By Ahmed Rashid // Trump in the Middle East: The New Brutality\

When Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, James Mattis, was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week to testify about the conflict in Afghanistan, he was unusually blunt: “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now,” he said. The Taliban have been on a dramatic offensive, he acknowledged, the security situation continues to deteriorate, and the Afghan government holds considerably less territory than it did a year ago. In other words, prospects for any sort of positive outcome are as remote as they have been in this sixteen-year war—the longest war in American history.

Yet Trump - and Mattis’s - solution to this unwinnable war seems to be once again to send more troops. On Tuesday, Trump announced that the military itself would be given full authority to decide how many troops it needs. (By leaving all decisions in the hands of the military, he has abandoned the usual inter-agency consultations, especially with the State Department.) And Mattis is talking about a review to be completed in July that could add as many as 5,000 troops. It may be too late.

Afghanistan now faces a far deeper crisis than many seem to understand. Warlords and politicians - including cabinet members - are calling for the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani and his security ministers, accusing them of incompetence, arrogance, and stirring up ethnic hatred. There are as many as ten public demonstrations a day in the streets of Kabul, carried out by young people and by relatives of those killed in recent bomb attacks.

In early June multiple suicide bombings in Kabul killed over 170 people and wounded some 500. Terrorists managed to get a massive truck bomb into the heavily guarded diplomatic quarter, where it exploded, killing mainly civilians—a clear indication of collusion with security officers. Neither the Taliban nor the Islamic State claimed responsibility. The Taliban have now launched ground offensives to take more territory and to capture the northern city of Kunduz, a city of almost 300,000 that they tried twice last year to seize. If it falls now to the Taliban it would be the first major city they have re-occupied.

Afghanistan’s neighbors, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly restive about the US-led counterinsurgency: Pakistan continues to give sanctuary to the Taliban leadership, including the Haqqani group - the most vicious arm of the Taliban - while Iran and Russia are also providing support (the exact amount is unknown) to the Taliban. These regional powers believe that the Taliban could provide a bulwark against the spread of ISIS into their territories and do not want Pakistan to monopolize influence over the Taliban. They want to limit US power in the region. The influence of ISIS in Afghanistan, which was once relegated to the single eastern province of Nangarhar, is now expanding, and the group claimed responsibility for a horrendous early March attack on Kabul’s military hospital in which fifty patients and doctors were killed and ninety wounded.

Still, even more dangerous than the deteriorating security situation is the political crisis now unfolding in Kabul.. read more:

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