Saturday, April 13, 2013

Afghanistan: delusion and wishful thinking

NYT 012-tal.jpg

Following on from the lamentably inadequate Defence Committee report on Afghanistan, which we reviewed earlier this week, the best that one newspaper was able to offer was the view that there was "plenty of time to get the recalcitrant parties to engage in peace talks".

This was Con Coughlin talking, a man who actually seems to believe that the "insurgents" can be prevailed upon to lay down their arms and that some sort of peace deal can (or should) be brokered. 

However, cutting through the delusion and wishful thinking (two sides of the same coin) is The New York Times which brings news of "a serious blow to one of the Afghan Army's most highly regarded units".

A border post in the Narai district, close to Pakistan, has been over-run by about 200 Taliban fighters, killing thirteen soldiers from the Third Battalion, as they sought to interdict insurgent infiltration in this rugged, mountainous area. 

This, we are told, is but one of a series of bloody attacks by the insurgents during their current spring offensive. As a result, Afghan security force deaths have reached the highest level of the war - soldier and police dying at a rate more than double that of a year ago. 

The death toll among Afghan security forces has been steadily climbing in recent years and, by 2012, it had topped 1,000 dead for the army for the year. The Afghan National Police (ANP), which often functions as a para-military force, was hit even harder, suffering an estimated 1,400 dead. AFP reports that 1,800 police and 1,183 soldiers lost their lives from March 2012 to March 2013. 

The numbers, says the NYT, underscore how much more of the fighting has been handed over to Afghan forces. But it also raises questions about their readiness for the increased responsibility, and their capabilities to deal with battle-hardened insurgents. 

One point raised by the Defence Committee was the shortage of organic (i.e., Afghani) air support, an issue we have discussed many times, and now chickens are coming home to roost. 

Many a time, US, British and other coalition forces in circumstances similar to those in which the Third Battalion found themselves, have been rescued by the timely intervention of air power. But, with the coalition winding down its activities, the same degree of (mainly US) air support is no longer available, and the ANA is unable to take up the slack. 

Within the next few months, NATO will have passed over complete responsibly for internal operations to the Afghan security forces. NATO and US forces will be restricted to a support and training role, and their numbers will be dramatically cut. 

Small wonder, the Taliban seem uninterested in negotiating a peace deal. But why should they be interested? They have the measure of the Afghan security forces and, when the coalition forces depart, show every sign of being prepared to deal with them at their leisure. 

There remains in British circles, therefore, only that delusion and wishful thinking. After the loss of 441 military lives and the expenditure of billions of pounds, we have nothing to show for our adventure. As the US forces depart, and we scurry out behind them, the Taliban will move back in. Nothing of any lasting value will have been achieved.