Afghanistan: Looking For An Honourable Way Out

NATO's Road to Nowhere

When President Obama announced this week that he intends to ‘finish the job’ in Afghanistan, I wondered exactly what job he was referring to; finding Osama bin Laden? Denying al-Qaeda a safe haven? Democratization? Promoting women’s rights? Curtailing the opium trade?  All have been cited over the past eight years as reasons for staying in Afghanistan.

With public support eroding by the day, fighting al-Qaeda now tops the list of excuses.  In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is telling us we must stay the course in Afghanistan to keep our streets safe. Tenuous connections between Afghanistan and home grown terrorists aside, it is clear that from Washington to Whitehall there is a concerted effort afoot to buy time for the coalition to achieve an honorable exit.

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Part II: Afghan Security Forces: The Weak Link in NATO’s Exit Strategy

When NATO military officials meet in Brussels later this month, they will be asked to contribute more resources to step up the training and expansion of Afghanistan’s security forces.   In the second instalment of this two part series,  I’ll examine how politically motivated recruitment and training schedules compromise the safety of coalition soldiers and threaten to undermine the justification for the war in Afghanistan; containing the threat from al-Qaeda.   

Rapidly accelerating the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is understandably attractive to western military and political leaders sick fed up with explaining mounting war causalities to an increasingly sceptical public.  But what looks good on paper has already proved tragically short-sighted in practice.  Continue reading

PART I: Afghan Security Forces: The Weak Link in NATO’s Exit Strategy

When NATO military officials meet in Brussels later this month, they will be asked to contribute more resources to accelerate the training and expansion of Afghan security forces.  In the first of this two part series, I’ll give my thoughts on the efficacy of NATO’s mentoring programs and what it means for western exit strategies.

Since 2004, I’ve had occasion to see Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police training programs in action. I’ve shared live fire ranges and training areas with ANA and ANP recruits and accompanied journalists doing stories on security sector reform.  What I’ve witnessed has convinced me that in its present form, NATO’s mentoring of Afghanistan’s security forces is at best woefully inadequate and at worst, dangerously short-sighted. Continue reading

Afghanistan: The Biggest Loser?

The Taliban must have been rubbing their hands when the White House and Downing Street congratulated Hamid Karzai on his default Presidential victory. ‘What is astonishing is two weeks ago they were arguing that the puppet President Hamid Karzai was involved in electoral fraud,’ said a Taliban statement, ‘… but now he is elected as President based on those same fraudulent votes, Washington and London immediately send their congratulations.’

            The West’s hypocrisy is nothing exceptional in Afghanistan. As a matter of necessity, Afghans always back the winning side.  Thirty-five years of civil war have taught them to value survival over political principals. I know one Afghan who jumped from the Soviet Army to the Mujahudeen in the 1980s. When the Taliban came to power, he joined them. When they were ousted, he went to work as an interpreter for the US military.  Last I heard, he was an Afghan National Policeman.  Basically, whoever has the upper hand in Afghanistan has his support. Continue reading

Kidnap & Ransom: The Media’s Dangerous Double Standard

The media is having a field day tracking the story of Paul and Rachel Chandler, the British couple seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.  Pirates Demand $7 Million and Somali Pirates Split on Demands for British Couple’s Release are just two examples of headline stories describing, among other things, ransom demands, the possible movements of the hostages, and details of the kidnappers’ alleged motives and operations.

            No doubt, other prospective holiday makers and adventures will learn from the Chandlers’ ordeal. This is why, from a security standpoint, I have no problem with news organizations reporting that a kidnapping has taken place.  But describing the mechanics of what is happening behind the scenes, particularly to free the hostages is irresponsible and dangerous in my view. Continue reading