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Imperial Over-Stretch in Afghanistan: Losing The Peace

U.S. efforts to pacify Afghanistan appear to be unraveling, according to a new report by a key group of experts sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Asia Society.

"This is what is called 'imperial over-stretch,'" noted one congressional aide whose boss has long warned that Bush's post-9/11 strategic ambitions would stretch U.S. forces impossibly thin within a very short time.
Losing The Peace In Afghanistan

by Jim Lobe

Just as the United States is struggling to deal with major postwar headaches in Iraq, its efforts to pacify Afghanistan appear to be unraveling, according to a new report by a key group of experts sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Asia Society.

Titled "Afghanistan: Are We Losing the Peace?", the 24-page document, authored by, among others, three retired senior U.S. government policymakers who specialize in South Asian affairs, answers that question very much in the affirmative and argues that Washington must do far more, and urgently, to save the situation.

"Without greater support for the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai, security in Afghanistan will deteriorate further, prospects for economic reconstruction will dim, and Afghanistan will revert to warlord-dominated anarchy," the task force concluded.

"This failure could gravely erode America's credibility around the globe and mark a major defeat in the U.S.-led war on terrorism," added the report, which was written by the co-chairs of the independent CFR-Asia Society task force that has been following Afghanistan since before the 9/11 terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon.

In particular, the report urges Washington, which has about 7,000 troops stationed outside Kabul hunting for members of Al Qaeda and the former Taliban regime, either to alter their mandate to include peacekeeping outside the capital, or support a major enlargement of the 4,800-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) so that it can extend the central government's authority into the countryside.

Since its creation in early 2002, ISAF, which is currently led by the Netherlands and Germany, has been confined to Kabul.

The report also calls for Washington to sharply increase the pace of training the new Afghan national army (ANA), which has already been depleted by poor pay and defections to tribal militias. Current plans call for 9,000 men to be in the field by June 2004, when a permanent government is scheduled to take power. The task-force chairs, who include Washington's former ambassadors to India and Pakistan, Frank Wisner and Nicholas Platt, respectively, called that "ludicrously inadequate".

The report comes at an especially awkward moment for the administration of President George W. Bush, which has had a far more difficult time restoring order and basic services in Iraq than it had planned for.

In addition to devoting increasing energy to get Iraq under firm control, the administration is also increasingly preoccupied with implementing the "roadmap" for Israeli-Palestinian peace and coping with the diplomatic fallout from both the Iraq war and its failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The alleged production and deployment of WMD by former president Saddam Hussein was cited by Bush and his allies as the main justification for going to war.

Continuing challenges to the U.S. military occupation in Iraq, as well as the general insecurity there, has forced the Pentagon to deploy at least 140,000 troops there -- twice as many as it had planned before the invasion -- and to beg its coalition partners, such as Italy, Poland and even El Salvador, for contributions to a peacekeeping force that could replace some U.S. soldiers.

If, as the task force urges, Washington wanted to enlarge ISAF, which will come under North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) command in August, it will have to ask many of the same governments it is appealing to now for help in Iraq, to provide more for Afghanistan.

In addition, tensions with Iran have been rising steadily over the past six weeks as the administration appears increasingly inclined to adopt a policy of "regime change," which could include covert paramilitary action and even military strikes in a country whose population is roughly twice that of Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

"This is what is called 'imperial over-stretch,'" noted one congressional aide whose boss has long warned that Bush's post-9/11 strategic ambitions would stretch U.S. forces impossibly thin within a very short time.

The task force's pessimism regarding trends in Afghanistan is not much different from a number of analyses since May 1, when Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld declared on a visit to Kabul that hostilities had finally ended and that reconstruction could begin in earnest.

Despite that pronouncement, Karzai has been unable to gain substantially greater authority over provincial governors and warlords; disorder has persisted; the Taliban and their allies have escalated their attacks against targets ranging from U.S. Special Forces to foreign travelers and aid workers; and an ambitious, United Nations-backed demobilization and disarmament program launched in May has not progressed far.

"If the administration fails to take the lead in providing more security and extending the authority of the central government," said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University and a member of the CFR-Asia Society Task Force, "our policy in Afghanistan is definitely on track to fail."

The new report said Washington needs to act in three principal areas to begin turning the situation around.

In addition to extending peacekeeping efforts beyond Kabul, it should speed up training of the ANA so that 27,000 men, including integrated militias, will be under the central government's command by next June. Washington can further enhance security by ordering its forces to help implement Karzai's demobilization program. "Without U.S. involvement, the scheme -- vital to strengthening the central government -- will fail," the group concluded.

On the diplomatic front, Washington should launch a new initiative designed to secure international agreement among all of Afghanistan's regional neighbors to cut off arms supplies to internal forces, recognize the nation's borders and not to otherwise interfere in its internal affairs. In addition, it must press Iran and Russia, in particular, to stop providing aid to favored warlords and regional governors, while Pakistan must be urged to prevent pro-Taliban forces from using its territory for cross-border attacks. Senior U.S., Pakistani and Afghan military officers met on June 17 in Islamabad to convene a commission to oversee efforts on the latter goal.

Finally, Washington should ensure that U.S. aid programs match the priorities set by the Karzai government and are implemented under its authority. In particular, the Bush administration must rebuild the Kabul-Kandahar road by the end of this year, as promised by the president, and press other donors to focus their activities on rebuilding infrastructure, especially the road system. According to the report, "Washington has accepted these ideas in principle but not in practice."

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service, an international newswire, and for Foreign Policy in Focus  http://www.fpif.org/ a joint project of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies and the New Mexico-based Interhemispheric Resource Center.

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Isn't chaos the goal? 25.Jun.2003 19:09

anne frank

Isn't it becoming clear that the US government/ global elite have never had any intention of "rebuilding" anything, but are right on task in derailing the worl, making it possible to replace all governments with a great big SWOOSH? The more vulnerable people and places are the first victims, the places that have already been worn down by years of meddling and environmental degradation. The aim, it seems to me, is to create poverty and hoplelessness and to encourage diffuse violence everywhere, so that people will work for slave wages, die off by a few billion, and not expect anything different.

How can anyone still believe that the US government intends to "fix things up"? How can we possibly figure out a way around these folks when we are using our energies buying into the fabrication?

i sometimes think the same thing. 26.Jun.2003 07:59

this thing here

i wonder if the bush admin.'s goal isn't to fix things up, but to fuck things up. and once they do, come riding in on their high horses with their "solution", the only solution offered, on an all or nothing basis. the right never has arguments or ideas that win them power. but what the right always has, and uses masterfully, is fear, threats and coercion. they more fear they stir up, the more coercion and threats they can bring down, and the more power they can squeeze out.

and it's sad, because i don't think the bush admin. ever gave a shit about afghanistan. if afghanistan crumbles and destabilizes, so what? perhaps that's even what the bush admin. wants, because it allows them "go in" again, or to say look, there's more terrorists, so we need a longer war. i don't know, but it's obvious to me that the effort which looks more serious ISN'T happening in afghanistan, but iraq. their number 1 concern was iraq. afghanistan means nothing to them.

Neither does iraq 26.Jun.2003 10:43


Yeah, Iraq is sitting on a lot of oil, so you're right that Iraq was the prize. But the goal is to exterminate the Iraqis and to colonize the country with fast-food restaurants and white American Europeans a la Saudi Arabia. This area of the world is one of the least impacted by corporations(no Wal-Marts, no McDonald's, coffee served at home rather than at the Starbucks stand), and thus is a ripe market for exploitation. Essential to reduce the population, however, and root out the malcontents.