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Thoughts on Afghanistan November 19, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in World Affairs.
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President Obama has said he is “very close to a decision” on whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Sadly, however, reducing the troop levels is off the table and not an option. The White House has leaked various numbers and strategies as they have deliberated this crucial decision. 30,000-40,000 is a likely number for the troop escalation. One good piece of news is that Obama want’s to ensure his plan has an exit strategy. Hopefully it will be a good one.

Today, November 19, the dubiously elected president Hamid Karzai will deliver his inaugural address. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived yesterday on a surprise visit to Afghanistan to pressure Karzai and ensure he says all the right things in his inaugural address. Whatever he says must be followed up by serious action to reduce corruption, and improve governance and security.

Whether Obama’s strategy is counterinsurgency or counterterrorism, we will need a reliable governing partner in Afghanistan. Transparency International just released their Corruption Perception Index which rated Afghanistan as second to last in the world (FYI, the US ranks 19th). This horribly low corruption index translates like this:

According to Reuters, “Senior officers and Interior Ministry officials are renowned for taking a cut of the salaries of policemen, who then exact bribes from the populace to make up their pay. Public confidence in the force is undermined and the Taliban gain support.”

The New York Times said “the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.” And that “Everything seems to be for sale: public offices, access to government services, even a person’s freedom.”

While the Afghan government dithers, the US military is slowly approaching 1,000 dead soldiers in the war in Afghanistan, a war which is the second longest war in US history at over 9 years. This war is costly! Now, more than ever, we need to be spending this money in American instead – as Thomas Friedman says, nation-building at home.

Afghanistan is officially called Operation Enduring Freedom. This operation’s area of responsibility encompasses fifteen nations: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba (Guantanamo Bay Naval Base), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

Two HUGE problems with the war in Afghanistan is that nobody has clearly defined “victory.” Worse still, even if we achieve victory in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda will merely relocate its operations to other failed states such as Yemen or Somalia. The government in Yemen is crumbling with secessionists in the South and ethnic rebels in the north. Meanwhile, the Al-Qaeda in Yemen are provoking these dissenters as the terrorists become increasingly more organized, having merged with those in Saudi Arabia to form AQAP – Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

A majority of Americans do not support the war in Afghanistan, and I’m one of them.