Claud Monbar writes from Kabul: The last of the 33,000 US surge troops hit continental America this week and, as everyone knows, President Hamid Karzai needs to start getting used to the idea that from now on it’s increasingly his war.
There’s no hiding in Kabul from the reality of the US exit from Helmand. We all knew they were going. They said so months ago. We all feel just as safe. In other words, we never felt safe anyway.
But the toughie comes now: what will the US do with the 68,000 troops it has left? The answer: they’ll do everything possible to keep them alive and not end up on the Taliban score sheet. If that makes it all sound some sort of game then you’ve hit it in one. That’s what this whole thing has been since 2001 – a mean, bad and ugly game played by the Americans and their mostly European yes men.
A whole shed-load of US and British officers have gone to Afghanistan in search of promotion. Show a soldier a war and he has to go. That’s what he is hired to do but with no Afghan row of medals, then he may as well take a career break.
Sad to say, in all wars it’s mostly the dudes who get killed in action on their service records. The ranchers get to be one, two and maybe even three stars. The irony is that however high or low you get on the military pay-grade in that overwhelmingly beautiful country, you still don’t fix the war.
At one time the blatantly obvious cliché-ridden one star with a name to make would spew out the conventional wisdom that there was no military solution to Afghanistan, only a political one. No one stood up and said wait a minute: without a military solution there cannot be a political one. In other words what are we doing in yet another fire fight that everyone knows we’re going to quit when shrouds get as common as empty gum wrappers?
So it has been with the surge. Talk to the Afghan insiders and they’ll tell you bluntly that they weren’t too happy when the surge troops arrived and they’re hardly sorry now that they’ve gone. If that sounds illogical considering the curb on Taliban activity during the surge, then it is not. It is part of the considerable opinion that says the American surge alienated many Afghans and that the Taliban capitalised on that US unpopularity.
This ignores the fact that many towns and cities in Kandahar and Helmand are better off from the big US influx that sent the Taliban going for cover. Now the last helmets are hung up in the US, the people there are waiting for the Taliban’s return. The statistics tell us something we have to learn about this war.
Afghanistan is split into about 400 districts. Between 45 and 50 per cent of all attacks on the people, the government and the ISAF forces take place in the ten southern districts. Want to see a war? That’s the place to go. Always has been. And don’t be fooled by the ISAF-NATO numbers.
The truth is this: killings are as great as when the surge troops arrived. In the first six months of 2010, 1267 civilians were killed. In the first six months of 2012, 1145 have been killed. Not much in it if you’re trying to claim success.
So who covers the US pull out? In theory, Afghan troops. British and American commanders tell pliant TV crews that the ANA are fine soldiers and the training has done a good job. They do not say that unlike the Taliban who are dedicated fighters, the ANA and especially the police are not dedicated. No commitment. Commitment gets you killed.
Simply, the ANA and police have not filled the gap left by the departed US surge troops and worse, they never will whatever the ISAF handouts tell you.
The Taliban have a saying: “the Americans have all the watches and we [Taliban] have all the time”. In other words, when ISAF goes we will take over. Better believe it.