TEST OF LEADERSHIP LIES IN ADVERSE CONDITIONS
2009 proved to be a bad year for US led coalition forces in Afghanistan. In the wake of upsurge of Taliban deadly attacks and mounting US fatalities in Afghanistan (304 in 2009), Gen McCrystal pulled out all troops from forward posts and relocated them in fortified towns. He also put in a bid for 40,000 troops and stressed that unless additional troops were made available, defeat within next 12 months will be certain. It became a real challenge for Obama Administration already reeling under mounting pressure from within to cede to his demand. American public as well as sizeable segment of ruling Democrats had differing views on war on terror. They oppose troop surge and want the soldiers to return home. Pulled in diverse directions, he diluted his pro-activism by announcing that by July 2011 US troops would start withdrawing from Afghanistan. At the same time he announced dispatch of 30,000 US troops to ramp up 100,000 strong ISAF thereby appeasing both sides. Troop surge combined with pullout policy being fundamentally conflicting and inconsistent evoked sharp criticism. Surge was however justified on grounds that it would speed up process of transferring responsibility to Afghan forces and exit of US forces from Afghanistan.
US military in Afghanistan has become totally dependent upon CIA, RAW, Mossad and MI-6 for conducting Afghan and regional affairs. It refuses to get rid of their perverse influence despite suffering reverses on all fronts. War on terror in Afghanistan has been outsourced to Blackwater under CIA-RAW-Mossad to minimize exposure of US troops to hazards of combat. US-NATO troops suffering from depression remain confined to their bunkers and safe houses playing indoor games and whiling away time to return home safely. Gordon Duff exposed rising trend of homosexuality among homesick soldiers. Think tank RAND report in 2008 revealed 300,000 veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan diagnosed with severe depression or post traumatic stress disorder. It said more soldiers were going AWOL to find treatment from PTSD.
While morale of ISAF in Afghanistan has sunk low, performance of US trained Afghan National Army (ANA) and police is far from satisfactory. Non-Pashtun heavy security forces are unable to stand up to the challenge posed by Pashtun Taliban who are now making frequent attacks within non-Pashtun belt in northern Afghanistan. Kabul too is besieged from three directions and several daring attacks have been carried out within heavily guarded capital city. Last one was on 18 January. US hasty efforts to double the strength of ANA to 171600 and police to 134000 by 2011 would further erode the efficacy of these two institutions.
Under such a bleak military situation it is indeed intriguing as to why McChrystal sought such heavy reinforcement well knowing that by giving up territory voluntarily he has lost the initiative to Taliban. It has now become almost impossible for US military to regain initiative as well as lost space and to achieve victory. Withdrawal date has been announced and decisions to start handing over charge of provinces to illiterate and dispirited ANA from end 2010 onwards spread over five years and to reintegrate moderate Taliban under the new policy of reconciliation taken.Troop surge therefore doesn’t fit into the new scheme of things. McChrystal doesn’t want extra force to battle Taliban. At best it could be a strategy to gain upper hand and then negotiate from position of strength, or to overawe fence sitters among Taliban and lure them to ditch hardcore Taliban, or it is meant to have a strong rearguard force for safe exit.
He and his likeminded military commanders as well as hawks in Pentagon and Obama Administration’s keenness to step into FATA cannot be taken lightly. The hawks are convinced that unless Al-Qaeda and Taliban bases in FATA and Quetta are destroyed, no worthwhile results can be achieved in Afghanistan. It was under this perception that Af-Pak policy was formulated and Pak-Afghan border region made into a single battle ground. With the hpw induction of 30,000 US troops and 7000 NATO troops, the ISAF strength will swell up to about 150000. From this, about 50,000 together with 100,000 ANA duly trained and equipped by USA can be easily mustered for adventures in FATA and Balochistan whenever India gets ready to declare war against Pakistan. Such a gamble may look appealing to a losing commander to save his face. However, Pakistan’s unfaltering resolve, Pak Army’s brilliant successes in Malakand, Swat and South Waziristan, its nuclear deterrence remaining intact together with Afghanistan becoming a slippery ground keep their offensive urges in check. Unless Pakistan’s nuclear capability is disabled and Afghanistan stabilized any venture in Pakistan will prove disastrous.
Irrespective of sinister designs against Pakistan, overall security situation in Afghanistan has become so alarming that US leadership can no longer afford to sit back and keep pursuing its single-tracked policy of subduing Al-Qaeda and Taliban through military power and weakening Pakistan through covert operations. It can neither afford to ignore rising power of Taliban and demoralization set in among coalition forces and Afghan security forces. Mounting anti-Americanism and public opposition against war on terror in USA and western countries and fast diminishing popularity of Obama are other factors of serious concern. Policy makers inwardly know that troop surge would aggravate rather than placate volatile situation. It has belatedly dawned upon them that war has become un-winnable and unless Taliban are taken on board Afghan imbroglio will never be solved and that exit has become the leading option.
Desperate to depart on a winning note, the US military leaders still naively perceive that overwhelming majority of Taliban forces do not back Al-Qaeda or ideologically support Mullah Omar. They base their assumption on skewed intelligence fed to them by RAW and Mossad duly seconded by CIA about results of rigged presidential polls in Afghanistan. Carried away by heavy polling statistics, they believe that majority blame Taliban and not occupation forces for the turmoil and bloodshed. They have not taken into account that glaring frauds committed to make Karzai win has further undermined Karzai and USA’s position. Under the misplaced belief, US military has renewed its efforts to wean away supposed moderate Taliban, whom it has been futilely searching all these years from so-called extremist Taliban. They intend to win over former through incentives in the form of cash, jobs and protection. London conference attended by representatives of 70 countries has supported new reintegration plan of Afghanistan. $140 million has been pledged for reconciliation plan.
Success of new plan hinges on the premise that 80% of Taliban fighters hailing from lower and middle levels will surrender arms and denounce Mullah Omar and Al-Qaeda in return for rewards. They expect such a huge majority getting enticed at a time when they have sailed through roughest period of trial and tribulation with exceptional courage and will power and now having gained an upper edge and begun to smell victory they will shed away all their gains on the call of most untrustworthy USA and American lackey Karzai. Hands of US military and Karzai led regime are dripping in blood of Pashtuns and still they expect that Taliban would come running to them. Had the Taliban, with all odds against them, any wish for worldly gains, they could never have withstood the reign of tyranny for all these years. Such likes inducements have been made off and on to draw cleavage within rank and file of Taliban. Extraordinary head money has been announced on all top leaders of Taliban. Not a single case of betrayal has occurred. It is therefore not understood how come so much optimism is being expressed on this faulty presumption devoid of logic and ground realities. The plan based on ill-intentions stand little chance of success.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja is a Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. He is a defence and political analyst. He has been a defence attaché in Egypt and authored 5 books.