SUICIDES ARE ON THE RISE
By the year 2008, the Americans had become so fed up of flawed policies of George Bush that they accepted a Blackman in the White House for the first time under the fond hope that he would bring a real change for the better. It did not take long for all those who had pinned hopes on him to get thoroughly disillusioned. He is yet to fulfil any of the promises he made.
While Obama is on record having admitted that extremism cannot be defeated solely through military means, yet he is making use of instrument of force. His Administration is continuing with the policy of using drones, troop surge and military operations. After first troop surge of 21000 in early 2009, he has sanctioned another 30000 surge to stabilize Afghanistan which is fast slipping out of the hands of ISAF. Marylin B. young, a professor in New York University has criticized this dual faced policy where acts and deeds do not match. Dr Christine Fair, member of RAND Co. expressed her doubts about troop surge whether more troops would help in securing Afghanistan. In her opinion it would entail more civilian losses and further economic depletion. During election campaign, Obama had declared war in Iraq as misguided war. Most political analysts opine that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for the US forces than in Iraq.
One of the US analysts Solomon prophetically stated that Obama’s move towards Afghanistan was akin to a moth rushing towards a flame. He added that before the end of first term, Obama will find himself in a vice caught between war in Afghanistan he cannot win and a political quandary at home. Noble committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland had stated after Obama received noble peace prize in 2009,”We gave prize to Obama hoping it would shame him into stopping war”. It however made no impact on him. 84% Britons believe US led forces are losing war in Afghanistan. There have been protests marches in London demanding withdrawal of UK troops. Other NATO countries are fast getting disinclined with war on terror.
As per Sarah Lazare, the US Army is overstretched and exhausted. She says many from within ranks are openly declaring that they have had enough and have allied themselves with anti-war veterans and activists calling for an end to US led war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some active duty soldiers are publicly refusing to deploy since they say they have no patience to keep getting redeployed. 101st Airborne Division which will be deployed in Afghanistan shortly faces its fifth combat tour since 2002. There are many such examples of multiple deployments which indicate acute paucity of troops.
Think tank RAND report in 2008 had revealed 300,000 veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan had been diagnosed with severe depression or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It said more soldiers were going AWOL to find treatment from PTSD. RAND further reveals that rates of PTSD and traumatic brain injury among troops taking part in war on terror have been excessively high, with a third of returning troops reporting psychic problems and 18.5% of all returning service personnel battling either PTSD or depression. Marine suicides doubled between 2006 and 2007; army suicides are at highest rate since records were kept in 1980. There has been 80% increase in desertions since 2003. Over 150 GIs refused service while about 250 war resisters are taking refuge in Canada. 1700 strong GI resistance is gaining momentum. The veterans have signed up for anti-war Oath Keepers (an association of serving military officers, reserves, National Guard, veterans, fire fighters). Longer war drags on more resistance from within ranks. Hundreds of letters have been written to Obama by serving and retired servicemen, urging him to bring back US troops. Long absence from homes is escalating divorce rates.
According to Chaplains of two US battalions deployed on frontline in Afghanistan for nine months, US soldiers are depressed and deeply disillusioned. Many feel they are risking their lives for a futile mission. Many have a sense of futility and anger about being there. They are desperate to go back home to their families, disclosed Capt Jeff Masengale of 10th Mountain Division, 2/87 Infantry Battalion and Captain Sam Rico of 4/25 Field Artillery regiment. They said troops in the field feel lost and do not know why they were there. They say the only ones who are less demoralized and retaining their composure are those working in offices and not in the field. Troops of one of these battalions complained that they were given the mission in mid 2009 of securing Wardak province and then win allegiance of people there through development works and good governance. Instead, they found them locked in battle with Taliban.
Living conditions of US soldiers are very good. Their pay scale is very attractive, each soldier drawing $7500 a month and costing US exchequer one million a year. Food is of high quality and in abundance; tents are fitted with air-conditioners with hot and cold water facility and free internet. Troops keep themselves engaged in recreation rooms, playing indoor games and indulging in homo sexuality or raping US service women. Rape cases have shot up at an alarming rate. These recreations have failed to cheer them up.
Mental state of those on duty on scattered posts is worst since they feel scared. Many suffer from mental disorders. Sleeplessness and bouts of anger are common. Many are found broken down and weeping since the faceless enemy frustrates them. Seeing their comrades blown up shatters them. They feel irritated that in their bid to help the population by giving them humanitarian assistance, they do not cooperate and often lie and tend to protect Taliban. Recent rules of engagement to minimize civilian casualties are seen as fighting with one arm tied behind backs. Most demoralizing thing is that soldiers are not getting killed in combat actions but by roadside bombs on routine journeys. In 2009, most casualties were from IEDs and still are. All combat missions are accepted with a heavy heart. There is no sense of pride or accomplishment in them. None want to die or get crippled. All they desire is complete their tenure and return home safely in one piece. They do not believe in strategy of boots on ground and rely entirely on air power. Ground operations backed by US tanks and APCs are conducted by ANA. Even normal security duties have been assigned to Blackwater. Times correspondent Martin Fletcher describes pathetic condition of US troops and has produced a video.
It was because of depressing state of morale of his troops that Gen McChystal had issued a dire assessment of state of military operations and sought additional 40,000 troops and hurriedly closed down all border posts and pulled back his troops from forward areas and confined them to major cities and towns. Notwithstanding the troop surge and operation against Marjah in Helmand, which is being falsely drummed up, Afghanistan is a thorn stuck in the throat of US which it can neither swallow nor cough it out. Given the low morale of ISAF and Afghan National Army (ANA) and lack of resolve, a sort of paralysis has begun to set in, which is recipe for defeat.
The US can see the looming catastrophe but finds itself in a catch-22 situation. If the US decides to abandon, it would mean throwing away huge investments, time, effort and sacrifices and handing over the reins of power to a weak and ineffectual Afghan regime and ANA incapable of fighting the Taliban at its own. The Taliban would capture power within six months of exit of foreign forces. While hasty exit would minimize US-NATO casualties, it would stir uproar in USA as to why this futile war was undertaken with zero results and earning shame and indignity. Obama for sure will be unseated whose graph is already nose diving.
If the Americans decide to dig their heels and decide to keep fighting the Taliban till they gain an upper hand and force them to come to negotiating table, it would imply continuing with protracted and costly war with minimal chances of success. It would result in more bloodshed, terrorism getting out of control, unbearable strain on US economy, more cases of PTSD and indiscipline within US military, intense domestic pressure and growing disinterest among NATO countries. Rather than taming Afghanistan, the US may end up losing its own empire.
Irrespective of the pitfalls, in all probability the US would opt for the latter option and hope for partial success to be able to negotiate with the Taliban from position of strength and then quit. It would strive to break the nexus between Afghan Taliban, Pak Taliban and Al-Qaeda with the help of Pakistan, keep striking suspected targets in Waziristan with drones, keep pushing Pakistan to start another operation in North Waziristan, keep trying to divide the Taliban to win over moderates and to isolate extremists with the help of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It would also step up its efforts to expand and train ANA and Afghan police and make these two outfits fit to take on duties independently. The US military would not get rid of its dependency on CIA, Mossad and RAW.
In short, there will be no change in US policy and objectives; the change will be in strategy only since the US has understood that it cannot get out of the Afghan quagmire without Pakistan’s support. After giving it a raw deal, Pakistan is once again being wooed and lured to help the US in winning the war. Indo-Israeli nexus which has strong influence over policymakers in Washington will never let their gains turn into losses and permit Pakistan to emerge as a winner. Although Pakistan today stands on a strong wicket and is in a position to extract a better deal, it is to be seen how our leaders play their cards during the forthcoming critical meetings in Washington starting end March. I have a hunch that Pakistan is all set to do US bidding without demanding benefits matching colossal sacrifices rendered or taking into account long term ramifications. Gen Kayani at his own will not be able to turn the dice in Pakistan’s favor. Notwithstanding that Pak-US relations would apparently improve, Pakistan woes will not end as long as gang of five hostile powers remains stationed in Kabul.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja is Member Board of Advisors, www.oly.com.pk He has been defence attaché in Egypt. The writer is a defence and security analyst and author of five books.