Families forced to search for fallen kin as Afghan army fails to fulfil its promise to return dead soldiers’ bodies.
Kandahar, Afghanistan - After searching for 44 days, 78-year-old Najmuddin finally found the body of his son, an Afghan army lieutenant, in a freezer in this southern Afghan city.
“I searched and searched. I asked everyone that I came across,” said the old man, looking up to the sky and repeating he had “no one but God”.
His son, 24-year-old Mohamad Esa, had joined the army after he returned from five years of labouring in Iran. He died after a bullet pierced his left torso while serving in the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 215 Maiwand Corps. Despite an injury to the back of his head, his face was calm and unscathed.
Pakistan military forces have sent warnings to residents of the far eastern districts of Nangarhar province to leave their homes or risk attack, according to Nangarhar MP Faridon Mohmand.
He claimed in an interview with TOLOnews Thursday that armed forces from Pakistan have pushed several kilometers into Afghanistan and launched missiles into the Lahlpor and Gushta districts numerous times.
“The Pakistani military warned the residents of Lahlpoor district to leave their homes, and as the residents refused to do so, they started shelling. The rocket attacks started two weeks ago and have continued until now, resulting in the displacement of 5000 families who have moved to other districts. The area is now empty,” Mohmand said.
More than a decade into the conflict, the Afghan war isn’t going well. Politically, Afghanistan is a mess. While some analysts still say the American counterinsurgency strategy works, Afghans beg to differ. Their country was safer ten years ago than it is today. The problem wasn’t the invasion itself, but rather than aftermath. The mission to deny terrorists a vacuum was essential, so where did the United States go wrong?
Here are the seven key mistakes the United States and its allies have made:
Rapidity of Reform. Cynics may say Afghanistan never changes, but that is nonsense. Afghanistan today is far different than it was 30 years ago, let alone a century ago. The fact is, Afghanistan changes: Just very slowly. The experience of Amanullah Khan in the first decades of the twentieth century and the Saur Revolution in 1978 demonstrate the correlation between rapidity of reform and insurgent backlash. Zahir Shah (r. 1933-1973), on the other hand, moved slower but presided over some of Afghanistan’s most successful reforms. It’s possible to bring good, representative governance to Afghanistan and perhaps even democracy. Just not on a Washington political timeline.
Centralization. To reconstruct Afghanistan, diplomats pushed for a republican rather than parliamentary system. A strong president could co-opt warlords by offering them plum positions as not only ministers, but also as governors and regional appointees. Most Afghans care little for Kabul, however, and even less so for the men Kabul sends to lead their local governance. They want local officials who look like them, speak like them, and whom they know. The lack of coordination between top down government and bottom up democracy only adds to dysfunction.
Setting a Time Line. In Iraq, the surge wasn’t only a military strategy, but a psychological one. When George W. Bush declared his goal to be victory and committed the resources to achieve it, the fence-sitters decided their best hope for survival was cutting a deal with the strong horse. President Obama took the opposite tack: He informed Afghans that America’s commitment had an expiration date. Immediately, our NATO partners started charting their own departure, not necessarily on a coherent coalition timeline. Any Afghan official who cared about his own survival took the hint that they should begin to make their accommodation to Pakistan, Iran, or the Taliban.
Talking to the Taliban. If a timeline was one nail in the coffin of the U.S. mission, sitting down with the Taliban was the second. Afghans have never lost a war; they just defect to the winning side. By offering the Taliban a seat at the table, Obama couldn’t have done more to convince ordinary Afghans that the Taliban was on the verge of complete victory. After all, the Taliban’s 1995 capture of Herat and its 1996 capture of Kabul both followed ceasefire and peace talks, not to mention that 9/11 occurred after five years of Clinton administration engagement with the group.
The British armed forces have returned historical artefacts dating back as far as the Bronze Age to Afghan museums, after they were stolen and smuggled abroad, it was announced today.
The precious cargo, weighing more than two tonnes and containing 843 individual objects, left RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire last week on board a C17 transport plane, and was then transferred from the UK military base Camp Bastion in Helmand to Kabul by Hercules aircraft.
By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.
If Charles Dickens were writing “A Tale of Two Cities” about today’s Afghanistan, his opening line would be abbreviated: “It was the worst of times.”
when are there ever peaceful stretches in Afghanistan anymore? This year, 176 American military personnel have been killed, bringing the total to more than 2,000 dead and 15,000 wounded. At the current rate, 2012 will be the third-bloodiest year of the war.
We have also lavished upward of half a trillion dollars on the effort at a time when we are not exactly flush with revenue. All our sacrifices, however, appear to be in vain. Afghan civilian casualties tripled between 2006 and this year.
And these may be the good old days. After 11 years, the longest war in American history, we have begun the process of leaving. Our combat troops are supposed to be gone by the end of 2014. Opponents of withdrawal say it will endanger our gains, and that the only way to assure success is to stay even longer.
But what reason is there to believe another 11 years would achieve what the past 11 didn’t? “Judged by any yardstick — its ability to protect its officials, provide basic services and control corruption — Afghanistan has made little or no headway since 2001,” wrote Yale University security scholar Jason Lyall last year.
We have been down this road before — spending huge sums of money as well as thousands of lives trying to build a semblance of an honest, competent, halfway democratic government in a country beset by determined homegrown militants. It didn’t work in Vietnam, and it hasn’t worked in Afghanistan.
Why that should be is a puzzle. Things started out brilliantly in 2001, with a quick, seemingly complete defeat of the enemy. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld exulted: “The Taliban are gone. Theal-Qaida are gone.”
But things drifted off course. We let Osama bin Laden escape. Pakistan furnished aid and refuge to the insurgents. We shifted our focus to Iraq. President Hamid Karzai proved unable or unwilling to establish security and curb corruption. Before long, the enemy was back with a vengeance.
How does the enemy endure and often prevail despite its enormous disadvantages? How have they turned illiterate, undernourished Afghan peasants into a tough, dogged fighting force that refuses to be defeated?
They apparently have something our friends don’t have: bottomless supplies of motivation. They also seem to have more support among the people in the countryside. The longer we stay the more pronounced the discrepancy becomes.
Much of their motivation is resentment of foreigners with guns and anger at military missions that inadvertently kill innocents. So maybe when we leave, many insurgents will lose interest in the fight. Maybe government troops will step up when we force them to take over.
Maybe not. Things could go very badly for the government and very well for the Taliban. But if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that whatever needs to be done for Afghanistan, we can’t do it.
“Afghans feel disrespected, the soldiers say. Handing out inferior equipment is disrespectful; burning Qurans, however accidental, is disrespectful; urinating on dead bodies, even if Taliban, as video that emerged in January showed U.S. troops doing, is disrespectful.”
“A soldier named Abdul Karim said he’d prefer a 30-year-old Russian-made Kalashnikov to an M16. The Americans “are giving us old weapons and try to make them look new with polish and paint. We don’t want their throwaways,” he said.”
“At the firing range, the complaints flew thick and fast. Col. Abdul Haleem Noori grabbed a young recruit’s foot to show a gash in the heel of his boot.
“It’s only two months old and it is falling apart, and we are told it is supposed to last one year,” he said. The footwear was made by a manufacturer under contract to the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
Even the 3-year-old army band bemoans their equipment, including soldered trumpets dating back to the 1970s.”
” The foreigners don’t let civilians drive in front of their convoys even if they are rushing a sick person to treatment, referring to the heavy security measures U.S. troops impose around their vehicles.”
“In May last year, a U.S. Army team led by a behavioral scientist released a 70-page survey that revealed both Afghan and American soldiers hold disturbingly negative perceptions of the other.
According to the survey, many Afghan security personnel found U.S. troops “extremely arrogant, bullying and unwilling to listen to their advice” and sometimes lacking concern about Afghans’ safety in combat. They accused the Americans of ignoring female privacy and using denigrating names for Afghans.
U.S. troops, in turn, often accused Afghan troops and police of “pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity,” the survey said.”
At the same time as the Taliban attacks there has been a rise in atrocities. We have recently seen British soldiers convicted for raping children, as well as the stabbing by a squaddie of a 10-year-old Afghan boy. A multinational operation in all respects, the US has done its share; kill teams, SS flag-waving, photographing bodies, urinating on corpses and the Panjwai massacre carried out, according to the witnesses, by 15 to 20 US troops. When young men are shaped for war and sent to fight there are consequences – even in “just” wars. The training involves two-way dehumanisation – both of our soldiers and of the enemy – as Giles Fraser highlighted lately. These acts are coming thick and fast at the end of a long, dehumanising, failed war. Conscientious objection was a hard road for me, but while I was in military prison I received 200 letters a day, which helped. As did the support of my fellow soldiers.
The Taliban clearly has broad support from Afghan people. Conscientious objection is a right and obligation in a failed war.
No insurgency can survive without broad support from the local population. The insurgent relies upon the people for intelligence, support, safety and more. The fact that insurgents now control great swaths of the country virtually unchallenged tells us the people have been lost, partially due to the occupiers’ bumbling efforts. The argument that Afghans are rejecting the Taliban falls flat.
Whether the U.S. military will still be in Afghanistan in five or 10 years remains to be seen, but steps are currently being taken to make that possible. U.S. military publications, plans and schematics, contracting documents, and other official data examined by TomDispatch catalog hundreds of construction projects worth billions of dollars slated to begin, continue, or conclude in 2012.
In the Pashtun society, customs have generally been more dominant than religion. Pashtuns are believed to be the largest segmentary lineage society in the world today. They have been living in their defined homeland areas since ages, in a social order loosely defined by the code of Pashtunwali.
I ask what happened to his feet. “Water,” he says. Where was he walking in water? Mohammed, the boy on the next bedroll who knows more English, translates. “In the mountains,” he says. Which mountains, I ask, thinking about the range that forms the border between Turkey and Iran. “Croatia, Slovenia, Italy,” Morteza says. Mohammed intervenes. “Not water,” he clarifies. “Snow.”
Suddenly I understand. Morteza’s feet are not waterlogged or blistered. He has limped across Europe with frostbite.