The Obama administration has insisted that real progress has been made in Afghanistan, in military terms. Do you agree?
In a guerrilla war, if you put in extra troops, then the guerrillas will stay back. So maybe temporarily there will be more security in those places in which the troops have been placed. But it doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about overall progress in the battle because guerrilla wars are such that the enemy doesn’t necessarily stand and fight, or hold particular territory. I think it’s a conventional war measure being applied to a guerrilla war, and this raises questions as to its validity.
The US has said it will begin drawing down troops this summer. Is this feasible?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The deadline is so vague that there isn’t any problem with it being met. The plan is to turn over some of Afghanistan’s provinces to Afghan police and the army, so in those provinces there won’t be US troops. But the fact is that there are 34 provinces. The Hazara Shiite provinces in the centre of the country are characterized by high degrees of security, and local police and the Afghan national army can certainly keep order in those provinces. There are fewer known Pashtuns and fewer known Taliban in these places, and you could take out US troops without any real fallout. So that’s what’s going to happen—the safe provinces will be evacuated first. That’s all the troop withdrawal means.
The real problem won’t come this summer. The problem comes as you continue down the list of the 34. I think something like 80 percent of the country is in striking distance of the Pashtun insurgents, so once you get past the safe 20 percent of provinces then it starts to become problematic.
You’ve mentioned there the idea of Afghan forces taking control of security in some provinces. Is the US doing enough to help create a force capable of securing the country?
The US and NATO are putting enormous effort into training a new Afghan army and an Afghan police force—this effort is at the centre of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan. There can be questions about the efficacy, but about the effort there’s no question that this is something they are putting a lot of resources into.
The problem is that the national government that these troops would serve is starting to lack credibility, and these troops are being asked to risk their lives for this regime that’s riddled with corruption and that appears to have stolen elections. So there’s a problem with troop morale.