The Long Haul


Having yesterday lambasted poor media coverage of Asia overseas, I’m also happy to say there’s still some very good, thoughtful and informative stuff out there as well.

A few pieces caught my eye on Afghanistan today. One is the second part of a series by NPR looking at the challenges facing the US-led counter-insurgency effort now that 30,000 more troops have been promised. It’s a thorough, balanced piece that summarizes the ongoing difficulties in the vital recruitment of Afghan soldiers:

‘Afghan commanders predict that pay raises and signing bonuses that go into effect Dec. 23 will lure even more recruits. The raise means an average Afghan soldier and police officer will take home about $250 a month. That’s about $50 less than Taliban militants are said to make each month during fighting season.

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‘But Afghan recruiters admit the surge of recruits is more likely linked to Afghanistan’s brutal winter and the resulting slowdown in Taliban fighting than to bonuses. Boot camp appeals to recruits, who get a lifestyle most cannot afford–regular meals, a warm place to sleep, socks and new boots.

‘What the Afghan government gets in return is hardly ideal. Less than 1 out of every 9 Afghan soldiers can read and write. Police officers are also largely illiterate, and about 17 percent of them test positive for illegal drugs.’

A bleaker assessment is offered by Rodric Braithwaite, a former British ambassador to Moscow, who writes in the Financial Times on the troubling lessons learned by the Soviet Union:

‘Despite their losses, the Russians won most of their fights. They kept the main roads open, something we cannot always do today. They broke mujahedeen attempts to besiege cities. They mounted large operations, mustering up to 12,000 troops, to suppress mujahedeen bases and formations. They put together an Afghan army, armed with heavy weapons, which often fought well enough, despite the distressing tendency of Afghan officers to change sides and of soldiers to return to their villages when the going got rough.

‘But the Russians never got over their basic weakness: they could take the territory, but they never had enough troops to hold it. As one Russian critic put it, they had tactics but no strategy.’

The Diplomat has, unsurprisingly, selected Afghanistan as one of the 10 defining issues for the Asia-Pacific region over the past decade for our upcoming special feature, APAC 2020. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the estimated $10 billion a year costs of the expanding security forces will have to be funded by the West for the next two decades. But signs of whether or not this strategy has been a success will come long, long before then.

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