Sunday, September 20, 2009

Taliban’s Mullah Omar issues warning to West on Afghan war

The Taliban leader says the West lacks the will to fight in Afghanistan and he may be right. Mullah Omar has issued a statement from his hiding place in Pakistan warning of huge casualties and said the West does not have the stomach for the war. Omar said that the more forces the US deploys in the country, the more they will face “unequivocal defeat”. He referred to history when he described the country as a “graveyard for colonial troops”. His statement came as Taliban-linked rebels have intensified use of roadside bombs, particularly in the south. This year more than 350 foreign troops have been killed, making it the deadliest year since fighting began. (picture credit: daviza)

Italy is the latest western country to question its commitment to Afghanistan after six of its troops were killed alongside ten Afghan civilians in a Kabul bomb blast on Thursday. The European nation has 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan and had already started bringing some home before the latest attack which brought its death toll to 20. Now Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is publicly questioning the mission. "We are all convinced it's best for everybody to get out soon," he said.

Berlusconi’s statement will not be welcomed by the White House which provides two-thirds of the 100,000 troops in the Nato-led occupation force. With a new administration in the White House, the US has re-examined their motives for fighting the eight-year war. In March President Obama made a pledge to expand the US military presence in Afghanistan. But as the World Politics Review puts it, the essential question now is not whether the war is winnable, but whether the mission is vital to American national security interests. And from this perspective, says the review, the open-ended strategy fails.

The US administration has acknowledged the new policy raises the stakes by transforming the Afghan War from a limited intervention into a more ambitious and potentially risky counter-insurgency. The statement was made in a Senate Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations which was released last month. The report stressed the importance of a counter-narcotics policy in winning the war. For years commanders on the ground said that going after drug lords was not part of their mandate. But now the US has targeted drug traffickers who help finance the Taliban as a major priority. The report said tens of millions of drug dollars are helping the Taliban and other insurgent groups to “buy arms, build deadlier roadside bombs and pay fighters.”

Afghanistan’s opium industry supplies 90 percent of the world’s heroin and generates $3 billion in profits. But the UN says production is on the decline for the second year in a row. The Americans have targeted 50 of the major drug traffickers on a military hit list to be “killed or captured”. It has also set up an intelligence centre to analyse the flow of drug money to the Taliban and corrupt Afghan officials, and an international task force to pursue drug networks in southern Afghanistan. But stopping the flow of drug money will not be easy. Most transactions are conducted in cash and are concealed by an ancient and secretive money transfer system. The strategy acknowledges that counter-narcotics will not be enough to win the war. The other major aspect of the change of direction relates to the activities of farmers. The Obama administration has admitted a program to eradicate poppies is a failure and emphasis will now be on promoting legal alternative crops.

The report did not dodge two important questions that will impact the success of the change of direction. It asked whether the US Government has the capacity and the will to provide the hundreds more civilians to transform a poppy-dominated economy into one where legitimate agriculture can thrive. It also wondered whether Nato allies be counted on to step up their contributions on the military and civilian sides at a time when support is waning across the Western world. It also asks the questions that Obama’s team will need to honestly answer if the president is to avoid Afghanistan becoming his Vietnam: Does the American public understand and support the sacrifices that will be required to finish the job? And what is the job anyway? Obama and the other western leaders cannot use the hoary “terrorist safe havens” argument forever. And as Mullah Omar reminds us, forever is likely to be a very long time.

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