x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Afghanistan reality for the US

Arabic editorials also comment on Russia's muddled stance on Syria and provincial divisions in Iraq.

Panetta's confident words just sound silly as US prepares to cope with defeat in Afghanistan

In a confident tone, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, spoke from the Pakistan border on Wednesday to announce that his country's forces have reached "a turning point in the war" in Afghanistan, the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi noted in its editorial.

But "if the victory he spoke of is similar to the other victory, the one in Iraq that President Barack Obama claimed to mark the withdrawal of his forces from that country after nine years, then what is the definition of defeat for the US?".

The US government is losing more than $6 billion (Dh22bn) per month in its war in Afghanistan, and hundreds of soldiers every year. Yet it was barely able to impose control over less than a quarter of the country's area.

Even the capital, Kabul, can't claim to be secure, as repeated attacks by Afghan rebels reveal.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, himself seems to have lost interest in power as a result of his mistrust of the American occupier. He recently announced that he will not seek re-election and has been increasingly critical of his US allies and the Nato forces, even more so than the of Taliban that have been relentlessly fighting to drive them out.

"It is understandable that the US defence secretary should speak of an impending victory, in an effort to lift the morale of his troops and to guarantee the support of what few Americans still support the losing war in Afghanistan," said the newspaper.

But the facts on the ground are overwhelming and neither Mr Panetta nor other US officials can mask them any longer.

The number of US casualties is on the rise at a time when the relationship between Washington and Islamabad is severely deteriorating, following US drone attacks in Pakistan that caused many civilian casualties last month.

The state of denial that has come to characterise US officials is the very reason behind the successive losses their country has been incurring overseas as well as America's present financial and economic breakdown.

The US would be better advised to simply admit defeat and withdraw from Afghanistan sooner rather than later, to minimise their losses.

"It is quite mystifying," the newspaper continued, "that 10 years after the toppling of the Taliban regime, the US administration would get into negotiations with them to bring them back to power, just as they blew $1 trillion in Iraq to eventually hand it over to Iran on a platinum plate. What could be more foolish than this?"

Mr Panetta will know no victory in Afghanistan. His forces' fate will be the same as that which has met all those who have "conquered" this country before.

"Just ask the Soviets and the British how Afghanistan signalled the breakdown of their empires," the article concluded.

Naval port explains Russia's Assad stance

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has his own perspective on the world, columnist Abdulrahman Al Rashid observed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

Mr Lavrov maintains that armed militants are the ones attacking the Syrian people and that they are responsible for the impending massacre in Homs.

But he is fully aware of the reality and of the crimes of the Assad regime. His enthusiastic defence of it is puzzling, especially since Russia has no economic interest to protect Syria.

"The only direct interest Russia has is the maritime cooperation agreement about Tartus, the only Mediterranean port accessible to Moscow to support its naval fleet," the writer explained.

The Russians' obstinate support for the Syrian regime, which has gained the animosity of the entire Arab World, could also be explained as a ploy to extract financial or political gains from the Arabs or the West, but that is a highly unlikely scenario.

"In fact, I expect that the Russians will sell out the Damascus regime at the last moment, just as they did with Qaddafi," he added.

The Arab will not give the Kremlin any gifts for forsaking the Assad regime and the West's economic bind doesn't allow for any more concessions.

The Syrian people, meanwhile are intent on toppling the dictatorship with the world's support, or without it.

Provincial divisions mean trouble for Iraq

The recent decision by the Iraqi legislative council to move towards more provincial autonomy has created a new political crisis, the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan said in an editorial.

"This measure, at this time, endangers the unity of the Iraqi people and territory," the paper said. "Unless politicians take immediate measures to contain the situation, the repercussions will be terrible."

Unilateral decisions made as hasty political reactions usually turn out badly. A look into the background of this idea reveals that it comes from political figures who, in the recent past, were among the staunchest opponents of federalism, since this idea can lead to segmentation.

"Nine years after the occupation began, it was shown that its sole purpose was to divide Iraq upon withdrawal. This was carefully planned through the imposed constitution that allows the establishment of a federation."

Occupation forces introduced the Iraqi people to the "benefits" of federalism, depicted as magic that could save Iraq from calamity. The countless disasters possible on this road were carefully camouflaged.

Provincial autonomy "will cause deep wounds and irreconcilable conflicts among the various factions of the population," the article concluded.

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem