x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Obama's war

The war in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001 as President Bush decided to make no distinction between al Qa'eda and any nation that harbours them, became President Obama's war on Tuesday when he ordered 17,000 American troops to join the 36,000-strong US force already there. The fact that the troops now heading for Afghanistan had originally been intended to deploy in Iraq reflects the new administration's shift in priorities.

The war in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001 as President Bush decided to make no distinction between al Qa'eda and any nation that harbours them, became President Obama's war on Tuesday when he ordered 17,000 American troops to join the 36,000-strong US force already there. As Time magazine noted, the fact that the troops now heading for Afghanistan had originally been intended to deploy in Iraq reflects the new administration's shift in priorities. "Obama is keenly aware of the limitations on what his reinforcements can achieve. 'I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means,' he told an interviewer on Tuesday. But more troops are needed simply to arrest and begin to reverse a perilous slide in Nato's fortunes in Afghanistan. "With the Taliban growing in confidence and feeling the wind at its back, the bad news out of Afghanistan just keeps getting worse for the US. Nato commanders have long expressed frustration at the failure of the Pakistani military to prevent Taliban and al Qa'eda fighters maintaining sanctuaries in Pakistan from which they can launch attacks inside Afghanistan. But Pakistan's announcement on Monday of a peace agreement to accommodate the domestic Taliban insurgency in the Swat Valley suggests that an all-out war against militants on their soil is not what Pakistan's generals have in mind. And the supply lines that funnel food, fuel and war materiel to US forces in Afghanistan, already imperiled by militant attacks in Pakistan, may face a further setback this week when the parliament in Kyrgyzstan votes on whether or not to kick the US out of the Manas airbase, which has played a key role in air support in Afghanistan... "Having watched rival armies fight their way back and forth across the country for the past 30 years since the Soviets invaded, Afghans have become adept at accommodating themselves with the likely winner at any given moment. Right now, the trends are not moving in Washington's favour, and that fact is recognised by the Afghan citizenry. 'There's been a major shift towards acceptance of the Taliban,' military scholar Anthony Cordesman told a congressional panel last week. He noted that polling in Afghanistan shows 'the number of people who feel the United States has performed well in Afghanistan has been cut in half in the last three years,' from 68 per cent in 2005 to 32 peer cent now." The New York Times reported: "The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan leapt by nearly 40 per cent last year, according to a survey released on Tuesday by the United Nations, the latest measure of how the intensifying violence between the Taliban and American-led forces is ravaging that country. "The death toll - 2,118 civilians killed in 2008, compared with 1,523 in 2007 - is the highest since the Taliban government was ousted in November 2001, at the outset of a war with no quick end in sight. "Civilian deaths have become a political flash point in Afghanistan, eroding public support for the war and inflaming tensions with President Hamid Karzai, who has bitterly condemned the American-led coalition for the rising toll. President Obama's decision to deploy more troops to Afghanistan raises the prospect of even more casualties." Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is visiting British forces in Afghanistan, welcomed US plans to send additional troops but he added that Britain has no plans to increase its forces above the 9,000 already stationed in Afghanistan, The BBC reported. Meanwhile, although Pakistan's leaders have publicly denounced US missile strikes from unmanned Predator aircraft as an attack on the country's sovereignty, The Wall Street Journal reported that privately Pakistani military and intelligence officers are aiding these attacks and have given significant support to recent US missions, according to officials from both countries. "Maj Gen Akhtar Abbas, a spokesman for the military, said Pakistan and the US 'have a long history of military cooperation and intelligence sharing.' But he said it doesn't include the missile strikes. 'We have made our opposition clear,' he said. 'The strikes are counterproductive.' "But other Pakistani officials say there has been a shift in Pakistan's private response to US insistence the strikes go ahead. Initially, Pakistani complaints were genuine, these officials say, and reflected widespread discontent with the US-led war on terror. "But after Pakistan's complaints were repeatedly rebuffed by the US and with the Taliban making gains against the Pakistani military and the police, these officials say President Asif Ali Zardari and top military leaders decided in recent months to aid the American effort in the hopes it will help them regain control over the tribal areas. The Taliban and al Qa'eda have flourished in those areas bordering Afghanistan since 2001. The cooperation also could prove as a counterbalance to US displeasure over a peace deal announced on Monday with a Taliban faction in Swat Valley. "The protests are 'really for the sake of public opinion,' said one Pakistani official. 'These operations are helping both sides. We are partners on this.' " The report also said: "Further evidence of the close working relationship between the two countries came last week, when Sen Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Predators are flown out of a base in Pakistan, not US bases in Afghanistan, as many counterterrorism analysts had believed. "Her spokesman, Phil LaVelle, later said she was referring to a 'front-page Washington Post story in March.' But she made no reference to news reports in her remarks. Pakistan has since denied Ms Feinstein's account, but former US intelligence officials confirmed that it was accurate, lamenting the fact she stated it publicly. 'It was a big mistake on her part,' said one." In a later report, The Times both named and published photographs of an airbase from which it alleged unmanned aircraft were being flown. "The US was secretly flying unmanned drones from the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan as early as 2006, according to an image of the base from Google Earth. "The image - that is no longer on the site but which was obtained by The News, Pakistan's English language daily newspaper - shows what appear to be three Predator drones outside a hangar at the end of the runway. The Times also obtained a copy of the image, whose co-ordinates confirm that it is the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles south-west of the Pakistani city of Quetta. "An investigation by The Times yesterday revealed that the CIA was secretly using Shamsi to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al Qa'eda and Taliban militants around Pakistan's border with Afghanistan."

pwoodward@thenational.ae