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800 troops in excess of McChrystal’s "surge" to head for Afghanistan

Posted by on April 28th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

NPR today has a story notable for two reasons.

The Pentagon is sending 800 more American soldiers to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to work as trainers for the Afghan security forces. The contingent is needed because other NATO countries still haven't fulfilled their pledges to send their own troops to train the Afghan army and police.

A battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division will be heading to Afghanistan soon. The soldiers will work as trainers for at least several months. The unit is beyond the 30,000 additional troops that President Obama already approved for Afghanistan this year.

Firstly, no matter what they may be saying about sticking with the U.S., other NATO nations obviously have no intention of getting any deeper in the Afghan quagmire than they need to – and who can blame them?

Secondly – these 800 troops are an escalation over the Obama/McChrystal "Surge" and are probably only the thin edge of an escalation by increments by the U.S.

Wherever you stand on the occupation, there's something not right about this dynamic. Matt Yglesias suggests today that the problem is the US military is now doing COIN for COIN's sake.

The war in Afghanistan isn't a major front in partisan political struggles, so it's substantially slipped off the radar. But the U.S. military is already in the early phases of what will soon (exactly how soon is secret, of course) be a major new offensive in the Taliban stronghold province of Kandahar, and most indications are that it's going to go badly. The problems with the planned operation are in some respects complicated, but they mostly boil down to the fact that the best evidence available — like an Army-commissioned poll reported on by Wired's Nathan Hodge on April 16 — indicates that the local population wants nothing to do with it. The Taliban is more trusted than the local government: 85 percent of Kandaharis describe them as "our Afghan brothers," and 94 percent say it would make more sense to negotiate with the Taliban than to intensify fighting. Naturally, we're going in guns blazing.

…I worry that Afghanistan is being conducted too much as a proving ground for counterinsurgency concepts without enough attention paid to what can be accomplished at a reasonable price.

Indeed, the major problem in Kandahar isn't the Taliban – it's the Karzai's and their coterie of paranoid thugs. Yglesias again:

our basic posture is riddled with contradictions. A recent report from the Institute for the Study of War, Kimberly Kagan’s counterinsurgency-oriented neoconnish think tank, concluded that "Ahmed Wali Karzai's influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any of [International Security Assistance Force]'s governance objectives." Who's Ahmed Wali Karzai? Why, he's governor of the province! He's also the brother of Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai. Establishing the authority of the Karzai brothers' national and provincial governments in the face of the fact that Karzai himself is a key impediment to our goals would be a neat trick — but so would drawing a square circle.

Consider this story today:

Three weeks after President Hamid Karzai promised better security and government services in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar Province, escalating armed violence has killed dozens of people, according to human rights organizations.

“I won’t return to Kabul unless I solve Kandahar’s problems,” Karzai vowed during his visit on 4 April. But, when he insisted on knowing about the “real problems” people were facing in Kandahar, Haji Abdul Manan, a tribal elder, stood up at a public meeting and declared: “If I tell you the truth I won’t see the sun tomorrow.”

Karzai, who has been under fire for alleged nepotism in Kandahar, went to the insurgency-stricken province ahead of a major anti-Taliban military operation by NATO forces.

But tribal elder Manan told IRIN: “Since his visit nothing has improved. In fact, a lot has got worse.”

Abdul Qadir Noorzai, director of the provincial branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), agreed: “The situation has never been as bad as it is now.”

It's fairly obvious that the tribal elder thinks he'd be permanently silenced if he dared to speak the truth about Karzai's brother, who described himself the other day as the "Nancy Pelosi of Kandahar". These are the people the US is escalating troop numbers to prop up. All of this prompted Afghanistan expert Joshua Foust to tweet this morning:

It is shocking how badly civil society is under assault in Afghanistan… by the U.S.-supported government. What are we DOING?

No wonder other NATO members are shying away.

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