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The Next COIN Fail

Posted by on April 28th, 2010

From our partners at

Commentary By Ron Beasley

If you read the book I reviewed last weekend, Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher, you come away with the impression that both the civilian and military officials managing the counterinsurgency effort in Iraq didn't know what they were doing.  As Steve points out below the same applies to Afghanistan. Mark Weisbrot thinks we are about to see the biggest COIN Fail yet as the US and NATO prepare a major offensive in Kandahar.  The people of Afghanistan see 61% of their GDP going to the police and army.  Needless to say they just want the fighting to end.

Not surprisingly, the Afghan people are looking for a way out. They want negotiations to end the conflict. But the United States says no. The US and its Nato allies are preparing for a major military offensive, perhaps the biggest of the war so far, in the southern province of Kandahar.

A poll sponsored by the US army showed that 94% of Kandahar residents support negotiating with the Taliban, rather than military confrontation.

The New York Times reports this week that "in some parts of the country, American and Nato convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, raising questions about whether the damage" to the perception of US forces caused by the continued US killings of Afghan civilians "can be reversed to any real degree".

"'People hate the international forces,' said Bakhtialy, a tribal elder in Kandahar. ' … Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don't let people travel on the road.'"

A series of high-profile atrocities by US and Nato forces that have surfaced recently has made matters worse. Three weeks ago Nato admitted that US special operations forces had killed five civilians, including three women, two of them pregnant. Nato had previously engaged in a cover-up, claiming that special operations forces had "found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed".

So the people of Afghanistan don't want us there and they are not alone
the American people don't support the effort either and Congress is
starting to listen.  If things go badly in Kandahar the pressure will
only increase.  So could Kandahar be the beginning pf the end?

How does this get us out of Afghanistan? My colleague Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy explains:

"A signal like this is likely to have dramatic political effects in Afghanistan, just as these things had dramatic political effects in Iraq. In 2007, Congress never succeeded legislatively in writing a military withdrawal timetable into US law. But the fact that the majority of the House and Senate went on the record in favour of a timetable had dramatic effects in Iraq. It put pressure on the Bush administration to compromise its objectives, to start serious negotiations with people it had previously been trying to kill."

The result was a signed agreement between the US and Iraq for a timetable to withdraw US troops.

That is how the Afghan war will end. The pressure will build until President Obama and his military have no choice but to begin the US exit from Afghanistan.

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