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US, NATO Heading for failure in Kandahar

May 4, 2010

As I wrote in a previous post, the upcoming US-NATO operation to be launched in Kandahar province is not likely to result in the breaking of the Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan; in fact it will likely only increase while simultaneously driving ever-more Pashtuns to support the Taliban.  If winning ‘hearts and minds’ and disrupting the main source of profits for the resistance, the huge opium poppy crops that are at the center of Afghanistan’s agricultural economy, this operation can only hope to succeed in the latter, though even this objective is a tenuous proposal.  Eliminating the basic means of subsistence for the poor farmers of Afghanistan is not likely to endear them to the occupation forces and will engender an increased support for the Taliban resistance.

Opium poppies are just the basic life-stuff of the vast rural poor and the main source of revenue for the resistance; they also are a lucrative money-maker for the countries political and warlord elite, as is often made clear in the repeated connections of the Hamid Karzai’s family to the drug trade.  The US and its allies are embarking on an ill-founded strategy whose main tactics have more to do with PR and face-saving measures made for domestic consumption than they  do with the objective conditions in Afghanistan.

Juan Cole writes:

Now, turning to the other side of the Durand Line. Opinion polling in war zones is fraught with difficulties, but the results of a new poll by the International Council on Security and Development carried out among over 400 male respondents in parts of Helmand Province and Qandahar, Afghanistan, in March, 2010, are extremely troubling. (Executive summary here in html, the whole report is here in pdf format.) I conclude from this sounding that the planned US invasion of Qandahar city is likely to be a disaster that turns millions of Western Pashtuns against the US and NATO. The Eastern Pashtuns are already regularly demonstrating and demanding that the foreign troops depart their provinces.

The Marjah campaign this winter involved US and British troops coming into a rural part of Helmand province in the Pashtun southwest of Afghanistan that had been dominated by the Taliban. The farms in this region specialize in poppy growing, and there are reputedly many makeshift heroin labs there. Some observers estimate that 40 % of drug profits overall flow to the Afghanistan insurgent groups, so presumably the US wanted to damage a profit center of the enemy.

But what you’d like to hear from the people of Marjah and nearby Lashkargah, and from Qandahar (the next US target) is that they are sick and tired of the Taliban, felt oppressed by them, and are really glad to see NATO and Afghanistan national army troops show up. Such anti-Taliban sentiments appear common, after all, in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where from all accounts locals were glad that the Pakistani army cleaned the Taliban out last summer, even though they are dissatisfied with the resulting displacements, property damage and slowness in the delivery of reconstruction aid.

But the Pashtuns of southern Helmand and of Qandahar are not talking like the people of Swat Valley. The report finds that “61% of those interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces than before the military offensive. ” We aren’t winning hearts and minds, folks.

In a startling statistic, nearly 80% of these Pashtun men say that they are now often or always angry, a doubling of this response from one year ago. Nearly half are specifically furious at NATO (over “occupation, civilian casualties and night raids”) and over a third are upset at war and instability (likely also blamed on NATO). Only 9 percent say they are angry with the Taliban!

Almost everyone said that the Marjah campaign produced more refugees (ICOS estimates at least 30,000), who are now living in tent cities or makeshift refugee camps.

Nearly 60% of respondents said they believed the Taliban would just return to Marjah, so the US has not in fact succeeded in convincing locals that they are even capable of the “clear” operation in the take, clear, hold and build strategy. Skepticism about holding and building is therefore likely to be even higher. And 95 percent, almost all, believe more young men have joined the Taliban in the aftermath of the Marjah campaign.

The US and it’s NATO allies are heading for failure in Kandahar.  This is a very dangerous situation that will most likely lead to the escalation of the war and its (increased) expansion into neighboring Pakistan.  Regardless of US public opinion, and certainly without thought for the wishes of Afghans or Pakistanis, the US war machine will seek to correct failure and setbacks with an increase of its forces in the region in a bid to ‘win the war’.  Destabilization of Pakistan will likely be the result.  The consequences will have grave ramifications for all of us.

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