Barack Obama’s new troop surge to Afghanistan is a desperate attempt to get out of the crisis Nato troops are in. Obama is to announce that around 30,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan, starting with the deployment of 9,000 marines to Helmand next month. Hopes that the president might represent a break from George Bush’s aggressive imperialist policies lie in tatters. Troop numbers committed to Afghanistan have doubled under Obama—the total with the new commitment will stand at over 100,000. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs recently revealed the spiralling financial costs of the war: “It’s a million dollars a troop for a year. That’s in addition to what we already spend in Afghanistan and Pakistan... It’s very, very, very expensive.”
But what are Nato’s aims? Gordon Brown has talked a lot about training the Afghan military and police to take over from occupying troops. And Obama says that the troop surge is part of a district-by-district handover plan. Everyone seems keen to avoid direct mention of “exit strategy”. But the reality of the situation should be staring the US, Britain and their military commanders in the face. The more troops that have been ploughed into the Afghan conflict, the more bloody and violent it has become. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed or displaced since the war began. And 99 British soldiers and 299 US troops have died this year alone. Not only has little been achieved in territorial gains, but the initial, much-vaunted aim of finding Osama Bin Laden was quietly dropped. Brown has now put Bin Laden back on the agenda with his attacks on Pakistan’s government.
Brown said last week, “We’ve got to ask ourselves why, eight years after September 11, nobody has been able to spot or detain or get close to Osama Bin Laden, nobody’s been able to get close to Zawahiri, the number two in Al Qaida.” Brown has, of course, been part of the expansion of war in Afghanistan that has pushed the conflict over the border and created massive instability in Pakistan. Yet he had the cheek to say, “We will want to see more evidence of Pakistan action, not just troops in South Waziristan but the whole of the government machine taking action.” But the problem with Nato’s strategy is not just a military one. A political crisis in Afghanistan, and the damage done to Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s reputation after the election scandal earlier this year, has made the pretence of progress and stability harder for leaders to sell.
The US is now considering creating a “high representative” in Kabul that can go over Karzai’s head and will entrench US control - and Brown and Obama have said that aid packages will bypass Karzai’s central government and instead be channeled at a local level to avoid corruption. The crisis and splits at the top of the US and British political and military establishments are proof of the disaster of the Afghan war. Some countries such as Germany and France are refusing to commit more troops, and Canada and others are already following withdrawal plans. The US and Britain look ever more isolated in a war which is unwinnable. And instead of a confident move by world leaders, this latest troop surge has a distinct whiff of desperation.
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