Thursday, December 07, 2006

The need now for an Afghanistan study group

Following the attacks of September 11th, the international community rallied behind the United States and NATO invaded Afghanistan to hunt down Osama Bin Laden’s followers responsible for the attacks and topple the host government, the reactionary Taliban. The government fell and although forces led by the U.S. failed to destroy the fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaeda at Tora Bora they were expelled from the country and a moderate and government more representative of the Afgan people was established.

Then the United States turned its attention to Iraq. NATO remained in Afghanistan but U.S. resources were diverted farther west. Initial success in Iraq was followed by a failure to lay the groundwork for a stable government and society. The squandered Iraqi victory has turned into civil war and the situation continues to deteriorate.

While the sad situatiion in Iraq has monopolized the attention of the American public another initial victory is coming unravelled in Afghanistan as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda step up attacks throughout the country, poppy cultivation returns as a primary source of income for a large number of Afgans, the central government slowly loses control of the countryside, and the Afgan people lose faith in the future. In the meantime the NATO allies are squabbling and, as mentioned above, the United States is preoccupied elsewhere.

It may be too late to save Iraq but Afghanistan has not yet deteriorated to the point of no return. Given the bad things that can come out of that country in central Asia judged on past history, whether terrorists or drugs, it is certainly worth our attention. Is it worth examining our policy and strategy towards Afghanistan to make corrections before it is too late? Do we need an Afghanistan study group to make recommendations like the current Iraqi study group?

Frederick Kempe thinks so and outlines what such a group needs to look at in SLATE:
Transform Afghanistan's drug economy and devote more resources to winning hearts and minds. Perhaps the most important lesson of Iraq is that the military alone can take and hold ground, but it cannot win today's wars, which involve complex stabilization and reconstruction efforts.

Nothing will be more important to success in Afghanistan than reversing the estimated 60 percent growth in its narco-economy last year, which now provides some 90 percent of the world's opium crop.

The West can't train police, judges, and civil servants as quickly as the Taliban and its allies can corrupt them. What's needed is an all-out, coordinated international effort that will take a decade at least to help the Afghan government not only eradicate the poppy fields but, more important, provide subsidies and programs for crop substitutions while protecting farmers from the drug lords who buy their harvest.

Clean up Afghan government corruption and expand central authority. U.S. officials complain that President Hamid Karzai is a good man but a bad manager and leader. He has the power to name provincial governors, but he hasn't shown that he can get them to do what he wants. Afghanistan won't work until he extends his authority, until he begins to prosecute corrupt politicians, and indict, convict, or extradite drug kingpins—most of whom are known to him.

Fix a dysfunctional multilateral system. International operations in Afghanistan operate under a G8 mandate, executed by U.N. bureaucracy, relying on troops under NATO command. It sounds like a good model, but many of those involved say it doesn't work.

At the moment, the United Kingdom has lead responsibility for drugs, the Italians for judicial reform, the Germans for police training, and the United States for military training. That leaves the critical drug war as too low a priority for too many countries. A senior U.S. official complains that the U.N. operation has been focused more on establishing a bureaucracy that can perpetuate itself than making it produce results.

Fix the NATO-EU rivalry. NATO badly needs to better tap the European Union's proven expertise in nation-building. The problem is that the two institutions, though both headquartered in Brussels, work poorly together because of historic rivalries, lack of tested institutional ties, and personal animosities. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and European Union foreign-policy czar Javier Solana are on bad terms. The European Union considers Afghanistan a NATO mission. Though many EU members are in NATO, most view their first priority as the European project. This West-West dispute is unfortunate in peacetime and dangerous when fighting a war.

Fix how NATO works. The alliance responds less to operational imperatives than to bureaucratic need and national sensitivities—Turks who aren't ready to shoot members of the Taliban, and Germans who, until the Riga summit, had a "caveat" on their deployment that wouldn't let them leave the relatively safe Afghan north for the more violent south. Italy and Spain have the same restrictions. NATO has insufficient intelligence capability and struggles to make quick political or acquisition decisions. One commander complained that he has been trying for years to acquire a tracking system that would protect his troops from friendly fire, because the alliance turned his need into "a 26-country industrial competition while people die on the ground."

Countries balk at their troops' use in rapid-response situations, because a lack of common funding means the countries that make physical sacrifices also foot the bill.

The fixes here can only be achieved if there is political will to provide troops without restrictions on their use, increase common funding, and, ultimately, move away from consensus decision-making to some form of majority voting that would take away veto power on NATO flexibility and effectiveness from the country that uses it most—France.

Press Pakistan to stop abetting the enemy. It's time for Washington and its allies to be clear that they will no longer tolerate Pakistan's continued failure to check the Taliban. Thus far, the West has balked at pressing the regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, needing him too badly for other priorities, but Europe and the United States must send a clear, unified message that he must do more to help when our soldiers' lives are at stake.

NATO must turn back its enemies in Afghanistan or expect Islamic extremists to march on—a nuclear-tipped Iran, a Hezbollah-run Lebanon, a failed Iraqi state spawning global terrorists, and knock-on dangers in places like Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

During the Cold War, NATO triumphed over Soviet Communism because it was ready to fight a war that never came. In the 21st century, NATO will succeed only if it can remake itself to fight a war that's already under way.

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