Sunday, March 02, 2008

Afghanistan: still a bleeding wound but this time the infection spreads to the West

An updated version of the United Nations threat map was published in June of 2006, showing rising danger levels for humanitarian workers in many parts of Afghanistan, areas which coloured solidly pink indicates "extreme risk."

this resembles like a bleeding wound, the blood has spread across afghanistan intensely since 2002. the bleeding wounds, those pink splotches on the UN maps have spread until they now dominate the country's south and east. The latest map, updated in December, shows 14 of 17 districts in Kandahar are entirely designated as extreme risk.

Even so, the statistics are bad. The United Nations's count of security incidents in Afghanistan last year climbed to 13 times the number recorded in 2003, and the UN forecasts even worse this year. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization says insurgent attacks increased 64 per cent from 2006 to 2007. In the first two months of this year, some analysts have noticed a
15- to 20-per-cent rise in insurgent activity compared with the same period
last year, raising alarm about whether the traditional spring fighting season has started early.

The prospect of another year of rising bloodshed has forced a moment of
reckoning among the Westerners. Almost everybody involved with Afghanistan is taking a hard look at the country's future, the mission is
increasingly a source of raucous debate in Canada and among its NATO allies; this is the sort of thing which worries me. i am not worried about westerners losing troops in the war but when they want to withdraw. lets hear it from an experienced old man, if i may reiterate my analogy, an experienced operator of afghan wound, a f
ormer Soviet generals have told the German government not to expand its engagement in Afghanistan and instead think about pulling out its troops. "More troops won't solve this problem, that's our experience. They only increase the tragedy," Lev Serebrov, a former Soviet army general and now a parliamentarian in the Russian Duma, said earlier this week in Berlin, according to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. Germany, he said, shouldn't be thinking about sending more troops to Afghanistan, but "how it can pull out" of the country. A serving Russian military official, Gen. Ruslan Aushev, said the situation in Afghanistan reminded him strongly of the military operation the Soviet Union had in the country in the 1980s. "We were there for nearly a decade, first with a battalion, then with a division, then with 100,000 troops -- and in the end, we were forced to retreat,"

When managers from all the major humanitarian agencies in Kandahar gathered in a high-walled compound to swap war stories last month, it wasn't the tales of kidnappings and suicide bombs that caused the most worry. Nor was it the reports of insurgents enforcing their own brutal laws and executing aid workers. "The scary thing was, no foreigners attended the meeting," a participant said. "Everybody had evacuated."

Most aid organizations quietly withdrew their international staff from
Kandahar in recent weeks, the latest sign that the situation here is getting worse. It's now almost impossible to spot a foreigner on the city streets, except for the occasional glimpse of a pale face in a troop carrier or a United Nations armoured vehicle.

At least the foreigners can escape. For many ordinary people the ramshackle
city now feels like a prison, with the highways out of town regularly blocked by Taliban or bandits. Residents have even started avoiding their own city streets after dark, as formerly bustling shops switch off their colourful neon lights and pull down the shutters. There is rarely any electricity for the lights anyway, partly because the roads are too dangerous for contractors to risk bringing in a new turbine for a nearby hydroelectric generator.

Corrupt police prowl the intersections, enforcing a curfew for anybody
without that night's password, or bribe money. The officers seem especially nervous these days, because the Taliban hit them almost every night with ambushes, rocket-propelled grenades or just a deceptively friendly man who walks up to a police checkpoint with an automatic rifle hidden under a shawl.

Insurgent attacks have climbed sharply in Kandahar and across the country.
But some analysts believe the numbers don't capture the full horror of what's happening in Afghanistan's south and east. When a girl in a school uniform is stopped in downtown Kandahar by a man who asks frightening questions about why she's attending classes, that small act of intimidation does not appear in any statistics.

Kabul was roaring with activity as foreign aid poured into the capital, and
the international community wanted to spread the prosperity into rural areas. It was widely believed that a few thousand troops could stabilize a province such as Kandahar.

In a blunt assessment this week, Vice-Admiral Michael McConnell, the U.S. intelligence czar, admitted that the Karzai government controls less than one-third of the country. The Taliban hold 10 per cent on a more-or-less permanent basis while the rest is run by local warlords, he said, describing the situation as deteriorating.

Influential US Senator, John Kerry, who was in Afghanistan last week, said Tuesday the Afghan Government has become disconnected and isolated. The government in Kabul has become somewhat disconnected, isolated, however you want to call it, from some of the provinces. And it's critical that that connection become robust, Kerry told reporters in Washington during a press conference on his trip to Afghanistan.

Even if villagers aren't afraid of the Taliban, many join up because they
find the new government unpalatable. No regime has ever been overthrown at the ballot box in Afghanistan, so political opposition often becomes part of the insurgency.

Many Afghans view the government as a family business, reaping the spoils
from foreign donors at the expense of those who don't belong to the well-connected tribes or family networks.

For rough comparison, NATO sent 40,000 troops into Kosovo - a place roughly
one-quarter the size of Kandahar and with no active insurgency in 1999. More than one-third of them are still there eight years later. In fact, NATO has five times as many troops deployed in Kosovo as Canada has in Kandahar.

Comparisons with other insurgencies show a similar shortfall of soldiers in
the Afghan war: Conflicts in Somalia, Malaysia, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Iraq all required far more troops per capita than NATO has devoted to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan
's economic growth is also expected to continue slowing. Private investment was cut in half in 2007 compared with a year earlier, to about $500-million, and trade within the country will be hampered by Taliban and criminal roadblocks on the main highways.

Nearly everyone agrees, however, that Afghanistan will likely see rising violence in 2008. Two Western security analysts predicted that the year will bring increased sophistication in the Taliban's technology; they're likely to use so-called explosively formed penetrators for the first time, adopting a technique often used in Iraq to puncture even the most heavily armoured vehicle with a specially shaped explosive.

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