ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: « Guerre contre le terrorisme » : le fiasco
by Dominique Bari
Translated Saturday 4 October 2008, by
For the past seven years, NATO forces have been engaged in an armed conflict that has radicalized the Afghan people and which henceforth forms part of a regional crisis.
Fresh French forces are getting ready to leave, before the debate has even opened in the French National Assembly and Senate. The decision to send them was taken, not with regard to French public opinion, but in conformity with Washington’s new strategy of reinforcing NATO and the international coalition on the basis of a hot war. George Bush has just approved the request made by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who believes he needs the equivalent of three more brigades, that is to say around 15,000 men. “We are involved in very hard fighting here (...) and I think that this will continue for a long time,” the top U.S. officer said, conceding by the same token that the Western coalition is not winning the war in Afghanistan.
The United States and NATO favor a change in strategy in order to fight the insurrection even into Pakistan. Hammering home his point, Mullen said “in my opinion, these two countries are inextricably linked by one and the same insurrection, which straddles their common border.” Thus, Mullen does not care a fig for the analyses of numerous specialists on the region, who warn of the risks involved in breathing on hot coals in a powder keg. “Confronted with a disaster, Westerners are reacting unimaginatively in increasing their forces, whereas the Western presence itself is a key factor in the development of the Taliban guerilla,” insisted Gilles Dorronsoro, a specialist on Afghanistan and professor of political science in Paris.
French experts doing research on the region also note a basic lack of understanding of the “enemy.” They believe that describing all of the anti-Western combatants in Afghanistan as “terrorists” is a mistaken lumping-together, which can only lead to a misunderstanding of the threats and the stakes. Even though these combatants may sometimes and in some places associate with groups close to or affiliated with Al Qaeda, especially in Eastern Afghanistan, they do not form part of a “world jihad,” the French researchers state. Contrary to what some have tried to get us to believe, the Talibans are not at all a foreign growth on the Afghan people – their partisans are an integral part of the Afghan people and their struggle is both religious and nationalist. Mariam Abou Zahab, a CERI-Sciences-Po researcher, regrets the fact that “Taliban has become a catch-all phrase used to designate anyone who opposes the Hamid Karzai government and the foreign military presence.” “You have, especially in the South, very young combatants who are, first and foremost, nationalists. Their language is simple but effective: non-Moslem troops have invaded my country. It is my duty to fight against them. Period.” “These are illiterate country kids,” she adds. “Their only references are the mullah and the tribal leader. It’s very local.” While, for Gérard Fussman, a professor at the Collège de France, “NATO troops don’t control Afghanistan any more than the Soviets did,” “the reason being very simple: they behave like, and they are seen as an army of occupation (...).” Mariam Abou Zahab and Bernard Dupaigne, a researcher at the Musée de l’Homme, warn against an increase in the number of foreign soldiers in the valleys of Afghanistan, which, in their opinion, will only result in radicalizing populations that are attached to their independence and which no one has ever subjected by force. “The more troops you send, the more collateral damage there will be,” Mariam Abou Zahab also warns. “More civilians killed, and an escalatory spiral.” For Bernard Dupaigne, “it’s wrong to say that the future of the world and the war on terrorism are being played out in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a machine for the making of terrorists. The more you bomb them, the more people there will be who are going to shoot at us.”
According to the United Nations, nearly 1500 Afghan civilians have died since January 1, including 577 killed by Afghan forces and the allies of the international coalition. Just in the month of August, 339 civilians died in the clashes, a one-month high in the seven-year war.
The war in Afghanistan is henceforth part of a regional crisis and Westerners have to understand that. The war cannot be contained within the borders of Afghanistan. This is the analysis put forward by Ahmed Rachid. The conflict also concerns Pakistan, Central Asia, Iran, and India. But divergent conclusions are drawn from this basic fact. Recognizing that the Pakistani tribal zones serve as sanctuaries for Afghan insurgent groups, the United States has increased its raids on Pakistani soil, arousing the ire of local leaders and weakening the Pakistani government in Islamabad and its new president, Asif Ali Zardari. The result, Gilles Dorronsoro also points out, has been “to instill the idea that the fundamentalists are the only ones who are defending the integrity of the nation’s boundaries. If they continue on this course, the Americans will transform this sanctuary into a battlefield.”
In fact, the U.S. army has already extended the war to Pakistan. According to a member of the staff of General Jeffrey Schloesser, the top U.S. officer in Afghanistan, operations have increased since July and mainly target the Bajaur, North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal zones, where the bulk of the insurgent groups are concentrated. The U.S. army has admitted to carrying out 14 cross-border attacks this year. Since August 31, the Americans have admitted to four air raids and one ground attack, thus accelerating the destabilization of Pakistan – the very goal aimed at by the Islamists who commit murderous suicide bombings, like the one against the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Sept. 19. “A general diplomatic initiative is needed,” Ahmed Rachid suggests.
Can the strategy of war give way to a strategy of development? On paper, since 2001, there has been no lack of money for reconstruction in the region. In reality, Washington has had its way and has spent 130 billion dollars on military operations. As to the 50 billion promised by the international community for the development of Afghanistan, a tiny portion has been paid out, representing barely 8% of the military expenditure. This terrible fiasco has led French non-governmental organizations in Kabul to call for a “strategic break” on the part of the French government and the international community. According to the French NGOs, five million people out of Afghanistan’s population of 20 million suffer from “alimentary insecurity.” The promises made in Bonn in 2001 are far from having been kept.