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Dr Musa A Keilani: At war for vested interest
June 28, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

US President Barack Obama has announced his plan to withdraw 10,000 American soldiers from Afghanistan by the end of this year and another 33,000 by the end of next summer. That will leave behind 70,000 troops in the country but that number will still be double the strength of forces as when Obama assumed office in 2009.

According to Obama, the transition of US forces to a support role in Afghanistan will be complete by 2014. Well, that would mean a continued American military presence in Afghanistan even after 2014, the deadline that Obama once promised for a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, which the US invaded in 2001.

It is difficult indeed to figure out what exactly does the US is doing in Afghanistan by continuing what has effectively become an unwinnable war.

If the idea is to fight Al Qaeda, then it does not make sense because US intelligence agencies say that less than Al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan, most of them from the low rungs of the group. So, why have 100,000 US soldiers to fight 100? Is the US military that weak?

Definitely not.

Then it should be the Taliban that the US is fighting in Afghanistan. But the Taliban are not the enemy of the US; they did indeed commit the crime of refusing to hand over Osama Bin Laden, the purported mastermind of the Sept.11 attacks in the US.

However, now that Al Qaeda has been uprooted from Afghanistan and Bin Laden himself eliminated, the Taliban insurgency is an internal Afghan affair that should be handled by the Afghans by themselves.

Obama and his top aides are sidestepping the reality that the Taliban do not pose a security threat to the US, and they are highly unlikely to take their fight against the US beyond the borders of Afghanistan.

If the US forces are seeking to fight off the Taliban in order to stablise the regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, it does not make sense because the war is too costly for the US itself and its allies. The Karzai regime is not exactly on friendly terms of late with the US. If anything, it is not only a burden and liability for the US but also a hurdle in the quest for the US effort to stabilise Afghanistan.

Why doesn’t the US simply let Karzai deal with the insurgency and work out an arrangement as the circumstances would allow?

Of course, if the US does that and pack up and leave Afghanistan, it will be accused of destabilsing the country by invading it in the first place and then leaving it in the lurch.

Perhaps the US did the Afghan people a great favour by ousting the Taliban from power. The Taliban had imposed a reign of almost terror in the country by following their own version of government that is far distant from any regime that we have known in recent history. But that does not allow the US to continue to occupy Afghanistan and engage in a fight that does not seem to get anywhere, notwithstanding the regular claims of success that senior American commanders make.

The US says that, parallel to the war, it is also seeking to institutionalise Afghanistan and develop the country. Well, a recent report has undermined that theory.

The finding of a two-year congressional investigation indicate that “the hugely expensive US attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan has had only limited success and may not survive an American withdrawal,” according to The New York Times.

The report, prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff, said that the “use of aid money to stabilise areas the military has cleared of Taliban fighters — a key component of the administration’s counterinsurgency strategy — as a short-term fix that provides politically pleasing results.”

The enormous cash flows “can overwhelm and distort local culture and economies, and there is little evidence the positive results are sustainable.”

The report highlights an example: The Performance-Based Governors Fund, which is authoried to distribute up to $100,000 a month in US funds to individual provincial leaders for use on local expenses and development projects, might even be harmful because “this amount represents a tidal wave of funding” that local officials are incapable of “spending wisely.”

There are many areas where US money spent on infrastructure projects have gone to waste because Afghans’ incapability to manage them.

Because oversight is scanty, the report says, the fund encourages corruption.

There is a theory that the US wants to maintain an open-ended presence in Afghanistan so that it would be in a position to influence regional developments and resources including Central Asian gas and oil.

Another is that the military presence in Afghanistan is also aimed at keeping Iran in check.

We do not know how far that is true; if anything, the tens of thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan could be dead ducks for Iran in the event of an armed conflict resulting from an Israeli or joint US-Israeli operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

One thing is clear: The US presence in Afghanistan is not Afghanistan-specific.

It is also aimed at fighting militants in Pakistan, both Afghan Taliban and Pakistan Taliban.

Without a military presence in Afghanistan, the US would not be able to continue the fight. But Pakistan is not extending the kind of all-out co-operation that the US expects. The relationship is troubled and it makes it all the more difficult to continue the US “war on terrorism.”

The Arabs want the US to regain its credibility and reassume its role as an honest mediator of international conflicts, starting with the Arab-Israeli conflict. That is why they are concerned that the US is undertaking actions that only further erodes its credibility and international standing but also deprives it of support among the Arab masses.

The Afghan war stands out as one of those actions.

The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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