Tuesday, April 05, 2005


What's up in Afghanistan and why is Blair sending more troops?

There really isn't a lot of coverage in your local paper or the nightly news of the state of the State of Afghanistan. Oh, the big events are covered: Laura Bush dropped in for five hours to plant a tree last week. Over the past six months she has been preceded by a stellar cast of drop-ins: Rumsfeld, McCain, Hillary and Limbaugh. (Limbaugh was probably looking for a more reliable source of pain medication for his back, of which Afghanistan has plenty.) But aside from visits from the stars, about all we get are two-paragraph back-page stories of a few soldiers being wounded or killed, which the MSM dutifully report to demonstrate their patriotism.

I get my news about Afghanistan from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which according to its site is "a private, international communications service to Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, Central and Southwestern Asia, funded by the U.S. government. (Excuse me for a moment. My dog "Orwell" is barking about something.)

Also, the "Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors is Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, former editor in chief of Readers' Digest (1989-1996), member of the Board for International Broadcasting (1987-1995), and Director of the Voice of America (1982-1984)."

I mention this by way of saying that anything published by RFE/RL comes about as close to the truth as we're allowed to get. So imagine my surprise when they led this week's report with—

By Amin Tarzi

Authorities have shuffled the security commanders in four of Afghanistan's largest provinces in the past two weeks. The moves appear to be aimed at countering the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan's largest cities, and perhaps serve as a response to the demonstrations that took place in March in the southern city of Kandahar and the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif.

You don't see acknowledgements like that everyday. The demonstrations mentioned, by the way, are about "the presence of former warlords acting as governors of the two provinces.

The "deteriorating security situation" is thus an ambiguous phrase. I can't tell if Tarzi is referring to the "neo-Taliban" insurgency or the danger of popular uprisings against the government. In any case, the government's response has been not to get rid of the warlords but to move them around.

The U.S. really could have used those 140,000 or so troops currently in Iraq to try to "pacify" Afghanistan, but in their absence we're just going to have to rely upon our allies—that's right!—Tony Blair.

According to Tim Ripley of The Scotsman in a report rather humorously titled "British to lead new hunt for bin Laden,"

Military sources say 5,500 troops will be pulled out of Iraq within the next 12 months, reducing the British presence there by almost two thirds.

Defence sources have told The Scotsman that Britain is preparing to spearhead a new offensive in Afghanistan next year, sending 5,000 troops into the country to lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden and tackle the country’s opium trade.

Military commanders in Iraq believe the campaign there has "turned the corner" and the country’s own security forces are now able to take on a greater burden of the struggle against the insurgency that has gripped Iraq since the United States-led invasion two years ago.

Tony Blair hopes this will allow some 5,500 of the 9,500 strong British garrison in Iraq to be withdrawn by April next year, with the remaining troops being pulled back out of harm’s way to a small number of remote desert bases away from population centres.

Afghanistan is to be the British military’s "main effort" during 2006, according to army officers who say it is hoped that Iraq will have calmed down enough by the spring next year to allow resources to be switched to the new campaign.

First, a British force reduction in Iraq was announced back in September (see "What's up in Britain?"), though from the number of troops cited in the current report, it is clear that that did not occur, perhaps because of the U.S.' need for help with Fallujah.

Second, weasel wordings such as "Tony Blair hopes will allow..." hint that this is a contingent move—contingent upon a continued improvement in Iraq—so don't count on it.

The US military has reported a major drop in casualties in Iraq during March with only 33 hostile deaths among coalition forces, but some military sources suggest that the latest outburst of optimism about Iraq may be misplaced and designed to help Labour’s prospects in the coming general election.

No! The very idea that Blair would make such an announcement to improve his sagging prospects in the forthcoming election! Oh, did I mention that Blair just confirmed that Parliamentary elections are going to be held May 5?

The Scotsman continues,

Hundreds of Scottish soldiers are expected to spearhead a major deployment of 5,000 British troops to Afghanistan next year in a bid to stabilise once and for all the war ravaged central Asian country.

About time! I say. And if anyone can do it, I'm sure it will be the Brits.

Meanwhile, Tom Engelhardt of the Nation Institute has a major piece on Bush's "Afghan Spring." You should probably read it because his facts don't always agree with RFE/RL's facts, but then he tends to focus on U.S. bases and the universal gulag1 that Afghanistan is becoming. Engelhardt also recommends that all Americans read a Guardian piece by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, "'One huge US jail'."

And finally, again from the RFE/RL report, comes this interesting tidbit—

President says no to possible use of Afghan territory for strikes against Iran

Hamid Karzai said on 29 March that "there is no room" for the possibility of the United States using Afghan territory for attacks against Iran, IRNA reported. Karzai added that there is no evidence to "prove" that this could happen and that neither American nor Iranian officials have discussed the issue with the Afghan side.

I don't know about the Iranians, but does President Karzai seriously think the Americans are going to ask?

Follow-up post
The secret that's not a secret: British troops to Afghanistan (5/23/05)

Related posts
What's up in Britain? (9/23/04)
Things that money can't buy (1/25/05)
The Loose Noose (2/26/05)


1 I can't refrain from speculating that when Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty called for a "terrorist court" to be established somewhere outside of Australia, he just may have had Afghanistan in mind. [back]

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