Highlights

 
Quotable
Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.
Donald Rumsfeld
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 
February 20, 2009

Afghanistan, the Next US Quagmire?


by Thalif Deen

The United States is planning to send an additional 17,000 troops to one of the world's most battle-scarred nations – Afghanistan – long described as "a graveyard of empires."

First, it was the British Empire, and then the Soviet Union. So, will the United States be far behind?

"With his new order on Afghanistan, President (Barack) Obama has given substantial ground to what Martin Luther King Jr., in 1967 called 'the madness of militarism,'" Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS.

"That madness should be opposed in 2009," said Solomon, author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

The proposed surge in U.S. troops will bring the total to 60,000, while the combined forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), including troops from Germany, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, amount to over 32,000.

When in full strength, U.S.-NATO forces in Afghanistan could reach close to 100,000 by the end of this year.

Still, in a TV interview Tuesday, Obama said he was "absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban (insurgency), the spread extremism in that region solely through military means."

"If there is no military solution, why is the administration's first set of decisions to continue drone attacks and increase ground troops?" Marilyn B. Young, a professor of history at New York University, told IPS.

She said the uncertainty around Afghan policy seems to be spreading even while the Obama administration announces an increase in troops.

"This is one of the ways events seem to echo U.S. escalation in the Vietnam War," said Young, author of several publications, including "Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam: Or, How Not to Learn From the Past."

On Tuesday, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report revealing that in 2008, there were 2,118 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2007.

Of these casualties, 55 percent of the overall death toll was attributed to anti-government forces, including the Taliban, and 39 percent to Afghan security and international military forces.

"This is of great concern to the United Nations," the report said, pointing out that "this disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of innocent civilians."

During his presidential campaign last year, Obama said the war in Iraq was a misguided war.

The United States, he said, needs to pull out of Iraq, and at the same time, bolster its troops in Afghanistan, primarily to prevent the militant Islamic fundamentalist Taliban from regaining power and also to eliminate safe havens for terrorists.

But most political analysts point out that Afghanistan may turn out to be a bigger military quagmire for U.S. forces than Iraq.

Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy said Obama's moves on Afghanistan have "the quality of a moth toward a flame."

In the short run, Obama is likely to be unharmed in domestic political terms. But the policy trajectory appears to be unsustainable in the medium-run, he added.

"Before the end of his first term, Obama is very likely to find himself in a vise, caught between a war in Afghanistan that cannot be won and a political quandary at home that significantly erodes the enthusiasm of his electoral base while fueling Republican momentum," Solomon argued.

Dr. Christine Fair, a senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation and a former political officer with UNAMA in Kabul, told IPS she is doubtful that more troops will secure Afghanistan.

"Perhaps several years ago more troops would have been welcomed. My fear is that more troops means more civilian losses and further erosion of good will and support for the international presence," Fair said.

"I would personally prefer a move from kinetics and towards using this increased capacity to help build Afghan capacity," she noted.

"I also think greater support from the international community for reconciliation is needed. Afghans need to own this process," said Fair, a former senior research associate with the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.N. Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington.

However, she said, the international community has legitimate interests in remaining in some capacity to ensure that Afghanistan does not again emerge as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups.

Fair also co-authored (along with Seth Jones) a USIP report released early this week, titled "Securing Afghanistan," which spelled out the reasons why international stabilization efforts have not been successful in Afghanistan over the last seven years.

"Security issues in Afghanistan are extraordinarily complex, with multiple actors influencing the threat environment – among them, insurgent groups, criminal groups, local tribes, warlords, government officials and security forces," the report said.

Afghanistan also presents a multi-front conflict that includes distinct security challenges in the northern, central and southern parts of the country, the study declared.

In Afghanistan, Solomon argued, the U.S. president is proceeding down a path that can only be too steep and not steep enough.

The basic contradiction of his current position – asserting that the situation cannot be solved by military means yet taking action to try to solve the problem by military means – signifies that Obama is bargaining for short-term wiggle room at the expense of longer-term rationality, he added.

"In a very real sense, Obama is kicking a bloody can down the road, unable to think of any other way to confront circumstances that will grow worse with time in large measure because of his actions now," he said.

Even while disputing some thematic aspects of the "war on terrorism" at times, Obama is reinvesting his political capital – and re-dedicating the Pentagon's mission – on behalf of a U.S. war effort that is probably doomed to fail on its own terms, Solomon said.

"Reliance on violence is a chronic temptation for a commander-in-chief with the mighty U.S. military under its command. We've seen the results in Iraq – or, more precisely, the people of Iraq and many American soldiers have seen and suffered the results," he added.

(Inter Press Service)


comments on this article?
 
 
Archives

  • Afghanistan, the Next US Quagmire?
    2/20/2009

  • Hamas Fights on Uneven Battlefield
    1/23/2009

  • UNRWA Chief Appalled at Israeli Destruction in Gaza
    1/21/2009

  • Israeli Attacks on Gaza Escape Global Media Scrutiny
    1/16/2009

  • Gaza Killings Trigger Call for War Crimes Probe
    1/14/2009

  • Aid Groups Dispute Israeli Claims in Gaza Attacks
    1/10/2009

  • US Weaponry Facilitates Killings in Gaza
    1/9/2009

  • US Asked to Curb Military Excesses in Iraq
    10/12/2007

  • US Arms Sales Preserve Israel's Edge
    8/4/2007

  • US-India Nuke Deal May Spark Asian Arms Race
    8/1/2007

  • Lebanon Crisis Persists Despite Beefed-Up Peacekeeping
    7/7/2007

  • Is US Eyeing UN as Dumping Ground for Iraq?
    6/8/2007

  • UN Peacekeeping Budget Soars Sky High
    5/31/2007

  • US Faces Dilemma
    Over Thai Coup
    10/6/2006

  • UN Seeks Mostly Western Troops for Lebanon Force
    8/17/2006

  • Israel's Military Invincibility Dented by Hezbollah
    8/9/2006

  • US to Supply Food With One Hand, Arms With Other
    8/3/2006

  • Israel Violates US Law With Attack on Lebanon
    7/18/2006

  • US Gets a 'Dose of Its Own Medicine' From China
    7/13/2006

  • Iraq's Chairing of UN Rights Committee Faulted
    6/8/2006

  • US Promises Sri Lanka Aid Against Tamil Tigers
    1/24/2006

  • UN Probes Peacekeeping Contracts Fraud
    1/17/2006

  • Iran's Nuclear Dispute Sparks East-West Rivalry
    9/23/2005

  • Despite Growing Scandal, UN Chief Refuses to Yield
    9/8/2005

  • Asia, Eastern Europe Head for Showdown Over New UN Chief
    5/30/2005

  • US Ramps Up Arms Supplies to Repressive Regimes
    5/26/2005

  • UN Security Council Expansion Thrown into Disarray – Again
    4/13/2005

  • Saudis Break New Ground Eyeing Russian Weapons
    3/5/2005

  • UN Reversal: More Staff Bound for Iraq
    12/16/2004

  • Iraq Disputes UN Over Legitimacy of Election
    12/14/2004

  • UN Body Rejects Censure, Threatens Revolt
    11/25/2004

  • Human Rights Personnel Under Attack
    11/19/2004

  • UN Report Slams Use of Torture to Beat Terror
    11/12/2004

  • French Role in Cτte d'Ivoire Questioned
    11/10/2004

  • UN Terrorism Treaty Deadlocked
    10/27/2004

  • US Wants UN Fig Leaf for Elections
    10/22/2004

  • Relief Agencies Jolted by Deaths in Sudan
    10/16/2004

  • Is Al-Jazeera the New Symbol of Arab Nationalism?
    10/13/2004

  • UN Unions Want Workers Out of Iraq
    10/7/2004

  • Mideast Arms Buyers Shun UN Register
    10/5/2004

  • Japan to Re-Launch Security Council Bid
    9/21/2004

  • UN Reluctant to Push Sanctions for Sudan
    9/17/2004

  • Rising Violence Deters UN Presence in Iraq
    9/15/2004

  • Under Attack in Afghanistan, UN Weighs Options
    9/14/2004

  • UN Chief Seeks 30,000 More Troops for Peacekeeping
    9/8/2004

  • UN Tries to Drag World Into Darfur
    9/3/2004

  • US-Backed Armies Firing Blanks
    9/2/2004

  • Credibility of Afghan Vote Threatened by Violence, Fraud
    8/21/2004

  • US Accounts for Global Surge in Military Spending
    8/18/2004

  • UN Says Its Absence in Iraq Could Jeopardize Fair Elections
    8/10/2004

  • UN Bureaucrats Angry Over Iraq's Refusal to Pay Dues
    8/6/2004

  • Humanitarian Groups: US, UK Subverting Afghan Relief Aid
    8/4/2004

  • No Troops Yet Offered for UN Force in Iraq
    7/28/2004

  • Regime Change in Iraq a Sham, Say Mideast Experts
    6/29/2004

  • US Abandons War Crimes Exemption
    6/23/2004

  • Aid Agencies Forced to Leave War Zones
    6/12/2004

  • One Down, US Seeks Second UN Resolution
    6/10/2004

  • UN's Integrity Questioned – Again
    6/5/2004

  • US Seeks Iraqi Nod for Continued Occupation
    6/3/2004

  • Security, Low Voter Registration Threaten Afghan Polls
    5/28/2004

  • UN: Bullies and Beggars
    5/28/2004

  • US Offers Iraq 'Sovereignty Lite'
    5/25/2004

  • US Wants One-Year Extension of UN Exemption from War Crimes Law
    5/21/2004

  • UN Warned of Death Trap in Iraq
    5/12/2004

  • Iraq Scandal Opens US to Charges of Double Standards
    5/8/2004
  •  

    Thalif Deen has been Inter Press Service's U.N. Bureau Chief since 1992. A
    former Information Officer at the U.N. Secretariat and a one-time member of
    the Sri Lanka delegation to the General Assembly sessions, he is currently
    editor of the Journal of the Group of 77, published in collaboration with
    IPS. A Fulbright-Hayes scholar, he holds a Master's degree in Journalism
    from Columbia University in New York.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2003 Antiwar.com