Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Reinforce failure

Lt General Nick Parker is No 2 at the Isaf and has today repeated an earlier call he made for support rather than sympathy in Afghanistan. I suspect the actual article is behind a paywall so I will insert his points in the blog.

He hangs his item on the death of the 300th soldier. "it is important to remember that every fatality in Afghanistan is terrible for family, friends and fellow soldiers; this is just as true for the first as for the 300th of our fallen. Nor must we forget those who have suffered life-changing injuries. It is self-evident that, for those intimately connected with these heartbreaking events, there can be little consolation, and at a personal level I very much doubt that the sacrifice of their loved ones can ever be “worth it”. He certainly has that right. So many deaths are due to almost casual violence where there was no connection between the mechanism of death and the deceased. Were I the parent of a son who lost his life when, for example, going to rescue a comrade, I could derive value from his actions and it might be 'worth it'

To learn that his bosses saw some point in his being introduced to some fly-ridden midden in a land of poverty and misery would do nothing at all to lessen my sense of loss. This war has been running now for nine years - what do we have to show for it? Where is there any evidence that the nation has done anything to improve their own conditions other than to sit waiting for us to stuff money in the outstretched hands of their corrupt leaders? They must certainly be aware of the graft but have not found any intention of bettering themselves by rising against it? Is there no Tienanmen Square in Kabul.

Parker writes "President Karzai’s trip to Washington last month set the conditions for a long-term plan, founded in a strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US that will be developed this year. This, coupled with the vital investment of other international partners including the UK, will underwrite Afghanistan’s future. It provides the “prize” of enduring support to a normal, developing country" Note the clever use of a conditional "enduring support to a normal, developing country" This takes care of any cessation of support not being rewarded on the grounds that the country is not normal and developing - does anyone really believe Afghanistan is such?

The general concludes "Our task is not to run roughshod over its emerging capability, but to respect Afghan sovereignty. We must accept Afghan leadership and solutions and the international community’s approach must be better co-ordinated and aligned" What this says to me is that we will not seek to use our levels of ingenuity and determination but merely go along with what a backward multi-tribal Nation thinks works. Take just one area - the attitude to women. His suggestion would not allow us to spearhead any improvement from the Dark Age attitudes. This issue of involvement comes up again where he writes "The most important ingredient of success is an aggressive political strategy that can build on the improving security. It should draw further strength from improvements in governance and development and a sense of the inevitability of progress" If Afghans are to lead, where is there evidence of their aggressive political strategy? Their leader sulks and threatens his own arrangements with the Taliban. His force can point to areas of improving security. There may be such areas where the ink-blot has spread a few hundred metres but there are more where we are standing still or holding on by our eye brows. How secure could one feel in hearing of a loved one posted to Sangin? The much advertised and heralded Panthers Claw operation is making very hard going. We heard much about the Scott of The Arctic-style expedition to get a turbine to Kajaki dam - see what the situation is there "The main power source for Kandahar city should be the Kajaki Dam in neighbouring Helmand province, but a six-year-old plan to repair it has been repeatedly delayed by fighting and the difficulty of securing roads long enough to get supplies in. Two existing hydroelectric turbines at the dam were repaired by helicoptering in supplies at a cost of $7 million, according to a report by the U.S. government, which is funding the effort. Officials managed to get a new third turbine up to the dam with a weeklong, 4,000-troop convoy in September, but now have decided the road is too insecure to truck in supplies. They aren't sure it's worth the expense to fly in 900 tons of cement and aggregate to complete the project". Air freight of $7 million and then the costs of the wasted turbine and getting it there. How mant other Claws and dams are hidden under the carpet where the Army controls the media?

One might find consolation in Parker's closing offer "The Prime Minister has said that we are six months into an 18-month strategy; the security element of that strategy is now well set to support the other actors who will play a part in resolving the conflict" This tends to suggest that there is a strategy and that this has a duration of 18 months with one third already passed. Does this mean that withdrawal would be reconsidered if the achievements Parker outlines are not attained?

If the article is walled off, many will not be able to access it. That means they would not see this comment "The myth and error that to support the troops you must support the mission is peddled here, as it is almost everywhere, as if it were some unquestionable absolute truth – and it isn’t. Bringing the troops home ‘now’ isn’t the act of disloyal peaceniks disgruntled hippies or militant political opponents of anything and everything that the state engages in. Bringing the troops home from a folly, that is now, is an act of support and solidarity far in excess of merely reinforcing failure. And perchance were the author of this piece to find some objectivity and perspective, then he too would be calling for the immediate withdrawal from this ill-conceived Afghan adventure and not issuing some clarion call to once more ‘go over the top’ and advance slowly towards those machine guns..."

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