Survey of Afghans Says Time Running Out

By Michael Fumento

TCS Daily, March 12, 2007
Copyright 2007 TCS Daily

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There have never been enough troops in Afghanistan
to secure the country.

Afghanistan may be called ”The Forgotten War” but we’d better hurry up and remember it, for time is short. That’s increasingly the word from experts both military and non-military, including an exhaustive survey based on 1,000 interviews with Afghans just released by the D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Put another way, the peak year for progress appears to have been 2005. It’s been downhill since then and if it isn’t arrested soon the nation will be lost. ”2007 is a critical year,” the study’s co-director Frederick Barton, said at an event releasing the survey.

The survey assesses the state of five ”key pillars,” including: security, governance and participation, justice and accountability, economic conditions, social services, and infrastructure. There has been progress in some areas, such as the economy and rights for women, it says. But fear of the insurgents is on the rise. So, too, is frustration with government corruption, a discredited justice system and a severe lack of basic services. ”As a result, Afghans are beginning to disengage from national governing processes and lose confidence in their leadership," says the report.

This is probably more pessimistic than official statistics or media accounts suggest. But its conclusion reflects remarks made just few weeks ago by the departing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who said ”a point could be reached at which the government of Afghanistan becomes irrelevant to its people, and the goal of establishing a democratic, moderate, self-sustaining state could be lost forever.”

The CSIS report, funded in part by USAID, finds a diminishing feeling of security as the insurgent Taliban step up attacks and corruption becomes ever more widespread.

”Our perceptions of security are so far from theirs in so many ways,” the study’s lead author Seema Patel told me. ”For example, we assume drug traffickers make people feel unsafe but [those surveyed] say [they’re] not scared of them,” says Patel, who recently spent six weeks traveling throughout Afghanistan. ”The fear for most people is insurgents, not even local Taliban but Taliban coming from outside the community whether they be cross-border (from Pakistan) or not.” Further, she says, what we call ”corruption” sounds fairly benign to us, like bigwigs paying bribes to government officials. ”But in their psyche it’s abuse and violence. They pay or they get beat up.”

The military situation also is worsening said CSIS.

The Taliban now pose the greatest threat since the initial U.S. invasion in 2001.

”The insurgency has gained momentum in the South and East, regaining and holding control in many districts,” according to the report. ”Insurgents have managed to occupy critical roads and conduct ambushes from these strategic points. The insurgency is now able to recruit in larger numbers, wage battles with battalion-sized forces and is employing new tactics.”

”Afghanization” is not proceeding especially well. ”Official sources indicate that to date, 30,100 of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are operational and 49,700 Afghan National Police officers have been trained,” the report says. ”Yet after taking into account desertion, ghost names and the incompetence of many, the total is more likely to be half the number, if that. The incentives to fight for the weakened Karzai government are inadequate to recruit and retain professional troops. Morale is low.”

It continues, ”Income for those in the lower ranks remains insufficient to meet more than the most basic needs. ANA soldiers now receive $100 month as a new recruit for a three-year commitment, up from $70 month.” However, ”In some reported cases, the Taliban are paying up to $12 a day, three times as much as the ANA field soldiers, and there is evidence of defection from the national security forces to the Taliban ranks.”

NATO forces are also inadequate. They currently have a three-hour response time for emergencies, but that must be reduced to a mere 15 minutes the report insists. We need to ”Double the helicopters, communications, intelligence, and resources available, and shift more personnel to Kandahar and Helmand” provinces (in the south and east) where ”the Taliban are most likely to initiate their offensive.”

Some of this sounds like wishful thinking. President Bush has announced U.S. forces would be increased by 3,200 to 27,000, the highest level of the war, and Britain has indicated it will increase its troop presence by perhaps 1,000 troops to 6,600. But it’s sobering to realize that Afghanistan is larger than Iraq in both land mass and population.

The report also makes a call to ”renegotiate NATO country caveats.” Translation: France, and Spain don’t seem to understand that soldiers should be used as soldiers. Italy’s troop presence in Afghanistan threatens to pull down that nation’s government, even though the troops are nowhere near the fighting. The same Germany that in World War II was able to conquer and control virtually all of continental Europe has only a few hundred men even authorized to fight in Afghanistan.

All said, the Afghan situation remains considerably better than that in Iraq. ”But just last year we had significantly more options,” says Patel. ”There are opportunities to turn things around but the changes need to be made immediately, otherwise next year we might find ourselves with nothing but a last-ditch effort available.”