Afghanistan

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On August 20, 2014, Reuters clearly stated that “fighting between Afghan forces and militants intensifies ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops this year”. The same notoriously reliable media outlet says that Afghanistan is “a nation where Taliban militants are fast gaining ground against government forces”[1]. Beyond the level of such general evaluations, international media often offers significant details, each of them a tiny part of a very grim picture of the general situation in Afghanistan. The Reuters article quoted above, for example, directly indicates how feeble is the governmental control in many areas of the country (which, by the way, is a very large one – with its more than 600,000 square kilometers[2], Afghanistan is almost three times larger than Romania and only slightly smaller than Texas). The text we are quoting from states that only “some areas of the east and southeast” are really “restive”, and that “in August, Human Rights Watch reported that in parts of the southern province of Helmand, the Taliban had stopped health officials from sending out mobile vaccination teams”. These two lines clearly depict a local situation whose main feature is the almost complete Taliban control, coupled with the almost complete absence of effective governmental presence. According to a very large number of credible media reports, the general situation in Afghanistan is clearly deteriorating, with increasing activities of insurgent entities, more and more freely operating, while the ISAF presence becomes thinner and thinner.

On the contrary, some important U.S. official reports are exceedingly optimistic when are dealing with the same basic topic: the security situation in Afghanistan. For example, the most recent major report of the U.S. Department of Defense, made public only a few months ago (in the opening stages of the second half of April 2014), says that “the Taliban-led insurgency failed to achieve its stated operational objectives”, and also that “the insurgency mounted attacks but was overmatched by the ANSF, generally could not capture or destroy well-defended targets, and was unable to hold significant territory”[3].

Both broad pictures of Afghanistan – the clearly grim one, present with so many vivid details in the media, and the dominantly (and sometimes exaggeratedly) optimistic one, present in some important and authoritative official reports, are very coherent and potentially credible. But, quite clearly, only one of them is really accurate. The real truth is out there, in the dusty hills and valleys of Afghanistan. A country to be evaluated, we think, with uncompromising realism, and without any drop of wishful thinking.

Without dangerous illusions
Some other U.S. (more or less official) voices are clearly more realistic when dealing with Afghan ongoing and future evolutions. For example, Seth J. Jones, Associate Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation (and also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies - SAIS) said, on March 19, 2013, in a hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, that “it would be detrimental to U.S. national security to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan”[4]. Jones also told the distinguished audience he was speaking to that some huge question marks are compulsory *even if difficult to cope with) elements in properly evaluating the future of Afghanistan security and stability trends. He wondered, for example, if the “Afghan National Security Forces and local allies, with assistance from U.S. Special Operations Forces and others, would be adequate to degrade the Taliban-led insurgency”, and if the “Afghan central government institutions would be adequate to establish some order and deliver services, at least in key urban areas”[5]. Positive answers to these questions might generate a quite stable set of future “livable” scenarios for Afghanistan. On the contrary, negative answers – possible, even if not necessarily probable ones – might lead Afghanistan to a situation we usually call completely failed state.

 

[1] See KRISTA MAHR and MIRWAIS HAROONI, “Amid Afghanistan's escalating war, a battle to beat polio”, Reuters, August 20, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/21/us-afghanistan-health-polio-idUSKBN0GK2A220140821, accessed on August 21, 2014

[2] For general data on Afghanistan see, for example, “Afghanistan”, The World Factbook, CIA, at the Internet address https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/af.html, accessed on August 21, 2014

[3] United States of America, Department of Defense, Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, April 2014 - Report to Congress In accordance with sections 1230 and 1231 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2008 (P.L. 110-181), as amended; to include reports in response to section 1221 of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2012 (P.L. 112-81), the Senate Report (S. Rpt. 112-173), to accompany the NDAA for FY 2012 (P.L. 112-81), and sections 1212, 1223, and 1531(d) of the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2013 (P.L. 112-239), at the Internet address http://www.defense.gov/pubs/April_1230_Report_Final.pdf, p. 3

[4] Seth J. JONES, “After the Withdrawal. A Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Testimony presented before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Joint Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa and Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific on March 19, 2013”, RAND Corporation, at the Internet address http://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT382.html,  p. 1

[5] Ibidem, pp. 9-10

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