Posts Tagged ‘afghan war’
C.J. Chivers of The New York Times has generally provided solid reporting out of Afghanistan, if a bit overshadowed by his more accomplished colleague, Dexter Filkins. But today’s non-story on the front page, entitled “Snipers Imperil US Troops in Offensive in Afghanistan” is a rather perplexing.
First, I’m a bit unclear as to how this constitutes news, as such. Did we expect not to be “imperiled” as we forced our way into unfriendly territory? Was it the snipers that were unexpected? But that can’t be it, because the article mentions snipers in a matter-of-fact way – no quotes from generals saying something to the effect that “we just didn’t expect them to shoot at us!” or anything like that.
The story unfolds predictably – US and “Afghan” forces are in danger, they’ve had “close calls”, and then they retaliated with mortars, helicopters and airplanes. This, of course, is absurd in and of itself (countering small arms fire with massive gunships), but we’ve been hearing this for a while, so it fails to shock (or awe).
But then things get even more confusing, as Mr. Chivers attempts to have it both ways:
Over all, most Taliban small-arms fire has been haphazard and ineffective, an unimpressive display of ill discipline or poor skill. But this more familiar brand of Taliban shooting has been punctuated by the work of what would seem to be several well-trained marksmen.
So the Taliban is both “haphazard and ineffective” as well as “well-trained”. Later he mentions the Taliban executing a “complex ambush”. Which is it? Are they ill-disciplined or well-trained?
Then we get the dumbest quote in the whole article.
First the company fired its 60-millimeter mortars, but the Taliban kept firing. Company K escalated after the Third Platoon commander reported by radio that several insurgents had moved into a compound near the canal.
The forward air controller traveling with Company K, Capt. Akil R. Bacchus, arranged for an airstrike.
About a minute later, a 250-pound GPS-guided bomb whooshed past overhead and slammed into the compound with a thunderous explosion.
“Good hit!” said Capt. Joshua P. Biggers, the company commander. “Good hit.”
Yeah, that’s some great sharpshooting with that 250-pound bomb. I feel like I’m in a Kafka novel.
So finally, in the end, we learn that despite being isolated and “constantly challenged” by the Taliban, the K company was able to hold their position until reinforcements arrived yesterday. I guess I just don’t see how any of this is surprising, or warrants a 1,500 word article. And what was the ultimate point of the article? That the Taliban don’t like American soldiers in their country? That the Marja offensive isn’t going well? The first should be self-evident – and the second, if true, wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. All we found out is that the Army is encountering “difficulties”, and a few throwaway quotes from officers – quotes that tell us nothing about the situation or how they feel about it.
I mean, I get that we’re supposed to root for the ‘good guys’ here (the US troops) and invest our emotions in their eradication of those bad ol’ Taliban – but that’s why I watch movies. From a newspaper I want, y’know, news.
Kai Eide is the UN “special representative” in Afghanistan, and his former student, Peter Galbraith, has repeatedly accused him of corrupt influence within the Karzai administration, including allegations of vote rigging in last year’s elections (which were widely seen as a fraud). Galbraith was later fired for his accusations.
Now the Times reports Mr. Eide has engaged in high-level talks with Taliban leaders.
Kai Eide, the United Nations’ special representative in Afghanistan, met with a group of Taliban leaders in the days leading to this week’s international conference in London, where President Hamid Karzai invited the Taliban to enter peace talks.
It’s unclear at this point what sort of game Mr. Eide is playing, especially since no details of the meeting (where/when it was held, who represented the Taliban, what was said, etc) are available. But I think it’s pretty clear that the UN – and by extension, the US – are rapidly shifting their strategy from “we don’t negotiate with Terrorists” to “Hey guys, let’s talk about this”.
The plan seems simple enough. To use the overwrought war-as-football metaphor, the US would seem to have “moved the goalposts”. It now appears that we are resigned to some portion of Afghanistan being ruled by the Taliban – perhaps even most of Afghanistan – but at the same time we are unwilling to let go of Hamid Karzai. If I could divine the strategy of our oh-so-wise policy planners, I would think they envision some form of power-sharing arrangement wherein the Karzai government controls Kabul and the heroin-producing regions of Afghanistan and the Taliban take the outlying desert. That way the US can extricate itself with some “credibility” left intact while leaving in place its “stooge” for whatever future plans they have for Afghanistan (permanent military bases, of course, but perhaps a natural-gas pipeline as well).
Eide’s role in all of this is still a bit mysterious. It is clear, from numerous previous statements, that Mr. Eide is very close to the Karzai regime and is willing to invest quite a lot to see it saved. That he fired his subordinate for leaking the Afghan election fraud is further evidence of this. It seems likely Mr. Eide is using his role as a UN envoy to prop up the Karzai regime and shield it from international criticism.
It’s still unclear whether the Taliban will be willing to negotiate a power-sharing agreement. This must be a very difficult decision for them. On one hand, the Americans are on the run and lack the resources to prosecute their effort for more than another year. Just holding out for a few more months can get them a better deal – and if (as our planners fear) the Taliban have the resources to resist indefinitely, control of Afghanistan is almost assured to them. On the other hand, if the Taliban find themselves running low on resources, morale or income, the smart thing to do would be to negotiate now. They might not get a better deal later.
But given the string of audacious attacks on Kabul, I think it safe to say the Taliban’s operations proceed unhindered. So I expect they will reject the offer of negotiation and press on.
The Karzai regime is immensely unpopular, and the only thing between him and an angry mob are American soldiers. Unless he can secure some sort of deal with the Taliban, it looks as though his days are numbered.