|US losing the peace in
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Just as the United States is
struggling to deal with major postwar headaches in Iraq,
its efforts to pacify Afghanistan appear to be
unraveling, according to a new report by a key group of
experts sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations
(CFR) and the Asia Society.
Are We Losing the Peace?", the 24-page document,
authored by, among others, three retired senior US
government policymakers who specialize in South Asian
affairs, answers that question very much in the
affirmative and argues that Washington must do far more,
and urgently, to save the situation.
greater support for the transitional government of
President Hamid Karzai, security in Afghanistan will
deteriorate further, prospects for economic
reconstruction will dim, and Afghanistan will revert to
warlord-dominated anarchy," the task force concluded.
"This failure could gravely erode America's
credibility around the globe and mark a major defeat in
the US-led war on terrorism," added the report, which
was written by the co-chairs of the independent CFR-Asia
Society task force that has been following Afghanistan
since before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
against New York and the Pentagon.
particular, the report urges Washington, which has about
7,000 troops stationed outside Kabul hunting for members
of al-Qaeda and the former Taliban regime, either to
alter their mandate to include peacekeeping outside the
capital or support a major enlargement of the
4,800-strong International Security Assistance Force
(ISAF) so that it can extend the central government's
authority into the countryside.
creation in early 2002, ISAF, which is currently led by
the Netherlands and Germany, has been confined to Kabul.
The report also called for Washington to
increase sharply the pace of training the new Afghan
national army (ANA), which already has been depleted by
poor pay and defections to tribal militias. Current
plans call for 9,000 men to be in the field by June
2004, when a permanent government is scheduled to take
power. The task-force chairs, who include Washington's
former ambassadors to India and Pakistan, Frank Wisner
and Nicholas Platt, respectively, called that
The report comes at an
especially awkward moment for the administration of
President George W Bush, which has had a far more
difficult time in restoring order and basic services on
the ground in Iraq than it had expected or planned for.
In addition to devoting increasing energy to get
Iraq under firm control, the administration is also
increasingly preoccupied internationally with
implementing the "roadmap" for Israeli-Palestinian peace
and coping with the diplomatic fallout from both the
Iraq war and its failure so far to find weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) in that country. The alleged
production and deployment of WMD by former president
Saddam Hussein was cited by Bush and his allies as the
main justification for going to war.
challenges to the US military occupation in Iraq, as
well as the general insecurity there, has forced the
Pentagon to deploy at least 140,000 troops there - twice
as many as it had planned before the invasion - and to
go begging to its coalition partners, such as Italy,
Poland and even El Salvador, for contributions to a
peacekeeping force that could replace some US soldiers.
If, as the task forces urges, Washington wanted
to enlarge ISAF, which will come under North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) command in August, it will
have to ask many of the same governments it is appealing
to now for help in Iraq to provide more for Afghanistan.
In addition, tensions with Iran have been rising
steadily over the past six weeks as the administration
appears increasingly inclined to adopt a policy of
"regime change", which could include covert paramilitary
action and even military strikes in a country whose
population is roughly twice that of Afghanistan and Iraq
"This is what is called 'imperial
over-stretch'," noted one congressional aide whose boss
has long warned that Bush's post-September 11 strategic
ambitions would stretch US forces impossibly thin within
a very short time.
The task force's pessimism
regarding trends in Afghanistan is not much different
from a number of analyses since May 1, when Pentagon
chief Donald Rumsfeld declared on a visit to Kabul that
hostilities had finally ended and that reconstruction
could begin in earnest.
pronouncement, Karzai has been unable to gain
substantially greater authority over provincial
governors and warlords; disorder has persisted; the
Taliban and their allies have escalated their attacks
against targets ranging from US Special Forces to
foreign travelers and aid workers; and an ambitious,
United Nations-backed demobilization and disarmament
program launched in May has not progressed far.
"If the administration fails to take the lead in
providing more security and extending the authority of
the central government," said Barnett Rubin, an
Afghanistan expert at New York University and a member
of the CFR-Asia Society Task Force, "our policy in
Afghanistan is definitely on track to fail."
new report said Washington needs to act in three
principal areas to begin turning the situation around.
In addition to extending peacekeeping efforts
beyond Kabul, it should speed up training of the ANA so
that 27,000 men, including integrated militias, will be
under the central government's command by next June.
Washington can further enhance security by ordering its
forces to help implement Karzai's demobilization
program. "Without US involvement, the scheme - vital to
strengthening the central government - will fail," the
On the diplomatic front,
Washington should launch a new initiative designed to
secure international agreement among all of
Afghanistan's regional neighbors to cut off arms
supplies to internal forces, recognize the nation's
borders and not to otherwise interfere in its internal
affairs. In addition, it must press Iran and Russia, in
particular, to stop providing aid to favored warlords
and regional governors, while Pakistan must be urged to
prevent pro-Taliban forces from using its territory for
cross-border attacks. Senior US, Pakistani and Afghan
military officers met on Tuesday in Islamabad to convene
a commission to oversee efforts on the latter goal.
Finally, Washington should ensure that US aid
programs match the priorities set by the Karzai
government and are implemented under its authority.
"Washington has accepted these ideas in principle but
not in practice," the report said.
particular, the Bush administration must rebuild the
Kabul-Kandahar road by the end of this year as promised
by the president, and press other donors to focus their
activities on rebuilding infrastructure, especially the
road system, it added.