The war in Afghanistan has taken a bizarre turn. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, under foreign pressure to clean up corruption in his government, has apparently warned that he might just side with the Taliban instead. Meanwhile, down south major NATO combat operations continue to target Taliban strongholds. In the east, stretched-thin NATO troops struggle to build grassroots governance and security without much support from Karzai’s regime. Zach Rosenberg, War Is Boring’s youngest correspondent, heads into this morass to observe the war up-close.
by ZACH ROSENBERG
As the U.S. and Afghan armies gear up for the offensive in Kandahar (or not — in rumor-rich Kabul, various sources have it beginning anytime from tomorrow through the winter) the U.S. is increasingly in a political conundrum. On one hand, there’s no good to come from allowing the Taliban a free hand in Kandahar, and that whatever happens has to work, or else. While few suggest the Taliban can take the city over completely, they currently do enough to keep the population from conclusively siding with the national government. On the other hand, it is increasingly apparent that the U.S. may not possess the necessary political resources to win the population.
Chief among these resources, of course, is an agreeable Afghan government that can demonstrate good governance and political cohesion, which the current national government largely fails to do. The U.S. has not been particularly successful in staying on the same page as the Afghan government. Despite promises to enter Kandahar with arms extended and bring security and good governance, the predecessor offensive on Marja has yet to bring real dividends.
The thing is, Karzai’s priorities are increasingly diverging from the U.S. The resignations of Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, and Hanif Atmar, the Minister of Interior, while supposedly connected to security lapses at the recent Peace Jirga in Kabul, hint at deeper problems. Saleh and Atmar were said to share key priorities with the U.S., and were widely acknowledged to be among the most reliable members of the Afghan government. As always, rumors are rife about the true instigation and meaning of their resignations, and one possible consequence is that Karzai gets more direct control over key security services. Karzai, who appointed one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to chair the Peace Jirga, has never seemed especially enthusiastic about either the planned Kandahar offensive or the good governance meant to follow it.
The Kandahar offensive, and subsequent claims of success, appear to be a foregone conclusion. Based on past evidence, a strong Taliban presence and bad governance after the assault seem similarly inevitable. I plan to keep a close eye on Alex Strick’s Twitter feed when the time comes.