WASHINGTON - With all foreign troops due
to leave Afghanistan just two years from now, the
news out of the Central Asian nation is becoming
Adding to the
pessimism is a just-released report by one of the
most astute observers of the US war, Gilles
Dorronsoro, an Afghanistan expert at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), who,
among other things, predicts that the regime in
Kabul "will most probably collapse in a few years"
given current trends.
fragmentation, whether in the form of militias or
the establishment of sanctuaries in the north, is
laying the ground work for a long civil war" that
is likely to be fueled by competition
among regional powers,
according to his report, which also joined the
call by a growing number of experts for Washington
to open negotiations with the Taliban as soon as
Indeed, a series of setbacks
just this month have renewed questions about even
the short-term viability of the US-led strategy to
keep the Taliban at bay while bolstering the
central government enough to persuade key elements
of the insurgency to negotiate rather than fight
In recent days, some of the most
die-hard Republican supporters of US intervention
have suggested throwing in the towel early,
particularly in view of the growing number of
fatal "insider" attacks - 51 so far this year - by
uniformed Afghan personnel against US and
coalition trainers and soldiers.
latest attacks prompted US commanders to sharply
curb joint operations by coalition and Afghan
forces pending a massive re-vetting of the latter
for possible Taliban sympathies. The move,
according to more than a few observers, strikes at
the heart of the US strategy of building up Afghan
forces while gradually transferring more security
responsibilities to them.
"I think we
should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as
quickly as we can," said Bill Young, the
Republican chairman of the House Appropriations
Defense Committee. "I just think we're killing
kids that don't need to die."
Senator John McCain, a steadfast backer of the
Afghanistan war, also suggested that Washington
should consider an early withdrawal, although he
later backed away from the statement while blaming
the administration of President Barack Obama for
failing to follow the advice of his field
The rise in so-called
"green-on-blue" attacks and the subsequent
reduction in joint operations between the two
forces are just two of the signs that things are
not going well for Washington and its allies, who,
in principle, are committed to withdrawing all
their combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of
Just last week, US forces were
stunned by an unprecedented Taliban assault on a
heavily fortified coalition air base in Helmand
Province in southern Afghanistan that, in addition
to killing two Marines, destroyed six fighter jets
worth a combined total of more than US$200
The attack, in which the
assailants wore US uniforms, demonstrated both the
insurgents' sophistication and their continued
presence in Helmand, the main focus of the US
"surge" of some 33,000 troops two years ago.
Indeed, the coincidence of the attack and the
withdrawal of the last "surge" troops last week
underlined the potential holes left in their wake.
At the same time, a coalition airstrike
that killed eight women collecting wood for
morning cooking fires in eastern Afghanistan,
combined with continuing wrangling between
Washington and the government of President Hamid
Karzai over the fate of foreign and Afghan
prisoners held by the US in Bagram Air Base,
deepened existing tensions between the two
The latest incidents all took
place even before Dorronsoro finished drafting his
deeply pessimistic report which noted that, in
some respects, the current regime in Kabul is less
prepared to survive a challenge by the Taliban
than the communist government that hung on for
three years against the mujahideen after the
Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
There are "two
major differences," he wrote. "First the current
regime does not possess the ideological and social
cohesion of the communist regime, and its ability
to survive militarily has not been demonstrated.
... Second, the Taliban form a united movement
with few rifts, compared to the infighting of the
mujahideen in the 1990s."
year, when tens of thousands of coalition forces
will remain in Afghanistan, Dorronsoro predicted
that the eastern part of the country and the
region around the capital itself will be "gravely
threatened by a Taliban advance" with the onset of
spring. "The situation will only worsen
after 2014, when most US troops are out of the
country and aid going to the Afghan government
steeply declines," according to the 23-page
report, "Waiting for the Taliban in Afghanistan".
As coalition forces withdraw, including
the 68,000 US combat troops that remain
in-country, the Taliban will "automatically"
advance, especially in the east and the south
where the insurgency has been contained as a
result of constant pressure by the coalition
Dorronsoro is particularly
critical of Washington's counter-insurgency
strategy which gave precedence to tactical
military operations aimed at systematically
eliminating local insurgent leaders over a
political approach of engaging the rebel
leadership based in Pakistan.
indication of the Taliban's resilience has been
the fate of the coalition-backed "re-integration"
program which not only failed to bring over
significant numbers of insurgents in the targeted
areas - the east and the south - but also fueled
corruption, according to Dorronsoro.
Meanwhile, the Karzai regime will face
three major crises while the coalition withdraws:
an economic crisis precipitated by a sharp drop in
Western aid and spending; an institutional crisis
with the end of Karzai's term in 2014 and
indications that much of the political elite are
already preparing to go into exile; and a security
crisis in which large parts of the country fall
outside the government's control despite the
overwhelming official size of the security forces.
"Maintaining control of Afghanistan's
major cities and main transport corridors is ...
the only realistic goal," according to the report.
Certain eventualities could stabilize the
situation for a few years, including a reduction
in Pakistani support for the Taliban, the
development of divisions within the insurgency,
and the possibility that a new president in Kabul
who could inspire greater confidence and support
"In reality, these
developments are unlikely and would come about
only as a result of unpredictable events - a major
political crisis in Pakistan or the death of the
Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Omar, for
instance," according to the report.
terms of recommendations, Dorronsoro calls for the
coalition to strengthen security in the east and
around Kabul, even at the expense of losing
control of the south more quickly.
while negotiations with the Taliban are unlikely
before the troops withdrawal, Washington should
understand that it will "not be able to pursue its
longer-term interests in and around Afghanistan if
it is not willing to deal with the Taliban" which,
alone among the various contenders for power if
the Kabul regime collapses, "can potentially
control the Afghan border and expel transnational
jihadists from Afghanistan".
Washington "must not further limit its ability to
open negotiations with the Taliban", and coalition
military and drone operations "should focus first
and foremost on foreign jihadist groups", not on
the Taliban insurgency.
In his blog at the
national interest.com, Paul Pillar, a former top
CIA analyst who served as the National
Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South
Asia from 2000 to 2005, called Dorronsoro's
recommendation "good advice".
policy, he noted, requires "getting away from the
mistaken tendency to view the Afghan Taliban as if
they were themselves a transnational terrorist
group - which they are not, notwithstanding their
previous alliance with Osama bin Laden."
Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign
policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.