Monday, September 15, 2008

The US strategy for Afghanistan won't work

Covert operations only succeed when they have strong local allies who want outside support

By Patrick Cockburn

".....On 3 September, two dozen US Navy Seals were helicoptered in to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where they attacked a compound, aided by an AC-130 gunship. When they retreated, they said they had killed many al-Qa'ida fighters, though a senior Pakistani official later said that the true casualty figures were four Taliban and al-Qa'ida "foot soldiers" and 16 civilians, including women and children.

It is a curious way to usher in democracy in Pakistan. Once Pakistan emerges from its preoccupation with the Ramadan fast, it will create nothing but anger among Pakistanis. It will alienate the Pakistani army, which has been humiliated and disregarded. Politically, it only makes sense in terms of American politics, where it will be seen as a sign that the administration is doing something in Afghanistan. It also diverts attention from embarrassing questions about why the Taliban is such a potent force seven years after it had supposedly been destroyed in 2001.

Use of covert forces to achieve political ends with limited means has always held a fatal attraction for political leaders. CIA officials have become used to being dumped with insoluble problems, with peremptory orders to "Get rid of Khomeini" or "Eliminate Saddam." Plots to do just that are the common theme of a thousand Hollywood movies, which revolve around the dispatch of elite forces into enemy territory, where they successfully dispatch some local demon.....

Helms's dictum was right. The Bush administration got itself into a no-win situation in Afghanistan. "The US attack on Iraq," writes the Pakistani expert Ahmed Rashid, in his newly-published Descent into Chaos, "was critical to convincing Musharraf that the United States was not serious about stabilising the region, and that it was safer for Pakistan to preserve its own national interest by clandestinely giving the Taliban refuge."

The covert action in Pakistan is merely an attempt to divert attention from the consequences of this bankrupt American policy. "

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