Thursday, May 29, 2008

Afghanistan: a multilateral lost war

Afghan soldiers flee during the attack and assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on April 27: The scene had disintegrated into scores of people ducking and waiting, running and cowering. DER SPIEGEL / Tina Hager / Agentur Focus

Ullrich Fichtner wants the readers of the German newspaper Der Spiegel to understand that NATO troops can't deliver peace in Afghanistan. It's just not going to happen. And the various generals, missions, and embassies who are feeding their stories to the Western media are gilding the lily, if they are not outright lying.

According to the speeches and statements Western military officials, diplomats and politicians are constantly churning out, the security situation has improved substantially, the military successes are obvious and the Taliban are as good as defeated. But peace and Afghanistan, say the Afghanis when speaking to a domestic audience, are still two incompatible words.

Last year, 1,469 bombs exploded along Afghan roads, a number almost five times as high as in 2004. There were 8,950 armed attacks on troops and civilian support personnel, 10 times more than only three years earlier. One hundred and thirty suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2007. There were three suicide bombings in 2004. ...

The United States and Europe have stumbled their way into a new type of international war, one in which all of today's global and regional powers are involved. What will happen to NATO if it fails in the first out-of-area mission in its history? And where will the UN be if this ambitious nation-building project is ultimately a disappointment?

Fichtner's story is long, wandering through a opium fields, to a British military outpost, to a talk with an Afghan woman governor of the country's poorest province, a place with 99 percent illiteracy to the glittering cabarets for foreigners in Kabul. And all the stories go toward the same theme -- foreigners put a positive spin on violent conflict while Afghans just try to get by.

Fichtner ends his Afghan travels with an account of the assassination attempt shown above. Determined gunmen not only almost killed President Hamid Karzai, they also broke up the celebration of one of the country's national holidays. The U.S. ambassador tried to spin the reporter.

The next day, US Ambassador Wood will say: "The whole thing was over within 120 seconds." This is the sugarcoated version for the Western public. The people in Afghanistan, however, know that in reality the shooting continued for 25 or 30 minutes, and that the attackers used bazookas, machine guns and grenades. Soon there were helicopters in the air and the assassination attempt turned into a battle, with the presidential guard returning fire, eventually killing the three attackers and chasing three of their accomplices through the city.

These are the images of war in downtown Kabul, in the heart of Afghanistan, where half the world has spent the last seven years trying to bring peace to an oppressed country, and where the fighting continues, in Afghanistan's valleys, mountains, cities and deserts, on many fronts hard and soft, day after day.

Do read the whole thing.

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