Afghanistan and its Future (I)

Afghanistan and its Future (I)

The international scientific conference on Afghanistan will take place in Bishkek on October 10. The invitation list includes ministers, general secretaries and special representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, special Afghanistan envoys and ambassadors to Kyrgyzstan.

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The President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has decided to suspend the security agreements talks with the United States giving rise to exasperation on the part of Washington. Barack Obama threatens him with the «zero option» meaning no US soldier will be left on the Afghan soil by the end of 2014. The Kabul’s decision to refuse a direct dialogue with the Taliban which envisions the role of intermediary for the United States causes frustration that could expedite the withdrawal of NATO-led coalition. The US military top brass suggest the pull out should take place before the yearly fighting season, leaving the country to its fate as they have already done in Iraq.

There is a real possibility the Afghan government forces will be left face to face with the Taliban in 5-6 months. The events may unfold according to Syrian scenario. As it is forecast in Moscow, terrorism may «spill over» from one country to another… The question is will the United States withdraw fully and simultaneously, or it’ll be a phased and gradual process with about 9-10 thousand men left behind.

The 100 thousand strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghanistan military are responsible for stability today; the latter is urgently expanding to about 260000 active personnel strength by 2015. With the current strength of 150000 the Afghan military seems to be a formidable force but it lacks professional skills. The US trainers admit the recruits get less combat training to increase their numbers. According to ISAF, the yearly loss is 34, 8% due to desertion, combat casualties, wound retirement and poor retainment rate.

Some areas and military facilities gradually get under Afghan forces control. By March 2014 the Afghan forces have to take over full responsibility for security, though the fighting against the Taliban never ceases. 2013 was the bloodiest year since the coalition forces moved to the country. The Taliban is becoming more active, the coalition forces shy away from combat leaving it to the Afghans who are unprepared to fight the enemy alone. Let’s have a look at the casualties. It was 13-27 per month since fighting resumed in the spring of 2013 for the coalition, while the figure was over 100 dead and around 300 wounded for the Afghan national army, national police and local self-defense units. The Afghan armed forces death toll exceeds three times the losses of coalition in 2010 and 2011, when the US casualty rate was the highest. Kabul stopped to inform about the military losses to avoid undermining morale. The ISAF military think the Afghan forces cannot hold out for long suffering the casualties at present rate.

The Afghan leadership has no confidence in the armed forces too, there is no guarantee the military will not change sides and join the Taliban. Let’s not forget there is a civil war going on, the outside aid failed to address a lot of problems. The majority of experts believe peace and stability are impossible without the Taliban becoming part of the political process. The government thinks the direct talks between Washington and the Taliban (without its participation) is a threat to the country’s sovereignty. The United States believes the direct talks are the best way to put an end to violence. It’s possible the Taliban will take part in the upcoming presidential election in April 2014. The incumbent President cannot run for the third term according to the Constitution and there is no visible successor, and, perhaps, a viable candidate may come from the Taliban ranks, you never know.

Karzai is a Pashtun and a Sunni Muslim; he does not exclude a direct (without the US participation) dialogue with the Taliban, whose members are also Pashtun and Sunni. The presence of NATO was an obstacle on the way of talks but it made him a two-term president. Now the situation is changed, Karzai is leaving in a year at the time ISAF is slated to pull out. Obama is sure a security agreement is to be reached by October, but Karzai is in no hurry to take on clearly defined responsibility till the presidential election is over. This attitude is clearly seen when he says that if the document is agreed on during his tenure, then it’ll be O.K. If not – the new leadership will step in and make the decision. Washington continues to insist the decision should be taken before the election but to no avail. As an oriental man, Karzai is not prone for hasty decisions, besides he has his own calculations. Americans need to know how many servicemen are to stay after the withdrawal but Karzai wants to know what award he is going to get for his presidential approval in case the security agreement is reached. Probably it is to be measured by billions of dollars.

Until now the American war expenditure was up to $12 million. Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann believes the sum will be defined by the size of the remaining force to go up to at least $5 billion a year aside from the embassy’s expenditure. The next year the United States and its allies will have to spend $7, 7 billion to cover up the Afghan military costs while the Kabul’s share will not exceed $2 billion.

The Karzai’s government keeps on plunging into the quagmire of corruption and squandering. According to UN report issued this February in 2012 Afghan people paid $3, 9 in bribes to Afghan state officials. Even Western companies, making their contribution into the country’s restoration process, had to give over $1 billion to grease the palm in order to win contracts. In Washington it is widely believed the expenditure was a waste. The fact that Karzai admits the graft problem makes even stronger the criticism Obama comes under. The US spent over $1 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations, US taxpayers paid totally around 11million dollars an hour to finance the military operations since 2001. It’s impossible to get the American logic, so many human lives lost, so many billions of dollars wasted just to kill one terrorist! Other missions are unaccomplished. It raises questions with the Pentagon and the administration.

The further support of the Afghan government makes no sense for Washington, but it cannot stop spending. The forces pull out will probably be the most costly and complex endeavor in the history of US armed forces. The British have already called the withdrawal the most unique operation in the century though they will have to get only 9 thousand troops out of the country in comparison with the US contingent of over 60 thousand along with weapons systems and logistics. It’s much more complicated than it was in Iraq.

Afghanistan has no access to sea. There are a few alternative routes: the road to Karachi, the railroad going to Russia across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the air route for cargo aircraft flying to the Persian Gulf. The US Defense Department plans to spend around $80 billion in 2014 for the purpose. The figure is mentioned in the request for additional expenditure submitted to Congress. The 2013 fiscal year was over on September 30, the expenditure was $37 billion. It means the next year’s «zero option» may exceed the present spending twice making expedient the withdrawal postponement. But this scenario will most certainly be opposed by Afghan government and its neighbors, who look forward with fear awaiting the surge of instability in the country.

(to be continued)