Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The good, bad and ugly messages we send our allies

Messages are sent and received in every way a nation interacts or decides not to interact with the international community. Well sometimes anyway. The International Council on Security and Development released a survey during the Lisbon Summit last week showing that 92% of the 1,000 Afghan men polled in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces did not know why foreign forces were in their country. 40% believe we are there to destroy Islam and 43% were unable to name any positive aspects of democracy. The two provinces that have seen the most violence in a nearly ten year long war still do not know why foreign forces patrol their streets every day, yet we have downplayed the merits of conducting a counterinsurgency campaign for years because of the costs and commitments.

It is quite obvious in this corner of the world that modern technology is lacking and it has cost us dearly in the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan. But just when we think the US should do something to address this disconnect with the Afghans, our government is able to highlight the positive side of an isolated nation.

The Good (relatively speaking):

In the Lisbon Summit last week, NATO allies agreed to the full transfer of authority to Afghan Security Forces by 2014. NATO countries recognized the need for a continued presence beyond 2014 as well, showing a renewed commitment from NATO nations to the people of Afghanistan. In response, the Taliban immediately issued a statement following the Summit saying that NATO has been unable to form a stable government in nine years and has no chance at accomplishing this task in the next four. The Afghan people do not see Karzai as their legitimate leader (Taliban’s description) and the Taliban will continue to fight until the foreign occupiers leave. Final scoring in this media battle is NATO 0, Taliban 0. In what could have been a strong boost to the Afghan people and the mission as a whole, we must face the reality that the message of a future withdrawal timetable won’t spread very far. On the other hand, the Taliban’s message of continued violence is not new or newsworthy so it’s a tie.

The Bad (it gets worse):

Also last week VP Biden was on Larry King Live where he made the statement that “Daddy is going to start to take the training wheels off in October -- I mean in next July, so you'd better practice riding.” In what is clearly a condescending, pompous remark we can at least be thankful that this message is unlikely to reach the Afghan populace as well. Unfortunately the Afghan officials who we regard as our close allies are sure to be deeply offended by this remark. NATO -5.

The Ugly:

Now we have been told that the secret negotiations taking place between Afghan officials and Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement, never really had any promise whatsoever. This is due to the fact that Mansour himself was never actually present for the meetings. It is unknown right now who the actor is but three theories have been presented. He may have been a rogue actor who saw an opening to get rich, he may have been a Taliban agent sent to gauge the level of talks and focus of negotiations, or he may have been working for the Pakistani ISI. In all three scenarios we lose. We paid this man millions of dollars to keep him coming back and committed significant resources to ensure his safety while traveling to and from Pakistan. What we got in return was a deep cut to our competency in conducting the war and public acknowledgement of the fact that we are becoming more desperate to find alternative solutions to winning the war while the Taliban is not. At least as far as anyone outside of Taliban controlled territory knows. NATO -10, Taliban unknown.

It has been a rough few days for our efforts in Afghanistan but at least the people who don’t know we are there to help them are unlikely to find out. Here's to a better next week.

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