Caught between a rock and a hard place
19 September, 2008
By ELSA CLARO
NOBODY knows for sure if it is a case of information intoxication or reality, but the most recent reports on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are quite confusing. George W. Bush, for example, has announced the withdrawal of some 8,000 U.S. troops from Iraq in order to increase its military presence in Afghanistan, while General David Petraeus, commander of the troops in Iraq, admitted that what has been achieved in that country cannot be described as a victory in the strict sense of the word.
Analysts less involved in the events say there is an extraordinary state of fragility there, while the U.S. administration affirms that there has been success. Observers have not missed the fact that while the United States is leaving the command of some areas to Iraqi troops, it is maintaining its bases and planning new ones in that country.
There is a map showing the areas handed over to national forces. That may be the case with Al Ambar, which recently went over to local command, but where two large U.S. facilities will be maintained, with all of their military resources ready to go into action.
Something similar is being formulated in the areas of Kirkuk, Nasiriya, the provinces of Diwaniyah and Hilla, Baghdad International Airport and four bases under construction on the border with Iran in Basra, Amarah, Kut and Diyal, for a total of 14 throughout the country.
It is becoming too costly for the United States to maintain the 146,000 troops it currently has deployed in Iraq, and given that things in Afghanistan are becoming complicated and very ugly, the Pentagon has decided to fortify that other front by immediately adding another 4,000 soldiers to the 33,000 it already has there, and with the perspective of increasing them.
In Afghanistan, by the way, the number of U.S. casualties has grown, rising to 565 since 2001 (apart from the 4,120 in Iraq and an impressive number of soldiers who have commited suicide but are not included in the official reports of victims).
Ike Skelton, chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Forces Committee, said that larger reductions in Iraq are needed so that "we can begin to rebuild the U.S. Army and provide the additional forces needed to put an end to the conflict in Afghanistan."
The Democrats’ criticisms revolve around the fact that further militarization of the Afghan front to secure a victory looks to be as impossible as it is in Iraq. Perhaps its European allies realize that. That would explain their reticence to send more soldiers or move them to more dangerous places. In short: the contribution from Europe is fragile, and many strategists believe that increasing donations will not solve anything.
In the seven years since the invasion, many slip-ups have incurred, including a vast amount of spending on "reconstruction" that ended up in the coffers of certain transnational corporations, without any benefits for the Afghan people, because things were badly built in order to save on material and labor costs, in the best of cases. Hence, the Afghan economy has had to pick itself up again on the basis of the cultivation and trafficking of drugs.
At the other end are the famous collateral damages, too frequent and unpunished to be able to overlook them. The last killing was in the Azizabad area, and it is not the first time that President Hamid Karzai has felt obliged by circumstances to denounce events of that nature; now, however, he is also saying that he is opposed to a long-term occupation.
After public protests against air raids on civilians, Karzai said, "…it would not be good for us for them to remain here a long time. We are a country with a history of several thousand years, and we are proud of our valiant nation. We should not depend on foreign forces for our security in the long run."
Is he thinking about the upcoming elections — absurd ones, to be sure, in a nation occupied by foreign troops — or is it that he is reaching his limit? The mention of neighboring Pakistan could explain something. Out of formalism or hypocrisy, the U.S. president congratulated the new Pakistani president, Asif Alí Zardari, and guaranteed U.S. support in maintaining national security.
But, in contrast, he issued orders to the U.S. Armed Forces and Secret Services authorizing them to attack Pakistan without asking government permission. Reports in The New York Times indicate that they would continue to engage in raids and bombings like the most recent one, notifying Pakistani authorities but not asking the appropriate permission for such operations.
The Times also reported that it is not exactly known what legal provisions the United States is invoking to carry out these raids, albeit minor ones, on the territory of a friendly country, and added that the CIA has been carrying out air assaults on targets inside of Pakistan using pilotless planes that fire air-to-ground missiles and take off from within Afghanistan. However, the new orders for Special Operations units reduce the restrictions on raiding the territory of an important ally without that ally’s consent, the newspaper reported.
The Pakistani Army command, not yet recovered from the impact of Pervez Musharraf’s resignation, issued a statement affirming that the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be defended no matter what the cost, and that no external force would be permitted to engage in operations within Pakistan.
An intelligence forecast in circulation estimates a decline for the United States in the coming decades. That is possibly due in part to the many and defiant excesses it has perpetrated.