Afghanistan less secure than when mission began

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

As the end-game draws near in Afghanistan, it is already abundantly clear that NATO’s exit strategy is simply to walk away. There are no longer any discussions of achieving objectives or proclaiming victory; it is now a matter of cutting losses and mitigating our defeat.

The most recent pronouncement of NATO’s failure in Afghanistan came last week from none other than President Hamid Karzai, when he told the BBC World News: “On the security front, the entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains because the country is not secure.”

This is, of course, the same man, a former oil executive, who was hand-picked and appointed by the U.S. as Afghanistan’s interim president in 2002. When NATO organized and supervised Afghanistan’s first-ever democratic election in 2004, surprise, surprise, it was Karzai who won at the ballot box.

Five years later, the Karzai regime was considered one of the most corrupt and despised governments on the planet. The farce of an election process collapsed completely, leaving the West with no option but to hold their noses, pretend Karzai was actually elected and continue to send NATO troops to prop up his corrupt cronies.

Sure there were a few finger-wagging admonishments and empty promises to curtail corruption, but from that juncture forward, the Karzai regime knew they had their western backers over a barrel. There could be no “or else” in the anti-corruption threats because Karzai was the only horse we had in the race.

But for all his many faults, Karzai does speak the truth. The security situation in Afghanistan has never been worse. This fact may seem surprising to Canadians, who have mercifully been spared the emotional sorrow of repatriating a fallen soldier since the October 2011 death of Master Cpl. Byron Greff. However, the drastic reduction in the Canadian casualty rate coincided with the termination of our combat mission and the transition to a much safer role as trainers for the Afghan security forces.

As for our NATO allies still actively fighting the Taliban, their casualty counts have continued to increase during the last two years.

In June, the Americans formally handed over the lead responsibility for all counterinsurgency operations to the Afghans. This is all part of the gradual phasing out of international troops, which is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2014. Since the Afghan security forces have taken control, NATO forces have experienced far fewer casualties. Unfortunately, the poor old Afghans have been getting clobbered by a rejuvenated Taliban.

Last month, U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford openly admitted that the severe losses suffered by the Afghan security forces are “unsustainable.” The weekly death toll for both Afghan soldiers and police now regularly tops 100. In the past six months, the Afghan National Police reported the deaths of 1,792 police officers and the demoralized Afghan defence ministry has ceased publishing the number of soldiers killed in an attempt to maintain morale.

When you factor in the number of wounded as well, the Afghan security forces are presently losing close to 1,000 personnel to combat each and every month.

According to Gen. Dunford, despite the fact that we have trained and equipped a force of close to 350,000 Afghans, they are still far from being self-sufficient. In Dunford’s estimation, the Afghan security forces will require NATO assistance in the form of air support, logistics, and intelligence gathering out to 2018 and probably beyond.

Given that the creation of a self-sufficient Afghan security force was the international community’s stated priority back in 2002, one has to wonder just what the hell is wrong with our recipe. For nearly 12 years, the most advanced military alliance in the world has pumped money, weapons, and mentoring into the Afghan army. We have bankrolled their salaries, paid bonuses for combat duty, and yet the top NATO commander thinks they will need another five years of stiffening before they are able to battle the Taliban on an equal footing.

On the flip side, it is estimated there are no more than 15,000 fighters within the ranks of the insurgents. Their weaponry is primitive and their technology non-existent. They are not trained by professional mentors and are, for the most part, illiterate. Yet everyone knows that if left to their own devices, the security forces we have painstakingly produced over the past 12 years will collapse overnight at the hands of the Taliban.

Therein lies the irony of Karzai’s statement on NATO’s failure to achieve security. Afghans can fight. By god they have proven that throughout history. They just don’t want to fight for him.