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War Strategy Collapses Along with Petraeus

June 21, 2010

by Aimee Allison

How patient should the American people be while the Afghanistan war strategy wilts and faints? Not patient at all, especially because the key component of the strategy - training an Afghan police force - is destined to fail.

The U.S. is now in the 105th month of the war in Afghanistan, earning the distinction of being the longest conflict in our nation's history. Last December, President Obama's plan increased troop and financial commitment to fight al-Qaida in stronghold cities. In addition, the administration stepped up police and military training that was intended to set the stage for U.S. withdrawal beginning in July 2011. But like his predecessor President Bush, the strategies and goals of the Afghan War continue to shift and strain. Two hundred billion dollars and an estimated 98,000 troops haven't made the flawed plan go. And critics of the war - from the left and the right agree on one thing: The war is not doing well.

So, when General Petraeus collapsed at a congressional hearing last week it was a grim metaphor for a tired, overstretched and failed war strategy. And although he later dismissed this public display as no more than dehydration, some critics quickly jumped on the opportunity to make the case to extend the war. Senator McCain commented, "It now seems increasingly clear that hoping for success on the arbitrary timeline set by the administration is simply unrealistic".

So what is the realistic thing to do eight years and eight months into a war the US isn't winning? The solution isn't to extend the timeline, to deploy more troops, to send more drones or to award more multi-million dollar contracts to the likes of DynCorp and Blackwater to train Afghan troops. The answer is simpler than that. End, don't extend.

In the moments before General Petraeus fainted, Senator McCain was drilling him about the failure of the training program of Afghan troops. In fact, the July 2011 timeline assumes that a cadre of trained Afghan military and police officers will be in place to keep the peace. In my recent KPFA interview, investigative journalist and CorpWatch managing editor Prathap Chattergee explains how this won't happen in 2011 or even by 2015. The reality is that a strategy that is based on developing a local force trained on the American model of policing won't work. Some are calling this America's fatal flaw in Afghanistan. But it's not too late. There is an opportunity to turn the tide, and not condemn our country to the endless circular and exhausting path in Afghanistan.

Here are excerpts from my discussion with Mr. Chattergee on June 10, 2010. He offers more explanation about the failed assumptions behind the current Afghan War strategy on the KPFA Morning Show.

AA: You've documented how the objectives in the war in Afghanistan have shifted over time.

PC: Kandahar is a good example. This summer was going to be an all out strike and they were going to seize the city of Kandahar, but they failed every time they've tried to seize. Last month, they said the operation will now be more of a reconstruction and civilian engagement than the kind of operation you saw in Marjar. In February of this year, 15,000 allied troops went to seize the "hotbed" of Taliban activity in Helmud province. The population this is about 60,000, and there was massive infusion of troops. For every four people there was one fighter. Five months later, the Taliban still are able to conduct attacks at night. Most ironically, US is guarding opium fields, and now belated realize that if they destroy opium they destroy locals' livelihood and they would really incur the anger of the local people.

AA: What do the facts tell you about about how well training local forces works.

PC: In Cambodia and Vietnam, [US forces] tried to train an indigenous force. They tried this in Iraq. In Yugoslavia. It should theoretically possible except for the fact that [Afghans] didn't have a national police force prior to 2001. They had a conscription system in which young men were to serve.

The US has spend $30 billion dollars on training an Afghan police force. Technically they've trained 100,000 police officers and 100,000 army troops. Of the 200K, half are police, only 5% can operate on its own. The people doing the teaching DynCorp and Blackwater. They bring them from small towns in America.

Focused district development says we need to train 365 police districts. Each has 100 officers roughly. Eight weeks of training, eight weeks of mentorship. In order to do for all of Afghanistan, it would take five years, by which time most of the trainees will have cycled out. Attrition rate of police force is quite high.

What are they training them in? Literacy is a big problem. Seventy percent illiteracy and among poor, closer to 95%. Difficult to train in American model; how to read the Constitution, read people their rights, how to take down vehicle license number, how to register weapons. Police are trained in a light infantry role. Police are being decimated. They are given two clips of ammunition and a rusting AK-47 and told to go fight al-Qaeda.

In Helmand – one of five police recruits test positive for drugs. Trained police force has a significant percentage.

How much money does Afghan spend? They collect $800 million in taxes, $2.3 billion in aid, and $5.5 billion don't control. 8 Billion. Salaries are one Billion. If aid stops tomorrow, tax revenue can't pay police. Let's assume that all these guy were not illiterate, not on drugs the country can't afford to pay them. So where's the strategy?

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