The Eighty Year War

9 October 2009

The Eighty Year War

When it comes to war, politicians often turn their backs on the truth. But this is not the case for soldiers. They have to do the dirty work and clean up afterwards, and for this reason they have a major interest in the truth. "The first casualty of war is truth", is a well-known saying which is more than relevant in this context.

by Harry van Bommel

US general Stanley McChrystal is Commander-in-Chief of foreign forces in Afghanistan. He has written an extremely clear report on the situation there. I found it gripping. A few quotes: "There is also a crisis of confidence among Afghans, in both their government and the international community, that undermines our credibility and emboldens the insurgents. Afghans are frustrated after the most recent eight years of war, because in 2001 their expectations skyrocketed." Widespread corruption and abuse of power by the authorities and the foreign military forces own mistakes have given the Afghans scant opportunity to support their government, the general says. These problems have alienated large sections of society, and there are no clear lines of division between rebels, criminal networks and corrupt state employees.

Reading such passages leads me to ask myself just what we are building in Afghanistan in the name of peace.

The chairperson of the Dutch soldiers' union AFMP also put this question to himself recently. He took his lead from the fraudulent election and from the fact that President Karzai won support from warlords with blood on their hands. Both of these criticisms have their roots in military practice in Afghanistan, and they should be taken seriously. I attach more value to them than to optimistic reports about newly-built schools and clinics.

The Dutch armed forces will remain in Uruzgan until August 2010. Given the lack of success, I'd rather see our soldiers come back sooner. The chance that a Vietnam scenario is unfolding in Afghanistan seems to me great. Ever more foreign soldiers arrive, ever more casualties – including civilian casualties – are occurring, and support amongst the country's people is declining ever further. General McChrystal wants his report to show the need for additional soldiers, but that does not strike me as a viable solution. Foreign soldiers have become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

A secure future for the Afghans can only be achieved via a negotiated peace. In that political process the Taliban must be fully involved. McChrystal writes in his report that most of the rebels are ordinary Afghans. Continuing to fight against them will mean that a sustainable peace will never be achieved, and we will run the risk that this eighty-year conflict will lead to another war of similar duration.

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