Our mission in Afghanistan has failed

1 November 2012

Our mission in Afghanistan has failed

Neither the Dutch mission in the province of Kunduz nor the United States’ troop surge has been able to protect Afghanistan from growing violence.

Harry van Bommel is a Member of Parliament and the SP’s spokesman on foreign affairs.

Harry van BommelThe government agreed to Parliament’s demand that the police officers trained by the Netherlands would not be deployed outside the Kunduz province, because there was a large possibility that they would be assigned to paramilitary duties. The same government recently acknowledged that this had nevertheless occurred. The Netherlands has also in the meantime trained numerous Afghans to carry out in turn the training of recruits, recruits who are being deployed beyond Kunduz in increasing numbers. This is in complete contradiction of the agreements made.

It was also agreed that the Netherlands would not train any officers who had a military mandate. National daily De Volkskrant revealed a short time ago, however, that the Ministry of Defence considers that the Afghans, thanks to their Dutch training, were now going to train employees of the semi-military border police as well. Given that the system by which Dutch-trained officers are kept track of in order to ensure that they remain in Kunduz clearly isn’t working now, it will surely not work for the officers trained by Afghan instructors. The Netherlands cannot possibly therefore prevent the training, albeit indirect, of officers with a military mandate.

Earlier this year, moreover, it became clear that the Dutch-trained agents were regularly involved in military actions. These officers claimed to have been acting defensively in every case. The problem is that the dividing line between defensive and offensive actions in Afghanistan is exceptionally fine. This involvement in gunfights is, once again, in complete contradiction with the agreements made with Parliament.

Meanwhile, Kunduz continues to wait for stability. True, it’s relatively quiet in the city centres, but outside these urban areas warlords have seized the power. Police officers, who are roundly outnumbered by the warlords’ militias, have absolutely no grip on these areas, where the rule of the strongest is the law.

If you look closely at developments in Kunduz and Afghanistan, you can see here and there some really positive developments. But zoom out and look at the entire war effort and you can only conclude that the war has been a failure. This failure can be seen over the last few months in the extremely rapid increase in the number of green on blue attacks. These are attacks in which Afghan officers and soldiers aim their guns at their Western trainers. This year alone, more than fifty Western trainers have been killed. Despite all the measures which NATO has taken against such attacks, they continue to occur in increasingly rapid tempo. The New York Times recently concluded that these inside attacks, revealing as they do the fear and anger in the interrelationship, have destroyed any trust between the Western trainers and the Afghans.

The attacks are joined also by an equally rapidly growing number of green on green attacks, in which Afghan police officers and soldiers open fire on other Afghan police officers and soldiers. These attacks are often carried out in coordination with insurgents. The question which one is justified in asking is to what extent NATO is training recruits for the Taliban. What’s more, the Afghan security forces are a long way from being able to operate independently. Given that the training of the Afghan armed forces forms a crucial aspect of NATO’s exit strategy, the importance of these developments is not to be underestimated.

Furthermore, there is no sign whatsoever of peace with the Taliban or other insurgents in Afghanistan. Talks with the Taliban have been suspended for months and there is hardly any reference to reintegration of the rebels. As long as Pakistan continues to support Afghanistan’s rebels the defeat of the Taliban will remain an illusion, and there is no indication that this support will be abandoned.

The result of the American surge in Afghanistan also demonstrates the bankruptcy of the military approach. Last month the last of these additional tens of thousands of men and women were withdrawn. In 2012 the security situation has, however, deteriorated considerably in comparison to the period before the surge. That is what the US army itself concluded. The Red Cross confirms this serious downturn. Breaking the Taliban’s momentum, the goal of the surge, is a very long way from having been achieved.

Against this background the call for an early withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan is receiving an ever more positive response, and rightly so. France, Great Britain and Germany, amongst others, are bringing some of their troops home earlier than scheduled. And not long ago even NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that troops could be withdrawn early. Instead of continuing along this dead-end path, the Netherlands would do better to join the rapidly growing group of countries withdrawing from Afghanistan early.

This article first appeared, in Dutch, in De Volkskrant of Thursday, 1st November.

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