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Aid chief says Taliban control a quarter of Afghanistan at night

The Raw Story
January 3, 2008
By Mike Aivaz and Muriel Kane
It has been "a bad year in Afghanistan," according to CBC News, with thousands killed, including hundreds of Afghan police, and large areas of the country still outside government control. The NATO forces battling Taliban guerrillas are stretched thin, unable even to guard key roads, and now some are asking, "Is it Mission Impossible?"
One problem is that NATO has never fought this far from its home bases in Europe. Another is that Afghanistan is twice the size of Germany, "with a rugged geography that dwarfs military efforts of any size and that seems to mock military planning."
Political writer Hugh Graham told CBC that there is only one main road in Afghanistan, which runs in a circle around the central mountains and connects the major cities. Most of the fighting has involved that road and the Taliban supply trails which cross it. "The road is the Achilles heel," said Graham, "and they can't really hold it. ... They don't have the numbers of troops."
NATO has only 41,000 troops in Afghanistan, including some from the US, while the US has another 7000 under separate command. The Afghan army is also considered to have a reliable core of about 20,000. Although the Taliban only fields about 15,000 or 20,000 guerrillas and cannot hold territory, it is able to play havoc through roadside bombings.
Kevin McCort, who heads CARE Canada, told CBC that "up to a quarter of the country ... is in this in between context of maybe having government control during the day but, say, Taliban control at night. ... At the moment, we're actually starting to contract in some key areas." Relief supplies are so routinely ambushed and looted that officials like McCort warn of a humanitarian crisis this winter.
British defense expert Michael Clarke told CBC that NATO's greatest weakness has been its failure to follow up on its military successes. NATO politicians play down these complaints, but some of the military leaders have begun to voice them openly.
"NATO miscalculated from the start," CBC explained, "believing the Taliban were thoroughly beaten for good back in 2002." As a result, many of the 37 nations participating in the NATO mission provided units that were unprepared for a combat role and reluctant to confront the Taliban when it reemerged in the south of the country two years ago.
This has largely left the US, British, Canadian, and Dutch forces to bear the brunt of active combat. NATO has even resorted to hiring helicopter services from private military contractors because risk-adverse member nations will not commit their own.
Despite having over 2 million soldiers under arms, the NATO nations have failed to come up with any reinforcements for an Iraq-like "surge." Defense analyst Anthony Cordesman of CSIS charges that NATO members are "allowing the situation to deteriorate" because they are unwilling to make sacrifices.
Michael Clarke commented that the more strongly the Dutch, Canadians, and British indicate their determination to keep fighting, it easier it will continue to be for the Germans, French, and Spanish to avoid making any greater commitment. "It is astonishing and scandalous that we have to negotiate in this way with our fellow-allies in NATO," he said.
"Historically, Afghanistan is the great breaker of armies," CBC concluded. "Could it also break NATO? That's no longer idle speculation."
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| Ander Nieuws week 2 / nieuwe oorlog 2008 |