| Ander Nieuws week 22 / Midden-Oosten 2012 |
May 22, 2012
Miles Amoore and Christina Lamb
The two men should be sworn enemies.
One is a Taliban commander waging what he sees as a holy war against the foreign forces occupying Afghanistan. The other is an Afghan army officer, trained and paid by NATO to fight the Taliban rebels.
But rather than do battle, the two men have forged a secret alliance. In the area of Ghazni province where both are based, an hour's drive south of Kabul, they collaborate to loot NATO supply convoys, dividing up the proceeds. And they share intelligence on NATO's military operations.
"We lost seven men in an ambush when I first arrived at the base," explained Afghan army lieutenant Mohammad Wali, who commands 18 men. "So I thought, why risk my life when there's another way?"
These are the Afghan security forces on which NATO depends, as world leaders, meeting in Chicago yesterday, set in motion an end to the alliance's biggest military operation - if not an end to the war. The US-led drawdown - officials avoid the word withdrawal - is based on handing over security to an Afghan army able to prevent the country from plunging into all-out civil war when most of the 130,000-strong NATO-led force pulls out in 2014.
The alliance last week announced the transfer of another chunk of territory to the Afghans, and soon three-quarters of the population will come under the control of the Afghan national security forces.
In its latest report to the US Congress, the Pentagon claims 40 per cent of military operations are already led by the Afghans. But Michael O'Hanlon, a defence expert at the Brookings Institution, who visited Afghanistan last week, said almost all were simple moves.
Revelations of secret ceasefire deals between Taliban insurgents and the NATO-trained Afghan forces undermine Western confidence the Afghans can hold the line when NATO leaves.
NATO handed over control of Ghazni city, the provincial capital, to the Afghan forces at the end of last year. Last month, the Taliban shut 100 schools in the province.
Lieutenant Wali said he had been approached by the local Taliban commander six months ago. Meeting in a bazaar, the pair agreed on a ceasefire and a plan to ambush NATO convoys carrying military supplies on the Kabul-Kandahar road, which passes through the province.
"The plan is simple," said the Afghan officer. "When the Taliban attack the convoys, we stay in our bases. If the Taliban capture something valuable, then they share it with us later."
The local Taliban commander, Mohammad Hassan, said he had attacked dozens of NATO convoys, capturing fuel, ammunition, vehicles, laptops and water bound for the Western troops. A good haul can earn as much as $US30,000 ($30,480).
The Afghan army adds money to the pot. Lieutenant Wali said he charged the private security companies, which guard the supply convoys, an average of $US40,000 to chase away the Taliban fighters.
"Sometimes these companies run to us when they're attacked," he said. "We agree on a price and then we leave our base. We shoot in the direction of the Taliban and the insurgents run away. Then we share the money with the Taliban later."
About a fifth of the NATO supply convoys in Afghanistan come under attack, making them a lucrative source of income for the Taliban.
NATO and the Afghan government play down the significance of the ceasefire deals and informal agreements, saying they occur in only a few districts.
But a US officer who recently returned from a year fighting in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, indicated the pacts were widespread.
"In almost every combat outpost I visited, troopers reported to me they had intercepted radio or other traffic between Afghan forces and local Taliban making mini non-aggression deals."
The US Senate and the House of Representatives intelligence committees returned from a recent trip saying the Taliban were gaining ground. "I think we'd both say that what we've found is the Taliban is stronger," said Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who heads the Senate committee.
The motive for reducing NATO's Afghan forces seems to be to bring down the annual cost of the operation from $US6.6 billion to $US4.1bn at a time of economic crisis in the West.
While no one admits defeat, what officials define as success has changed. Gone is any talk of a cohesive central government, development or nation-building. The objective now is containing levels of violence, a situation referred to in the White House as "Afghan good enough".
"The only really important standard is some level of security so al-Qa'ida can't come back," said Mr O'Hanlon.
Copyright 2012 News Limited
| Ander Nieuws week 22 / Midden-Oosten 2012 |