SPIEGEL: The West Is at a Loss in Afghanistan

Muhammedans, regardless whether they reside in Riyadh, Algiers or Timbuktu, heed the call for jihad and head to Iraq or Afghanistan to kill unbelievers. Their mandate is clear: the moment the ummah, the nation of believers, is being attacked, the believers must defend the Islamic nation. As long as they kill and die for Allah, the 72 virgins (don’t forget the 28 boyz) are a guaranteed reward.

Americans, or the allies if you will,  are on a mission to ‘win hearts and minds’ of Muhammedans, a bizarre, utopic undertaking that couldn’t be more absurd. While we built mosques and madrassas, dams and roads, in the hope that some ‘moderate’ Islam might come along that counters the teachings of the Koran and the hadith, the soldiers of Allah lie in wait to blow every thing to  bits. No wonder the West ‘is at a loss in Afghanistan’- Once again: you go to war to destroy the enemy, not to ‘win hearts and minds’.

More and more military and civilian leaders are voicing pessimism when it comes to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. As the fight continues, ideas for how to break through the ongoing stalemate are few. Some are beginning to think that victory — for either side — is impossible.

It is one of the last mild summer evenings in Kabul. A group of Western diplomats and military officials is meeting for a private dinner in one of the embassies in Wazir Akbar Khan, an upscale residential neighborhood. Almost all of the 12 envoys and generals represent countries that have troops stationed in southern Afghanistan and the mood is somber. “Nothing is moving forward anymore, and yet we are no longer able to extricate ourselves,” one of the ambassadors says over dessert, a light apple pastry. He gives voice to that which many here are already thinking: “We are trapped.”

By Susanne Koelbl/Spiegel Online

If only that were the extent of it. The diplomats feel abandoned, a feeling that stems in part from attitudes toward their concerns at home. Conscious of domestic political sentiment, many Western governments have taken to disavowing and tuning out the unpleasant news from Afghanistan.

The Taliban seems to just keep getting stronger. Many of those fighting for the Taliban, however, are not radical Islamists. Rather, some fight for the Taliban to get back at enemy tribes.

As such, it seemed almost treasonous when the outgoing supreme commander of the British contingent, General Mark Carleton-Smith, recently said unequivocally that the Taliban will never be defeated. A military victory over the Taliban was “neither feasible nor supportable,” he told the Sunday Times. Carleton-Smith has lost 32 of his men in six months.

The commander’s words were intended as a wake-up call for politicians at home, but the underlying meaning is this: The situation in Afghanistan is far more serious than you can imagine in your government offices. People are dying here every day. It’s time for politicians to come up with a new plan.

‘Doomed to Fail’

At almost the same time, a diplomatic briefing between the British ambassador in Kabul, a man known for his directness, and a French diplomat was leaked. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said the current situation in Afghanistan was “bad; the security situation is getting worse — so is corruption — and the government (of President Hamid Karzai) has lost all trust.” The American strategy, he said, “is doomed to fail.”

Internally, US intelligence agents have arrived at a similar assessment. In the most thorough analysis of the war in Afghanistan to date, the National Intelligence Estimate, which is to be released after the US presidential election in November, the 16 US intelligence services involved write that Afghanistan is in a dangerous “downward spiral.” The report mentions mounting violence and a government consumed by corruption and barely capable of resisting the Taliban uprising. Last Thursday Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, spoke of a similarly poor outlook when he predicted that the situation would become even worse next year.


NATO losses in Afghanistan through the end of August.        Â


NATO losses in Afghanistan through the end of August.

In short, pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan has never been so high.Â

Indeed, the mood has become so dark that it almost seemed like a ray of hope when the news broke of possible “peace talks” between the radical Islamist Taliban and the Karzai government in Mecca. Saudi Arabian King Abdullah had invited envoys from Kabul and the Taliban to attend a joint Id al-Fitr, the banquet traditionally held to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had repeatedly asked the Saudi monarch to use his influence, as the political leader of the country that watches over Islam’s holiest sites, to reconcile the two hostile groups.

Karzai also issued a passionate appeal to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar: “Esteemed brother, return to your home, return and work for peace and stop killing your brothers.”

Hardened Positions

Two government officials from Kabul and one of the Karzai brothers traveled to Mecca, along with Fazl Hadi Shinwari, the ultra-conservative head of the Ulema, or council of Islamic scholars, as well as the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Saif and the former Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Saif and Muttawakil are now seen as moderate forces with whom Karzai confers.

The other side was represented by 11 members of the Taliban who supposedly had access to the group’s supreme decision-making body, the Quetta Shura. A representative of the notorious Pashtun leader Gulbuddin Hekmatjar — allegedly his son-in law Ghairat Baheer — was also among the guests.

A concrete result was hardly to be expected, the positions are simply far too hardened. Instead, the participants downplayed the meeting as a “pilgrimage.” The Taliban “were not authorized” to conduct peace talks, former Ambassador Saif said after returning to Kabul.

It is possible, however, that the meeting did mark the beginning of a political reconciliation process, which could have two different outcomes: A participation of the Pashtun Taliban in the government or a separation of the ideologically less rigid insurgents from the hardliners.

United Nations Special Envoy Kai Eide, arguing for a dialogue with the Taliban, says: “Anyone who wants relevant results must talk to the relevant people.” But experts on the extremist movement in Afghanistan believe that its radical leadership is “incapable of entering talks.” They say only those insurgents who joined the Taliban as nominal members simply out of disappointment in the government could be more open to discussion — and they are the majority.

Handful of Cash

The Taliban leadership is estimated at only a few hundred men, while the core of their militia consists of roughly 5,000 fighters. Nevertheless, the radicals can count a total of 16,000 armed men in their camp, including fighters from the Pakistani tribal regions, foreign Islamists and so-called part-time fighters — mercenaries willing to fight at the side of the religious fanatics for a handful of cash.

Ideology plays more of a secondary role in the insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where concrete struggles for economic resources and political power are the real source of conflict. The governors often favor a specific clan, thereby excluding other Afghans from the distribution of jobs and aid funds. If the disadvantaged ones object, they are disparaged as Taliban and declared the enemy, not infrequently with international support. This, more than anything, drives them into the arms of the extremists.

Dutch soldiers stationed in Oruzgan Province complain that the governor installed there last year, who is not a member of the same clan as the Karzai family, has no access to the president and receives virtually no government funds for his province. The man who actually holds the power in the province, say the Dutch troops, is the former provincial governor and Karzai protégé Jan Mohammed Khan, who is given regular access to the president.

The Dutch have announced their intention to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2010. The Canadians, who are holding the fort in Kandahar, where they have suffered heavy losses, plan to follow suit a year later. The British in neighboring Helmand Province are incensed because positions and funds are awarded primarily to Karzai loyalists.

With at least five million Afghans about to face the hardships of winter, some of their fellow citizens have become immensely wealthy. Anyone who has managed to become a police chief, governor or high-ranking ministry official under Karzai often has it made. Many stole land and then had themselves registered as the legal owners. Others used easy access to international aid money to establish bustling bazaars or managed to acquire licenses to mine for minerals or drill for oil. Obtaining contracts to build streets or schools was likewise not difficult.

Moral Decay

But nothing has proved to be as lucrative as the drug trade, which accounts for 53 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. In the province of Helmand alone, the drug trade is a business worth several billion dollars per year.

So far not a single corrupt minister or leading drug baron has so much as been charged with a crime much less sentenced. Karzai allowed the profiteers to do as they pleased — as long as they supported him.

Many Afghans have been left disappointedly wondering if this is what democracy really means. Indeed, the word “democracy” has for many become little more than an expletive used to describe extortion and moral decay.

Finally, NATO agreed last Friday that ISAF soldiers will be permitted to fight drug dealers and destroy heroin laboratories from now on. But the German military, the Bundeswehr, continues to hold back, limiting its drug-related activities to helping local drug enforcement officials.

One year before the presidential election, President Karzai’s popularity is at a low point. And the Western press isn’t helping. Just recently, the New York Times published a story about the alleged involvement of Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali, in the drug trade. President Karzai himself denied the allegations in an interview with SPIEGEL, saying, “I have thoroughly investigated these accusations; none of them are true.” The New York Times article, though, listed several witnesses who worked as informers for the Americans in an investigation against the influential head of the provincial council in Kandahar. With growing disagreement over the conduct of the war and other issues, the Americans could very well withdraw their support for Karzai.

The United States is determined to stop the downward spiral. Washington plans to send another 20,000 troops to the country by 2011, hoping to repeat the surge strategy that has seen some success in Iraq, where the addition of 30,000 troops has helped bring relative stability to the situation.

The British, on the other hand, fear that additional US soldiers could be more likely to heat up the conflict. “We don’t need more GIs, but more reconciliation, more reconstruction and more offers for those who want to get out of the conflict,” says an English advisor who has been working in Afghanistan for almost two decades. The West, he says, seems to be repeating the same mistakes the Soviets made. Despite an Afghan army of 100,000 men and 120,000 of their own soldiers, Moscow’s military campaign in Afghanistan was ultimately a failure — not least because support for the war back home dried up.

In Afghanistan, there is a simple barometer for the condition of the country. The cost of transporting one truckload along the notorious road from Kabul to Kandahar was about $1,800 (€1,315) in the spring. Because of the increased danger, the price is almost 10 times as high today.


2 thoughts on “SPIEGEL: The West Is at a Loss in Afghanistan”

  1. “The world will not be at peace, untill everyone is Muslim!”
    They are (basicly)all Muslims in those countries, so why don’t they have peace amongst each other?
    We (the west) should not interfer in their tribal wars – let them kill each other, sooner or later it will dry up, because they are so busy killing and there is hardly anybody, who think about producing food, and they will starve to death.
    Why don’t we let them? – They seem to love death more than life anyway.!
    The Arab world has enough money to FEED their “brothers and sisters”, but they rather buy them weapons than food.
    In Europe there are an extremely high procentage unemployed (and criminals) amongst the Muslims, and they live off our welfaresystems.
    The more kids they have, the more money they get…………..
    So there we are, allready paying for having them amongst us – we are slaves to them – we work, and they don’t – we pay our taxes to the Government, and the Governments give the money to Muslims.
    What’s that word for tax to Muslims, I forgot – but that is whats happening –
    And they want to “kill the goose, that is laying the golden eggs”……
    In Islam there is no logic………
    If the whole world was Muslim, we would slowly be starving to death – except for a few…..
    “God helps the ones, who help themselves” –
    They don’t WANT to help themselves, why should we bother.
    Obviously it is more important to pray/kill than to work –
    Saudis don’t work, they have slaves to do their work for them –
    If it wasn’t for the foreighn workers, they wouldn’t have no oil to sell…….
    In the west, we need to send all those “leaches” back to where they came from –
    I agree with Tom Tancredo – whoever favorites Shariah laws, who don’t respect/accept the laws of the land(s) that has welcomed them to live in peace, deport them………..
    And stop pouring money into those countries, they don’t use it for the purposes intended anyway.
    What kind of WORK do all these muslims in CAIR and other muslim organisations do, other than spreading the ideologi of Islam, paid by the Saudis.
    People can’t eat words ………

  2. What could possibly go wrong? Karzai sets up council for peace talks with the Taliban

    Fitzgerald: The terminal naivete of Westerners

    U.S. forces are building madrassas in Afghanistan.

    “We are saying that we respect their culture and religion,” said naval commander Eduardo Fernandez, the man in charge of American aid efforts in the Sharana district of Paktika. “We have to give the religious leaders the respect they feel they deserve.” — from this article

    Get that naval commander out of the Sharana district, out of Afghanistan, and possibly out of the navy, fast. Start educating the members of the armed forces on the tenets of Islam. Make them read, and reread, and reread, Qur’an, Hadith, and sira. Teach them about naskh, or abrogation. Teach them to distinguish the “authoritative” muhaddithin from the less authoritative ones, and the “authentic” Hadith from the kind that Karen Armstrong likes to quote. Expose every single one of the tricks of Muslim apologists and undercut them, including these:

    1) That only someone who knows Arabic can comment on what is in the Qur’an, Hadith, and sira. Answer: If that were really true, then how can 80% of the world’s Muslims be regarded as Muslims, since they cannot understand Arabic?

    2) That only Muslims can possibly understand Islam. Answer: Then no one who converts (“reverts”) to Islam has any idea what he is converting to?

    3) That Islam says “there is no compulsion in religion.” Answer: To this one can offer up not only Muslim glosses on this line, but also 1350 years of the onerous burden placed on non-Muslims that, of course, led many to avoid such a burden (economic, social, political) by converting to Islam.

    4) That Islam is a “religion of peace.” Answer: In fact, Islam is a Total Belief-System, and central to that Belief System is the uncompromising division of the world between Believer and Infidel. And between the two, Believer and Infidel, there exists a state of permanent war (though not always of active warfare — certainly not wherever other instruments of Jihad are more effective, or where it is impossible, because of Muslim weakness, to conduct Jihad to spread Islam at all).

    And so on.

    If this is the policy in Afghanistan, it is the wrong policy.

    Bat Ye’or long ago said it would be fatal for the West to try to get involved in the Muslim lands. The terminal naivete of Westerners manifests itself in the way in which they never allow themselves to see, fully, the Muslim menace. And furthermore, the sentimentalism of the West hinders that insight, and instead imagines hardbitten troops aiding this or that hardscrabble wizened farmer, or that girl over there, and that group of young boys grabbing at proffered candy. Those boys, of course, are not yet of an age where they have sufficiently learned anti-Infidel teachings or thoroughly assimilated anti-Infidel attitudes. That will come only later.

    We can only engage in enormous and wasteful activities by trying to shore up Islamic lands, or to make things nice for Muslims, or to bring prosperity to them. It will not make them like us. It will not lessen the fervor of Islam. The biggest and best-outfitted mosque in the world will, whatever happens, naturally have to have khutbas based on the texts of Islam. And just as water seeks its own level, unless every single minute of every day, and every single word of every single sermon (khutba) is monitored, there will be, in that mosque, necessarily, the introduction of the real teachings of Islam, and the holding up as a model of Muhammad, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil.

    Look at Turkey. Eighty full years of careful Kemalist constraints. Eighty years of the central government’s secularists monitoring, or even writing themselves, the khutbas to be delivered. Eighty years of systematic constraints put on Islam. Yet Islam is still there, and resurgent. The fright among Turkey’s secularists (some of whom may call themselves Muslims, as in “cultural Muslims” or “Muslims-for-identification-purposes-only” Muslims, and some of whom will, outside of Turkey, tell one that in truth they are not Muslims at all) is palpable.

    The policy of building madrassas and refurbishing mosques in Afghanistan is madness. It is also unconstitutional. American taxes are being used to favor, abroad, a religion, and far worse, one religion over others.

    Where is the Constitutional challenge to this? There is a case to be brought. Bring it, you pro-bono-seeking lawyers you. Enter the casebooks. Enter history.

    Want more? Here’s more:

    Hugh | September 4, 2010 12:35 PM | Reply
    It’s hard to tell which will be the bigger fiasco: Iraq or Afghanistan. So far, in men, money, and materiel, Iraq is way ahead. But Afghanistan is coming up on the outside, Petraeus up, and glued to Iraq’s right flank and in the stretch, it’s…

    Why is that?

    Because in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have any of the important questions even been asked, much less answered?

    What is the proper definition of victory?

    And would, then, lead to such a victory?

    The answer to the first question is:

    An outcome that weakens the Camp of Islam, both in the immediate vicinity and ideally, world-wide.

    The answer to the second question is:

    An American withdrawal from Iraq will inevitably lead to hostilities, possibly only low-level, possibly something more widespread, between Sunni Arabs, and Shi’a Arabs. The former will never accept their new and diminished status; the latter will never give up the power they have finally acquired with the downfall of Saddam Hussein, and of his Sunni-despotism-in-disguise. The world that Islam naturally creates is one of mistrust, even of Muslim for fellow Muslim, of hatred of Muslims who are not of the same sect, and who then can be treated as Infidels, and with aggression and violence an accepted part of that world. That is not something the Americans, or the bringing of “freedom” to “ordinary moms and dads,” can change. Since the Americans cannot constrain Islam — only Muslims can do that in the lands of Dar al-Islam, as Ataturk did, or on a lesser level, Bourguiba — they must stop their insensate belief that they can change societies and peoples so very different from ours or from any non-Muslims. And instead of working to bring unity and prosperity to such places, the Americans by withdrawing will allow them to sink to their natural level, which from the point of view of Infidels is not a bad thing. As long as Muslims are kept bottled up, as much as possible, to fight among themselves, why should we care?

    And the fresh news, brought daily, of suicide bombings, or other attacks, by this sect or tribe or family, against that sect or tribe or family, will simply indelibly connect Islam with non-stop violence in the minds of non-Muslims, and help to open their minds fully to the dangers they have created for themselves by failing to grasp the nature of Islam, and letting into their countries large numbers of Muslims.

    In Denmark, in France, in Italy, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Great Britain, in Belgium people are waking up. And they will continue to do so, undeterred by the bien-pensants of the press and politics, the very people who for decades permitted the immigration policies vis-a-vis Muslims that have led to the disastrous situation we see all about us. And they will not take kindly to the American government telling them what it should or should not do, including that business of backing Turkey’s entry to the E.U. (it will never happen, even if Erdgoan loses the next election – and it shouldn’t).

    The mounting evidence is simply too great, too mounting, too irrefutable, for people to keep worshipping at the altar of those diseased Idols of the Age, Tolerance and Diversity. Those who are cocooned in their great wealth, or their immutable and pious certainties (Mayor Bloomberg, the editorial board of the New York Times) look sillier and sillier every day.

    The important thing is not to be put off, on the subject of Islam, by the antics and attitudes of some of those who are exercised about Islam, but too easily pigeonholed as belonging to a kind of reflexive right. You can be perfectly easygoing, bemused, dismayed by the shouters on Fox News, and still be relentlessly anti-Islam. The most powerful opponents of Islam so far have been identified with what might be called, wrongly, the left: Oriana Fallaci and Pim Fortuyn come to mind.

    What Islam is as a Total Belief-System, and what mosques are for beyond being, as Mayor Bloomberg puts it, “housese of worship,” and what the large-scale presence of Muslims means for the non-Muslim indigenes and non-Muslim immigrants in Western Europe — a situation far more unpleasant, expensive, and physically dangerous than would be the case without such a large-scale Muslim presence — should worry you, whatever your other views on a dozen or a hundred matters.

    You don’t have to accept any package of opinions or attitudes along with your worry over Islam, a worry that only increases the more you find out about the doctrine of Islam, and about the recorded behavior of Muslims, acting on that doctrine, when over the past 1350 yewars they conquered many non-Muslim lands and subjugated many non-Muslim peoples. You need not deny global warming, applaud grotesque levels of economic inequality, or denounce “lefties” at every turn, in order to make common cause with others who are worried about Islam. You need only find out about, and consequently worry about, Islam and what its votaries in the West want to do, and might be able to do, unless they are dealt with in a way that makes clear to them the days of ignorance, distraction, and consequent confusion about Islam are over. You need only keep a cool head, one from which all pre-fabricated pieties and fashionable attitudinizing have been banned.

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