Britain's Financial Times, mindful of Britain's out-sized military commitment in Afghanistan's most dangerous regions - in the southeast, where most of the 2,500 Canucks also are - headlines an editorial yesterday, "The unwinnable war in Afghanistan."
Certainly it's unwinnable without a thorough re-think in strategy, which starts with asking ourselves exactly what we mean to achieve there. A minimal goal of destroying al-Qaeda? A more ambitious goal of destroying the Taliban, as well? A long-term goal of building Afghanistan into a liberal democracy with a Western-style infrastructure of first-class health care, transportation networks, corruption-free governments, courts, police and armed forces, in addition to eradicating al-Qaeda and the Taliban?
What NATO is currently doing in Afghanistan is ad-hockery in all dimensions: in the armed conflict (a stalemate at best), in creating a semblance of a national government (failure), in suppressing the opium trade (50 per cent of the nation's GDP, a failure), and in humanitarian work (we no sooner build a clinic than the Taliban, which operates in Afghan with near impunity, burns it to the ground). The same Taliban effortlessly shakes down poppy growers to fund its military activities. The Mob didn't have such an easy time in Chicago and St. Louis as the Taliban does in making its collection rounds among terrorized Afghan poppy farmers.
We've got to quit this "mission" or get serious about our aims in this treacherous region, whose daunting topography better favours the enemy than almost any military theatre globally that one can name.
Here's a salient graf from the FT:
Robert Gates, US defence secretary and a sane voice in the lame duck Bush administration, talks of political solutions while Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, pleads for Saudi Arabia to mediate with the Taliban. Leaks from the new National Intelligence Estimate being prepared for the incoming US president suggest Washington believes the Karzai government is collapsing under the combined weight of corruption and attrition. The Taliban is tightening its noose around Kabul and, financed by record opium poppy output in its southern strongholds, can keep this conflict going almost indefinitely.
It may be shocking that the military might of the west cannot defeat the Taliban, but it is true.