Civilising missions are always fraught with danger, especially when the subjects of the effort are less than interested, if not openly hostile. Time and time again, the coalition forces in Afghanistan have shown themselves to be unable to forge an arrangement that will see a peaceful transition take place once they leave. Such affairs are moot points in the game of politics, largely because there is no peace to keep.
The most recent attack in Shah Wali Kot in northern Kandahar, involving the shooting of ten Australian soldiers, three fatally, simply points out the cul de sac coalition forces find themselves in. In April this year, eight American troops and a contractor died after an Afghan military pilot fired upon a meeting in an operations room at Kabul airport. The Afghan Defense Ministry reported that the incident took place after an argument (MSNBC, Apr 27).
The individual responsible for the spectacular raid was Ahmad Gul from Kabul Province who had been, it was reported, suffering from financial troubles. ‘He was under economic pressures and recently sold his house’, explained the suspect’s brother, Dr Mohammad Hassan Sahibi. In Afghanistan, people would kill for less. The Taliban were more direct, bypassing the psychobabble with a statement claiming responsibility for the attack. In the rubble of Afghanistan though, motives are not always discernable. Local disputes embroil occupation soldiers. Each time an attack occurs, the coalition forces crumble in speculative wonder. A Taliban operative? A disgruntled local? A ‘foreign’ terrorist?
The month of April proved particularly deadly in terms of effective ‘rogue’ soldiers, a designation that has little meaning in the context of this war. One particularly deadly encounter took place at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan on April 16, where an Afghan soldier detonated his vest of explosives killing six American troops and four Afghan soldiers.
Transferring control to local forces has resembled a more than minor joke, an exercise as futile as it is absurd. ‘Capability milestones’ are documented and churned over in dispatches and paperwork, a situation that is beyond measurement. This is the stuff of astrology. Morale amongst the Afghan forces is low. Vetting processes are poor, and are set to get poorer. Annual attrition rates hover at a sapping 28 percent. After the attack on the Australian soldiers, the commander of the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade, Brigadier General Mohammad Zafar Khan, gave an order disarming and confining members of the 6th Kandak personnel to barracks. Such is the quality of trust between the coalition forces as the ANA.
The Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard continues to trumpet a tune that has long lost any savour for her audience. The mission of ‘mentoring’ and training had to be seen through. ‘If we were to leave now, the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area would again become a breeding ground for international terrorism,’ chipped in Defence Minister Stephen Smith (The Australian, Oct 31). Presumably, the border area is currently a breeding ground for something else.
These attacks on the ‘mentoring’ efforts of the coalition forces will not stop. The absurdity of the claims made by Canberra’s officials and their allies was made even more stark as a spectacular suicide car-bomber struck a bus in Kabul, killing 17 individuals, including 13 US soldiers and security contractors. The Taliban have a scent of victory, even if it entails waiting a bit longer. They have eternity on their side; the occupation forces have only a few years. With plans for expanding the Afghan security forces to number around 350,000, the chances for further infiltration will multiply.