Helmand hullabalooBy Air Cmdre (r) Khalid Iqbal • Feb 23rd, 2010 • Category: Politics • One Response
Much fanfare preceded the launch of a military operation in Helmand province. It is being proclaimed as the biggest offensive since the occupation of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition forces. Hence, the expectations regarding its outcome have skyrocketed, though unrealistically. Overall, the ongoing operation Mushtarak (combined) is a tactical level operation, and thus battle for Helmand is not synonym for the battle for Afghanistan. Even a brilliant success in this venture would not have any significant or lasting impact on the overall layout of the chess board of Afghanistan. The opportune time for a military solution is over, since long.
Operational ingredients and strategy constituents of Helmand manoeuvre are carrying forth most of the usual errors or say the operational psyche, which has been the hallmark of American failures in previous such endeavours over the last about nine years. At the end of the day, some peaks and valleys could have been ‘conquered’; praises would be showered on brave soldiers for not engaging the resistance elements and letting the extremist fighters flee the area, to create trouble elsewhere. The final solution to Afghan fiasco would however remain as elusive.
Unfortunately, the Americans are fighting for some tactical glories at the cost of losing at operational and strategic levels. They appear destined to lose the war, even if they succeed in Operation Mushtarak.
Imperial hubris did not let the Americans learn from the recent success stories of the Pakistani military operations in Malakand and South Waziristan areas. Despite public acclaim about these operations, pertinent operational and tactical level cues and lessons thrown up by these manoeuvres have been thrown out of the window.
It seems that General Kayani’s relevant urging at Brussels and subsequently during the operational level interactions with American field commanders, in a run up to Operation Mushtarak, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Pakistan’s advise to establish an adequate number of check posts on the Afghan borders in order to block the exodus of extremists into Pakistan have been totally ignored. On the contrary, disturbing news indicate that even a major chunk of previously manned check posts by ISAF/NATO were abandoned prior to commencing the operation. One wonders if this surge supported operation ever had one of its military objectives to eliminate or capture the extremists.
Hence the abandonment of check posts bordering Pakistan by ISAF/NATO has opened the flood gates for extremists’ influx into our country. This could set into motion another cycle of instability in the tribal belt of Pakistan arising out of knock-on effects. As a damage reduction measure, the Pakistan army has speedily set up some check posts on the Pakistani side to restrict the immigration.
The spill over of Operation Mushtarak may indeed give a new lease of life to the dying spate of volatility in Pakistan’s tribal region. As regards Helmand battle fields, ISAF/NATO forces are not finding many Taliban to encounter. In all probability, they have already fled the scene to survive and fight for another day, fight they will, but at their own terms and until the occupation forces leave; this is the psyche of a common Afghan (read Pashtun).
The Americans are fighting the war of yesteryears. They have back paddled into a mindset of Vietnam era timeframe. Hence, the outcome is likely to be similar. One must understand that holding of any particular territory is not important to Taliban. They are striving for an environment whereby the occupation forces’ will to stay on is decimated. They are indeed succeeding in this; though incrementally. Without physical occupation, Taliban are calling the shots in 33 out of 34 provinces and practically control all significant supply routes.
Saner voices in the US military and political intelligentsia had raised concerns against the surge strategy. The military surge devoid of mediation focused political process is like surgery without anaesthesia. Historically, military surge has seldom produced sustainable objectives; rather it has been a cause for major human tragedies emanating out of indiscriminate destruction. Heightened application of military instrument alone is not the solution, it is likely to create more nuisance than it may attempt to resolve. However, it appears that the military-industrial complex, yet once again, sabotaged the effort by the realist school of thought, within the American policy-making mechanism.
Most of Pakistan’s extremism related problems are fallout of faulty American military strategy in Afghanistan. As the Surge II begins to unfold, Pakistan is bracing up for handling yet another spate of terrorist attacks. It is psychologically preparing to face another volley of the “do more” mantra and for re-coronation, yet another time, as cause célèbre for American failures at military tier.
Furthermore, Afghan President Hamid Karzai lacks public appeal and hence support. His government neither has the will to resist the onset of surge, nor the capability to absorb its consequences; it hardly has any control over military machinations unfolding in Helmand.
He has issued a decree to the occupation and native forces for taking measures to keep the civilian casualties to the minimum. And has since expressed his sorrow and condemned some of the incidents involving losses of innocent lives. To trigger such reaction from him, the losses must have been colossal, but under reported.
By now, who would know better than President Karzai that the blood spilling which matters is that of the occupation forces, and amongst them also of American soldiers. Rest of the lower beings have to adjust to their respective slots, and of course the lowest one is for a common Afghan. The axiom, “the only good Taliban are dead Taliban,” is not a thing of distant past.
As of now it is the phenomenal rise of anti-occupation political activists who are calling the shots. Every one of these is neither a Taliban nor a terrorist, though certain overlapping does exist. Earlier the who’s who is ascertained through multi-channel talks, better it would be for applying correction to the overall process at strategic and operational levels.
So far the effort is rudderless. Thanks to in vogue strategy of occupation forces, by and large, at the end of Operation Mushtarak, combat dexterity of the resistance forces would escape a major rupture. And going by the pervious patterns, another tranche of armed extremists would be exported to Pakistan.
Pakistan is facing a perplexing situation as domestic pressure is building for severing ISAF/NATO supplies playing through its territory. Long-awaited arrears of the Coalition Support Funds on the flimsy excuses are likely to strain the operational capability of the armed forces of Pakistan, in the context of fighting the extremists in Waziristan area. It may result in diluting its overall effort directed towards combating extremism on its soil.
One wonders whether the Americans are treating Pakistan as an ally or as a whipping boy; indeed both of these are being orchestrated in a typical Machiavellian spirit. Recent arrest of Mullah Barader and two “shadow governors” of Taliban indicate that Pakistan is making a sincere effort to fight extremism; and is not shy to act when there is credible intelligence input from the allies.
At the end of the day, Operation Mushtarak could end up as a stalemate. A large contingent of the occupation forces would be fixated to hold the territory and face sporadic attacks for times to come. Though ANA has a representation in the overall force composition participating in Operation Mushtarak, as of now it has neither capability nor requisite capacity to take over the security of Helmand province independently. Any attempt to hurriedly offload total security responsibility to ANA could backfire and the province may quietly slip back into defacto Taliban control.