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Fatal incoherence in Afghanistan

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In December, the UN Security Council concluded that "almost 40 per cent of Afghanistan is either permanently or temporarily inaccessible to governmental and non-governmental aid."

The Security Council has also reported that  there were 6,792 security incidents in November 2008 versus 508 for the same month in 2003.

These and other grim facts were presented by the Senior Vice President of the International Crisis Group to the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.

In June, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that "only 2 of 105 army units are assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission." The Afghan National Police is doing just as poorly. The GAO, the International Crisis Group, and the Pentagon have all found the police to be arbitrary, corrupt, and can actually be a source of fear for local populations. They are not capable, and many may not be willing, to enforce the law.

The U.S. and NATO's solution to these and many more problems in Afghanistan seems so far to be to send more foreign troops, double the size of the Afghan National Army and Police, and spend more money. But local populations are increasingly hostile to foreign presence as the economic and security situations slide to ruin, the existing Afghan security forces are mostly unfit for action, and international efforts between funders are uncoordinated to the point of incoherence.

Meanwhile, much of the country is hostile or indifferent to the central government; the President of Afghanistan is sometimes mocked as the "mayor of Kabul." The government appears to be one faction among several that have power and rule, and has not been successful in forging a national consensus. The Taliban, warlords, and tribal leaders are the other factions, with their own quasi-governments, territories, and private armies.

The International Crisis Group's already quoted testimony includes the following: "Strategic incoherence and inadequate coordination here in Washington and in Kabul within the U.S. military, between the military and civilian government agencies and between the U.S. and its international partners in Kabul are fatal to success in confronting the Taliban insurgency. The results of that strategic chaos have played out across Afghanistan over the past seven years."

I'm not convinced that the framework of effort in Afghanistan is sound. Before committing to more -- more troops, more money, more lives lost -- the focus may need to shift to how. How can Afghans be assisted to become self-reliant, how should international efforts be coordinated, and how can government impotence be transformed by a national consensus?

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