Saturday, July 03, 2010

General Petraeus takes command of the Afghanistan war

General Petraeus takes command of the Afghanistan war

General Petraeus arrived in Kabul today to take over the Afghanistan war effort. Afghans say he faces a limited window to rein in corruption, make the Karzai government more accountable, and create momentum toward peace.

Newly appointed U.S. and NATO forces commander, U.S. General David Petraeus, speaks with Commander of ISAF Joint Command Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez during their arrival in Kabul Friday.
DEU Army Michal Miszta, IJC Public Affairs/Handout/Reuters
By Dan Murphy, Staff writer / July 2, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan
With the US-led Afghanistan war in its most precarious position since it began nearly nine years ago, Gen. David Petraeus arrived in Kabul today to implement a strategy similar to the one he successfully pioneered in Iraq.
It includes not only removing the Taliban from the villages they have occupied for years, but also overseeing reconstruction, helping create a more accountable government, and building up the Afghan military and police.
The capital of Kabul is an oasis of relative security. But the situation in the south of the country – the Pashtun heartland that gave birth to the Taliban in the early 1990s – is deteriorating, say average Afghans, aid workers, and some diplomats. June was the deadliest month ever for foreign troops here.
“Compared to eight years back, or even three years back, we are really much, much worse off than at any point,” says Danish Karokhel, who runs Pajhwok Afghan News, which has reporters in every city. “The Taliban are on most of the important roads leading to Kabul. The government just looks so weak to people.”
Poppy farmer Dal Mohammed is not a Taliban supporter – far from it, he says. After all, it was partly the Taliban’s fault that he recently had to flee his village in southern Afghanistan with his two wives and seven children for this refugee camp on Kabul’s outskirts.
But it was the joint US-Afghan military response to a Taliban attack that destroyed his home in Helmand Province and drove him here.
Standing amid the temporary brick-and-mud homes, he says the situation in Helmand is the worst it’s been since the war began. As fellow refugees nod, he says peace should be made quickly with the Taliban.
The Afghan government? “We have no trust in them at all.”

Challenges: Corruption, instability, and government accountability

As Gen. David Petraeus takes command of the Afghanistan war, the call is coming in loud and clear: Do something different and do it fast. The common refrain centers on several challenges: Rein in corruption, make the Karzai government more accountable, and create enough momentum toward peace that Afghans will put their weight behind the US-led fight.
To do this, Petraeus will need to resolve tensions between the US military and civilian leaders and President Hamid Karzai. While the US has poured more than $280 billion into Afghanistan to rout Islamist militants, Karzai’s government has been reaching out to the Taliban – a move some say is based on the calculation that the US lacks the ability or political will to stay until the insurgency has been vanquished.
“How can we fight the Taliban when Karzai is making overtures of peace and is thinking about asking them to join the government?” asks Rahman Oghli, a member of parliament (MP) who worries that citizens may be led to believe that turning against the Islamist movement is more trouble than it’s worth. “Our Army would be thinking to themselves, ‘Why should I fight when it’s going to end that way?’ ”
Petraeus is revered by many for having created that crucial momentum in Iraq, successfully recruiting Sunni insurgents to help turn the tide against Al Qaeda.

What Afghan lawmakers want Petraeus to do

Politicians from Marjah and Kandahar, both targeted for key US offensives, charge that two pillars of the counterinsurgency strategy – to protect civilians and establish the rule of law – have largely failed.
Walid Jan Sabir, an MP from Marjah district in Helmand, says the area is at best marginally safer since the US-led offensive in February.
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Today's stories of General Petraeus making his first appearance at a July 4th celebration for the American embassy personnel in Kabul Afghanistan reminded me of the years I spent in Africa. As Peace Corps volunteers we went to several celebrations in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso. Somewhere I have slides of a celebration in Dakar, Senegal where they even had a color guard from the embassy Marine guards.

We always felt our American-ness more strongly in an overseas post. All the things that may divide us at home are not important in another country. There is definitely a special pride being a U.S. citizen, regardless of politics or anything else.

I can only imagine how the Americans in Afghanistan deal with the stress and danger of the security situation. In Burkina Faso and Senegal we only had to deal with petty street crime. We were free to celebrate and share our pride in our country!