Donnerstag, 16. Dezember 2010

Kandahar Surge

Wenig Neues im Süden des Landes: Immer mehr US- und Nato-Militärs in Afghanistan und ein Widerstand, der nicht schwächer sondern stärker wird, so hat es phasenweise den Anschein.
Präsident Obama zumindst sieht Fortschritte in seiner jüngsten strategy review.
Wenig erfahren wir in deutschen Medien über die Situation im Süden von Afghanistan, die viel entscheidender ist als Kunduz und der Norden, auch wenn dort der Widerstand auf dem Vormarsch ist. Alex Strick van Linschoten, Publizist und Autor des Buches 'My life with the Taliban' über Mullah Abdul Salam Saef, den ehemaligen Botschafter der Taliban 2001 in Pakistan, arbeitet zZ an einer Studie über das Verhältnis von Taliban und Al Qaida am Studies Department of King’s College London. Ich habe mit ihm über die aktuelle Lage gesprochen.

Since spring the US surge is visible in the south of Afghanistan. What effect did it have so far on Kandahar ?
In some ways, nothing has changed. There were always foreign troops in and outside Kandahar City since several years, but there are some cosmetic shifts. You have a lot of traffic jams in the city now. Before, there used to be mainly Canadian troops in Kandahar, and they would drive around the city so that they wouldn't cause traffic jams. This helped prevent themselves being targeted by IEDs (as well as locals in the area). But now the Americans drive straight through the city. So when an IED goes off, people blame the Americans for driving through. They don't blame the Taliban for placing the bomb. You also have much more air traffic compared to last year.

How does the population react to the conflict ?
There are all sorts of things that resonate badly with the people. A cameraman I spoke to, who embedded with the US troops in Arghandab district for a documentary mentioned a US commander. This commander went to the village telling the elders: you have to show us where all the IEDs and mines are, in and around your village. If not, I'm going to have to bombard your village. The elders said, we don't know where they are. To the local population this resonates badly, like in the Soviet times, where there was also a concept of collective responsibility, something actually forbidden by the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

How would you describe the situation in Kandahar ?
People are depressed. The younger ones are trying to leave. Just last week two deputy directors of department were assassinated. Anyone who works for the government is being threatened. Taliban now have a commission in the city warning people to leave their jobs. They know exactly who is doing what. There is no way that the Afghan government or the Americans can protect all of the people. The military certainly can't pay enough so that civilians would risk their lives for a government that no one really believes is going to survive in the present form.

How do the Taliban operate in town ?
They have a mediation commission. When you get a night letter for example from the Taliban, warning the locals to work with what the Taliban call the occupiers, you can object to this letter, that you haven't done anything wrong. It is their own 'hearts and minds' campaign
On the other hand, I don't see too much of the ideological side in Kandahar. Islam is a motivating factor for the insurgency, yes, but I never really found that Islam was the main motivating factor for the Taliban in the south. There are many other factors that people think of and talk about before Islam.

US military and government say that their have gained 'momentum' and that they see progress ?
My sense is that General Petraeus thinks that he can win the war militarily. I think he may be overestimating his ability to achieve this goal, and underestimating at the same time the effect it has on the Taliban. I don't think Petraeus has a serious interest in a settlement that sees the Taliban as a part of Afghan society.

Was the strategy of Petraeus's predecessor more promising ?
Compared to Petraeus, McChrystal seemed like he understood things far better and had a better appreciation of the effects of US military actions. You can see it in the number of night raids. When you look at the ISAF statistics, almost the day after Petraeus arrived there is a massive spike in night raids. It goes up. Also, Petraeus has restarted the air war. We saw yesterday that the month of november saw three times as many bombs dropped in Afghanistan than last year. All of this has dramatically accelerated.

In how far does the western and Afghan military strategy hurt the Taliban?
How do they react ?
The night raids to some extent certainly have an effect. They catch or kill a lot of them. But it doesn't seem to either have irrevocably damaged their morale or their ability to carry out attacks, or the assassinations in the city. They do not seem to have changed in number. It is tough for them, but they will come back in spring and start all over again.

Some argue hat the Taliban are about to change and possibly get more radical s a result of the war. Do you agree ?
You can see it in terms of their tactics, in the number of beheadings. That never would have happened before. It’s the same in terms of their attitude to authority, killing elders for example, and also talking back to Quetta, the senior leadership. In not being completely subservient to them. You see it in the general fragmentation also: the Taliban shadow governor in Kandahar city doesn't have control over all Taliban groups any more. A lot of civilians killed in the city aren't ordered from Quetta. It often comes from small groups. Some may be pushed by Pakistan. But you have a lot more voices now than before.

What does that mean for the months ahead ?
The worry, of course, is that all of these things may lead eventually to a sort of Taliban that will look more to an international jihad with younger people in charge on the side of the insurgency, who have only lived in conflict and war, and who don't even remember the old Afghanistan -- or what peace means -- before the Soviet War.