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Is Afghanistan a Sinking Boat? Anxiety about the 2014 Withdrawal

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps on patrol in Sangin, Helmand.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps on patrol in Sangin, Helmand. Photo: Al Jazeera English/flickr.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014 has been the central foreign policy issue of both of Obama’s Presidential campaigns. American citizens seem to generally support the initiative, while both criticizing the timing and questioning the outcome for the U.S. and Afghanistan. Many ordinary Americans have asked why the U.S. should keep engaging with Afghanistan post-2014, or why the withdrawal cannot come sooner so as to avoid the unnecessary losses of American soldiers. Others argue that the United States, as a world leader, should act responsibly to prevent Afghanistan from falling into a devastating civil war, and thus criticize the withdrawal as a product of poor judgment that will lead inevitably to chaos. As an example, they cite the post-Soviet withdrawal, following which the U.S. abandoned the country and it fell under Taliban control.

Serving as political affairs officer for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) last year, I observed – like many others inside and outside the country – that for various reasons the local population did not feel very hospitable towards the international forces, to say the least. Many Afghans, either ignorantly or deliberately, do not see any difference between the ISAF and the international community, referring to all of them as Americans or American puppets. For that very reason, the incident that occurred on 1 April 2011, when the UN compound in one of the regions was attacked by demonstrators infuriated over the burning of the Qur’an. More recently there has been a steady increase in so-called green-on-blue attacks on ISAF soldiers. Instead of going into the details of each incident, we can ask more generally: Do Afghans want Americans in their country beyond 2014? » More

UN Peace Mission Ends Amid Deadlock

Nepalese child playing with a broken gun, photo: Ben Tubby/flickr

Tomorrow, on 15 January 2011, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), established to monitor Nepal’s post-civil war transition period, will come to an end amid wide concerns about the country’s still fragile peace process. Set up in 2007 and extended several times after its initial one-year mandate expired, UNMIN will be sorely missed as it clearly played a stabilizing role during this volatile period in the country’s history.

The Nepali Civil War, a conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels, began with a Maoist-led insurgency on 13 February 1996, with the aim of overthrowing the Nepalese monarchy and establishing a “People’s Republic of Nepal”. During the conflict, more than 12,800 people were killed, and an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 Nepalese were internally displaced. The bloodshed finally ended with a Comprehensive Peace Accord which was signed on 21 November 2006, and which was monitored by UNMIN during the following years.

The treaty called for the drafting of a new constitution and the integration of an estimated 19,000 Maoist combatants into state security forces – though the exact terms of how, and how many Maoists would be integrated were never defined. It was thus to nobody’s surprise that when the peace process finally came to a standstill in 2008, it was because of differences about the integration of these fighters into the army. » More

Uganda’s Somali Dilemma – Learning from Ethiopia’s Mistake

AMISOM’s Burundian Peacekeepers Prepare for Deployment, photo courtesy of US Army Africa/flickr

The West can afford to ignore Somalia, Africa cannot. On the evening of July 11th, three bombs went off in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, leaving at least 75 dead and many more injured. There was no need for investigations or inquiries; the perpetrators quickly and proudly claimed responsibility. Carrying out its first attack outside Somalia’s borders, the Islamic militia Al-Shabaab, announced that Uganda was paying the price for deploying troops to Somalia in support of the African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) and the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

The bombings warranted an immediate and stalwart response from Somalia’s neighbors—Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan—who pledged to reinforce AMISOM with an extra 2,000 troops. It seems, however, that Uganda is also seeking to go beyond simply helping AMISOM. » More

Bruce Riedel on the US Af-Pak Strategy

CIPS PodcastsBruce Riedel chaired the task force who reviewed the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan last winter.

The Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS), an ISN partner, has published a podcast of his talk at the Ottawa Roundtable on Security and Intelligence.

After a long career at the CIA and advising three US presidents to the US presidency, Riedel is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In his talk, he presents the key conclusions of the Af-Pak strategic review released in March 2009. By the way, here is the US white paper summarizing the recommendations which came out of the review.

Riedel also outlines developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the last six months and looks at the direction US policy is likely to, or should, take.

Further ISN resources on the topic:

The Consequences of German Decisions

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

Small button, big consequences / Photo: Steven De Polo, flickr

After the German-directed ISAF air strike on two fuel vehicles stolen by the Taliban reportedly cost civilian lives, public calls for clarification are accompanied by both palsy and hectic in Berlin. Federal elections will take place in less than 3 weeks.

What often happens when things go very wrong is that people engage in speculation and search for a scapegoat. Too seldom though, we see people take responsibility, especially in politics. Clausewitz wrote that war never is an end in itself and always serves a political purpose. Imagine now a trigger in the hands of a German soldier serving in an army with a heavy legacy; an army from a pacifistic, self-traumatized post-war state, in which military planning, strategy and even tactics are subject to widespread emotional discussions. How much politics can efficient tactics bear? » More

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