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by Dad Noorani

Poppy Polices Why Coalition Losing Control in Afghanistan

(IPS) KABUL -- Anticipating a Taliban spring offensive against the Afghanistan government, international assistance to the war-torn country has increased sharply.

The United States recently committed $10.6 billion, which includes $8.6 billion to beef up the country's security forces. It will also contribute armored vehicles and light arms to the Afghan National Army (ANA).

The European Union has promised a 600 million euro assistance package for Afghanistan for 2007-2010. The package will focus on three key priority areas: reform of the justice sector; rural development including alternatives to poppy production; and health.

India will contribute $100 million towards reconstruction. In addition, Britain has promized to send 800 additional soldiers to face the Taliban, while President Bush has decided to officially boost U.S. forces in Afghanistan to a record 24,000 troops who are deployed there now by delaying the departure of a 3,500-unit combat brigade that had been scheduled to return home in early February.

Of the 24,000, about half operate as part of a 34,000-troop NATO peacekeeping force and the rest under separate U.S. command.

From the very first day when the Democrats took control of the U.S. Congress, they declared that the U.S. will refocus attention on Afghanistan and increase its military and non-military assistance to the country.

With this objective in mind 'Democratic Party leaders Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi visited Afghanistan last month.

Although this renewal of commitment to Afghanistan is indeed welcomed, the overwhelming emphasis on winning the peace by military means is not likely, as in the past, to succeed.

Afghanistan's mounting problems cannot be solved by military means alone. It needs much greater assistance for reconstruction, development and improvement of governance.

Afghanistan's problems are not purely home-grown. Sustainable peace in Afghanistan depends upon the destruction of the vast terrorist support infrastructure in Pakistan and arrest of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership hiding in that country.

Taliban and al-Qaeda have operational bases in Pakistan's Baluchistan and North Western Frontier Province where they plan attacks against Afghan security forces and Western troops.

The question on most people's minds is whether more assistance largely spent on non-development priorities will actually help to improve the situation in Afghanistan.

A careful study of donor policies the past five years has convinced many analysts and commentators that if the international donor strategy concerning Afghanistan continues to operate on the assumptions of the past five years and if it is not revised to meet today's pressing challenges then there will be little reason for assistance to improve the worsening security situation in Afghanistan.

The widely promoted assumption that more North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troop numbers and U.S. military actions are the only remedy for defeating the Taliban threat in Afghanistan is both naive and dangerous, some experts say.

The more NATO expands its operation in Afghanistan and the more the U.S. military pursues its hunt for Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, the more it risks the lives of its own soldiers and the less the international community has to invest in ANA and Afghan National Police (ANP) reconstruction and fostering of civil society.

Each NATO soldier costs an average of $5,000 a month to maintain in Afghanistan while the average ANA soldier takes home 60 dollars a month. A pay raise plus a more robust training program for ANA and ANP soldiers would surely attract more Afghans to serving the national army and, for those who are already part of it, reduce the high rate of desertion. The resources spent on an expanded NATO and U.S. military mission in Afghanistan should be replaced with a new strategy.

The most difficult part of this strategy is that it requires the moral authority and courage of the U.S. to end its "hunt" for Taliban and al-Qaeda. NATO cannot assert itself as a stabilising force in Afghanistan as it did in Kosovo and Bosnia, if the U.S. Defense Department is waging its own, parallel, war on terror in Afghanistan.

There is a widely held belief in the U.S. and other Western countries that if al-Qaeda and its terrorist network and allies like the Taliban are not defeated in Afghanistan then it will be far more difficult to stabilise Iraq and prevent future terrorist attacks against Europe and the U.S.

Moreover, if the U.S. and its Western allies are defeated in Afghanistan and Iraq, the stability of many pro-Western regimes in the Middle East could be seriously threatened.

This is something neither the Democrats nor conservatives in the U.S. would like to see happen. Therefore prioritizing the stabilization of Afghanistan over Iraq makes more sense to the Democrats.

Reporting contributed by The Killid Group)

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Albion Monitor   February 22, 2007   (

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