On Point: Meanwhile, Back in Afghanistan

by Austin Bay
February 6, 2007

"As I've said in the past, it will be a bloody spring."

With that sentence, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, acknowledged that the Afghan government believes the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies will launch a "new offensive" within the next two months.

"We do expect a Taliban offensive (in Afghanistan)," Jawad told me in a phone interview conducted in late January.

NATO, which now controls security operations in Afghanistan, is gearing up for a new round of fighting, as the Himalayan snows melt.

After praising British, Australian and Canadian troops for their high quality and professionalism, Jawad expressed concern that some NATO countries have not deployed their "full pledges" of troops to Afghanistan. NATO and Afghan National Army (ANA) troops also face a shortfall in military transport helicopters.

Jawad sharply criticized Pakistan. The imminent "bloody spring" is made possible "because of the training camps operating outside Afghanistan."

"Good relations with Pakistan are important to us," he reiterated, "but at the same time, the Taliban are coming across the border, killing U.S. soldiers, destroying our roads."

This spring's Afghan campaign will have "two phases," Jawad added. "We have to be able to defend against the (Taliban) offensive once they are in country (the internal phase). On other hand, we have to prevent them (the terrorists) from coming in" (border defense, or external phase).

Preventing the terrorists from entering Afghanistan means more than having combat units covering mountain trails. The Afghan government believes Pakistan must act politically and militarily. "Pakistan must close down the training camps and shut down the (Taliban) leadership in (the Pakistani province of) Baluchistan."

That's a rather blunt signal. The Afghan government is weary of Pakistan's failure to help destroy Taliban cadres. I got the impression Kabul may not have the terror commanders' precise street addresses, but it has identified their Pakistani neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the ANA is doubling in size, from 35,000 soldiers to 70,000. Eventually, the Afghanis intend to defend their own nascent democracy. "But we (the ANA) need air transport, helicopters and fixed-wing, as well as more heavy weapons," Jawad added. "More heavy weapons" means heavy machine guns, mortars and artillery.

That is a brief sketch of the near-term "military-security line of operation."

The hidden story in Afghanistan -- and really the determinative story in this battlefield of The War on Terror -- is Afghan economic and political progress.

More NATO countries are operating Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs). Originally, these PRTs focused on humanitarian projects (for example, medical aid or food distribution). Afghanistan has advanced, albeit slowly, past the stage of meeting urgent humanitarian needs. "We would like for the PRTs to be involved in development with a more lasting impact," Jawad said. "For example, capacity-building so the government can deliver more services. And capacity-building of security forces, the police in particular."

PRTs are positioned to address some of the more subtle, nettlesome but politically vital development issues. "One of the major issues is lack of human capital, lack of trained people to provide services," Jawad said. Afghanistan needs embedded trainers with local police but also "guidance or assistance for state institutions. We need training in bookkeeping, accounting and administration skills, to enhance (the skills of) our civil servants."

Afghanis need help documenting business skills. "We have people who know business, (their families have been in business) for thousands of years. But this expertise is not reflected on the books. They want loans, but they don't look good on paper," Jawad said. A focused development program that helps document these skills "will benefit the private sector."

I asked the ambassador what Afghanistan will look like in 2021, 20 years after 9-11.

"In 2021, Afghanistan will be much more stable," Jawad replied, "because of the investment we make now in education. Six million Afghan children are going back to school. By then, the ANA will be fully capable to counter the threat of the terrorists and other elements who benefit from destabilizing Afghanistan. By then, the national institutions such as parliament and the judicial system will be better capable of delivering services."

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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