Somali lessons for Afghanistan

Following the leak to the international press of over 90,000 documents related to the war in Afghanistan, there is precious little evidence that the country is stabilising. The west might do well to abandon its counter-insurrection strategy there, and focus instead on counter-terrorism.

Published on 27 July 2010 at 09:18
Show me the way to go home. Dutch soldiers check for unexploded IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Chora valley, southern Afghanistan. January 2010

Whenever western leaders ask themselves the question, why are we in Afghanistan, they come up with essentially the same reply – “To prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state and a haven for terrorists.” Until Afghanistan is stable, so the argument goes, we cannot risk withdrawal. Yet there is very little evidence that Afghanistan is becoming more stable. On the contrary, the fighting is intensifying, casualties are mounting and the Taliban is becoming more confident.

So perhaps it is time to rephrase the question. Rather than asking, “Why are we in Afghanistan?”, we should ask, “If we are in Afghanistan, why are we not also in Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan?” All three countries are now plausible bases for potential terrorists.

Somalia, in particular, looks increasingly like Afghanistan before 2001. It is an almost completely failed state and western nationals are known to be undergoing terrorist training there. Somalia’s central government controls little more than a few blocks around the presidential palace in Mogadishu and the airport. The rest of the country is home to a radical Islamist insurgency, as well as to pirate fleets that prey on international shipping. Somalia is also exporting terrorism to its neighbours, as a recent deadly bombing in Uganda has illustrated.

Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia and lies across the sea from Somalia, is also attracting increasing concern from western intelligence agencies. And it has long been known that the remnants of al-Qaeda’s leadership are now based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The west is fighting a war on terrorism in Afghanistan. But the terrorists are somewhere else. Meanwhile, our ability to combat threats around the world is sapped by the huge drain on resources caused by the Afghan war.. Read full article in the Financial Times...

Wikileaks

Who is being manipulated?

In the wake of the publication by Wikileaks of a vast archive of classified documents on the war in Afghanistan, Berliner Zeitung remarks that we are faced with two possible conclusions: "A) We will need more time than has been publicly announced to assume control of the country. It follows that we will have to send more troops to Afghanistan and remain there for longer. B) The campaign in Afghanistan has failed and will continue to be unsuccessful in the future, so we should withdraw as soon as possible."

The daily notes that "the official documents may have been leaked to encourage public support for the first of these conclusions, and the Wikileaks source may not be actively opposed to American government policy — an inference that has remained unquestioned in the enthusiastic response to the publication of this information." On this basis, it wonders if "the public is being manipulated to create a propitious climate for the announcement that plans to withdraw have been suspended.” However, it is impossible to establish any definite truth in this "jungle of intrigue." As Berliner Zeitung points out public opinion might also opt for conclusion B: immediate withdrawal. "In any case, the game with the public is a dangerous one. The public is no-one other than ourselves,” the daily points out. And not knowing what to do, opinion “tends to give up wanting to know and allows the powerful free rein.”

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