Afghanistan's presidential election, held Aug. 20, should have been a milestone in the country's transition from 30 years of war to stability and democracy. Instead, it was just the opposite. As many as 30 percent of Karzai's votes were fraudulent, and lesser fraud was committed on behalf of other candidates. In several provinces, including Kandahar, four to 10 times as many votes were recorded as voters actually cast. The fraud has handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners.
The election was a foreseeable train wreck. Unlike the United Nations-run elections in 2004, this balloting was managed by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC). Despite its name, the commission is subservient to Karzai, who appointed its seven members. Even so, the international role was extensive. The United States and other Western nations paid the more than $300 million to hold the vote, and U.N. technical staff took the lead in organizing much of the process, including printing ballot papers, distributing election materials and designing safeguards against fraud.
Part of my job was to supervise all this U.N. support. In July, I learned that at least 1,500 polling centers (out of 7,000) were to be located in places so insecure that no one from the IEC, the Afghan National Army or the Afghan National Police had ever visited them. Clearly, these polling centers would not open on Election Day. At a minimum, their existence on the books would create large-scale confusion, but I was more concerned about the risk of fraud.
--Peter W. Galbraith, WaPo
Peter W. Galbraith served as deputy special representative of the United Nations in Afghanistan from June until last week.
Juan Cole's comment on all this includes these words:
One of the keys to successful counter-insurgency is the establishment of government legitimacy and efficiency. In Afghanistan, things are going in the opposite direction.[Emphasis mine]
Cole also says this about the current situation:
This report in Dari Persian about hundreds of demonstrators in the western city of Herat who came out Sunday to chant "Death to America" is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. The protest was also a funeral procession, for a 20-year-old Afghan man, who had been traveling on a road outside the city when he was kidnapped. The thugs demanded a $100,000 ransom, which his family did not have. The demonstrators, however, blamed the United States and the Karzai government for the lack of security. That is, as security deteriorates, there is a danger of a snowball effect, whereby the US loses any legitimacy even in the eyes of Persian-speaking Tajiks precisely because it is unable to provide basic needs like security. If the foreigners aren't even useful foreigners, the Afghans are unlikely to want them occupying the country.[Emphasis mine again]
Marine Lance Cpl. Roy Aeschlimann takes cover during a shootout with Taliban militants in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. (Brennan Linsley / Associated Press / October 4) - source
I read news like the following and shudder:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared Monday that the United States will remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, no matter what President Obama decides on immediate troop levels.Or this (Laura King at the Los Angeles Times):
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan - In one of the most lethal battles for American troops in the Afghanistan war, a wave of insurgents attacked a pair of relatively lightly manned bases near the Pakistani border over the weekend, triggering a daylong clash that left eight Americans and as many as half a dozen Afghan troops dead.The problem is that no one can define what "success" in Afghanistan would mean for us.
It was precisely the kind of attack the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is hoping to stave off by recently ordering troops to withdraw from such small outposts, concentrating instead on defending population centers. The outposts attacked Saturday had already been slated to be abandoned soon, the military said.
Military officials describe the attack on the jointly run U.S.-Afghan outposts in the Kamdesh district as a tightly coordinated onslaught by hundreds of insurgents.
History is littered with great powers that thought they could occupy or control this part of the world. None succeeded.
So WTF are we doing there, or think we are going to do? Nothing good can come from allying ourselves with a corrupt and incompetent central government, "elected" by fraud and controlling only a small portion of the nation.
I want better reasons, clearer goals, and - thank you, Colin Powell - an exit strategy before committing more troops in Afghanistan or, for that matter, leaving the ones presently there.
And, no matter how strongly McChrystal believes what he is saying and even if he is right, he is not going through channels and should have his ass fired. If you want to tell the President something, tell him. Don't go all over the place with leaks and speeches trying to force his hand. Remember how all the Rethugs went apeshit over anyone who disagreed with, questioned, or vaguely undercut AWOL Bush?
Right now it's a loser's game with no coherent goal or strategy. We shoot ourselves in the foot on a daily basis.
I am glad the President is not rushing into a decision on this.