Panetta and Afghanistan

By IndepthAfrica
In Asia
Mar 19th, 2012
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Dmitriy SEDOV
Nobody will know what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta felt after getting a report that a terrorist attack had been timed to his arrival at UK Camp Bastion air base situated in the South of Afghanistan. An Afghan translator, who served at the facility, tried to get his pick-up to the runway and direct it to the landing aircraft. The vehicle got through the concrete fences and rushed at great speed at the servicemen meeting Panetta.

For some unknown reason the pick-up moved aside to the ditch and caught fire. The head of Pentagon was unharmed but prudently refused to visit other military installations. It was hardly soothing to know that the one who tried to kill him probably was not a militant terrorist but rather an Afghan, expressing his attitude towards American “liberators”.

By and large, the goal of Panetta’s visit to Afghanistan was to placate public opinion in the country and sort out the relations with President Karzay who had demanded to pull out the coalition forces after Sergeant Robert Bales had massacred peaceful civilians in Kandagar province. He got angry because his friend’s leg had been torn off as a result of mine explosion and decided to settle the score with the Afghans taking revenge for the moral wound killing 19 civilians, twelve of them children. It was the last straw adding to the anger hitting the streets of Afghan cities earlier. The death toll of the two weeks of disturbances was no less than 30. The US President’s public apology changed nothing.

The Afghans have something to hate for those who intruded into their country and have been occupying it for the second dozen of years. The videos of US Marines urinating on a dead Afghan, mockery of Koran by a US pastor, Koran’s burning by US soldiers, regular night raids and living quarters searching, GIs shooting point blank at unarmed people, including children – all of it has led to external manifestation of strong hatred between the population and the occupants that dooms the West’s adventure in Afghanistan to miserable failure…

Leaks from a number of NATO Afghanistan situation ”operational” reports appeared in the Western media.

The most impressive of them is the conclusion that all coalitions “successes” and Western multibillion expenditure will be brought to nought after 2014. Assessing the situation the NATO experts point out the following:

- The Taliban leaders often have residences in immediate vicinity of the coalition’s key installations. It speaks of the occupants total inability to neutralize the resistance;

- The number of Afghans willing to join the Taliban ranks is growing. In faraway areas the government rules only on paper. The Taliban is a sole master there and the sympathy for it is on the rise among common people. The everyday life of Afghans starting with cell phone melodies to videos and songs is permeated by the Taliban influence;

- Wide spread corruption in state agencies, impunity and mutual protection among state bureaucrats that makes possible to get away even with murder – the whole lot of it has pushed people towards the Taliban. Corruption is spread in courts and common Afghans have nothing to do but go to “shadow” Taliban courts for justice. Comparing Karzay’s state “justice” with the Taliban field courts, the Afghans say the Taliban death verdict for a thief is fast and merciless. The Karzay’s justice may drag on for a hundred years and there is no guarantee a thief or a criminal will be found guilty and punished;

- No matter there is an occupational regime, the “shadow” Taliban administrations have established control in many provinces and rule with success. They solve the everyday life problems, gather taxes, judge the civil litigation matters. They are flexible and responsive. They quickly dismiss their representatives claimed to be corrupted or prone to position abuse. Nothing like this happens with government officials;

- The sympathy for the Taliban among population is deep. A Taliban fighter will never be given away to NATO or the government by his native villagers. The Taliban Sharia FM radio broadcast to the compatriots starts with the words that the message is addressed to renegades in the Afghan government, but not to those who are Taliban’s friend in its ranks.

- The Afghan government is sure the Taliban will return. That’s why many top officials want to collaborate. They are involved in getting suicide bombers to the places where terrorist acts are going to take place, as well as in arms trade and drug trafficking. It’s very important they provide the Taliban with secret information about military planning;

- The Karzay government is not very keen on establishing order in the areas left by the occupational forces. The Afghan police hit by illiteracy, desertion, drugs and infiltration by the Taliban supporters is not capable of fulfilling its functions and is not trusted by people. Police and army sell arms to the Taliban;

- The Pakistan special services play an active role in supporting the Taliban. According to Karzay till the attempts to make Pakistan agree to stop this support are futile, the Taliban will go on increasing its influence.

Leon Panetta, who was lucky enough to avoid collision with the self-taught suicide – terrorist, had one more clandestine mission – to make the utmost to prevent the avalanche-like advance of crisis in Afghanistan till the US presidential elections this fall. Otherwise the chances for his boss Barack Obama re-election could become rather blur.

But it’s already evident the avalanche-like crisis escalation cannot be prevented. The sudden Taliban refusal to open a bureau in Qatar as a springboard for talks with Americans confirms the fact. It appeared the talks were on the brink of start and some kind of agreement concerning the coalition forces evacuation or prevention of collaborators’ persecution would be achievable. The burning of Koran and sergeant Robert Bales frustrated the plans. The Taliban’s refusal could mean only one thing: the Americans were to expect new “surprises” after the failed attempt to kill Leon Panetta. The Taliban will not fail to support the anger against the occupants with deeds. All installations of the coalition are put on high alert to counter the terrorist threat.

There were some achievements as a result of the visit. For instance, Hamid Karzay took back his demand to withdraw the NATO forces from provinces. Now these forces will stay. Contrary to what the Afghan President said his army could hardly cope with the situation without the occupants help in case the Taliban finally comes out of “the shadow” on the ground.

This time Leon Panetta was lucky enough to successfully take off and go home. It’s a good thing by itself. But if asked what changed as a result of his visit the answer would be – nothing. It was something else they expected in Washington.

Afghanistan has become an absolutely alien and hostile world for the NATO soldiers they dream of saying goodbye to as soon as they can. In its turn the Taliban is preparing to come to their help in case they hesitate. No doubt it’ll do its best to expedite the withdrawal. The previously unplanned Leon Panetta’s visit to Afghanistan confirmed once more that the US and NATO’s “mission of freedom”, that was announced worldwide with such fanfare in 2001, could have only one ignominious result.

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