Why NATO is not winning in Afghanistan

April 1st, 2009 - 9:44 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Farhad Peikar
Kabul, April 1 (DPA) About midnight on a calm spring night, Toor Jan awoke to a sudden jolt and a loud, deafening blast. He stumbled out of his bed and rushed outside to find out what happened, but his eyes saw only flames and thick dust.

It did not take him long to realise that the catastrophe was not caused by thunder or an earthquake, but by a bomb dropped from a NATO military airplane.

Jan’s brother, his mother, his young daughter and his three nephews were killed in a NATO airstrike that hit their home in Nad Ali district of southern Helmand province in the late spring of 2008.

He and some members of his family survived the attack because the bomb destroyed only one part of his house.

“Eight or nine hours before the bombardment, there was a clash between the Taliban and foreigners, but when my house was bombed there was no fighting or Taliban in the area,” Jan said.

Like hundreds of families, who left their homes for safer places, because of mounting NATO airstrikes, today Jan and his family - consisting of his wife, five children, his brother’s widow and her three children - live in a makeshift camp in the western outskirts of Kabul.

“I could not wait and see the rest of my family die in aerial bombardments,” Jan said, adding: “Thousands of people were killed after we left the area, so if I had stayed, God knows, if any of us would have lived by now.”

Jan said that he preferred to live in a tent during this year’s harsh winter - despite its lack of heating and sometimes inadequate food - rather than nervously eye the skies every day.

“I would be more than happy to see the Taliban are back to power, at least I can go back to my home and live a peaceful life, the way I did in Taliban’s time,” Jan said.

“The foreign forces have lost the war here, it is just a matter of when the Taliban throw them out of this country,” Jan said. “I am the only breadwinner for this big family, otherwise I would have already joined the Taliban and would have taken my revenge.”

More than 2,000 civilians were killed last year, nearly 40 percent of them at the hands of NATO-led troops and their newly trained Afghan army comrades, according to a UN report.

Afghans believe that mounting civilian casualties caused by US and NATO forces have drawn thousands of villagers who lost relatives in military raids in southern and eastern regions into the Taliban ranks.

According to some estimates, the Taliban hold sway in two-thirds of Afghanistan today. The militants are edging closer to Kabul, operating with impunity as close as 15 kilometres of the capital.

The government of President Hamid Karzai has not been able to clamp down on endemic corruption and drug trade, which many in Kabul and in the West believe has added to the unpopularity of the foreign forces in the country.

But many analysts believe that NATO’s failures stem more from elements outside of Afghanistan than from internal challenges.

“I think fighting in Afghanistan is meaningless as long as the insurgents and Al Qaeda have their safe havens in Pakistan and training camps there,” said Haroon Mir, a political analyst and co-director of the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies.

“It does not matter how many Taliban we capture and kill, it does not matter how many terrorists we capture and kill, because there will be enough recruitments in Pakistan and they will send more,” he said.

The prolonged war in Afghanistan has pushed many NATO countries to consider their withdrawal, putting yet another obstacle before the alliance.

While NATO commanders are calling for more troops to contain the resurgent Taliban, Canada and the Netherlands have already set datelines for their withdrawal.

Other allies, including Germany, Italy and Spain have restricted their soldiers to peaceful western and northern regions of the country and, so far, have withstood pressure from other alliance members to deploy their forces to southern and eastern provinces to fight the Taliban.

With a stalemate on the military front, the West has begun to look at other options, including seeking ways to reach out to “moderate Taliban” for reconciliation, an option that was regarded as taboo in the first years after the victory over the Taliban regime, in late 2001.

But Mir sees that option as an admission of failure, and doubts that it would even persuade the Taliban to negotiate.

“We could have done it in 2002, in 2003 or even in 2005, but the government is very weak and the Taliban will not be willing to take part in such solutions,” he said.

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