The US military is building a new barracks for an expected 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. Various luminaries are calling for new strategies there, ones that recognise the military reality that force alone cannot "win" in Afghanistan and the geopolitical reality that no efforts at all can "win" if Pakistan is opposed to them. Turkey is mediating between Pakistan and Afghanistan in an attempt to acheive reconcilliation between the two sometime-rivals and the incoming Obama administration plans a new aid and training program to attempt to reverse the inexorable decline of what used to be an Afghan success story.
But all may be missing an important point - the war in Afghanistan should be over, and the mandate for a US and allied presence there has lost its rationale. Doug Saunders, writing in Canada's Globe and Mail on Friday, noted that the Western presence in Afghanistan is authorised under Chapter VII of the UN Charter:
Article 51 of Chapter VII guarantees “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations” – in this case, the al-Qaeda attacks against the U.S. and other countries launched from within the former Taliban administration in Afghanistan. As the UN and the ISAF members have repeatedly asserted, preventing a future Sept. 11 is the raison d'être of the Afghan war. Everything else, no matter how noble, is time-filler.
But there's no longer an Al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan.
Earlier this year, I visited several regions of Afghanistan and asked military leaders in regions held by British, Canadian and U.S. forces how many al-Qaeda fighters they were seeing within the country's borders. In all cases, the answer was “none.”
...Afghanistan-based writer Anand Gopal is probably the most well-connected observer of the insurgent groups. He has come to the same conclusion as my Globe and Mail colleague Graeme Smith, who has conducted video interviews with dozens of Taliban fighters and found no sign of al-Qaeda sympathies.
“The Afghan rebellion remains mostly a homegrown affair,” Mr. Gopal wrote last month. “Foreign fighters – especially al-Qaeda – have little ideological influence on most of the insurgency, and most Afghans keep their distance from such outsiders. Al-Qaeda's vision of global jihad doesn't resonate in the rugged highlands and windswept deserts of southern Afghanistan.”
Our soldiers are authorized to oust the Taliban, but only insofar as those “Taliban” are the ones who are going to allow al-Qaeda to operate again.
And, as several analysts have pointed out, the presence of Western forces in Afghanistan, along with the karzai government's rampant corruption and inefficiency, are what now drives Taliban militancy in Afghanistan. Western forces have become more a part of the problem than a solution. Saunders concludes:
Al-Qaeda is gone, and not likely to return. To the extent that it is still around, it's because we're attracting it.
If both those statements are true, then no matter how ugly it looks, the war's over.
It could perhaps be argued that there's a new mission in Afghanistan, one just as important in its own way as the original one. But that would miss an important point - there is no longer any rationale for the current UN mandate for the occupation of Afghanistan. We've already seen too many times the negative consequences of "mission creep", not least of which is the undermining of international law and of UN mandates themselves, if they can be stretched like taffy to cover eventualities they were never intended to. If there's a new mission, it needs a new authorisation and a clearly defined set of objectives. If there isn't, then it's time to bring everyone home.
Crossposted from Newshoggers