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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2906

Getting Back to Afghanistan, the Forgotten War Fiercely Debated!

Sunday Discourse by Philip Fernando in Alaska for Asian Tribune

The forgotten war is back on the screen. Its rising death toll has rudely awakened the world. On Tuesday a blast killed NATO soldier on patrol in southern Afghanistan. An official statement said that it occurred in Nahri Sarraj, a district of Helmand province.

The fighting between Taliban-led militants and NATO security forces is surging across the south and east of Afghanistan. Tuesday’s death brought the number of foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan this month to 35. Iraq took away the focus from Afghanistan. The world is taking a closer look again. The two wars have left the Forces "stretched beyond the capabilities we have," Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said.

It is the first time the most senior officer in the British military has expressed such grave doubts about the struggle faced by troops fighting wars on two fronts. Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup of UK said that fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan wars have stretched the forces beyond their capacities.

Some of the NATO countries involved in this exercise have spoken rather harshly of the situation there. Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier publicly had called for the Afghan government to fire the governor of Kandahar, the province to which 2,500 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) troops are deployed. He had withdraw his comments later stating that he had never intended to impinge on Afghanistan’s right as a sovereign nation to choose its own government personnel. France had agreed to increase the size of its contribution to the US-NATO occupation force in Afghanistan. US presidential candidates are talking of the fight in Afghanistan. Afghans deserve a bigger share of the public square. They had suffered immense hardships during the past five years.

The NATO countries in this conflict are struggling to focus on what needs to be done. The tough stand taken Canadian Minister Bernier’s position is getting the full respect it deserves. NATO partners are demanding greater accountability by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. They have stated that he should work in concert in order to get achieve some progress. Kandahar is a bone of contention. Its governor has been under fire.

According to media reports, Canadian officials had been privately pressing the Afghan government to Kandahar governed better. It is easily said than done. Canada has been insisting that steps be taken sooner. Canadian troops are playing a major role in fighting the rebels in there.

Karzai is in a bind. If he stays wit the status quo he would seem oblivious to the criticism that had been made. But if he makes a change it will be obvious to Afghans where the real power lies. Canada’s role in Afghanistan is considered crucial. It has a large force deployed to Kandahar, the historic center of the Taliban where Karzai government faces stiff opposition. The CAF has sent 15 officers to various departments of the Afghan government, including the president’s office, to serve as advisors. Karzai cannot afford to lose that help.

Most critics agree that greater democratization is an urgent need. The Canadian government is trying hard to achieve such a move. It has objected to some of the more banal activities going on there, the venal and anti-democratic character of the regime.

Conservative Prime Minster Stephen Harper has championed Canada’s leading role in cleaning up things there. Canada is calling for a bigger share of the public square in Afghanistan. Canada’s corporate media is behind that call. Recent statement of Prime Minister Harper is very clear: “We have talked to the government of Afghanistan from time to time about concerns on the performance of that government and we will continue to talk to them from time to time.”

Is Canada competing with the US for a greater share of influence in that region? Canada may be getting away from the notion that the role it plays in Afghan war is not as a peace keeper but a key partner sharing the burden of success with all others in the NATO. Several media outlet had toyed with the idea that Canada was now a fully pledged partner on global war on terror. This is a portrayal of the Canadian armed forces as a fighting force, a modern and fully capable tool in its diplomatic efforts.

The opinion inside United States also favors a faster answer to the problems there. Some of the Republicans had criticized Senator Barrack Obama who was the chair of a senate committee on Afghanistan for not holding any hearings under his stewardship. This might turn into a major election issue unless things are brought under control.

International observers seem to thinks that NATO armed forces are fighting to prevent the country falling back under the theocratic dictatorship of the Taliban. The attack on 9/11 precipitated this war. If not for that event the US and British troops would not been sent there. What is now going on in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is ten times more brutal, bloody and horribly oppressive. No plans are afoot to liberate that country. The Taliban endorsed al-Qaeda’s war on the West. NATO is now saddled with a major war on their hands.

Those who have sent troops there are hedge their actions with so many restrictions that they cannot discharge any role effectively. That reluctance is key to the present impasse seriously jeopardizing the whole Afghan operation. The British, we are told have to do far more than their fair share of fighting as a consequence of it, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the strains are having a destructive effect, according to most observers. Over 10,000 British troops are over-worked and may be not hundred percent combat ready according to critics.

The latest reports indicate that NATO leaders are likely to approve an increase in troop deployments to Afghanistan, the head of the military alliance said Wednesday. NATO has maintained that the war in Afghanistan is being prosecuted according to plan.

General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said recently that NATO is close to having the number of troops it needs for Afghanistan, where 47,000 foreign troops take part in the NATO-led mission. NATO's role in Afghanistan has divided the alliance amid concerns that some countries aren't sharing the same combat burdens.

US President had repeated calls to NATO members to send more troops. He was citing a recent recording from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden that threatens attacks on Europe, Bush said the war in Afghanistan must be won. Some feel that U.S. and NATO forces are battling a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan nearly seven years after al Qaeda's 2001 terrorist attacks on US soil, Though 25 NATO allies and 13 other countries have contributed forces, the bulk of the recent fighting has been done by U.S., Canadian, British and Dutch troops.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, which has 15 percent of the troops in Afghanistan, has also called for more burden-sharing among NATO members. The internal NATO disagreements also center on risk-sharing, with some countries contributing troops but keeping them out of the tough fighting in southern Afghanistan.

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected to rise over the summer, to 32,000 from the current 28,000, with most of the increase coming from a deployment of 3,200 Marines.

- Asian Tribune -

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