On the ground, no doubt, U.S. and NATO forces are doing their best to implement a policy of limited liability in Afghanistan — meant to buy enough time for a predictable stalemate to emerge. We already know what that will look like: a non-Taliban-dominated government with friendly relations with its Pakistani neighbor. So long as Pakistan doesn’t collapse and the regime in Kabul is not nominally led by the Taliban or a similar Islamist regime opposed to the West, we can claim success after a decent interval.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this outcome. It approximates the post-Soviet situation in the country until the Taliban took control in the late 1990s. But for nearly all of that post-Soviet period, Afghanistan was embroiled in civil war among various factions, nearly all of them backed by outside powers — not simply Pakistan but also Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, and several others.
All of Afghanistan’s neighbors have a history of interfering in Afghanistan because they fear that militants not kept busy there will eventually wreak havoc within their own borders. At the same time, all have been unwilling to tolerate the “victory” of a single Afghan contender because of deep concerns about the aims of rival backers. The fears stem from internal conflicts in all of the neighboring countries, many of which, in turn, are linked to Afghanistan.
The specter of this “international civil war” haunts those dealing with Afghanistan today. There is only one way to prevent it besides an indefinitely long and costly military occupation: an agreement among neighboring powers to respect Afghanistan’s neutrality and to lend greater political assistance to U.S. and NATO efforts on the ground. It may not be sufficient to stabilizing Afghanistan, but it is necessary. [continued…]
On a day when his administration outlined ambitious goals for Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama also moved Wednesday to call a timeout in the escalating national debate over a possible troop increase in Afghanistan.
Obama insisted he would not be rushed in deciding whether to send more troops — an action favored by top military leaders but questioned by a growing number of Democrats — saying that additional time is needed to refine strategy and assess needs.
Yet the lofty goals set by the White House — such as promoting an Afghan government that can combat extremism and corruption while supporting human rights — represent difficult, time-consuming work likely to require additional military and nonmilitary commitments at a time of flagging support from Obama’s wary political base. [continued…]
NATO investigators believe that 30 civilians were killed in a controversial U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan’s Kunduz province, a preliminary finding that could spark new pressure for disciplinary actions against the German and American personnel involved in the attack.
A team of military officers led by Canadian Maj. Gen. C.S. Sullivan spent more than a week probing the Sept. 4 bombing, which took place after a German commander in Kunduz ordered an airstrike on two hijacked fuel trucks that he feared would be used in a suicide attack against his troops.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization investigators believe roughly 100 people were killed in the resulting strike, including approximately 70 militants, according to people familiar with the matter. A separate Afghan government probe reached roughly the same conclusions about the militant and civilian death tolls, these people said. [continued…]