German general says NATO Afghan mission has ‘failed’

Der Spiegel reports: It was 10 years ago that the United States, together with its NATO allies, marched into Afghanistan to put an end to Taliban rule and begin the hunt for al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. A decade later, the terrorist leader is dead. But, says Harald Kujat, former general inspector of the German military, the mission has been a failure.

“The mission fulfilled the political aim of showing solidarity with the United States,” Kujat told the German daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. “But if you measure progress against the goal of stabilizing a country and a region, then the mission has failed.”

Kujat said that it was ignored for too long that “the opponent was fighting a military battle and we needed to do the same.” In reference to claims from German political leaders, among others, he said “the argument that it was a stabilization mission was maintained for too long.” The result, he said, is that soldiers were not given what they needed in order to effectively fight the enemy.

Kujat is hardly the first to criticize the Afghanistan war. But his words carry weight in Germany. He was a leading planner of the German mission to Afghanistan and served as general inspector of the German military — the Bundeswehr’s [German armed forces] highest-ranking soldier — from 2000 to 2002. Part of his job included advising both the German government and the Defense Ministry on military matters.

The former Bundeswehr leader also took aim at Germany’s plan to complete withdrawal of all of its 5,000 combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014, a timeline that was reiterated on Friday by Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan, Michael Steiner.

“If we withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014,” said Kujat, “then the Taliban will take over power again within just a few months.”

The Associated Press reports: They were the first Americans into Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks and will probably be the last U.S. forces to leave.

As most American troops prepare to withdraw in 2014, the CIA and military special operations forces to be left behind are girding for the next great pivot of the campaign, one that could stretch their war up to another decade.

The war’s 10th anniversary Friday recalled the beginnings of a conflict that drove the Taliban from power and lasted far longer than was imagined.

“We put the CIA guys in first,” scant weeks after the towers in New York fell, said Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, then a colonel with U.S. special operations forces, in charge of the military side of the operation. U.S. Special Forces Green Berets, together with CIA officers, helped coordinate anti-Taliban forces on the ground with U.S. firepower from the air, to topple the Taliban and close in on al-Qaida.

Recent remarks from the White House suggest the CIA and special operations forces will be hunting al-Qaida and working with local forces long after most U.S. troops have left.

When Afghan troops take the lead in 2014, “the U.S. remaining force will be basically an enduring presence force focused on counterterrorism,” said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, in remarks in Washington in mid-September. That will be augmented by teams that will continue to train Afghan forces, added White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.

The White House insists this does not mean abandoning the strategy of counterinsurgency, in which large numbers of troops are needed to keep the population safe. It simply means replacing the surge of 33,000 U.S. troops, as it withdraws over the next year, with newly trained Afghan ones, according to senior White House Afghan war adviser Doug Lute

It also means U.S. special operators and CIA officers will be there for the next turn in the campaign. That’s the moment when Afghans will either prove themselves able to withstand a promised Taliban resurgence, or find themselves overwhelmed by seasoned Taliban fighters.

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