State of play

State of play


Australian troops join new front, Dan Oakes, The Age, 26 March 2010

AUSTRALIAN troops are to embark on a new front in the Afghan war, joining a looming coalition offensive against the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar.

Defence chief Angus Houston has revealed that Australian special forces and helicopters will be involved in the summer campaign by NATO-led forces.

Air Chief Marshal Houston also revealed that Afghan army battalions – known as kandaks – will take part in the offensive if the coalition asks for them, along with dozens of Australians who have been training them.

Troops prepare for major Afghan assault, Patrick Baz, AAP, 9 February 2010

US Marines are preparing for a major assault on a key Taliban bastion in southern Afghanistan hailed by officers as the biggest offensive of the eight-year war. Thousands of Afghan, US and NATO forces are expected to launch Operation Mushtarak (Together) in a bid to clear the Taliban out of Marjah, home to some 80,000 people, and expand the control of the Western-backed Afghan government.

Officials and witnesses say families have fled, loading goats, furniture and clothes on to vehicles and heading to safety in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province around 20km to the north. “The combat operations for the assault of Marjah have begun this morning,” Lieutenant Colonel James “Matt” Baker, of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines Regiment told AFP late on Monday, referring to the final phase of assault preparations.

About 5km outside Marjah, an AFP photographer said US Marines were searching houses and compounds for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the chief Taliban killer of foreign troops, and weapons. “The figures we have are that around 400 families have been displaced. Some of them have settled in Lashkar Gah and some others in other districts,” said the head of the refugee and repatriation department Ghulam Farooq Noorzai.



Taliban might win civil war if coalition left: ADF chief, Brendan Nelson, The Age, 22 July 2009

DEFENCE Force chief Angus Houston believes the Taliban will probably win a civil war in Afghanistan if foreign troops are pulled out now. Air Chief Marshal Houston said yesterday it could take five years to train Afghans to the point where they could be confident of beating the Taliban. He said the Australian Defence Force was complying rigidly with a directive from coalition commanders that troops must avoid civilian casualties even if it meant Taliban forces escaped. He announced the ADF would become more open about civilian casualties by investigating all claims and making reports public.

Iraq, AfPak, beyond: the global cost of war, Paul Rogers, openDemocracy, 18 June 2009

There is a range of evidence to show that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan are becoming more transnational as they evolve; this includes a spreading of “expertise” whereby militants with experience in fighting (for example) the Russians in Chechnya and the United States and its coalition partners in Iraq are able to share their knowledge in new environments. The United States is investing many of its far vaster resources into re-equipping its army and marine corps for wars which are radically different from those envisaged in the cold-war era – and even from those anticipated in the early stages of the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. Many of the new requirements derive from what are termed “operational needs statements” (ONS) – that is, calls from military commanders in the field for new weapons to counter the insurgents.

Civilian deaths jeopardize Afghan war effort: US general, Dan De Luce, AFP, 3 June 2009

The general chosen to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan warned that the war against insurgents could be lost unless civilian casualties were reduced. Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal told a congressional hearing that civilian deaths from coalition operations risked inflaming public anger and undermining military advances on the battlefield.

Taliban seize vital Pakistan area closer to the capital, Jane Perlez, NYT, 22 April 2009

Taliban militants have established control of a strategically important area only 70 miles from the capital, law enforcement officials said Wednesday. The move is part of an unrelenting push by the Taliban toward the heart of Pakistan. Heavily armed militants were patrolling villages and local police had retreated to their station houses in much of the city of Buner, a rural area adjacent to Swat, where the Taliban seized control from the Pakistani army in February, they said. Buner is a gateway to a major Pakistani city, Mardan.

Afghanistan Insurgency Will Never be Defeated: Canadian PM, ABC, 2 March 2009

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the insurgency in Afghanistan cannot be defeated and his country will not provide more troops without a clear exit strategy. Mr Harper told CNN that Afghanistan needed an indigenous government that could manage the insurgency and was not perceived as foreign-installed.

The imperial unconscious, Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch, 1 March 2009

U.S. goals in Afghanistan must be ‘modest, realistic,’ and ‘above all, there must be an Afghan face on this war,’ Gates said. This is Empire-speak, American-style. It’s the language that is essential to Washington’s vision of itself as a planet-straddling goliath. Think of that “Afghan face”/mask, in fact, as part of the flotsam and jetsam that regularly bubbles up from the American imperial unconscious. Largely uncommented upon, it helps normalize American practices in the world, comfortably shielding us from certain global realities; but it also has the potential to blind us to those realities, which, in perilous times, can be dangerous indeed.


The reconstitution of al-Qaeda:Losing Afghanistan and western Pakistan, Ahmed Rashid, Himal South Asian, September 2008

Seven years on, the US-led war on terrorism has left in its wake a far more unstable world than existed on that momentous day: 11 September 2001. Rather than diminishing, the threat from al-Qaeda and its affiliates has grown, engulfing new regions of Africa, Asia and Europe and creating fear among peoples and governments from Australia to Zanzibar. In the region that spawned al-Qaeda and which the US has promised to transform after 9/11, the crisis is even more dangerous. Afghanistan is once again staring down the abyss of state collapse, despite billions of dollars in aid, 45,000 Western troops, and the deaths of thousands of people. The Taliban have made a dramatic comeback, enlisting the help of al-Qaeda and Islamic extremists in Pakistan, and getting a boost from the explosion in heroin production that has helped fund their movement.

Diggers locked into bitter conflict with no boundaries, Daniel Flitton, Age, 3 September 2008

A poll released in June suggested most Australians — some 60% — support a troop deployment until the situation is stabilised. But that presumes a key element, that at some future point it will be possible to recognise what a stable Afghanistan looks like.

The final objective is unclear. The invasion was widely supported as an effort to hunt down the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks and topple the Taliban. The mission has crept towards an entirely different goal. The West is now propping up a country for the long term.

Afghanistan: On the Cliff-Edge, Paul Rogers, Open Democracy, 31 August 2008

The Taliban’s new tactics are taking them nearer to Kabul. Washington’s response: redouble failure. The bottom-line is that there is only one answer to the Taliban revival, the revitalisation of al-Qaida, and even the jihadist presence in western Pakistan: the application of intense military force. There is simply no other way.

Analyzing the Afghanistan-Pakistan War, Anthony Cordesman, CSIS, 29 July 2008.

It has now been more than six years since the start of the Afghan-Pakistan War, and serious questions still exist about the way in which the US, the UN, NATO/ISAF, and individual allied countries plan and analyze the war. The problems involved are partly disguised by the lack of transparency in official reporting.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan War: Measuring Success (or Failure), Anthony Cordesman, CSIS, 29 July 2008 [PPT]

Summary of the areas that need to be covered as part of an effective joint campaign plan, and a comparison of the critical weaknesses in far too much official, military, and intelligence reporting (shown in black) and the kind of reporting that is actually needed (in red).

Seesaw Afghan war strains ties among allies, Carlotta Gall, IHT, 19 May 2008

Increasingly, the question before the allies is how much longer it will take in crucial provinces, like Kandahar, to lock in tentative gains and bring real security and strong government to Afghans. An equally important question is whether that can be done before the war wears down relations within the U.S.-led alliance, and between it and the Afghan people. “No one claims this is going to be a year of full stabilization or even declining violence, let alone an end to the conflict,” said Christopher Alexander, deputy special representative for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. But he added, “there is a different picture in different places,” which makes it extremely difficult to gauge progress in the war and which has helped generate diverging views of the conflict among Afghan officials and their American and NATO allies.

Afghanistan: The Need for International Resolve, ICG, 6 February 2008

Afghanistan is not lost but the signs are not good. Its growing insurgency reflects a collective failure to tackle the root causes of violence. Six years after the Taliban’s ouster, the international community lacks a common diagnosis of what is needed to stabilise the country as well as a common set of objectives. The international community has aimed too low in Afghanistan, pandering to patronage networks rather than respecting the wishes of ordinary Afghan men and women for accountability and more inclusive peacebuilding. While addressing their own shortcomings, the internationals must also hold the Kabul government accountable for its failings. The situation is not hopeless, but it is bad, and an urgent collective effort is needed to tackle it.


Military force will not win the Afghan war, Scott Burchill, Age, 18 January 2008

The problem for Rudd and his Western allies in Afghanistan is that the war is virtually unwinnable by any criteria that make rational sense. Defeating the Taliban seems no closer six years after the country was first attacked. Vague war aims, such as bringing “long-term stability to the country” (Rudd), seem as remote as ever, and will continue to be thwarted as long as support for the Taliban — once regarded as a serious political movement in the country but now dismissed by Western governments as “terrorists” — continues from military sources in neighbouring Pakistan. Regardless of how odious their rule was until October 2001, the Taliban remain a potent and influential domestic political force in the country. Rudd claims “our advice and our conviction is that this is a job worth doing,” but what exactly is the job? The West is unable to define, let alone achieve, victory in Afghanistan. Interventions inevitably produce many unexpected consequences and insoluble problems, including terrorism, insurgency and resistance. As has been seen in Iraq, wars usually go awry and often become uncontrollable. Afghanistan is no different. There are no military solutions to its complex social, economic and political challenges. Only diplomacy and compromise will spare its benighted population from further misery.


Memo to Kevin Rudd: Why are we in Afghanistan? Richard Tanter, Arena Magazine, 92, December 2007 – January 2008

Why are we still in Afghanistan, six years after the al-Qaeda training camps used for the September 11 attacks were destroyed? Rudd holds the widespread view that Iraq is the bad war, a war that is lost, but that Afghanistan is the good war, a war that is both winnable and desirable. Neither is true. US and Australian political and military elites have learned a lesson in Iraq, but have yet to learn the lesson in Afghanistan. There will be no military solution in Afghanistan. Whatever solution is going to come will have to be, in some form or another, political. Following the death of yet another Australian, and the deaths of some 70 Canadians and many Dutch, American and British soldiers, to say nothing of tens of thousands of Afghanis, the question of how the Afghanistan war is going to end has to be addressed by the incoming Australian government.

U.S. Notes Limited Progress in Afghan War: Strategic Goals Unmet, White House Concludes, Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, 25 November 2007

A White House assessment of the war in Afghanistan has concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals that the Bush administration set for 2007 have not been met, even as U.S. and NATO forces have scored significant combat successes against resurgent Taliban fighters, according to U.S. officials. The latest assessment concluded that only “the kinetic piece” — individual battles against Taliban fighters — has shown substantial progress, while improvements in the other areas continue to lag, a senior administration official said.

Stumbling into chaos: Afghanistan on the brink, Senlis Council, November 2007

The security situation in Afghanistan has reached crisis proportions. The Taliban’s ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt; exclusive research undertaken by Senlis Afghanistan indicates that 54 per cent of Afghanistan’s landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan, and is subject to frequent hostile activity by the insurgency.

See also

Project coordinator: Richard Tanter
Additional research: Arabella Imhoff
Ronald Li
Updated: 30 March 2010