As Nato’s second handover ceremony took place in Afghanistan this week, many are still questioning how well local forces are up for the task. With over 140,000 Nato troops currently in Afghanistan, the majority American, how well will the Afghan forces deal with this changeover? Will the Taliban be able to take advantage of this? And if things go wrong, what implications will this have for the leaders of the US, the UK, France and others, who wish to move quickly in their withdrawal, asks J. Britain?
Within the last few days NATO handed over the peaceful province of Bamiyan to the Afghan security forces in its first step towards full Afghan control over their country. But whilst it is one thing to hand over a peaceful area where little fighting is likely to occur, it is quite another to hand over an area still plagued by violence within the notorious Helmand Province, an area of Afghanistan in which many American and British lives have been lost fighting a bloody war against the Taliban.
The handover of Lashkar Gah to the Afghan Security forces is seen as a critical step in the transition of power before foreign troops end combat operations within the country by 2014, a target lay down by President Obama and followed upon by David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy. If things don’t go to plan, it will be interesting to see if President Obama continues his planned ‘Afghanistization’, or if he changes his mind and follows his military leader’s advice and keeps troops in the country longer. With next year being election year, I doubt it somehow. Then again, Mr Obama may not even be in the White House after next year.
The handover ceremony took place with an inspection of the Afghan forces by the Afghan Minister of Defence Gen Abdul Rahim Wardak, as well as handshakes with the provincial Governor and the ISAF commander of south-west Afghanistan, General Toolan, with the new ISAF commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, also in attendance. The ceremony was ended by a procession of UK forces and their military vehicles through the city streets, with flowers offered to them by the Afghan people. But with many Afghan’s sceptical of their government’s ability to take responsibility of the volatile area, perhaps they were offerings in the hope the British would stay?
It would seem that the Afghan people’s scepticism is not without good measure, as 20% of the Afghan military and police forces are ‘ghosts’, in which they only appear on paper but their pay goes into someone else’s pocket. Corruption is also another major problem within the Afghan forces, especially the police, and this shows how far off the Afghan government is from running the country alone. Despite these issues however, the British are not too far away, as they are only transferring responsibility for central Lashkar Gah, and will still remain to look after other parts of the city and will be on hand to assist the Afghan security forces.
It is believed by both senior Afghan and NATO officials that this transfer is the beginning of Afghanistan’s long road to self-governance and stability, and this is ultimately beneficial to the world as it lessens the threat to international security from a country that was once a great threat through terrorism. It is also believed that this handover will upset the Taliban, who will now find themselves fighting their own countrymen instead of foreign troops. However, with 140,000 foreign troops currently in Afghanistan, I doubt the Taliban will be upset for long.
Against the advice of all their respective military leaders, Obama, Cameron and others are withdrawing troops from Afghanistan rapidly. Ultimately, with over 100,000 of the foreign troops being American it was Obama’s decision, as no other nation could sustain itself within Afghanistan without them. In this age of military spending cuts, withdrawal seems the sensible option. But if it all goes wrong, and the military leaders are proven right, then Afghanistan may become even more volatile than it once was. As well as being a threat to international security, does the West want another failed intervention on its conscience? With 2012 being election years for both President Obama and President Sarkozy, I think the focus for them is less on conscience, and more about electoral politics.