Despite the administration's public pleasure about the outcome of the NATO summit, the tepid response to President Obama's requests for more troops is a clear rebuke of any ambition the administration or the Pentagon may have had to keep the weakening international coalition in Afghanistan on board for any long-term military offensive. Up to 3,000 of the 5,000 troops the entire group of nations promised Mr. Obama will be 'temporary' election monitors, with the rest left to 'train' Afghan forces.
It's significant and revealing that the NATO 'allies' have lost faith and will to continue battling Taliban resistance fighters indefinitely in the fight against al-Qaeda that Mr. Obama identified as his primary reason for continuing and escalating the military mission in Afghanistan, and are focused instead on using their resources and influence to provide economic and humanitarian aid and assistance. The president will find a great reservoir of goodwill in the international community for his diplomatic initiatives and offers, but I predict declining support for his entire Afghanistan mission - both at home and abroad - if the consequences and effects of the military operations continue to dominate the landscape.
However, what the president described as a "stamp of approval" for his Afghan plan was actually an endorsement of only half of his agenda there. The international community is wisely backing away from America's continuing, grudging battle against the remnants and effects of the seven-year fight against al-Qaeda and looking, instead, to help apply the nation-building band-aid in a further step away from the military solution the president believes is essential to his goals there.
There will be elections held under the increased occupation by the U.S.-dominated NATO forces. The Pentagon has promised to increase their military aggression in the south and east of Afghanistan, and has predicted a resulting increase in U.S. deaths. Aid and humanitarian organizations have also predicted an increase in civilian deaths as a result of the escalation and assaults.
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"The International Rescue Committee and 15 other relief organizations operating in Afghanistan sent a letter to NATO delegates this week, urging their forces to clearly separate their military mission from the humanitarian efforts to help protect Afghan civilians and aid workers from the predicted reprisals. The aid groups stressed that, "military forces, including NATO, endanger the civilians they aim to protect and contravene international law when they do not clearly identity themselves and inadvertently or deliberately blur the lines between military and humanitarian activities."
The elections that the increased NATO forces are intended to defend are supposed to represent the unification of the Afghan people, as much as they are intended to consolidate the power and authority of the central government in Kabul over them. Yet, it's a dubious prospect for the direction from the assumed leadership in Kabul to translate into any concrete adherence to that rule, or fealty from the provinces and tribes which make up the majority of the enormous and diverse country.
It's notable that, despite the determination to prop-up the Afghan regime, the administration has abandoned any of the Bush-speak about 'creating democracy' in Afghanistan; focusing instead on their threat-scenario of the Taliban regaining power and the curious claim that al-Qaeda somehow would be able to 'plot' from Afghanistan (presumably better there, than from anywhere else) if we relinquished our precarious military posts.
For the near future, it appears that the conflict between the NATO forces and the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan will remain at a stalemate of line-on-a-map moving military assaults and the predictable resistance and retaliation from the militarized resistance. That military mission will undoubtedly be represented as a defense of the government in Kabul against elements of resistance that the U.S. will insist is somehow a threat which is akin to that of the fugitive perpetrators of the 9-11 killings.
There is a self-perpetuating nature to our nation's grudging military mission which the president outlined in the presentation of his Afghan plan. In our self-serving, flailing military defense of the government in Kabul, our military forces generate even more resistance from the population of Afghanistan to their contrived regime. The military offensive against the exiled Taliban fighters in the south and east fuels and furthers the ranks of those who identify their resistance with the most prominent organizations pledged to the destruction of the invading and occupying NATO forces.
It's no surprise to find our allies more inclined to diplomacy than to the indefinite and uncertain militarism. Britain has announced their intention to open talks with Hezbollah and the Taliban, while acknowledging the limits of the ultimate effectiveness of military force. Our neighbor, Canada, has made similar declarations about the limits of their own faith and intention to continue committing their nation's defenders to the U.S. intransigence in Afghanistan.
We can only hope that our NATO allies' belated recognition of the relative impotence of their fighting forces in 'securing' Afghanistan will infect and alter the Obama administration's stubborn adherence to their Pentagon-driven rationale. In the face of their dismal response to the invitation to a long-term commitment to the military mission the president's Pentagon describes as a "long fight" in Afghanistan, I'm left to wonder where the administration gets their optimism.