World Politics Review | 12.3.07
By Alan W. Dowd

AP grimly reports that “Insurgents have staged more than 130 suicide attacks” in Afghanistan this year. Something called “The Global Islamic Media Front” is demanding that Germany and Austria withdraw from Afghanistan. “NATO’s shortfalls holding back progress in Afghanistan,” declare the Canadian media. On top of all that, we are reminded daily of Pakistan’s imminent explosion or implosion, which, by my count, we’ve been bracing for since October 2001.

But there is other news from the Afghanistan front—news that’s not making it into the morning papers, at least not onto the front page.

Resisting intense and widespread public opposition, the German parliament has voted overwhelmingly to extend its military’s participation in the Afghanistan stabilization operation. This means that Washington’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy has paid off—and that 3,000 German troops will stay in Afghanistan. Now the diplomats and generals need to persuade or cajole or shame Berlin into venturing beyond the relative safety of northern Afghanistan.

After a bit of hedging before his election, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised that his country will continue “shoulder to shoulder” with the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. “France will remain engaged in Afghanistan as long as it takes, because what’s at stake in that country is the future of our values and that of the Atlantic Alliance,” he declared during a recent address to the U.S. Congress. “For me, failure is not an option. Terrorism will not win because democracies are not weak, because we are not afraid of this barbarism. America can count on France.”

In fact, France is reinforcing its presence in Afghanistan and could expand its operations, as The Globe and Mail reported this month. Since Sarkozy came to power, France has deployed a group of fighter-bombers to support ground troops and has dispatched additional troops to train Afghan forces.

Canada’s redoubtable Stephen Harper has sketched out plans to extend his country’s military commitment in Afghanistan through to 2011.

Australia’s Labor Party, which swept to power last weekend, has intimated that it will send additional troops to Afghanistan, albeit likely at the expense of Australia’s contributions in Iraq. (But that’s a subject for another essay.)

New Zealand recently extended its modest military deployment to Afghanistan for another two years, through September 2009. The New Zealand contingent includes a provincial reconstruction team (PRT), military trainers, medical specialists and naval assets. As Prime Minister Helen Clark puts it, “A peaceful Afghanistan, able to provide for its people and prevent itself being used as a terrorist base, is in the interests of the international community.”

And all of this political and diplomatic activity is making a difference where it matters most—in Afghanistan:

-Six years after the U.S. led the world into Afghanistan, 26 million Afghanis are free from the medieval Taliban.

-U.S. and coalition troops are clearing away what has been called “a devil’s garden” of minefields in Afghanistan, paving the way toward one of the greatest reverse Diasporas in history. More than 4.6 million Afghan refugees have returned home since 2001.

-Some five million Afghan children are now in school—about 1.8 million of them are girls.

-Afghan President Hamid Karzai reports that no less than 135,000 children under the age of five are alive today because of the U.S.-led liberation.

-Backed by the muscle of the U.S. military and its NATO partners, relief agencies have built or renovated 640 health clinics, 600 schools, thousands of miles of irrigation piping and 4,000 miles of roads to connect the fragmented country of Afghanistan.[i]

-With the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Afghanistan and Tajikistan are linked for the first time in history by a bridge that spans the OxusRiver. Before the bridge was built, as the Stars and Stripes reported, the only way to cross the river was on a ferryboat that costs $15 per person, “a stiff price for Afghans, whose average annual income is $800.”

-And just this month, coalition commanders declared that Taliban forces have been defeated in Zabul province. “My assessment of the threat in this province is that the insurgency has suffered a total defeat,” according to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Karl Slaughenhaupt, who advises and trains a brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA). He notes that the Taliban “have been degraded by the ANA and forced to change tactics.” Hence, the increase in IED and suicide attacks.

To be sure, the work—and the war—are far from over. For now, the two go hand in hand, as Slaughenhaupt will tell you.

He points to recent large-scale operations in Zabul province, between Kandahar and the Pakistan border—operations that have “resulted in significant enemy losses” and opened the way for PRTs and medical teams to help the civilian population.

Slaughenhaupt says the ANA is taking the lead in these operations but still relies on the coalition for communications, close air support and medical evacuation. What it lacks in high-tech equipment, the ANA makes up for in determination and alacrity. “This is a warrior culture,” he explains, noting that the ANA is already “focusing on higher-level tasks—not fundamentals.”

Speaking of equipment, the ANA still largely relies on Warsaw Pact weaponry, which is just one reason why Slaughenhaupt is thankful to be partnering with the Romanian military, a former member of the Warsaw Pact and now a NATO ally. Coalition warfare is never easy—as we have been reminded again and again during the post-Cold War era—but it has its advantages, too, especially in and around Zabul province.

The ANA brigade under Slaughenhaupt’s tutelage is not alone when it engages Taliban fighters. “When the ANA rolls, we go with them,” he explains. “And we fight.”

And they win. “The insurgents cannot defeat the ANA in battle,” Slaughenhaupt bluntly concludes.

In short, it is a matter of will—for the enemy and for the U.S.-led coalition.

[i] See US AID, http://www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/countries/afghanistan/index.html and White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/02/20070215.html.