Af-Pak brain fever hits Washington - Eric S. Margolis - 1 May 2011

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Last week 541 prisoners, including 106 Taleban commanders, dug their way out of Kandahar’s Sorpoza Prison. In 2008, in an even bigger and more dramatic jail break, 800 Taleban prisoners were blasted out of the then Canadian-run maximum security prison.

The Great Escape II was a humiliating blow to American occupation forces garrisoning Kandahar, and to Canada, which spent over $4 million two years ago further fortifying the prison. There were red faces and finger-pointing all around. The US claimed Afghan prison official were incompetent, corrupt, and in cahoots with Taleban.  Of course, they were. Afghan resistance forces that we collectively call Taleban know just about everything that goes on in the US-installed Afghan government, military and police. As I saw during the 1980’s anti-Soviet struggle, every military offensive by the Soviets and their puppet Afghan regime was telegraphed to the mujahidin resistance days in advance.  
The Afghan Communist forces were filled with mujahidin informers and sympathisers. Since many Afghans knew the Soviets were losing, regime supporters began hedging their bets by informing and making side deals with the resistance. The same process is afoot today in Afghanistan. The 150,000 Western troops occupying that nation have lost the military, political and psychological initiative. 
Each US soldier in Afghanistan costs a minimum of $1 million annually.  Western forces are on the defensive, in spite of all the ludicrously cheery war bulletins – shades of Vietnam - from NATO public relations officers.  
No less an authority than Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently called the 10-year US-led war, “ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties.” Ouch! Washington seems to be concluding it cannot defeat the national resistance militarily. Its Tajik, Uzbek and Communist allies lack the power to combat Taleban outside of their ethnic territories.
The US is spending $6 billion annually training Afghan government troops and police. Even so, Afghan government forces are unreliable and incompetent. They are mostly Tajik and Uzbek, who are hated by the Pashtun majority. The feared, Communist-dominated Afghan intelligence service NDI – son of the old Soviet-run KHAD – is efficient. It continues to brutally torture, abuse, and execute suspects. The US and Canada have routinely turned over Taleban suspects to NDI for torture; Britain and Holland refused to do so.
The latest American plan for Afghanistan is to hold key urban areas using a somewhat reduced US garrison backed by a new army of mercenaries run by the US Embassy in Kabul, which is being expanded to 1,000 personal – the world’s largest. CIA paramilitary forces will play an ever-larger role in Afghanistan. In line with this policy, the current US commander in Afghanistan, the politically savvy General David Petraeus, was just named CIA director. He is detested by Pakistan. CIA boss Leon Panetta will become Defence Secretary. Petraeus’ new role confirms CIA is fast becoming militarised as an active combat arm of the US government. The Pentagon is also fast expanding its intelligence role.
Veteran intelligence professionals lament CIA’s “going cowboy.” They say the agency’s primary goal is providing the White House with balanced analysis, not indulging in gunplay. Getting involved in fighting overseas will inevitably corrupt CIA, they warn, and bias its judgment.
Washington just named a new ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, an ardent Bush neo-con who was ambassador to Iraq, where he was mocked for his rosy pronouncements. Crocker replaces the gruff, able ex-general, Karl Eikenberry who kept telling Washington what it did not want to hear. Yes-man Crocker can be counted on to issue politically positive election-year reports on how well the war is going. But the war is not going well. Worse, by waging war in Afghanistan, the US is relentlessly undermining and destabilising Pakistan, an infinitely more important nation.US-Pakistani relations have hit a new low as Washington keeps arm-twisting the Islamabad government it finances to follow policies contrary to Pakistan’s interests and public opinion.
WikiLeaks just published documents showing the US deems Pakistan’s crack intelligence service ISI a “terrorist group.” Washington has clearly gone terrorism crazy. What next? Terrorist camels, terrorist dogs, terrorist babies, terrorist UFOs? Call this new dementia, AfPak brain fever. 
Eric Margolis is a veteran US journalist

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