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U.S. failures in Kabul

Published Feb 22, 2009 2:34 PM

U.S. policy towards Afghanistan is undergoing a major re-evaluation, since its major local ally and its occupation forces are both showing glaring weaknesses.

The U.S. media are using direct criticism to undercut Afghan President Hamed Karzai, who used to have Washington’s unwavering support. In a Feb. 15 report on MSNBC, reporter Richard Engel now calls Karzai “corrupt, tied to the opium trade and unable to stop the Taliban.”

U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, met with Karzai only at the end of his four-day visit, which the local Afghan press interpreted as a significant slight. A comment on Tolo TV, an independent Kabul station, points out, “At a time when President Hamed Karzai has adopted a harsher tone than before in his criticism of civilian casualties in foreign military operations, officials of the Obama administration are describing the Afghan administration as the weakest government.” (BBC Monitoring Service, Feb. 14)

Holbrooke avoided endorsing Karzai in the Afghan national elections scheduled for this coming summer.

To maintain support among Afghans, Karzai criticized U.S. military tactics when the Pentagon’s attacks devastated wedding parties and recklessly killed large numbers of children and other civilians.

Bold attacks by the resistance against the Justice Department, the offices in charge of prisons and the Education Ministry, carried out Feb. 12 on the eve of Holbrooke’s visit, exposed the weakness of the Karzai regime. The Taliban said these attacks were in retaliation for the “mistreatment and torture of Taliban prisoners,” according to the Feb. 12 New York Times.

Five resistance fighters killed the two guards at the Justice Ministry and then seized three of its four floors in coordination with the attacks on the offices running the prisons and the Education Ministry. At the prison offices, one of the attackers exploded a suicide belt and the others used this distraction to get into the building.

A video clip on NBC news showed that the building suffered major explosive damage, while the resistance fighters roamed the halls, killing 20 and wounding more than 50 government personnel. These buildings are all in downtown Kabul, one within a few blocks of Karzai’s presidential palace.

During the press conference the army held to announce it had cleared the Justice building, it revealed that one of the resistance fighters was still alive.

Since there have been other armed attacks in Kabul, some questions must be going through the minds of the U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan: Why were there only two guards at the Justice Ministry? How could the Taliban transport such a major amount of weapons and explosives into Kabul without being reported? Why didn’t the Afghan rapid response force respond more rapidly?

Faced with these weaknesses, Washington is reportedly preparing a plan to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and request more allied troops. President Barack Obama will present this plan to NATO at a meeting during NATO’s 60th anniversary commemoration this April 2-5 in Strasbourg, France.

European anti-war organizations plan protests at the NATO celebration, including opposition to the sending of more NATO troops to Afghanistan.