The story the New York Times published this week on Hamid Karzai's drug-dealing brother Ahmed Wali and his ties to the CIA is very revealing, considering it comes just few days before Afghanistan's run-off election; however, it is not the real news. It has been rumored for years that Wali has been involved in opium trafficking and has been receiving payments from the CIA. The big story is the United States' government plan to buy out the Taliban -- officially, so to speak.
On Wednesday, President Obama signed a $680 billion defense appropriations bill, which is supposed to cover military operations in the 2010 fiscal year. The bill includes a Taliban reintegration provision under the Commander's Emergency Response Program. Don't you love the terminologies used by government bureaucrats? Call it buyout, bribes, protection money, but please don't call it integration.
The idea, according to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is to separate local Taliban from their leaders, replicating a program used to neutralize the insurgency against Americans in Iraq. If you can't beat them, buy them!
Afghanistan though, is not Iraq. Unlike al-Sahwa in Iraq (the Sunni Awakening), when Iraqi tribe members took up arms against al-Qaeda and foreign insurgents, the Taliban are an integral part of Afghanistan, and they are not foreign fighters. They are the brothers, cousins and neighbors of ordinary Afghans. The US government might be able to temporarily buy out some Taliban members from attacking its troops but it will not be able to buy loyalties.
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on President Obama to authorize the sending of more troops to Afghanistan. According to a recent Associated Press report:
"There are already more than 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan working with 200,000 Afghan security forces and police. It adds up to a 12-to-1 numerical advantage over Taliban rebels, but it hasn't led to anything close to victory."
The Taliban rebels are estimated to number no more than 25,000 according to the same report. Yet, we have witnessed their devastating attacks in Kabul and other areas. The number of American deaths in Afghanistan has reached a record for the third time in four months. Some military experts say that an increase in US troops is no guarantee to reduce US fatalities and that it might only work in a negative way. The US army is not equipped to fight guerrilla warfare.
The new US strategies to be implemented in Afghanistan are nothing new; they are basically a redux of Iraqi ones. Their success rates are both short term, with the surge in Iraq only working temporarily, as the recent attacks in the country show. Paying for protection can only work against foreign insurgents and will only work as long as you keep paying.
In the meantime, on the news, I keep watching those who are gung-ho for sending more troops to Afghanistan insist that the U.S. has learned from the Soviets' mistakes. No one asks if it has learned anything from its mistakes in Iraq.