More than three quarters of Afghans say they are afraid of occupying forces, according to a new survey – a number likely to only increase as civilian casualties hit record levels. 92% of respondents said they are fearful of running into the Taliban, which is hardly anything to celebrate because the United States and NATO, after all, are supposed to be fighting for the Afghan people.
“This year, 78.6% of Afghans report fear of encountering international forces,” an Asia Foundation study released on November 14 revealed. “Fear for personal safety increased by 0.9 percentage points in 2017, to a total of 70.7%.”
The survey also discovered that nearly 40 percent of Afghans would be willing to flee the country if given the chance because of security concerns, which Reuters says represents the second highest figure in more than a decade.
These statistics on the surface might seem startling but upon reflection are actually not that difficult to understand. Civilian deaths from U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, for example, increased by 52 percent in the first nine months of 2017 versus last year.
The boost in foreign troop levels also has translated into more terror attacks on Afghan civilians which some experts claim are a direct result of President Donald Trump’s new strategy to intensify the campaign in Afghanistan, Voice of America reported last week.
NATO plans on sending an additional 3,000 troops to Afghanistan to complement the U.S. troop surge. US Defense Secretary James Mattis “appears optimistic” about the deployment of more NATO troops to purportedly help buildup Afghan security forces.
But the Afghans have every right to question Mattis’ optimism because the Western alliance is doubling-down on a game plan that has delivered zero in terms of results for 16 years. In fact, the entire security situation has deteriorated and Afghan forces are incapable of reversing the tide.
The effort to train-up Afghan forces has proven to be an abject failure, for one, with casualty rates hitting all-time highs. The situation has become so desperate that the Afghan government pressured the U.S. military into classifying previously-released information related to the number of casualties suffered by Afghan forces.
Not to mention that, according to the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), as of August 2017 only about 57% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are under Kabul’s control or influence – a 15 percent drop from when the watchdog first analyzed such data in 2015.
Yet the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, is calling for even more troops and has tried to justify the lack of results. Apparently, the Trump surge is already not enough.
“This year, we fought most of the year… at the lowest level of capability that we’ve ever had in the 16 years,” Nicholson said during a recent press briefing. “It it was the lowest level of capability and the highest level of risk we’ve faced in this time. Part of the reason for the higher risk was [that] we’re only at 80 percent… [of] our combined joint statement of requirements.”
Meanwhile, there is not a shred of evidence that would indicate any progress is being made on the political front, both internally and in talks with the insurgents. This is something a number of Afghans are realistic about. According to the Asia Foundation, only about 52% of Afghans believe that reconciliation with the Taliban is possible.
Afghan political leaders, however, seem oblivious to reality and irrationally upbeat. On Wednesday, November 15, CEO Abdullah Abdullah told a gathering at a Washington think tank that Trump’s new war strategy will help the country defeat terrorism.
“I am more hopeful today than before that we will succeed and we will overcome the challenges that are ahead of us,” Abdullah said. “Part of the South Asia policy elements including the fact that it is not based on a timeline rather condition-based – that is very important.”
Abdullah also said he agrees with Trump that Afghanistan does not need a “blank check.” The Afghan government, he added, is committed to fulfilling promises made to the international community about fighting corruption and implementing political reforms.
Kabul, however, will be facing an uphill battle in its bid to curb corruption and political disunity, two factors that the Taliban have feasted on. The Asian Foundation study noted that almost all Afghans believe corruption is a problem in all areas of their lives.
In addition, political turmoil continues to plague the government with sorely-needed electoral reforms now at risk. TOLO News reported Wednesday that President Ashraf Ghani fired his own hand-picked Independent Election Commission (IEC) Chairman, Najibullah Ahmadzai. The move comes just nine months ahead of scheduled parliamentary elections.
If the timing of the U.S. presence is “conditions-based” one can expect at least another 16 years of war because there is no reason to believe this new strategy will alter conditions on the ground in any meaningful way. Afghan political leaders will likely continue to promote the delusion that the next surge will work. Afghan political leaders will also likely persist in their blind confidence in international forces. Meanwhile, the Afghan people will likely to continue to fear them.