01 December 2009

Matthew Hoh on Afghanistan

The ABC TV program Lateline, Wednesday 25 November 2009, had an interview with former U.S. State Department official Matthew Hoh, a former Marine Captain (two tours of combat duty in Iraq) who resigned his post in Afghanistan, saying that he had lost confidence in the war in Afghanistan and the reasons for being there. Hoh’s interview may be viewed here (go to the second half of the program). It is well worth viewing, but as the link will expire on Wednesday 9 December, here is a summary of Hoh’s key points:

- The presence of Western troops in Afghanistan is not doing anything to make the world safer from al-Qaeda, which has evolved into a form in which it does not need safe havens and training camps in Afghanistan.

- We have injected ourselves into one side of a civil war, and our troops are fighting and dying in combat against people who are only fighting us because we are occupying their country, and we are doing this to prop up a corrupt and illegitimate regime.

- Half of the nation wants us in Afghanistan, the other half doesn’t.  Afghanistan is divided on a line running from northeast to southwest.  On the north and west side of that line are Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara; on the east and south are Pashtuns. Within that area there are urban Pashtuns and rural Pashtuns.

- The rural Pashtuns are the insurgency, and they are fighting us simply because we are there.

- The status quo is locked in a stalemate. Increasing the foreign forces in Afghanistan will only preserve the status quo at a higher level of violence, because it will simply draw more people out to fight us. We need a political solution, and providing more support creates no incentive for the Karzai regime to become reconciled with its opposition.

- A “surge” will not work in Afghanistan the way it did in Iraq. The two countries are astonishingly different. Iraqi people live in cities and it is possible there to separate the insurgency from the people.  You simply cannot do that in Afghanistan because the people live in the countryside, and there the insurgency is the people.

- Accordingly, we need to suspend military operations in the valleys and villages where we are fighting people who are only fighting because we are occupying their valleys and villages. We need to work for a political solution while we gradually withdraw.

- “Clear, hold and build” will not work when the people are fundamentally split. The rural Pashtun regard the Afghan Army as an internal occupying force that fights them on behalf of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and urban Pashtun, and as long as we are there they will continue to fight us.

- If you look up the word “kleptocracy” in the dictionary you ought to find a picture of the Karzai Government, which is a Government which exists only to serve itself. Increasing our forces only strengthens its hand. Karzai regime local officials have no intention of being reconciled to their opposition at any time; they have a good thing going and are being propped up by Western forces. We must work for a political solution.

That all makes sense to me.

For an earlier post relevant to this subject, see Training an Afghan army.

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