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Afghanistan and Libya: mission failure?

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Robin Lustig | 13:15 UK time, Friday, 29 July 2011

I probably don't need to remind you that it'll soon be 10 years since foreign forces invaded Afghanistan following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

It's also now more than four months since foreign forces started taking military action in Libya, ostensibly "to protect civilians" as authorised by UN security council resolution 1973.

Why do I link Afghanistan and Libya? Because, simply put, both campaigns are going badly. Some analysts would put it even more starkly: both campaigns are failing.

Afghanistan first. After nearly 10 years, what has been achieved? Well, within weeks of the US-led invasion in late 2001, the Taliban had been overthrown and al Qaeda had been denied its Afghan sanctuary. That was the easy bit.

Scroll forward a decade, and what do we have? Taliban and allied insurgents apparently gaining in strength and bravado in many parts of the country; President Hamid Karzai, on the other hand, looking ever more precarious in Kabul and facing the prospect of an imminent thinning out of the foreign troops on whose security presence he depends.

Just over the past few months, in the key southern city of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold, four major figures have been assassinated. In April, the police chief. Then, two weeks ago, President Karzai's powerful half brother. At his funeral, a suicide bomber killed the city's top religious leader. And last Tuesday, the mayor was similarly killed by a suicide bomber who had hidden explosives inside his turban.

What they all had in common was that they were regarded as close to the president, and were backed by the foreign coalition. Whoever was responsible for their deaths (the Taliban label can disguise a wide variety of ethnic, clan or tribal groups), the message to the Afghan people was clear enough: "The foreigners can't even protect their own people, nor can the president. There will be no peace until our demands are met."

And the message for the rest of us? "We know you're preparing to leave; and we know you no longer have the heart for this war. All we have to do is wait until you've gone."

As for Libya, well, four months is a lot shorter than 10 years. And of course, unlike in Afghanistan, there are no foreign troops on the ground. (In fact, that's probably not precisely true, unless we turn a blind eye to the advisers, spies and target-spotters who everyone believes are there, but who are careful to remain well out of sight.)

It was, to say the least, unfortunate timing that just a day after the British government announced that it was recognising the anti-Gaddafi National Transitional Council in Benghazi as the country's "sole governing authority", the rebels' military commander was shot dead in the most obscure of circumstances.

On the battlefield, it is clear that neither side is capable of landing a knock-out blow. However many targets the NATO warplanes find to bomb, they have not destroyed Muammar Gaddafi's forces, nor have they blitzed the way for a rebel victory.

No wonder there is frustration in foreign capitals, and growing signs of splits within the anti-Gaddafi camp.

The commander who was shot dead yesterday, General Abdel Fattah Younes, was a deeply controversial figure. He was a former interior minister, and until the start of the uprising in February, he was seen as one of Colonel Gaddafi's most influential friends and allies. Even after he defected to the rebel cause, there were doubts about where his true loyalties lay.

Throughout yesterday, the city of Benghazi, the rebels' headquarters, was swirling with rumours about his whereabouts. Some reports suggested he had been arrested by his own side to be questioned about alleged unauthorised contacts with Gaddafi forces. Officially, he was being brought to Benghazi to discuss the progress of the rebel campaign.

Then, reports began to circulate that he had been shot dead. Late last night, the reports were confirmed - the official story was that he had been ambushed and killed by pro-Gaddafi loyalists on the road to Benghazi.

Perhaps he was. Or perhaps he was killed by his own side. Perhaps by the time you read this, the picture will be clearer. But whoever killed him, it is hard to escape the conclusion that his death significantly strengthens the pro-Gaddafi cause and weakens the rebels.

That's not the message they wanted to hear in London or in Paris.


  • Comment number 1.

    Both campaigns are failing.
    Afghanistan was over when the Taliban had been overthrown & al Qaeda had abandoned Afghanistan. But it was never about Al Qaeda or the Taliban. It was about The Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAP or TAPI), a pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and then to India. It's about OIL. This is why the Americans will never leave Afghanistan, any more than they will leave the strategically located Iraq.
    President Hamid Karzai can work with the Pashtun; he is ethnic Pashtun of the Popalzai tribe. His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, served as the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament during the 1960s.
    And the message for the rest of us:
    "We know you are NOT leaving. We know you will never leave. You will take some troops, but you will fight us with drones, you will kill and wound us with drones. We want you gone!"

  • Comment number 2.

    As for Libya, of course there are troops on the ground, just as surely as NATO and the west are unfreezing accounts and finding ways to finance & arm the rebels.
    NATO has committed a war-crime; it has exceeded its UN authority. Latest of all, it has hit a water pipes factory in al-Brega, murdering six guards, this being the factory which makes pipes for the great man-made irrigation system across the desert which brings water to 70% of Libyan homes. What was humanitarian about striking the water supply? The general manager of the Man Made River Corporation which controls the pipeline reports it was hit in a NATO strike on Friday. In another clear violation of the law, a consignment from Italy of 19,000 AK-47's was caught in Ajdabiyah by the Libyan authorities.
    There is also evidence on the ground that NATO has used, and is using DEPLETED URANIUM AND WHITE PHOSPHEROUS. Murderous atrocities - an outrage against civilization and international law! Shame on Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy - all standing so proudly with blood dripping from their hands.
    Libya's Gaddafi built water system: was pumping water from the Kufra Oasis, in its southeast corner, through a four-meter-diameter pipeline to its thirsty coastal cities. When fully operational, that project would pump some 3.6 million cubic meters per day. The aquifer is not likely to be depleted for a thousand years! While many countries in the Middle East and North Africa bicker over water rights, Libya has tapped into an aquifer of ‘fossil water’ to change its topography – turning sand into soil. The 26-year, $20 billion project was nearly finished - built by Gaddafi.
    Gaddafi's solar project. In October 2010 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it was sending a team of experts from its National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado to collaborate on concentrating solar power in Libya. The DOE confirmed that Libya, with its low humidity and numerous sunny days, had the ideal conditions for the possible exploitation of solar power technologies. Greenstream Pipeline – the longest sub-sea pipeline in the Mediterranean was intended to put Libya in the centre of any future post-oil era energy industry. Gaddafi was building this.
    Look at a map. Libya is strategically located especially re the Mediterranean.
    And lastly, there is the oil: Libya has the 10th-largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world and the 17th-highest petroleum production.
    Libya, because of Gaddafi, is a country too big & important not to steal.

  • Comment number 3.

    Wikileaks refer to Libya’s “hydrocarbon producing potential” + “high expectations” among international oil companies. According to a September 2009 cable, then acting head of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), Ali Sugheir, told US embassy major “sedimentary basins with oil & gas resources had been discovered in Libya,” with seismic data indicating “much more remained to be discovered across country.”
    Began: international oil & gas companies trying to cash in.
    November 2007 cable, “Libyan resource nationalism”—policies designed to increase Libyan government’s “control over & share of revenue from hydrocarbon resources.”
    Gaddafi’s policy: forced oil & gas corporations to renegotiate their contracts under Libya’s Exploration & Productions Sharing Agreement (EPSA IV). Between 2007 and 2008, major companies such as ExxonMobil, Petro-Canada, Total (France), ENI (Italy), etc. were compelled to sign new deals - on significantly less favourable terms, collectively made to pay $5.4Bn upfront “bonus” payments. Cable questions whether Libya could be trusted to honour new EPSA IV contracts, or would again “seek a larger cut.” While the contracts were “broadly beneficial” for oil companies, which stood to make “a great deal more money per barrel of oil produced,” the threat of forced renegotiation of contracts created international precedent.
    January 2010 cable recounts “possible nationalization of the oil sector."
    Gaddafi also attempted to force the international oil companies (IOCs) to contribute to the US-Libya Claims Compensation Agreement. Signed in August 2008, agreement established a fund for victims of bombings involving 2 countries. NOC chairman Shurki Ghanem explicitly referred to threats made by Gaddafi to nationalise the oil industry. The US ambassador warned that “putting pressure on US crossed a red line.
    Libya developed closer relations with US rivals, notably Europe, China & Russia. A June 2008 cable describes a “recent surge of interest in Libya on the part of non-Western IOCs (particularly India, Japan, Russia & China). March 2009 cable describes how Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi witnessed the ratification of the Italy-Libya “friendship and cooperation” treaty, under which Italy was to pay $200M/year for 25 years as compensation for “colonial wrong-doing,” in exchange for guaranteeing “Italian companies preference for development projects.” An Italian official told the US embassy th

  • Comment number 4.

    An Italian official told the US embassy that Italy’s interests in Libya was “oil, oil, oil, and migration.”
    February 2009 cable, China Railway was awarded an $805M contract + $2.6B contract. May 2009 cable reports that Gaddafi told the Commander of US African Command General William Ward that “China would prevail” in Africa “because it does not interfere in internal affairs.”
    Most significantly from US perspective, Gaddafi apparently “voiced his satisfaction that Russia’s increased strength can serve as a necessary counterbalance to US power." US began to cultivate relations with certain figures in Gaddafi’s regime, and secretly discussed benefits of Gaddafi’s removal. Gaddafi’s fears of US were well-founded. Behind the scenes, tensions increased with the advent of the Obama admin. A February 2009 cable says the Libyan government was “anxious that the new US administration adopt markedly different policies toward Libya.” Cables show US govt closely monitored political opposition to Gaddafi’s regime in eastern Libya, where the “rebel” Transitional National Council was based. When Foreign Minister Musa Kusa met General William Ward in May 2009, he reminded general he “shared his views frequently & openly with his US contacts in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) & Department of State.” Kusa fled Libya to England by private jet on March 30 this year.
    The WikiLeaks cables further demonstrate Obama admin’s bid to topple the Libyan govt, its recognition of the unelected “rebel” regime in Benghazi have nothing whatever to do with “humanitarian” concerns. White House responded to destabilising impact of the struggles erupting throughout Arab countries, including in Libya, by turning sharply against its erstwhile “important ally.”
    So, there you have the Amrican duplicity...

  • Comment number 5.

    Well well well. Yet another failed imperialist adventure. How many more 'adventures' do those in the non-West world have to endure until the West realises that international violence and hypocrisy doesn't work? The desperate and farcical attempts by the West to get its own way is a comedy of errors that is beginning to unravel.

    It is now becoming clear that the West does not give two hoots about Libyan civilians - in the same way it never gave a damn about Arab civilians living under West supporting Arab dictatorships. The West is doing all it can to prevent the spread of democracy in the middle east. We would rather have pro-West supporting dictatorships that are deferential to our needs for cheap oil than have any concern for human rights and democracy.

    People in the West who believed that we should have helped the Libyans by bombing the hell out of them should be ashamed. One can guess their usual pathetic excuses, but they never once think: Why Libya? What about other Arab countries committing crimes of humanity, like in Syria, Saudi, and the Gulf states? What about atrocities committed in other areas of the world? What about spending the same amount of money on bombing Libyans on averting mass starvation in the Horn of Africa?

    Time we in the UK took inspiration from the Arab Spring and kicked this imperialist ruling elite out!

  • Comment number 6.

    People who have talked themselves into thinking Afghanistan is a mission failure simply do not understand counterinsurgency.

    With the serge the Taliban are being consistently battered. They are loosing more and more ground and when we face them on the battlefield we quite regularly "serve them their ass on a platter". Being extremely resourceful people and being backed into a corner (never to be under estimated) then they switch from fewer and fewer "infantry to infantry engagements" and even ambushes that in most cases they cannot sustain and consistently loose. As this happens more and more Taliban resources re-focus on soft targets such as civilians and other targets they can reduce their risk. Most of them don't like the idea of dying any more than we do. The end result is that while the number of attacks goes up this is a by product of being forced into a corner with more ISAF and better training and equipped ANA and ANP. In the words of my late grandmother " a rat cornered bites". Although this may not be the best analogy from a different time and a different war, in 1944 the German's were at their most productive, industrially speaking, and fought ferociously and brilliantly in many cases. This was not a German resurgence, but rather the beginning of the end for them. We would have been complete and total fools to let up the pressure on the Germans then, and for the same reason we must persist and persevere against the Taliban now. The statistics and facts and figures are important, but is equally important to relate them in context of strategy (on both sides) and and what is actually happening on the ground for a better and more complete understanding

  • Comment number 7.

    In the West they steal your money in the Arab world they take your life..small but important difference. Governmental corruption on both ends leaves the people with few good choices. Corruption of the West or brutality of the Middle East. Most political discussions leave out the people as people are no longer important. Most people would just like to be left alone. There must be a profit margin somewhere.


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