The Afghan mission of the NATO-led International SecurityAssistance Force (ISAF), now in its 12th year, closely resemblesthe failed Soviet occupation of the country, a damning Britishinternal report argued. The document was prepared in November lastyear by a British Ministry of Defense think tank and obtained bythe Independent newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act.“The highest-level parallel is that both campaigns wereconceived with the aim of imposing an ideology foreign to theAfghan people: The Soviets hoped to establish a Communist statewhile NATO wished to build a democracy,” the document said.“Equally striking is that both abandoned their central aim oncethey realized that the war was unwinnable in military terms andthat support of the population was essential.”Both occupying forces found it difficult to deal withinsurgencies they overwhelmed militarily, the report said: “Themilitary parallels are equally striking; the 40th Army was unabledecisively to defeat the mujahedin while facing no existentialthreat itself, a situation that precisely echoes the predicament ofISAF. Neither campaign established control over the country’sborders and the insurgents’ safe havens; both were unable toprotect the rural population.”Most NATO troops will pull out of the country next year, leavingbehind a fragile and unpopular national government and a strongarmed opposition, much like the Soviet Union, the report noted.“Both interventions have been portrayed as foreign invasionsattempting to support a corrupt and unpopular central governmentagainst a local insurgent movement which has popular support,strong religious motivation and safe havens abroad,” it said.“In addition, the country will again be left with a severelydamaged and very weak economic base, heavily dependent uponexternal aid.”In a grim warning, the document points to the Soviet defeat inAfghanistan as one of the reasons for its weakening and eventualcollapse: “The international setting for both campaigns hassignificant similarities with world opinion judging both as failedinterventions. Both faced a loss of confidence in their strategicworld leadership and increasing domestic and financial pressure toabandon the enterprise.”The assessment, which a Ministry of Defense spokesperson saidwas meant “to stimulate internal debate, not outlinegovernment positions,” mirrors another assessment preparedby the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies(IISS). In its annual Military Balance report released this week,the think tank forecast that the Afghan insurgency would not beeliminated by the end of 2014.“The hope is that it can be reduced to such a level that itno longer poses an existential threat to the state and can becontained by Afghan forces,” the IISS said, predictingthat in 2015 the country would be “a patchwork of insurgentactivity.”A bitter divorceThe transition talks between Kabul and the US-led ISAF arecontinuing amid bitter accusations and recriminations. Last Sunday,after two suicide bombers killed 19 people, Afghan President HamidKarzai accused foreign troops of colluding with the Taliban to justify theirpresence in the region. The allegations provoked a rebuke from several US officials,including ISAF chief Joseph Dunford. The US general said in anadvisory obtained by the New York Times that “Karzai’s remarkscould be a catalyst for some to lash out against ourforces.”The day after the Afghan President’s comments proved to be thedeadliest for NATO troops in the country in2013. Two US soldiers were killed and 10 were wounded in asuspected insider attack by a man dressed in an Afghan armyuniform, and five Americans were killed in a helicopter crash thatwas blamed on bad weather.”We’re at a rough point in the relationship,” Dunfordsaid in his advisory. “[Militants] are also watching and willlook for a way to exploit the situation – they have already rampedup for the spring.”In a move to mitigate the damage, Karzai’s office said Thursdaythe US and Afghanistan remain strategic partners, and that hisstatements “had been to correct rather than damage thisrelationship.”The harsh exchange came as Karzai has ramped up his nationalistrhetoric, pressuring for a swifter transition of authority in thecountry from foreign troops to the Afghan security forces. Thepresident recently clashed with the US Military over repeateddelays in the scheduled handover of Afghan detainees. He has alsobanned foreign troops from university campuses, and banned US Special Forces from two provinces overclaims of harassment. Karzai also stopped Afghan forces fromcalling in US air strikes.
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