This is a guest note by Barbara Slavin, freqent TWN contributor and author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation. Slavin has visited Iran seven times.
Clinton, Karzai Define Down Kandahar: “A Process, not an Operation”
Experienced politicians are experts at downplaying expectations.
And that was just what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai did Thursday in regard to an upcoming U.S. military action in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
Amid a polite exchange of compliments and pledges about strategic cooperation before an overflow crowd at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, both these political pros defined down Kandahar.
This is not going to be like “D-Day,” Clinton said, “not a huge massive assault” but a “more targeted effort to weed out the Taliban” who are intimidating Kandahar residents.
“We are talking of a process, not an operation,” Karzai said.
Clinton distinguished the upcoming U.S.-led effort from the February assault by coalition forces on the town of Marja in Helmand province that has had mixed results at best. Marja, she said, was much more dominated by the Taliban while Kandahar is “a bustling city with pockets of militants.”
Thus a major military operation would be too disruptive and would probably backfire among the civilian population, she suggested.
The new spin on Kandahar was foreshadowed earlier Thursday when the commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, described the Kandahar operation as a “slow, rising tide” that would gradually improve security in the city, the Associated Press reported.
McChrystal said he would be able to determine if the operation had succeeded if the city’s population became more supportive of the local government.
That is an ambitious goal.
Giles Dorronsoro, an Afghan expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan that included a stop in Kandahar, said U.S. and Afghan authorities “know they failed in Marja” – a town of only 80,000 people — and expressed reservations about how successful they can be in curtailing growing Taliban influence in Kandahar, a metropolis of half a million that gave birth to the Taliban in the 1990s.
Afghan authorities were supposed to take advantage of the Marja assault to install a “government in a box” that would provide services to local people but that government failed to materialize. Dorronsoro said the coalition faces a similar problem in Kandahar.
“It’s clear that the coalition doesn’t have the resources to change the situation in Kandahar,” he said.
That would require a wholesale reform of the local administration currently led by Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who is reputed to have ties to the drug trade. Even removing Karzai’s brother would not be sufficient because “the whole system in Kandahar is totally corrupt,” Dorronsoro said.
At USIP, Karzai was asked about his brother. He said he had raised the matter with President Obama and it had been resolved but gave no details. Clinton refused to talk about the subject.
— Barbara Slavin