Wednesday, October 14, 2009

America's last chances in 'AfPak'

By Lt.Col. Ralph Peters

Opponents of our involve ment in Iraq -- foes of President Bush, really -- constantly claimed that country was in a state of civil war. Iraq came close, but the civil war never quite happened.

Yet no one seems to notice that we're now caught up in two authentic civil wars -- one in Afghanistan, the other in Pakistan.

We refuse to recognize the irreconcilable nature of these conflicts, the passionate motivation of our various enemies or the incompetence of those local officials -- starting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- who we insist are legitimate and popular.

We're too powerful to be defeated -- but too politically correct to win.

The sole hope for either Afghanistan or Pakistan isn't more weary American soldiers, nor is it our hugs-not-slugs counterinsurgency nonsense, nor is it lavish aid.

The only hope for either beleaguered territory (these really are territories, not authentic states) is a decision by its own population to fight and defeat the Taliban.

If the locals won't lay their lives on the line, our sacrifices are useless.

In the plus column, Pakistan at last appears to grasp that its survival is at stake. Its military has begun to take the fight to elements of the Taliban.

The problem stems from that word "elements": Pakistan's government remains determined to protect "its" Taliban. Even now, the Pakistanis refuse to see that you can't manipulate religious extremists to your own ends -- inevitably, they turn on you.

The acid test will be Pakistan's ballyhooed offensive in Waziristan, the inner realm of murderous tribal Islam. This will be a far greater test of Islamabad's resolve than the emergency action in Swat earlier this year -- as the Taliban neared the capital.

An expert insider points out that the Pakistanis have a disastrous history of strategic miscalculation dating back to the country's founding. Whether dealing with India or Afghanistan, they've never guessed right.

If Islamabad continues to try to keep part of the Taliban in reserve to retake Afghanistan after we leave, we all lose.

The Afghan situation's immeasurably worse. Pakistan's military at least has a high degree of national spirit. After eight years of our training and aid, the Afghan army couldn't and wouldn't defend downtown Kabul.

Yet there's one glimmer of hope there, too. Last week, our president nominated the ideal soldier, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, to take on the toughest job of herding cats in our Army's history -- feral Afghan cats and NATO house cats.

Caldwell's official title will be commander, Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan, and NATO Training Mission. In plain language, he's tasked to build a reliable Afghan army and a competent police force.

I'm skeptical about the Afghans, but not about Bill Caldwell. I've know him since we served together as junior officers in the 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, three decades ago. Brought in to replace a failed company commander, he swiftly became the star of our tougher-than-tungsten battalion, the guy you'd instantly peg as the future general -- an exemplary trainer of soldiers, calm and controlled amid exploding tempers and unexploded ordnance.

I know Caldwell can train the Afghans. I'm just not sure anyone can motivate them. We're sending the best we've got, a man who's led a division in combat and even battled the media to a standstill in Baghdad. But how do we get the Afghans to send their best?

If Caldwell can't build an Afghan security establishment willing and able to defend a non-Taliban Afghan government, we'll know it can't be done.

As our country awaits an unprepared president's decision on more troops for Afghanistan, Caldwell's appointment slipped by under the media radar. But his job's the crucial one. Afghanistan's fate doesn't rely on more American troops, but on Afghan commitment.

If Afghans and Pakistanis won't save their own countries from their civil wars, they can't be saved.

Ralph Peters' latest book is "The War After Armageddon."

Source: New York Post

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