These self-de­feat­ing eco­nom­ics

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Even as fa­tal­i­ties among New Zealand troops in Afghanistan mounted last week, the de­ser­tion rate among the Afghan Na­tional Army will have con­tin­ued apace.

As fast as the Afghan Na­tional Army is re­cruited and trained, nearly a third are re­port­edly de­sert­ing each year – leav­ing about 100,000 un­der arms from a peak of roughly 170,000.

As this de­ser­tion rate sug­gests, the cause in Afghanistan is some­thing that al­most no-one, ex­cept Amer­i­cans and Bri­tons, the French, Aus­tralians and New Zealan­ders feel will­ing to die for.

The train­ing of Afghans to take up the fight so that for­eign troops can with­draw in 2014 might seem a log­i­cal step – yet given the eco­nom­ics in­volved, it is likely to be self-de­feat­ing.

Dur­ing 2010, the Afghan gov­ern­ment re­port­edly col­lected about $1 bil­lion in rev­enues – yet the US gov­ern­ment alone re­quested $12.8 bil­lion in mil­i­tary as­sis­tance for Afghanistan dur­ing the fis­cal year 2012. Clearly, the Afghan army that this mas­sive fi­nan­cial in­put is sup­port­ing will not be sus­tain­able by any Afghan gov­ern­ment in fu­ture, un­less New Zealand and oth­ers pump in huge amounts of money, post 2014. Far more likely, the Afghan Na­tional Army will be forced to shrink.

Thus, as Thomas John­son, head of post-grad­u­ate re­search at the US Naval War Col­lege has pointed out, the train­ing pro­gramme for for­eign coali­tion forces could well suc­ceed in gen­er­at­ing large num­bers of de-mo­bilised for­mer sol­diers of the sort whose preda­tory ac­tions caused the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion to turn to the Tale­ban for as­sis­tance in the first place.

It is against this back­drop that last week’s losses by New Zealand troops need to be con­sid­ered.

Trag­i­cally, the deaths of a fur­ther three New Zealan­ders from a road­side bomb in north Bamiyan prov­ince would ap­pear to be an ex­er­cise in fu­til­ity. Our Pro­vin­cial Re­con­struc­tion Team ( PRT) troops are be­ing sent on pa­trols into north Bamiyan to de­tect and de­ter the in­flux of in­sur­gents from neigh­bour­ing Bagh­lan prov­ince – and un­like our US al­lies, they are be­ing al­lowed to ride in Humvee ve­hi­cles known to be in­ad­e­quately ar­moured against the Im­pro­vised Ex­plo­sive De­vices (IEDs) be­ing used by the in­sur­gents.

In such cir­cum­stances, it seemed in­cred­i­ble that Prime Min­is­ter John Key should be talk­ing of ex­tend­ing the pa­trol range, right into Bagh­lan – this, when Kiwi troops are al­ready dy­ing in rel­a­tively lightly ar­moured ve­hi­cles, closer to their home base.

Just as in­cred­i­bly, Key blamed the Hun­gar­i­ans for be­ing un­will­ing to pa­trol Bagh­lan at night.

Quite log­i­cally, the Hun­gar­i­ans re­gard such long range coun­terin­sur­gency work as be­ing the prime job of the al­lied spe­cial forces teams – and in­stead, have used their PRT troops mainly to de­fend their aid and re­con­struc­tion work sit­u­ated closer to the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal.

Rather than crit­i­cise the Hun­gar­i­ans, Key might be bet­ter off im­i­tat­ing them.

Fi­nally, Viet­nam pro­vides a chill­ing com­par­i­son for our Afghan ad­ven­ture. Even if our Afghan al­lies had the will and the means to fight, 100,000 men un­der arms would not be enough.

As Thomas John­son pointed out, the South Viet­namese Army had more than a mil­lion men un­der arms, in­clud­ing a large air force, in a coun­try a quar­ter the size of Afghanistan, and yet it col­lapsed in three weeks of fight­ing in 1976.

As he says, the Tale­ban will have done the same maths.

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