Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires. Most recently, the super-power Soviet Union was forced to leave the country in defeat. Despite this history of dashed expectations, during the presidential campaign Barack Obama made Afghanistan his war of choice, although when he talked about the size of the additional military commitment needed, he talked in terms of a brigade or two, maybe 8,000 troops. Thus, when President Obama announced at West Point that he would send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, it came as a shock to those who had assumed that any troop increase would be much more modest.
If President Obama believed that the United States was building democracy in Afghanistan, he should have been thoroughly disabused of that notion by the presidential election of September 2009 and the parliamentary election of September 2010. Let’s take a look at these elections.
Election fraud was rampant in the 2009 presidential election: President Hamid Karzai was credited with over 100 percent of the votes in some polling places and in one he received 2,500 votes to his opponents’ six. A tribal elder went to a polling place at 10 a.m., found there were no voters there but the ballot boxes were stuffed full. In one polling place, Karzai ballots were bundled together in even increments, such as 200 and 500. Observers witnessed tribal chiefs voting for the entire tribe.
After the election was over, an European observer said that of the total votes cast, about 1.5 million were fraudulently cast — 1.1 million of those fraudulent ballots were for Karzai. More than 700 instances of fraud were alleged. Hamid Karzai won the election with about 54 percent of the vote, but after over one million ballots were thrown out, Karzai was forced into a runoff, which was not held because his major opponent withdrew.
Yet even after this orgy of fraud, President Obama congratulated Karzai for winning an election run in accordance with Afghanistan law!
The run-up to the parliamentary election on September 18, 2010 was a great boon to printing shops in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as parliamentary candidates ran off large numbers of election ballots that could be filled in before election day.
Of 5.6 million votes cast in the election, 1.3 million were thrown out. The spokesman of the Afghan election commission said the level of fraud in the parliamentary election was normal for an Afghanistan election!
In his West Point speech, P:resident Obama spoke lyrically about the major increase in the size and capability of the Afghan security forces. If he really believes that optimistic assessment he is at odds with history and facts on the ground in Afghanistan. The history of U.S. training of foreign security forces is dismal. One mission Ronald Reagan gave to the Marines he sent to Lebanon was to train the Lebanese security forces to keep order after the Marines had left. Yet after the tragic bombing of a Marine barracks, Reagan had to turn tail and run, leaving behind a chaotic situation in Lebanon.
For years, the United States trained scores of Latin American military personnel at the School of the Americas — since renamed — yet many of these U.S.-trained soldiers were instrumental players in atrocities committed against the citizens of their countries.
In South Vietnam, over a decade of training South Vietnam military was wiped away almost overnight by North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas after the U.S. withdrew its forces.
After more than eight years of training Iraqi security forces, their level of capability remains so shaky that in July 2011 the Pentagon began leaking the word that as many as 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops might stay in Iraq past the December 31, 2011 deadline. A high but unnamed U.S. official in Iraq confided to the press that security in Iraq was below what it had been a year before.
Disturbing facts on the ground in Afghanistan belie any optimism about the U.S. ability to leave behind a stable, capable security force. Among these countervailing factors are: the desertion rate of up to 25 percent; trainees — especially the officers — selling their U.S.-issued military equipment; widespread illiteracy; the youth of many of the trainees; the difficulty of integrating a patchwork of hostile tribes; and the finding of many syringes at training sites by U.S. soldiers, indicating widespread drug use. The major reason that U.S. training will likely be unsuccessful is that only seven to eight percent of the trainees are from the Pashtun tribe, the dominant tribe in Afghanistan.
The next blog will began with an examination of corruption and lack of financial accountability in Afghanistan.