Afghanistan candidate sees need for more U.S. troops, laments corruption
KABUL — The top opposition candidate in Afghanistan said he welcomes a call for more American troops to fight an intensifying insurgency, but warned that endemic corruption that tainted recent elections could undermine any military successes.
Abdullah Abdullah, who is trailing President Hamid Karzai in disputed election results, told Stars and Stripes that without fixing failed state institutions, including the still-fledgling Afghan National Police, the country was on the brink of collapse.
“I believe in the argument that there is a need for more troops. But at the same time, I question what will be achieved to maintain the rule of law of a corrupt government?” Abdullah said.
“Eight years down the road from the Bonn Conference, we should be in a situation to ask for less troops. It was possible. Because of the failures of leadership in the current administration in Afghanistan, the only thing that can help us survive is more troops. Otherwise we are warning of failure.”
In December 2001, a number of prominent Afghans met in Bonn, Germany, to re-create the state of Afghanistan following the U.S. invasion.
Abdullah’s grim view mirrors a blunt assessment of the war by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. In a report that described a strategy of nation-building, Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that the urgent need to stem the insurgent momentum was matched by the enormous threat caused by widespread corruption and abuse of power in Afghanistan’s governing institutions.
He also warned that NATO forces had failed to protect, defend or properly understand the Afghan people, further undermining public faith in the government and in NATO’s mission. A new strategy was critical if the troops were to succeed against the insurgency, he concluded.
McChrystal’s assessment has given new urgency to calls for President Barack Obama to reconsider the U.S. commitment to an intensifying fight in Afghanistan. Administration officials have been quick to state that the general’s report is just one of several views it is considering on how to best move forward with the war.
Allegations of widespread voter fraud remain an obstacle. Preliminary results from the Aug. 20 elections give Karzai around 55 percent of the vote, compared with less than 30 percent for Abdullah, but watchdog groups say the number of questionable votes is more than enough to bring Karzai below 50 percent. The candidates would then compete in a runoff election.
At a makeshift camp for homeless and internally displaced Afghans, Hassan, a 27-year-old father of five who lives with his wife and children in a two-room mud hut, said the government has left people like him to rot. Though he feels disenfranchised, he voted for Karzai.
“I don’t think one vote can make a change,” said Hassan, who, like many Afghans, uses one name. “So we voted for him.”
Karzai administration officials rejected the notion that the government was a failure or that the debate in Washington indicated the U.S. was considering a retreat from Afghanistan. Rather, they focused on McChrystal’s call for better training of Afghan forces and better protection of Afghan civilians as a recipe for success and downplayed the level of corruption that needs to be addressed.
“One of the reasons — there are many — as to why the insurgency has spread its roots again is our inability to provide the people with local government,” acknowledged Karzai spokesman Wahid Omar.
Abdullah said he is aware his dire predictions could further alienate U.S. support, but he believed that the opportunity to save his country was fading quickly.
“To be caught in this sort of dilemma, that stating the truth [about] the sad realities of this country might lead to a lack of support, is a bitter pill. But at the same time ... we won’t have another opportunity if we miss it this time around. So I voice my opinion,” he said.
“It’s not like a hopeless voice, but rather hopeful that we can save it,” he added, “especially with the renewed commitment of the Democratic administration in the U.S.”
Omar said he saw the debate in Washington as a natural discussion over a serious proposal. His government, he said, would welcome additional U.S. troops on the condition that they help build up the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police or secure Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, where the majority of insurgent training bases are located. He blamed a large part of the erosion of public confidence on the inability of Afghan security forces to properly protect the people.
Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi charged that the failure lies outside his government.
“I respect the assessment of General McChrystal but this situation, this lack of confidence, was created by international forces and international politicians,” he said.
If U.S. and NATO forces put their focus on building up Afghan forces, it will also serve to reassure the Americans “that this is not another Vietnam for them, that we are close to success,” Azimi said. “If they seriously focus on the ANA, we can have remarkable change.”