Secret diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks show that the Obama administration increased the United States’ military presence in Afghanistan despite warnings that the surge could make 2010 the most difficult and bloody since the 2001 invasion.
US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry issued several cables in 2009 detailing serious concerns about the Afghan government and its leader, President Hamid Karzai.
Eikenberry claimed that Karzai “is not an adequate strategic partner” and “continues to shun responsibility for any burden, whether defense, governance or development.”
In a cable dated July of 2009, Eikenberry reported that Karzai did not understand US policy, suspected the US had ulterior motives with other countries, and the US intended to encourage political rivals like former presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah to challenge him. Karzai defeated Abdullah in an election wrought with fraud in 2009.
Eikenberry also issued an alarming and undemocratic description of Karzai and his relationship with the US:
In these meetings and other recent encounters with Karzai, two contrasting portraits emerge. The first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building and overly self-conscious that his time in the spotlight of glowing reviews from the international community has passed. The other is that of an ever-shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero who can save the country from being divided by the decentralization-focused agenda of Abdullah, other political rivals, neighboring countries, and the US.
A key cable written by Eikenberry in 2009 and originally obtained by The New York Times earlier this year asked the Obama administration to consider other options before approving a troop surge as part of former Gen. Stanley Mchrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy.
Eikenberry predicted that sending more troops and resources would only deepen Afghanistan’s dependency on the US. He worried that US and NATO troops would continue to do most of the frontline fighting, and the cost of increased deployment would be “astronomical.”
As Eikenberry predicted, 2010 was the deadliest and most expensive year of the Afghanistan war, with at least 711 coalition casualties and $171 billion spent, according to the Congressional Research Service.
A senior official recently said that the Obama administration wants to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this summer and hopes the Afghan government can stand on its own feet by 2014.
In his recent trip to Kabul to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Vice President Joseph Biden said the US does not intend to “govern or nation build” and reiterated the 2014 deadline for the Afghan government to lead and secure its own country, but he also made it clear the US would be available for more hand-holding.
“The United States, if the Afghan people want it, are prepared, and we are not leaving in 2014 … we are not leaving, if you don’t want us to leave,” Biden said.
Relations With Pakistan
The Obama administration’s decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in 2010 was successful in weakening the Taliban’s influence in parts of the Afghanistan, but the surge also pushed more enemy fighters to tribal areas across Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, forcing the US to continue spending billions of dollars on improving its shaky relations with Pakistan’s unstable government.
Pakistan has simultaneously complained about US predator drone strikes on its territory while asking for more military funding to help the US uproot the terrorists from its soil, but the US has become impatient with Pakistan’s sluggish progress toward uprooting the Taliban and al-Qaeda from its territory.
After visiting with Karzai this week, Biden went to Pakistan to assure its President Asif Ali Zardari and other top leaders that the US and Pakistan have a mutual interest in fighting extremism and will continue to provide aid to Pakistan. Zardari visited the White House to discuss shared efforts to promote regional stability with President Obama on January 14.
The US has already given billions to Pakistan, and last week Biden touted a US commitment to provide $7.5 million in military and civilian aid over the next five years. The US is expected to give the country at least $3 billion in 2011.
But secret documents released by WikiLeaks reveal a dark side to the uneasy and expensive alliance between the US and Pakistan.
In December 2009, Karzai told US diplomats that he was skeptical of Pakistan and expected the Taliban to retreat to the tribal borderlands of Pakistan to “lay low until 2011,” a prediction that would prove to be accurate. Eikenberry said the US shared the concern that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban could join forces, and a top Afghan general reported that he had received “contrary reports” that the Pakistani Army was helping the Afghan Taliban retreat and hide in Pakistani cities.
The 92,000 classified US military documents from Afghanistan released by WikiLeaks in mid 2010 revealed that US and Afghan officials long suspected that Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence spy agency was secretly aiding the Taliban even as the US continued to give billions of dollars to Pakistan.
Pakistani leaders have said both publicly and privately that they wish to fight extremists on their border and tribal lands, but the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that Pakistan is in dire need of economic support and will not completely cut ties with the Taliban in order defend its own security interests in relation to rival India:
The Pakistani establishment fears a pro-India government in Afghanistan would allow India to operate a proxy war against Pakistan from its territory. Justified or not, increased Indian investment in, trade with, and development support to the Afghan government, which the [US] has encouraged, causes Pakistan to embrace Taliban groups all the more closely as anti-India allies.
The Obama administration has attempted to change this sentiment and win Pakistani loyalty with billions of dollars in aid, and now Pakistan can expect at least $7.5 billion more despite a clear warning from US diplomats made in 2009:
Money alone will not/not solve the problem of al-Qaeda or the Taliban operating in Pakistan … Afghan instability by definition leads the Pakistani establishment to increase support for the Taliban and thereby, unintentionally, create space for al-Qaeda. No amount of money will sever that link.
Iran’s Hidden Hand
Cables from the US embassy in Afghanistan released by WikiLeaks reveal startling concerns about Iran’s influence in Afghanistan. A cable from the spring of 2009 details concerns that Iran was influencing members of the Afghan Parliament to encourage anti-coalition policies and had planted “moles” in the parliaments information technology offices. In another cable from February 2010, the former Afghan ambassador to Iran presents the possibility that Iran could be aiding the Taliban:
Daudzai said that two years ago when he raised with the Iranians their support for Afghan Taliban, they had flatly denied any involvement. However, over the past half-year, the Iranians, including their Ambassador in Kabul, no longer deny this assertion – now they remain silent, he said. Daudzai attributed the Iranian change in posture to their awareness that [Afghanistan] has evidence of Iranian support for some Taliban elements.