Thursday, December 30, 2010

NATO Civil and Military Co-ordination in Afghanistan Failing

Lillian Katarina Stene spent six months in war torn and war weary Aghanistan, serving as a major in the US military as a civil and military co-ordination (CIMIC) officer and now is submitting her research there as a PhD thesis. To connect local structures and military intentions, designated civil military coordination (CIMIC) units are set up within NATO. Their three core functions are to liaise, be a support to the civil environment and the military force. They contribute by assessment of villages and supporting basic infrastructure such as roads, water and bridges when needed.

Stene thinks President Hamid Karzai and NATO’s leadership are mistaken in relying on the withdrawal of foreign troops to bring peace. Though more “boots on the ground” are needed, she says:

We must differentiate better between military and civil tasks, and present ourselves more clearly. The military is the prolonged arm of politics, but soldiers are neither politicians nor aid workers. Nevertheless, the NATO strategy presupposes interference with civilian life. This gives rise to concern, and it is not an easy task to win the “hearts and minds” of local people

In short, a peaceful solution requires stability to be enforced with more troops, but the actions of the military and civilian aid in the war effort have to be better co-ordinated. One is inclined to think that none of us would be easily winnable by a foreign coalition whose soldiers kept shelling our villages and breaking into our homes boot first in the early hours of the morning making our lives intolerable, even if they claim to be protecting us form other gangsters. Indeed, the whole situation is reminiscent of the old gangsters’ protection rackets. You had to humor and cough up your hard earned dollars to both sides just to stay alive until one or the other won the territory war between them. Then you just paid your insurance premium, or taxation, to the winner.

That must be how Afghan people feel, not to mention the Iraqis, Vietnamese, and all the others who have gone before in the history of US imperialism. In history, people get rid of their own gangsters, even if they have to wait until the gangsters’ kids are fat and smug before they can do it. They can feel then that they have solved their own problems without any unasked for help from some other gang wanting to rob them instead.

Stene says that as long as war skirmishes are taking place within and among local inhabitants, a popular justification is TINA—there is no alternative. She admits that this is maybe the greatest challenge, a nuanced criticism of the NATO (ie US) strategy. Perhaps she has to humor her own employers, or former employers, from whom she hopes for a pension, but seems in no doubt when she says:

The war in Afghanistan cannot be won by military means. There are only political solutions to crises and conflicts. The Afghan people itself, through its leaders and representatives, must take the lead in finding a solution. Which is quite a challenge as the international community—meaning the UN, NATO’s coalition forces and numerous governmental and non governmental organisations—are all deeply involved in the development of the country.

Conflicting roles among military and civilian personnel is counterproductive to NATO’s strategy for peace in Afghanistan, for, as military forces continue to build infrastructure and cooperate closely with large civilian organizations, local people must find it increasingly hard to distinguish between the different agents’ roles and objectives. Isn’t it obvious that, when there are no military present to interfere with civilian assistance, then there is no problem of co-ordinating them, and the various agencies involved should be at least halved? In her opinion, too little effort is put into long term planning for reconstructing the country. Different national caveats and ingrained practices, attitudes, training and interpretations conducts different operational modes among the countries working under the NATO umbrella. Stene says:

Since there is no unified way of doing things in Afghanistan, NATO has a problem. While Americans like to act quickly, Germans and Scandinavians prefer to consider the long term effects of civil military coordination. The Americans are likely to dig a well on the spot, while Germans prefer to let the Afghans dig the well themselves.

It is the difference of attitude of the arrogant young imperialism with the long in the tooth old one. The young imperialists, the Americans think these inferior races ought to submit to their betters, and when they don’t, then a bullet will encourage them to do so, while the European powers, who have had the same attitude in the past, and have even fought crippling wars among themselves to share out portions of the world pudding, are now more circumspect, if not more humanitarian. While Afghan civilians are being killed in dawn raids and by drone or warplane attacks, it is hard for any rational being not to appreciate why their skepticism over US intentions continues to grow.

So, the military alliance’s “comprehensive approach” is counterproductive to both civilian and military parties operating in Afghanistan, since this strategy enables role conflicts among them. From her access to the inner workings of the NATO forces, Stene believes NATO is too top heavy. When grey zones between military and civilian participants appear, it is harder for locals to separate the two groups, and to establish who does what. Aid workers, whose safety depends on being trusted by the local communities, may be seen as representatives of the occupation force, and thus become more vulnerable.

A case in point is the dramatic increase in the killing of aid workers over the last years. When some of these organizations profess to be impartial, while simultaneously running development projects paid for by Afghan authorities and the international community, they are not considered neutral by local inhabitants. Such organizations suffer more frequent attacks, and their security situation is deteriorating. Stene says:

Building trust takes time. In order to succeed in Afghanistan, we have to spend time in the country and perform our tasks in accordance with the Afghans’ terms.

Spending more time seems to be her justification for more boots on the ground for longer, but the rest of her case might be better served by a withdrawal and an emphasis on civilian aid, as long as it is not allowed to be skimmed off by the US crooks set up as the country’s “proper” representatives to milk the country dry. That perhaps is why she sees the need for a continued NATO military presence:

Civil military coordination is about working behind the scenes, and handing over tasks to the Afghans:
  • It is vital to separate between strictly humanitarian organizations, whose task it is to supply basic utilities such as water, food and medicines to everyone in need—regardless of who they are—and international or independent organizations which are building schools and infrastructure and cultivate land in compliance with the international community’s or the Afghan government’s development plans.
  • It is vital to gain insight into people’s real needs, and to involve local projects and contractors. Building schools may not always be the answer to everything.
If local structures are not sufficiently developed, I’m afraid we are building a house of cards which will fall down after we have left.

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