The second week has passed without any US or NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan. 15 soldiers, however were wounded in action (WIA) this week. The low casualties may be due to the break in the fighting season.
As NATO races to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, US forces have vacated Afghan villages, while the Afghan army and police have taken the lead in operations against the Taliban and and other insurgents. This may have resulted in a lesser risk for NATO and US soldiers, which resulted in another week without any US and ISAF soldier killed in action (KIA).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Washington last week, ironing out details with US President Obama. The removal of US troops from Afghan villages was agreed on, but there was no agreement of Karzai's heavy weapons wish list. Although NATO has pledged $16 billion in support for Afghanistan security forces, the question remains of exactly what that equipment should be.
According to National Public Radio (NPR), Afghan military officials say that his equipment should be big ticket planes, tanks and other conventional weapons. The US disagrees and contends that Afghanistan should forget prestige weaponry and focus on weapons suitable for counterinsurgency operations.
But just what equipment will be provided? Afghan military officials want big-ticket planes, tanks and other conventional weapons.
The U.S., however, says the Afghans need to get their strategic priorities in order, and focus less on prestige hardware and more on weaponry and equipment suitable for counterinsurgency warfare.
While Afghan military officials contend that they can fight insurgents in Afghanistan with the weapons they have, they say that they need the big ticket weapons to control their borders. This appears to be a valid argument since many of the insurgents originate in Pakistan and in the border areas.
The opinion of Afghan Col. Abdul Qudos Ghani typifies the dilemma. He is the commander of the 3-year-old Armor Branch School, an Afghan army training compound on the outskirts of Kabul where NATO advisers provide much of the training.
"We can fight the insurgents inside of Afghanistan with the weapons we have, but to control our borders, we should have heavy weapons," Ghani says.
And by heavy weapons he means artillery, jets and tanks. Many other Afghan commanders and defense officials echo Ghani's sentiments.
The Afghan-Pakistan borderShortly after the US/NATO invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent defeat of the Taliban, the Afghan-Pakistan border region became the front line of the war with the Taliban. This area has been difficult to control for the Pakistani military and the US has heavily relied on a drone program to deal with the situation. Pakistan is a huge factor in getting an upper hand on this war.
Kabul's writ has never run strong in the remote southern plains of Helmand province which is why it emerged as the most significant Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan immediately after the US-led invasion of 2001. Further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of Balochistan province. Since 9/11 this region has been in turmoil.
The US is planning to leave a residual force after its withdrawal in 2014 for just that purpose. The force is intended to advice Afghan Security Forces, conduct special operations and protect American interests in the country. After Karzai's visit it appeared that the details had been hammered out. One of the requirements was immunity for US forces from Afghan prosecution.
Some of the hurdles have been overcome by the US agreeing to transfer Afghan prisoners to Afghan authorities. The size of the residual force has yet to be announced and their has been no word on the status of forces agreement since the Washington meeting.
In a recent Foreign Policy Report, the widespread briber in the country was highlighted. The report points to a UN report that says that $3.9 billion was spent on bribery in 2012.. This amount represents twice the country's domestic revenue and 40 percent more bribes than in 2009.
A United Nations report released on Thursday finds that $3.9 billion was spent on bribes in Afghanistan in 2012, twice the country's domestic revenue, and 40 percent more than the amount paid in bribes in 2009 (AP, AJE, BBC). In a survey of 7,000 Afghans, half of the respondents reported having to pay at least one bribe to a public official in 2012, and 68 percent said low wages are an acceptable reason for demanding a bribe.
To say that corruption is still king in Afghanistan would be an understatement. The country continues to be a dangerous place and insurgents operate at will in Pakistan. The US is between a rock and a hard place. In order to maintain stability in the region, especially in Pakistan, billions of dollars continue to be poured into the region.
On the one hand, NATO and the US would like to totally detach, but the risks in a volatile region are too high. The US and NATO's control of the region will be dependent on the money that continues to be poured in the region. It can exercise control with the weaponry it agrees to give to Afghanistan, but money directly given to Afghan authorities could end up in private bank accounts.
As the war draws to a conclusion, the US will continue to be involved for at least a decade. The status of forces agreement is critical as is the size of the residual force. The US must get this right. One can only hope that the casualties in Afghanistan both by NATO and Afghan civilians will continue to be low. While there were no US and NATO military casualties this week, there were 15 US soldiers wounded in action. Afghanistan continues to be a dangerous place and our young men and women, even with a reduced role still face danger daily. Lets we forget. Roll of casualties
Below are this week’s updated DOD casualty figures:
Op Enduring Freedom Total Deaths KIA Non Hostile WIA
DOD Civ Casualties--------------3-------- ----1--------2
Worldwide Total-------------2168-------- 1718------450----18230
Accumulated 2012 Casualties:
KIA Non Combat Deaths WIA