Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Right Reasons to be Pessimistic

There is a report today that violence is increasing in Afghanistan. This is entirely predictable and not necessarily damning news for progress in the counter-insurgency effort, as more troops and more activity by NATO forces inevitably would mean more targets and more contact and, hence, more violence.  Two other bits of news are in this report as well:
  • that NATO is causing a smaller percentage of the civilian deaths perhaps thanks to McChrystal's strategies and perhaps thanks to having more troops on the ground (so they can be more discriminating in their application of force);
  • "The most dramatic change has been in suicide bombings, which have tripled this year compared to 2009, with such attacks now taking place an average of three times a week."
When I was visiting Afghanistan in 2007, it was asserted that IED's (improvised landmines) were more targeted towards the outsiders and suicide bombing was focused on the civilians, so one tended to see the former where there was more support for the insurgency and the latter where there was less.  Of course, both forms of attacks have increased of late, but suicide bombings, as terrifying as they are, might just be a sign of weakness since they do nothing to attract indigenous support.  Indeed, they do the opposite.

While the failure to provide a high degree of security is clearly a challenge for the counter-insurgency effort, by itself, the higher degree of violence does not indicate progress or regression.  Over the past week or two, I have linked and discussed enough stories that do provide real reasons for being pessimistic and they have everything to do with the government of Afghanistan.  The Taliban are not winning supporters--the Karzai government is losing supporters.  This is an important but frustrating distinction.  We should be pessimistic--because of what we have to build on and whom to build with, but not because of the violence of late.  In Iraq, violence increased during the first part of the surge and then declined.  Unfortunately, that parallel should not be too encouraging since the Iraqi situation is not too promising these days with more and more assassinations of the Awakening folks.

We should take seriously the violence we see and the trends, but we cannot forget the context in which they take place.  If there was no surge and no increase in NATO activity, an increase in violence would be much more problematic.  Instead, this is part of the process, and we should be glad that NATO is doing less damage to bystanders.  But clearly, providing security to much of the populace needs far more work.

No comments: