On the political front, it appears the US has resigned itself to the fact that there is nobody capable of replacing Karzai at present.
Last month, General Stanley McChrystal took charge as the new US commander in Afghanistan. Hailed by many as signalling a new unconventional approach to counter-insurgency, McChrystal comes with deeply troubling questions about his past. His long specialization in counter-terrorism operations, many of them shrouded in secrecy, point to a very different pattern of conduct for US operations, such as targeted killings, than the politically sensitive counter-insurgency program that Barack Obama says it intends to pursue. The ever pliant US media simply echoed Pentagon propaganda about the general’s “unique skills” but the reality is he has been involved in targeted killings that may constitute war crimes. For instance, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) from April 2003 to August 2008, he was involved in pursuing al-Qaeda targets and local and national insurgent leaders in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakis-tan — mostly through targeted raids and air strikes, the same kind that killed 147 civilians in a remote village of Farah province on May 4 or last August’s murder of 93 civilians in Afghanistan’s Herat province.
Such US air strikes, while causing hundreds of civilian deaths, have also become politically embarrassing for Afghan President Hamid Karzai who faces elections in August. Special operations forces under McChrystal’s command also engaged in raiding homes in search of Taliban suspects, causing deep anger among traditionally conservative people. In Herat, for instance, people took up arms against the US occupation forces while hundreds of university students protested in Kabul.
Clearly, the US war in Afghanistan is not going well despite shifting its focus to Pakistan. McChrystal’s appointment points to a more aggressive policy of targeted killings.
On the political front, it appears the US has resigned itself to the fact that there is nobody capable of replacing Karzai at present. While accepting him reluctantly, there are reports that the Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, who was US ambassador to Afghanistan soon after the Taliban were overthrown, could assume the unelected position of “chief executive officer of Afghanistan.” Given the financial turmoil, CEOs may be an endangered species in the US, but in far-off Afghanistan this is a position of choice. It reflects both America’s lack of confidence in Karzai and a signal that the US does not intend to leave the country any time soon, notwithstanding Obama’s Cairo declaration that he would rather bring US troops home.
The world is likely to witness an even bloodier year in Afghanistan in which civilians will pay a heavy price for American arrogance and hubris.