Our chief correspondent roams across the news agenda bringing both light and shade to his topical reports.
Tuesday’s attack on the US airbase Bagram, which killed four American troops, conforms to what Taliban spokesmen said would happen, announcing their ‘spring offensive’ back in April.
So expect more attacks and particularly an attempt to kill as many foreign NATO forces as possible.
No change here then, talks or no talks. The various Afghan resistance groups wish to be seen to be ‘beating’ the foreign invaders from their country, whether or not that is in fact the case.
This will go on regardless of talks – be that talks with America or talks with the “puppet regime” as the Taliban continue to call the Karzai government.
In a push for further destabilisation as NATO pulls out, insurgents have attacked a number of foreign aid groups around the country in recent weeks – notably the Red Crescent in Jalalabad for the first time in 26 years. Deaths of several aid workers in the capital too.
So it is the 352,000 Afghan army and police who have to deal with this, after Tuesday’s formal handover.
That is, a third of a million men in uniforms. But a man in a uniform does not a soldier make. And the police? Cops there remain illiterate, notoriously prone to bribes and sexual assaults; turned onto the streets and checkpoints of Afghanistan with perhaps a couple of brief training visits to the firing range with the AK47.
A competent, trained match for seasoned insurgent fighters assaulting their checkpoints? Well the casualty figures for Afghan forces tell the story – soaring as NATO returns to barracks and flies out.
The army still lacks the artillery it needs – specifically Russian made, US acquired D-30 howitzers. With forward spotters, trained crew, maps, map-reading ability, competence in the required mathematics, a crew can lob a shell into a front door from the best part of ten miles.
So the new model Afghan National Army?
No maths, not enough maps, not enough trained forward recon – result? They revert to the old tactic of just pointing the barrel horizontally at a visual target a mile or so distant and having a go.
The vital fleet of transport helicopters to support this new model army is just not there. The essential transport planes are not there.
The casualty air evacuation systems are not there.
The morale isn’t there either with turnover and desertion at such a high level you need to train around 50,000 new men every year to replace those who wandered off the job.
‘Ring of Steel’
NATO commander, US Marine Corps General, Joseph Dunford just keeps repeating the mantra that support and training of Afghan forces is his number one priority.
As well he might, for that hope that Afghan forces can cope – and with the above issues and vastly reduced air support for ground troops hope is about all it is – remains the only game in town for NATO leaving now and all-but gone from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Afghan military officials and Karzai’s people make great play of how well the Afghan Special forces have acquitted themselves in recent weeks, faced with small groups of suicide attackers assaulting targets like the military section of Kabul airport recently.
It is true, in this attack they repulsed and killed several men with no losses.
But equally it is true that these attacks continue to take place with regularity in and around the capital with its supposed ring of steel. Road checkpoints around the Afghan capital actually have signs up in English bearing the legend ‘Ring of Steel’ which reassures nobody, even the tiny minority who can read them.
So it goes with the Afghan Army and Police – a lot of noise and fanfare, but the facts behind it all remain disconcerting for those anxious about what waits round the corner as NATO leaves, finally preferring to fork out $4.1 billion every year for an army that prefers to use a Howitzer as a blunderbuss and hope for the best.
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