Saturday, August 28, 2010

Afganistan: Russia returns as America departs

Russia Returns to Afghanistan with the U.S.'s Blessing
[...] Mounting Russian concerns that Islamist militancy and cheap drugs emanating from Afghanistan are a threat to its national security have made Moscow refocus on the region even as the U.S. and its NATO allies maneuver to draw down. Two decades after the Soviet army left Afghanistan in humiliating defeat, Russia is poised to spend billions in the war-wracked country to develop infrastructure, mineral and energy reserves, with new plans taking shape to boost military capability. This time around, it has America's blessing.

Mutual interests intersect in the former Cold War battleground. Nearly nine years on, the Taliban-led insurgency is costing the U.S. more lives and money than ever before. With a July 2011 deadline looming for troops to begin their withdrawal, the Obama Administration has been angling for regional partners to step in and shoulder a greater share of the burden.


Large-scale investment may also enter Afghanistan to help shore up the embattled Karzai regime - and to make money. Russian companies are currently trying to secure deals to upgrade dozens of Soviet-era installations, among them a $500 million plan to reconstruct hydroelectric plants and a similarly ambitious bid to build wells and irrigation systems in the Afghan countryside. Rosneft, the state-owned oil and gas giant, is exploring potentially lucrative gas fields in the north, while other companies are said to be hunting for minerals such as iron and aluminum. With big bucks to be made in a war economy, Russian officials and business leaders make no secret that they are out to help themselves to the spoils.

Moscow's decade-long occupation of Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989 may have left the Russians with advantages. Many Soviet-educated Afghans who fled the country under the Taliban have since returned, adding a degree of competence to a fledgling government - with perhaps more affinity for Moscow than for Washington. And, according to Haroun Mir, director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, ex-communists heavily represented in the upper ranks of the national police and army remain the backbone of the security establishment. "They are knowledgeable and well-trained and we have to rely on them until a new corps can fill the vacuum," he says.

Faced with bigger worries and less reliable neighbors, the U.S. and NATO appear willing to accept growing Russian influence. "At this point, we can't afford to be too selective in terms of where we get help," says one Western diplomat in Kabul. Indeed, the gathering flurry of activity in Afghanistan is a sign: Russia is back.

Afghan president questions US timeline for leaving
[...] A statement by Karzai's office said the Afghan leader told the U.S. delegation that significant progress had been made in rebuilding the country after decades of war.

But he said the campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida had faltered because of ongoing civilian casualties during NATO military operations and a lack of focus on "destroying the terrorists' refuge" across the border.

Karzai also said President Barack Obama's announcement that he would begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in July 2011 has given "the enemy a morale boost" because they believe they can simply hold out until the Americans leave.

Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina and one of the four U.S. congressmen who attended the one-hour meeting, said Karzai focused primarily on criticism of private security contractors and the role of Afghan forces in the war.

Karzai has ordered all Afghan and international security contractors to cease operations by the end of the year, saying they have abused Afghan civil rights and undermined the authority of the state.

Karzai also emphasized that Afghans should take the lead in going into villages to clear out Taliban, with U.S. soldiers behind them playing a supporting role, Inglis told The Associated Press.

"I was glad he said that because it indicated a level of ownership and commitment to Afghans taking charge of the task," Inglis said. But, "I think it's an open question as to whether the Afghan security forces (are) at that level as of yet."

Karzai also raised concerns about Taliban hideouts in Pakistan, Inglis said, asking the lawmakers to provide more help in trying to stop attacks from across the border.

"He seemed pretty pumped up, very determined and energetic and optimistic, which was not the way I thought we'd find him," Inglis said.

Inglis said the lawmakers raised the issue of corruption and that Karzai assured them he is working on it. Karzai tried to describe the difference between low-level corruption and high-level corruption, but the lawmakers told him both were unacceptable, Inglis said. [...]

Yeah, whatever. I'm sure the Russian's won't bother Karzai with those pesky corruption complaints. As for the terrorists across the border in Pakistan. Russia may deal with them, IF they think it's in their interest to do so. Or perhaps they will make an alliance with them, to try to gain a foothold in Pakistan. The Russians are always over-reaching, so who knows?

Anyway, we won't have much to say about it once we are gone.

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