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These figures have become the subject of hot debate among the US Defence Department, the White House, the State Department and intelligence agencies as the days count down to Obama's strategic review. By any measure, they suggest that the surge's "kick their arse" strategy is militarily effective. But how effective, to what end and for how long? The Taliban have proved themselves the masters of metastasis many times in the past. The insurgents' true benchmark of public support in the Pashtun south remains unfathomed, though it is important to note that even after so long the Taliban are running an insurgency, not a popular insurrection. But "kicking arse" and culling seldom work alone to end insurgencies, and in Afghanistan could actually undermine the longer-term aim of driving the insurgents to the negotiation table. 

"Any dead commander is replaced by a man with stronger zeal than the previous one," explained Abdul Haqim Mujahed, formerly the Taliban's representative to the UN, now a member of the High Peace Council tasked by Karzai with finding a negotiated settlement to the war. "It's one of the main obstacles to the peace process. The younger commanders are more radical."

Were his words the judicious view of an experienced realist, or of a Taliban apologist keen to blunt the pounding his former allies were taking? As General Carter warned, few answers will be forthcoming before the return of next year's fighting season. Even US commanders, who are by and large confident about the surge, know that fighting alone will not win the war.

"Frederick the Great would kill a whole lot of soldiers, beat the Austrian army and the country would defer to him," noted Lt-Col Benchoff, who by the time his surge battalion pushed into Zhari was entering his 45th month of soldiering in Afghanistan. "But it isn't like that any more. The days of Frederick the Great are over. The military these days will never be decisive alone. They can only ever buy time for an economic and political solution. It's long-term, persistent benefit that changes affiliations here. How long that takes I don't know. But I hope it's soon. I'm sick of coming here."

Meanwhile, in Kandahar, the efforts for an economic and political solution, the key areas of the south's counter-insurgency campaign to which Benchoff referred, are stuttering.

Ghulam Haider Hamidi has one of the most unenviable jobs in the city: he's the mayor. People are always trying to kill him. Last year, he survived a bomb attack on his vehicle that killed two others and wounded six. We met one night in October on the lawn of the governor's office, an alternative to his own premises which Hamidi had been encouraged to avoid by Afghan intelligence agents, who had warned that a suicide bomber was waiting for him. Only two days earlier, his deputy, Noor Ahmad Nazari, had been murdered by a gunman as he walked home from work, ten minutes after finishing his shift. He was the second of Hamidi's deputies assassinated this year.

Popular wisdom has it that the Taliban, pushed out of their district heartlands by the surge, have moved into the sprawling city, disappearing among its million-strong populace, emerging fleetingly to kill government officials and supporters. The strategy allows them to hide but preserves their operational profile, paralysing local governance. It seems to work. Effective government institutions, the crucial foundations in the potential defeat of the insurgency, are being crippled by a shortage of employees. Fewer than 40 of the 119 jobs budgeted for government officials have been filled in Kandahar, partly because of the impact of the assassination campaign.

"I've got 800,000 citizens here made hostage by thieves and killers," said Hamidi, a fire-breathing former accountant who worked in Virginia for 20 years before returning home. "These killers don't want peace or stability. They can't even read or write, so how could peace ever feed them?" The situation outside the city is as bad. Among the important districts surrounding Kandahar, including Zhari, only 12 of the 44 staff employed in key posts have turned up to work. 

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Forjustice
December 9th, 2010
12:12 AM
How wishful can one make wishful thinking?

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