Daily Archives: March 11, 2009

Well, I may have been a litte too sanguine in my suggestion that Obama was now prepared to face down the Israel lobby over the appointment of Chas Freeman. He’s gone.

Still, I did get one thing right. Freeman retains his talent for flamboyant invective. His withdrawal statement charged that “the tactics of the Israel lobby plumb the depths of dishonour and indecency.” Read more

The sign over the front gate at the main training centre for the Afghan army reads – “Unity starts here.” The future of Afghanistan may depend on whether this slogan can be turned into something more than a pious hope, in a country that has traditionally been deeply divided along tribal and regional lines.

Nato’s exit strategy depends on an eventual handover over to the Afghan army. So a massive training effort is underway. The aim is to increase the size of the Afghan army from 82,000 to 132,000 troops over the next two years. But Ali Ahmad, the Soviet-trained Afghan general in charge of the training centre, admits that the army is having huge trouble recruiting in the heartlands of the Taliban rebellion – Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south. Potential recruits are either too hostile or too scared to join up.

As a result, the ethnic balance of the new Afghan army is liable to get out of whack. Tajiks and Uzbeks from the north of the country will be seriously over-represented and the largest and most rebellious ethnic group, the Pashtuns, will be seriously under-represented. It sounds more like a a formula for civil war than national unity.

General Ahmad’s American colleagues were rather alarmed by his revelations and one attempted to suggest that there had been a “translation problem”. But the general was happy to elaborate. He told the story of a recruit from Kandahar, whose family had come all the way to Kabul to appeal to their son to pull out of the army – for fear that they would become the victims of Taliban reprisals. Read more