Afghanistan is not Iraq, and explosions in Kabul
A suicide bomb detonated in Kabul, at 9:45 am. The bomb went off by the German embassy, on the road connecting the embassy to a US military base Camp, Camp Eggers. Afghan hospital officials claim that three Afghan civilians were killed and 21 injured. The New York Times asserts that the blast was timed to match growing traffic on the road. Baktash Siawash, an Afghan blogger near the site of the explosion, claims that the attack was a strike on both the Germans and Americans because of its location between the embassy and military base. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.
That the Afghan government and international forces cannot keep the capital city safe from such attacks is painful evidence of the eroding security situation throughout the country. The worst of these attacks in Kabul struck the Indian embassy on 7 July 2008. About 60 people were killed in that attack.
Australia is quietly reviewing its role in Afghanistan as its key partner, the Netherlands, is due to withdraw sometimes in 2010. The Age reports that the Dutch withdrawal would leave Australian troops, who are paired with the Dutch, “without support now provided by the Dutch, including attack helicopters.” It’s doubtful Australia will withdraw, especially in the face of growing US military commitment. They may either reorganize their 1000 troop mission or even add more resources to make up for the Dutch departure.
There’s more news of a possible Kyrgyz demand that the US close its air base within that country. A Kyrgyz official quotes in Hurriyet has said that, “the presidential decree on the annulment of the agreement with the United States is already prepared. In a matter of days it will be published in the Kyrgyz media.”
Hurriyet also writes that, “Russian officials have discussed extending Kyrgyzstan a 300-million-dollar (225-million-euro) loan as well as 1.7 billion dollars of investment in the energy sector of the ex-Soviet republic… ‘In exchange for such a large loan the Kremlin asked Bakiyev to voice the decision about the pull-out of the US airbase from Kyrgyzstan before his official visit to Moscow,’ the official said.”
Kyrgystan’s already fragile economy has recently been hit hard and it’s energy sector has at least in the past two years faced difficulties, even failing to provide adequate heating during the harsh winter months.
A base closure in Kyrgystan would handicap US ability to supply its troops stationed in Afghanistan, especially in the face of supply line disruptions by Taliban attacks at the main routes through Pakistan. The American Forces Press Service states that “the Khyber Pass route provides about 75 percent of the U.S. supplies to troops in Afghanistan.” Increased attacks on convoys in Pakistan as well as the added pressure of a likely troop increase adds pressure for the US to find additional routes. If Kyrgyztan closes the US base in its border then the US will in fact become more dependent on Pakistan for supply routes since no other Afghan neighbour has shown a willingness to provide such support.
An article in Radio Netherland Worldwide comments on the latest US tactic in Afghanistan:
Part of the plan includes an influx of troops and bringing local militias on board – a strategy similar to the one used to improve security in Iraq.
But the mission will be more difficult because Afghanistan is splintered by tribal rivalries and weakened by militant safe havens across the border in Pakistan. Afghanistan’s notoriously difficult terrain and dire infrastructure will also make efforts more challenging.
This seems a fair summary of some key strategic differences between Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Iraq was also factionalised. I think one of the differences there was that of the three groupings of factions within Iraq, one (the Kurds) fully supported the US presence, while the largest one (Shia) had a majority of its elites conditionally cooperate with the US. As the Shia support eroded, the US faced much greater political opposition and sometimes violence. Afghanistan, on the other hand, does not seem to have a clear coalition representing its largest ethno-linguistic faction (the Pashtun), and other factions have traditionally had very fluid alliances that are prone to rapid changes.