Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Russia wants the US to stay in Afghanistan

The Onion is a United States comedy newspaper that also produces parody news programs. One of the funnier programs I've seen has an Al Qaeda spokesman complaining that the US is taking too long to replace the World Trade Center. The joke is that the spokesperson transparently wants the US to build a new one so his organization can attack it again, but is treated as if he is concerned with rebuilding for the same reasons Americans want to rebuild.

I thought of that when I read an opinion piece in the New York Times by Boris Gromov, a Russian commander who led in Afghanistan and Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's Ambassador to NATO. They want the US to remain in Afghanistan until the US achieves the successes the Russians achieved.
Recently there have been numerous appeals in Europe to curtail the presence of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan as soon as possible. The arguments underpinning such appeals are essentially both pacifist and irresponsible.

The national selfishness of peace-loving Europeans is understandable. There is a persistent flow of bad news from Afghanistan — military losses, scandalous incidents involving NATO soldiers, terrorist activity and the suffering of civilians.

No one likes bad news, especially if it comes from the provinces where one’s country’s soldiers are deployed. The Afghan problem causes growing irritation, fatigue and misunderstanding on the part of the public. Moreover, the state of their troops in the Afghan swamp mars NATO’s image as “the most successful alliance in the world.”
I'm not going to say that I do not believe these officials are sincere, but it is an interesting idea to think of that maybe they are not. A failure of both the United States along with the entire NATO alliance in Afghanistan would be disastrous for the US and Europe, but may not be as bad for Russia. If NATO is discredited sufficiently, Russia will not have to worry about Georgia or other nearby nations hoping for outside support in challenging Moscow.

I repeat that I am not comfortable saying the Russians are being deceitful in this piece. Russia would benefit from the region remaining stable. Of course, Russia will not supply troops ...
We insist that NATO troops stay in the country until the necessary conditions are provided to establish stable local authorities capable of independently deterring radical forces and controlling the country. That is why we are helping NATO by providing transit for goods and training personnel for Afghanistan, including anti-narcotics officers.

Nevertheless, our cooperation with NATO is substantially limited since we are not sending our own troops to Afghanistan. We’ve been there before and we did not like it. That said, we are training CSTO Rapid Reaction Forces — an operational formation of elite units from Russia and our allies in Central Asia — in case of a NATO fiasco.
... but Russia is preparing rapid reaction forces just in case NATO is humiliated and has to leave in a disorganized fashion. In any event NATO should get to the business of learning the lessons Russia learned.
Meanwhile, NATO should get down to studying our war in Afghanistan, in which the Soviet Union managed to deter the onslaught of Islamic fundamentalists for a full 10 years.
Some important lessons Russia obviously learned are not to go back, and that the sooner Russia had left, the better it would have been for Russia.

Most likely the Russian strategists are being sincere in this essay. They want the US to succeed. It is humorous to ask the question, what if they are not.

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