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GNOSIS 3/2009
Can Afghanistan still win?

Sun-tzu, General and strategist who lived in China, presumably, between the 4th and 5th Centuries, wrote that in any conflict, whatsoever, the terms of reference are two, oneself and the others.
The consequences that derive are: one knows both the terms, then it will be easy to prevail in any circumstances; one knows only one of the two terms, oneself, but not the others, then one will meet successes and/or failures with equal possibility; one does not no either of the two terms, then independent of the size of one forces or the environmental situations, there will be defeats.
(Photo Ansa)

The battle-hardened Afghans

In 1749, Ahmad Shah Durrani definitively tore Herat and its territory from the Persian Emperor, thereby creating the modern Afghan State. The first conflict with the British for control of Kabul goes back to 1839-1842 with the complete rout of the British contingent. The crushing defeat is still remembered today as an example of the determination of that people, against any foreign occupation. The second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-1880) finished with the acceptance of a British protectorate over Afghanistan, but only in foreign policy. During the XIX Century, the Country was, therefore, the centre of the “great game” between Russia and Great Britain for the control of Central Asia. In 1919, taking advantage of the international upheaval following the end of the 1st World War, the Emir Amanullah Khan put in doubt the existing agreements and attacked the British Empire.
The English, tired of the war, gave up any interference in Afghanistan, which again became completely independent. Amanullah proclaimed himself King of the Afghans, abolishing the Emirate and proceeded with a reformatory process similar to that of Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. Following the failure of this ambitious project, Amanullah was forced to abdicate (1929), leaving the reign, after several years of instability, to Nadir Khan, formerly his Chief of Staff. Khan was assassinated in 1933 and in his place, Zahir Shah, his son, acceded to the throne. In 1947, there were tensions and clashes with the newborn Pakistan over the recognition of borders, the Durand Line, which still separates the disputed Pashtunistan. The Monarchy fell into crisis at the end of the 60’s, due to a prolonged famine which struck the rural areas. The Central Government did less than nothing to remedy the situation, thus allowing, in 1973, the former Prime Minister, Muhammad Daud, cousin of the King, to proclaim the Republic. Daud was killed in 1978, following a coup bringing the Communist Party to power, which was led by Muhammad Taraki.
The Communists started numerous reforms of a Marxist genre, which met with the opposition of notable traditionalists and religious heads and the extension of a popular uprising already underway in the rural areas.
With the death of Taraki in 1979, following a new coup contrived by the Minister of Defence, Hafizullah Amin and supported by Moscow, the persecution of the Islamic opposition began. At the end of 1979, the Soviets, more and more worried by the growing instability which threatened to extend the religious conflict to the Islamic Provinces of the USSR, occupied Afghanistan eliminating the unpopular Amin and installing in office at Kabul the more reliable Babrak Karmal. In 1986, the Kremlin, dissatisfied with scarce results, substituted Karmal with the Chief of Police policy, Muhammad Najibullah. Notwithstanding all this, the regime never had complete control of the Country and the Mujaheddin (Islamic guerrilla fighters) besieged Kabul. The clashes with the Red Army finished with the Geneva Agreements and the Russian withdrawal from the Country in 1989. The Communist Government managed to survive until 1992, when it fell under the blows of the Northern Alliance, the group of the seven principal Islamic opposition movements. With the proclamation of the Islamic Republic, the victory of the resistance and its principal exponent, Ahmad Shah Massud, was recognized. This event was followed by a period characterized by infighting between the Mujaheddin, which broke out in open civil war in 1994, with the almost complete destruction of the Capital. In 1996, the faction of the Koran students, the Taliban, supported by Pakistan, began the conquest of the Country, which led, in 1998, to a theocratic regime based on the Sharia and headed by the Mullah Omar. The new emirate lasted until 2001, when the Mujaheddin, sustained by a coalition guided by the United States, re-conquered Kabul and the entire Country.

An outline of the situation

With the failure of the Bush foreign policy, a recurrent question is being asked in chancelleries of the Atlantic Alliance and in the NATO Headquarters in Brussels: Can the war still be won in Afghanistan? The Afghan dossier was among the items of the G8, first in Trieste by the Foreign Ministers and then in Aquila of the Heads of State and Government, with the definition of an agreement in principle, on a larger involvement of neighbouring Countries for the control of the borders, to limit exportation of opium (Afghanistan is the largest world producer), to fight the flourishing smuggling of arms and to guarantee the security and regularity of the presidential elections in August. The hope of the West lies in the new political-military strategy of the United States, launched by President Obama.
The new objective of the White House is to reinforce the security in the Country, to maintain control of the terrorist activities, to try to win back the trust of the population with the reconstruction of a civil society which allows for a sustainable development. High expectations are placed in the new Commander of the war theatre, General Stanley McChrystal, expert of special forces and wished for by President Obama, in place of General David McKiernan.
The latter has been criticized with using a too conventional approach in the direction of the operations based principally on the concentration of forces in large bases, limited projection of same into the territory and an indiscriminate use of the aviation, which has caused collateral damage to the population to the point of alienating their sympathy with the United States. All this presupposes the Americans’ will to give greater dynamism to the events utilizing the new combat techniques experimented in Iraq for coping with the insurgent onset sustained by certain sectors of the Pakistan Security Services. The Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) has consented to the creation, in the border tribal belt, of training centres and logistic support for the guerrilla warfare, also suitable to ensure a safe refuge both for the Taliban leaders and for the executive of Al Qaeda. Alongside the “search and destroy” missions against the insurgents, McChrystal intends to continue the presence of forces dedicated to the reconstruction of the social structures of the Country. The first test of this change in strategy is represented by the “strike of the sword” operation, started on the 2nd July, 2009, with the declared objective of liberating the valley of the Helmand River, the principal zone of poppy cultivation.
The United States Administration considered that success in that province was fundamental to the favourable outcome of the fight against terrorism, since it is aimed at depriving the insurgents of their principal sources of financing and demonstrates the validity of the newly pursued military policy. The problems that McChrystal must face are many: the ruggedness of the terrain which limits the military operations, the diffidence of the population which is exhausted by a thirty year-old war, political instability and illusive battle-hardened insurgents.
The Afghan warfare is characterized, in fact, by the contemporaneous presence of the Taliban, illegally armed groups and organized criminality, united by the interest to drive out the foreign forces in order to pursue their own particular interests. Moreover, the American Commander fears an overly rapid process of ‘Afghanistanization’ of the conflict, as happened in Vietnam.
The Pentagon foresees, in fact, the creation of a National Army comprised of more than 130 thousand soldiers and Security Forces composed of 86 thousand police agents – a very ambitious objective for the short-term. However, the most serious threat is represented by the Taliban, which belong principally to one ethnic group only, the Pashtun, the majority in a Country where the population is homogenous solely from a religious viewpoint (84% Sunnites against 15% Shiites).
The principal objectives of the Taliban are to isolate the Central Government, delegitimizing it both from the inside and outside, threaten its supporters, impede any effort of re-construction, in order to demonstrate its incapacity to guarantee security and acceptable conditions of life.
Moreover, they are favoured by the ethnic and tribal subdivisions and by the conflict between the rural world – traditionalist and conservative, to that of the city – open to renewal and modernity. To speak of an Afghan “Nation” in terms of unity is, therefore, inaccurate, inasmuch as the Afghans are the fruit of numerous migrations and invasion of people who settled principally in the inhabited centres which arose along the main routes of connections with Iran, India, China and in the water rich areas. Kabul, for example, has 5 million inhabitants in an overall population of 28 million and it has developed on a plateau at an altitude of 1,800 metres, along the banks of the homonymous river.
The main ethnic groups are represented by the Pashtun (42%), theTajiki (27%), the Hazara (10%), the Uzbeki (6%) and by other minor groups (13%). It should be noted that the term Taliban identifies multiple names used by Taliban jihad fighters working together, according to the situation of the moment.
The most representative are the “Koranic students”, who refer to the Mullah Omar, and were defeated by the Americans in 2001. These “students” have their own operative base in the City of Qetta, in the Pakistan Province of Beluchistan and their activities are concentrated in Southern Afghanistan. Other important groups are the Network of Kaqqani, the HiG (Hezb-e Islamic Gulbuddin), a Party directed by the former Prime Minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatjar, one of the Mujaheddin chiefs responsible for the civil war. After 2001, these groups allied themselves with the Mullah Omar and now operate mainly in the Northeast of the Country.
The Hezb-e Islamic Khalisa came from the HiG. Then, with the same term as “Taliban” Pakistani jiahadist groups are also identified, who are engaged in a war of attrition against the regular Islamabad Forces. These are represented by the Tnsm (Therik-e Nefaz-e Shariat-e Mohammad), active in the Swat Valley, the Let (Lashkar-e Taiba), who operate in Punjab and Kashmir and the Ttp (Therik-e Pakistani Taliban).
Then, there is the Al Qaeda, where the foreign components prevail (Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, Sudanese etc.,). They do not have a role in the foreground of Afghanistan fighting, but furnish organizational and financial support, logistics and training from the Pakistani bases.
Finally, the Iranian and Pakistani interference in the Afghan internal affairs should not be under-estimated, which, although with different motives and intentions, have an interest in maintaining the instability of the Country by fuelling the guerrilla warfare. Islamabad, in particular, has always supported the movement of the Koranic students, which started and developed, initially, in Kandahar, in the South of Afghanistan, when they succeeded in restoring order in the Country against the war lords and the common criminality. The ISI has always considered the movement of the Koranic students the only reliable force able to govern the satellite State of Pakistan, to transform it in a zone behind the lines in the case of conflict with India.
The Iranians want to create continual difficulties for the Americans in an area which they hold to be of strategic interest and to confirm the Teheran leadership over all the Shiites of the Moslem world.
In this context, they propose themselves as “protectors” of the Shiite Hazara ethnic group, historically discriminated against by the majority and the Pashtun and Tajika Sunni. The Taliban, therefore, who have been able to emulate, at least in part, the success of the Anti-Soviet Mujaheddin by assuming the role of defenders of the Islamic faith and of enemies of foreign intervention, are pressing on the American and NATO Forces in the Southern Provinces and around Kabul, while trying to expand in the rest of the Country, with the aim of causing the greatest losses possible to the adversaries. All this should induce the Western public opinion to withdraw their own military contingents. The Central Government, abandoned to its fate, would inevitably fall under the pressure of the Islamic guerrillas.
Better news comes from the UNO on the annual opium cultivation, presented 2nd September, 2009, where it is revealed that the surface area intended for poppy cultivation has been reduced by 22%. The production, however, has remained substantially unchanged owing to particularly favourable seasonal conditions, which have compensated for the decrease of cultivatable areas.
This excess production, however, has caused a price drop of circa a third on the local market. This should tempt the growers, if properly stimulated, to pass to other crops, such as saffron and wheat. .

The ‘Karzai question’

Another problem that the Allies must face is represented by what should have been, initially, the “solution” to the problem itself, and that is Hamid Karzai, elected President of Afghanistan in 2004, after having assumed the role of Provisory Head of the Administration after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
The criticized President, descendent from the royal dynasty of Durrani, profoundly disappointed his American sponsors – for the rampant corruption and illicit traffic, which also involve a brother and members of his Staff – and also disillusionment in sectors of the Afghan population although used to every kind of abuse of power.
In the opinion of the Special Representative of the EU, Ettore Sequi, it would be counter-productive for the revitalizing plans of the Country to have a confused and contested reconfirmation of the favourite, but damaged President Karzai, inasmuch as it could de-legitimize an electoral process that the Allied Forces would like to see as regular and credible as possible. The attempt of the Taliban to boycott the election in every way (intimidation, assault, attacks on the polling stations) forms part of the logic of the insurgents, just as it took place, without success, in the Presidential elections of 2004, and in those for the Parliament of 2005. The elections represent a very delicate moment for the future of the Country insofar as its ruling class is called – finally, after much expectation – to start up the difficult process of transformation and modernization of the society, which would allow a break-away, even a partial one, from the NATO and American Forces.
The concept of modernization is not rejected by the population, not even by the most distant rural districts, but it is conceived as a rationalization of the State apparatuses to render the general conditions of life better and more efficient, without modifying the traditional society. On the other side, the presence of foreign forces based too long on their territory, reinforces the strong spirit of independence of the Afghans and keeps them in constant suspicion of these forces. The emergencies that President Karzai should have faced, especially after the London Conference of 2006, which donated 10.5 million US dollars for the following sectors were: the restoration of the legality with the necessity of guaranteeing the security and sovereignty throughout the entire Country, as well as the adoption of a modern judicial system still based on the Sharia; the reorganization of the economy and enhancement of the existing human resources in the Country, in such a way as to avoid dependence on the proceeds of the cultivation and of the smuggling of opium, principal source of income for the Country and to complete the institutional development – not a simple thing in a Country which is defined as Islamic.
This can come about only through the transformation of a system – in which the State is seen as unrelated to the society and where loyalty is given to the tribal groups and clans – to a democratic model, which is still lacking in the Afghan traditional culture. This transformation entails the re-introduction to the local society of concepts such as: the rule of law, respect for human rights, the starting of a real process of pacification, political pluralism, the effective role of the woman in the life of the Country, the overcoming of the religious conditioning and the freedom of the press. All these objectives are very visibly missing. In particular, it is always the war lords and the tajika mafia in the North of the Country who share out, among the others, the major part of the takings derived from the customs taxes, while the Central Government receives only the crumbs.
Always the same subjects control the principal natural resources and the national industries: the coal, copper and salt mines, natural gas deposits, emerald quarries, cotton mills, cement factories and the activities connected to the importation of any kind of merchandise, from food stuffs to fuels, coming from Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. The fact is that Karzai, as a good Pashtun, interpreted his role of President of the Islamic Republic not as a modern statesman of the Western kind, otherwise, he would have been already eliminated, but that of a traditional Afghan monarch – a guarantor and guardian of a State which is unitary and federal at the same time.
The Provinces, in fact, are entrusted to Governors appointed from among the elders of the various ethnic groups, in a precarious game of tribal, clan or family equilibrium, and not managed by the best officials of the State Apparatus. To sustain that Karzai is Mayor of Kabul is correct and erroneous, at the same time. The real power of a king descended from the approval they could create around their person and from the benefits they were able to donate to the various notables and religious heads. In a similar framework, it is normal that there is always the malcontent and in Afghanistan the armed opposition to the Government has always been endemic. The point is, to what extent is this diffused and how strong is the consensus that the monarch has been able to guarantee for himself, by whatever means or price, lawful or otherwise?
The clash with the Soviets in 1979, for example, did not suddenly arise from nowhere, but was already existing and went back to the times of Zahir Shah, the last sovereign. It was sufficient for the Mujaheddin to change their objective to receive conspicuous aid through Pakistan, to give life to a new insurgence, able to coagulate wide strata of the population, against the foreign invaders. The Taliban themselves never had complete control of the Country when they were in power from 1998 to 2001. The principal opponent was the legendary Commander, tajiko Ahmad Shah Massud, “the lion of the Panjshir”, leader of the Northern Alliance and, not by mere chance, assassinated by Al Qaeda on the 9th of September 2001. To maintain, therefore, that “the Afghans are not bought, they are rented” is a well known and incontrovertible reality, and it is the only way of recognized negotiation throughout the entire Country.
One case is true for all, that of Rashid Dostum: former Soviet General, then important former communist exponent who, with his defection in 1992, caused the fall of the Najibulla regime, therefore, a Mujaheddin Chief in the ambit of the Northern Alliance and one of the principal subjects responsible for the civil war. Supporter of the Americans in 2001, he was appointed, by Karzai in 2004, as President of the Committee of the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, notwithstanding accusations of war crimes for the massacres of Taliban prisoners.

Is everything lost?

Before leaving his post in July 2009, the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Sheffer, declared that “…. it is important that this is always more a NATO mission and does not become solely an American operation ….. we will have success if we keep Afghanistan on our side and if we convince the people in the West that we are there to defend the front line of terrorism …”. The Foreign ministers of France and Great Britain, before the Afghan presidential elections, emphasized the need to begin talks with the most moderate elements of the Taliban, to initiate a serious peace negotiation based on national reconciliation. To reply, therefore, to the initial question, it can be stated that not everything seems to be lost, if the elections decide a credible President and if the terms of the military mission are reviewed after the elections.
The Western presence must serve to guarantee that security which is necessary to develop an effective national and local governance, since the strength of the Taliban militias is based on a power vacuum.
The presidential elections, therefore, are a step in a long and difficult journey and not the culmination of the ongoing process. To terminate the mission before time would mean abandoning Afghanistan to its fate and the re-forming of an area of instability in the region.
The new American Administration has not excluded the possibility of arriving at a political solution to the conflict, not wanting to sustain the war effort for an indefinite period without individuating an exit strategy which provides a confrontation with that part of the insurgence willing to deal with the Central Government of Kabul, separating it from the diehard jihads. The aim is to give no respite to the latter, so as to avoid the new installation of a confessional system in Afghanistan, which offers exile to Al Qaeda terrorists.
In order to achieve an agreement which will end the clashes, it is necessary, therefore, that the Central Government is able to create the political conditions until the “moderate Taliban” are convinced of the necessity of seriously sitting down at the negotiation table. The point is to identify who these “moderate Taliban” are.
The Iraqi experience demonstrated that the most effective way of pulling out the supports from under the insurgents is that of activating an anti-guerrilla warfare strategy which permits the governmental control of the territory and regains the trust of the local populations, in this way assuring the Security Forces that they are no longer needed. At the end of reconstructing the Country, the West must encourage the formation of a Government which is more representative and authoritative than those that have alternated up to now, which conforms with the local tradition based on tribal advice, on which is founded the consensus of the greater part of the population. Then, of course, one cannot do without separating the Afghan crisis from Pakistan one – the so-called “question of the AFPAK”, as it is defined by the Pentagon. An insurgence victory in Afghanistan would further weaken Islamabad.
Many of the groups that fight in Pashtunistan – territory straddling the frontier between the two Countries where the Pashtun tribes live (14 million in Afghanistan and 29 million in Pakistan) – aspire to overthrow the Pakistan President Zardai, and the victory on one side of the border would end by favouring the efforts on the other side. Vice versa, the stabilization of Afghanistan could constitute a stimulus for the weak Pakistan Government to recover its control over its own frontier districts, as well as over the vital Swat Valley. In whatever case, the events in Afghanistan will not follow the developments hoped for by the West, without their managing the Country for much time to come, as the most qualified experts on the Afghanistan question sustain.

Post electoral considerations

Hamid Karzai was successful in his intention to be elected in the first round, even though suspicion of diffused poll-rigging remains, which would have considerably polluted the run-off voting. The Afghan law provides for the direct appointment of the President, if the candidate reaches 50% plus one vote. In case of failure to meet the quorum one goes to the ballot where the simple majority is enough.
Notwithstanding the disagreements between the independent electoral Commission and that charged with examining complaints, it seems difficult that an annulment of the vote will be reached, since the next elections take place in the Spring.
In this position of stalemate, both the Americans and the European Union would hope for a “step back” on the part of Karzai, but the situation of the Country cannot allow such a extended power vacuum and the international community will not be saddled with the burden of the expenses for another election. It is very probable, therefore, that the Western allies will content themselves with a formal re-count of the many dubious votes and it will finish with an official proclamation of Karzai as the new President.
These people, in fact, have known how to form very important – even if questionable – alliances with the most influential war lords and this has allowed them to predominate over the principal adversary, the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Abdullah Abdullah (cousin of Massud). In any event, the President, even if he is confirmed, must win back the trust of the West, inasmuch as his appointment risks to remain a problem for everyone, notwithstanding the local logic that “only a Pashtun can govern successfully”. Presumably, Karzai earned the votes of other ethnic groups by making most generous “electoral” promises like the ad hoc law on family law for the Hazara Shiites, promulgated a few days before the election, which strongly penalizes women.
For the tajiko Abdullah, the electoral defeat would mean the loss of important positions held by his ethnic group in the Government and the Public Administration, especially in the key Domestic and Defence Ministries, where the tajiki are predominant. Karzai, in fact, has clearly understood that the first step to start up talks with the “moderate Taliban” – indispensable to check the spreading insurgence – will be to re-discuss with the West, the presence and activities of their troops.
This would mean that he must guarantee the complete trust and reliability of the Security Forces, which are now under the control of men who are tied to the memory of Massud (and to the tajiko clan).
For this reason, a dangerous “Iranian syndrome” could appear. In other words, the non-acceptance by the defeated candidates of the electoral results, with the accusation of rigged polling – difficult to contest – which, in light of the still very consistent presence of hidden arsenals and irregular armed ethnic groups, could create an explosive situation. This would irremediably favour the insurgence and the opening of other scenarios, the results of which would be difficult to forecast, with the American and NATO Forces in the middle.
Although it would be difficult to arrive at a situation of this kind, it cannot be excluded.
It is more probable that a compromise agreement will be made, so as not to humiliate the tajiki, with the assigning of an ad hoc institutional appointment to Abdullah.
President Obama declared that the American Administration does not have a candidate of reference who is ready to collaborate with anyone who is State elected, but has decided nothing, as yet, on the sending of further troops, which are indispensable to pursue the military strategy of General McChrystal.
Anyway, the most important day for the Afghans – that of the elections of 20th August, 2009, finished better than expected, since there was not the feared decrease in voters due to disaffection, fear or disappoint in the democratic system, even though the attendance did not exceed 40% of the voters (in 2004, approximately 60% voted) and concentrated principally in the urban areas, where the security system was more effective.
Notwithstanding everything, the Afghans give much importance to the appointment of the Head of State, since the person is a figure of reference for the various tribes, more than an institute of Parliament. In this light is interpreted the substantial failure of the Taliban threat towards the voters.
Unlike Iraq, the Afghan insurgents do not have the cult of martyrdom and massacres as an end in themselves because do not intend to alienate the sympathy of the population. However, they do not distain the use of the kamikaze for tactical purposes, symbolic or publicity reasons.
The attacks on that fateful day, however, are to be ascribed to a handful of fundamentalist fanatics, or foreign Qaedists or even to local feuds, which are not lacking in this Country.
The attacks of August 26th at Kandahar, with circa 40 victims among civilians, and that of September 17th at Kabul against an Italian convoy, with the death of six of our paratroopers and 15 civilians seem, however, anomalous in the general picture of the insurgence, but not isolated in the Country’s history.
These attacks seem to be more of a challenge by the guerrillas towards the Western and Afghan security after the elections, when the security system was irremediably loosened, to demonstrate the capacity of the Taliban to strike anywhere and, perhaps, to punish the voters of the two cities “symbol” for the Koranic students. The fact that these latter were unable to stop the elections is a positive element, but does not resolve the immediate problems of Afghanistan. Kabul awaits, therefore, with a certain impatience, the confirmation of the victory of Karzai, at the first round, to face the present crisis, since corruption, bad government and scarce security require rapid decisions without a power vacuum.
For the re-launching of the peace process in the Country, however, innovative, courageous and concrete proposals are lacking. At the moment only the declarations of the British Minister of Defence have been recorded, before the election results: “In these last weeks, the debate on Afghanistan has been focused on the techniques and resources put in place … Field Commander, General McChrystal, has explained, however, that the success is measured not by the number of Taliban killed, but by the number of Afghans protected. To defeat the guerrillas, it is indispensable to legitimize the local politics. This is why it is extremely important to demonstrate that the vote of August is credible. The decisions of the next Governor of Kabul will be decisive.
Three are the great challenges that the new executive must face: divide the guerrillas through the reconciliation and integration of the ex-Taliban fighters, give security and support to the population and develop a constructive dialogue with the neighbouring nations. To begin with, Afghanistan needs a political strategy to dismantle the bases of power of the guerrillas. The Afghans needs efficient district heads and governors and a local Administration that knows how to take into serious consideration the tribal structures and their history”.
If the Western Allies want to follow these indications, bearing in mind that it would be difficult for Karzai to negotiate with Mullah Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatjar, but with the tribe chiefs yes, and will address the node security-reconstruction-welfare which interests the population, then the hopes of winning could become reality. In conclusion, there are yet no precise indications on a final rapid outcome of the conflict, but in Afghanistan, one must never be in a hurry, something which seems to contrast with the will of Europeans, in particular. The request of Great Britain, France and Germany to the Secretary General of the United Nations to call an international conference in order to identify new development objectives, as if those already in existence were not clear enough, seems more finalized to identify an exit-strategy than define the long-term commitments which Afghanistan requires.

The role of Italy

The Security Council of the United Nations has authorized, with the resolution N 1386 of 2001, the deployment in Afghanistan of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to help the local authorities to guarantee a “safe environment” during the process of reconstruction and democratization of the Country as it emerged from the preceding Bonn agreements. Italy participates in this mission with circa 2,800 units.
The Italian participation, therefore, represents the fourth contingent for numerical consistency among those present in the operation Theatre and is deployed between Kabul and Herat, where we have the responsibility of the West Regional Command (WRC), which affects four provinces of the Country.
The task of our soldiers is to guarantee the security, favour the reconstruction and facilitate the governance. Likewise, circa thirty Carabinieri are present in the EUPOL (European Police ) in Afghanistan, a European initiative dedicated to training the Afghan Police, and a nucleus of the Guardia di Finanza, at Herat, for the training of the Border Police and Customs’ personnel. In particular, security is sought by using activities of monitoring and patrolling of the area in coordination, or with the support of the Afghan Police and Army, as well as the training of these same units.
The reconstruction is conducted by the so-called PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in close liaison with the Italian Cooperation of the Foreign Ministry. It concerns the development of projects in diversified fields for the benefit of the population, upon request of the local Authorities. They include, for example, the restoration or construction of stretches of road and irrigation networks, water purification, the digging of new wells or the reactivation of water and sanitation, the reconstruction of public and school buildings, the development of projects to improve the general hygienic-health conditions, of literacy and local micro-economy, the distribution of help of various kinds. The process of local governance passes through the assured support to the Authorities, until they can extend their own institutional activities from provincial capitals to the more distant areas of same.
Another commitment in this delicate area is represented by the assistance supplied in the security of the electoral process, which has seen the deployment of a further 500 men in Afghanistan, who will return home at the termination of the need.

Over time, all this has cost our contingent the lives of 21 soldiers, the last six fell in the attack of the 17th September, 2009, in Kabul, while they were carrying out an escort activity from the KAIA airport to their Camp Invicta base. It is a painful sacrifice that our Armed Forces silently pay to the international community to guarantee the reconstruction of a martyred Country - Afghanistan, which, without this intervention would fall again into the obscurantism of a crystallized society – that Taliban, which denies the most elementary rights to wide strata of its own population, such as the women and the Shiite minority, in the name of an exaggerated and distorted interpretation of religion.
Honour, therefore, and everlasting gratitude to all those who have given their lives to help the weakest escape from their state of need and daily difficulties in which they find themselves, not from their own fault or choice.

Herat School: Distribution of
educational materials

Report ICOS: map of the Taliban
in Afghanistan

Photo Ansa

Photo Ansa