As Karzai Goes, So Goes …

Continuing with our concerns over Befuddled in Afghanistan, The Washington Post has reported yet another rift in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Amarullah Saleh, Karzai’s top man for intelligence, has come out strongly opposing the president’s attempts to negotiate with insurgents. He sees the effort as a mistake and one that could lead to civil war. (Our guess is civil war would be a bigger problem for the fledgling nation than its current strife.) He sees talking with the Taliban as erasing nine years’ progress. He’s probably right.

The U.S. military leaders on the ground, like provincial reconstruction team commanders, have long discussed the concept of “good” Taliban, and the U.S. has warmed to the idea in the last year or two. U.S. officials have been cautious but want some sort of reconciliation with whatever factions possible. It seemed to have worked in Iraq, they say.

But pick your poison. It is believed a weakened Karzai could hurt the chances of success for U.S. forces. So, do you convert insurgents and alienate a large portion of the Karzai government endangering the operation, or do you keep the fragile government intact and kick the questionable insurgents to the curb to fight them later? (Yes, a little bit of both. We’re thinking like locals.)

Regardless of where one stands on this issue, there remains the delicate question of control. The U.S. has had little control in Afghanistan for some time. It bears the cost and the risk, but not the control. While U.S. interests in the nation may be overstated, the number of lives at risk on the ground cannot be overemphasized.

U.S. troops are dying almost daily on patrols. How effective are these patrols? Do they keep the lid on a volatile situation? Gather intelligence for an offensive that we believe may be further delayed as Karzai’s support crumbles? Improve training? Win the so-called hearts and minds? Could the units tell us?

With the Karzai government imploding again would it matter? Watch this four-way paso doble between the U.S., Karzai, the minority factions and the insurgents – five-way if you split U.S. civilian leadership from military.

How crucial is a stable Karzai to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan?

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