Inept at Both Killing and Coddling Terrorists

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the Toronto Star/Canada

Inept at Both Killing and Coddling Terrorists

The latest rationale - an old one, really, now recycled - for the endless NATO mission in Afghanistan - is that we are there to cleanse that country of terrorists. But not all terrorists are created equal. Some terrorists we rather like.

Washington is angry at Baghdad because Iraqi troops recently stormed a camp north of Baghdad belonging to the Mujahideen-e-Khalq.

That's the Iranian group that several American administrations have backed, even though the state department branded it a terrorist organization for killing Americans and others in the 1970s. (Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Syed Khamenei, is partially paralyzed from an alleged Mujahid attack).

In 1986, the group was welcomed and armed in Iraq by Saddam Hussein, then waging a war on Iran - with American blessing.

The group joined his war on Iran and reportedly also his domestic wars on the Kurds and Shiites.

Even after the U.S. turned Saddam from friend to foe, it continued his policy of befriending the enemy of the enemy. Hawkish members of Congress shilled for the Mujahideen, despite reports that the group had become a cult. Defectors were telling horror stories of devotees being indoctrinated, forced to live gender-separated lives, and of families being broken up.

In a twist of fate, the U.S. inherited the Mujahideen camp after its 2003 occupation of Iraq. It disarmed the group but provided it protection. It ignored Iran's calls for the extradition of the "terrorists."

With last month's transfer of security to Iraq, the camp lost its U.S. military post. On Tuesday, Iraqi troops moved in. At least seven people were killed, dozens injured.

Iraq wants to close the camp and send its 3,400 inhabitants to Iran or some third countries. About 1,000 are said to hold non-Iranian documents, including Canadian papers.

The Camp Ashraf Iranians cannot be deported to Iran. They won't feel safe there. That leaves the U.S. and its allies to resettle them. Any takers in Canada, the U.S. and Europe?

The European Union and Britain recently lifted the group's terrorist designation. Perhaps the more enthusiastic pro-Mujahideen politicians in Europe and North America would now offer their home districts as hosts for their friends.

The war on terror in Afghanistan is going terribly and has been since 2006, as recently acknowledged by Robert Gates, U.S. defence secretary, and Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

The policy of eradicating poppy production has also been "a failure," says Richard Holbrooke, special envoy for Afghanistan. "We wasted hundreds of millions of dollars, put farmers out of work, alienated families, and drove them into the arms of the Taliban."

Casualties, civilian and military, including Canadian, are at a record high. So are Taliban ambushes.

The situation is to be turned around by having more troops take on the Taliban; training more Afghan soldiers; minimizing civilian casualties from air attacks; letting poppy crops be, for now, since they are the largest source of income for farmers; and engaging "moderate Taliban" in negotiations.

Haven't we heard this before?

How long have NATO and United Nations officials been saying that you can't win by killing civilians?

Hasn't the U.S. alone spent $15 billion on training programs? Why would another $10 billion to $20 billion that's needed to train the required 260,000 Afghans be less prone to corruption and incompetence?

Hasn't it been accepted wisdom for years that what Afghanistan needs is a political solution? Yet there's no discernible effort.

While there's a more honest assessment of the crisis as well as a military and a diplomatic surge under Barack Obama, there's no coherent long-term plan. What we see instead are limited objectives:

Get Afghanistan through the Aug. 20 presidential election in as peaceful a manner as possible, and prepare the ground for an American exit in time for the midterm U.S. congressional elections in the fall of 2010.

Haroon Siddiqui

Haroon Siddiqui is the Toronto Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears on Thursday and Sunday (hsiddiq@thestar.ca).

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