Thursday, June 14, 2007

Opinion (Robert Fox): Putting out a fire with gasoline

Above: Afghan Mujahedin fighters were trained and supplied by the U.S. to oppose the Soviet invasion of their country. Later, they would become the Taliban.

The US forces are set to arm Sunni nationalist groups in central Iraq to beat up local al-Qaida units and terrorist cells, according to reports out of Washington and Baghdad this morning. It's a bold, foolhardy, or even desperate measure - according to your point of view. By all accounts, it's got a tick in the box from the overall US commander in the country, General David Petraeus, although his deputy, Lt General Ray Odierno, also an experienced Iraq hand, is reported to be much more reluctant.

The US and British have tried turning locals against each other in previous counter-insurgency and guerrilla campaigns - with varying success. It carries a high political risk, which can go on for generations. The Americans and Brits armed the Mujahedin against the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan in the 1980s. In the 90s, they mutated into the Taliban, which has successfully metamorphosed through several stages to become a regional threat now well beyond the borders of Afghanistan and the northern tribal badlands of Pakistan.

Short-term expedients often have long-term consequences.

Read the rest at the Guardian