When I departed Bastion last month, some soldiers waited three weeks to helicopter back to Inkerman, and were still waiting. That’s six to seven lost weeks for a soldier on a six-month tour. After other distractions, British soldiers might net three months of focused work. There is zero time to conduct counterinsurgency, and besides, the British military, despite its war-fighting ability, is not good at counterinsurgency. Without change, London likely will be defeated in Helmand within roughly two years, which brings us to the fall of 2011.
Germans had deployed to one of the safest areas in Afghanistan yet today they are staggered by Taliban punches. Berlin is brittle and apt to quit. Smart money says the Germans crumble from any significant role by 2011.
Canadians will quit in 2011. Canadian soldiers have earned respect, but their NATO-partner government has empowered our enemies by quitting at a crucial moment. This likely will be remembered consciously and subconsciously in future dealings with Ottawa.
Other fine partners, such as the Dutch, who have fought well, plan to downsize right when we need them most. The Dutch need to stay in this fight and increase their efforts. We need them.
The key partner in redirecting Afghanistan should be the Afghan government. Yet Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt narcocracy is widely disrespected by Afghans and increasingly combative with the coalition. We are pouring support into a government that we don’t want, and many Afghans resent.
On Aug. 26, I was in Helmand with the British when a bomb exploded in Kandahar, killing at least 41 people and blowing out windows in the room I later rented to write this account. There were bombs and attacks on a daily basis in Kandahar but I only watch from the roof as Afghans kill Afghans. Potential for civil war is great.
In this unprecedented moment, dozens of the world’s most notable nations have focused on helping one land, yet Western sympathies for Afghanistan already have peaked.
While an Afghan avalanche is poised, our thoughts are growing cold. This is it. Either we will begin to show progress by the end of 2010 or, piece by piece, the coalition will cleave off and drift away, meaning 2011 will begin the end to significant involvement in Afghanistan.
Michael Yon is a writer and former Green Beret who has spent more time in Iraq and Afghanistan with U.S. and British combat forces than any other journalist.