Officers oppose troop withdrawal

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A panel of seven Norwegian officers with years of active duty in Afghanistan have issued a clear warning to politicians: “If we leave now, everything will go to hell faster than you can turn around. Conditions (in Afghanistan) will become more grotesque than they were before the war against the Taliban started.”

Crown Prince Haakon recently went to Afghanistan to visit Norway's troops, but political support for their presence is under pressure. PHOTO: Forsvaret


Their warning comes after newspaper Aftenposten assembled them to give them a chance to air their views based on their own experience in Afghanistan.
Like many of the soldiers and officers on duty in the troubled country, they don’t think media reports of developments in Afghanistan reflect reality. They had posed several questions:

** Why is it that so-called “experts” and researchers, who aren’t present in Afghanistan, think they know what’s best for the country?

** Why do reports of “hopelessness” and oppression dominate media reports, when Afghanistan today is an entirely different place than it was a few years ago?

** And why is the Taliban seen as making progress when the country is threatened by numerous other groups instead?The seven officers took part in a roundtable discussion at a major Norwegian military installation in Bardufoss. All of them have first-hand experience with the situation in Afghanistan, having worked with a wide variety of Afghan political leaders, religious leaders, military forces, families, local authorities and tribal leaders, all from different geographical areas and cultures within the country.

They claim there’s been “fundamental” movement from a feudal society towards a modern one. They have seen Afghan communities change their lifestyles, and seen destroyed villages come back to life. They claim hope and expectations have grown among people they’re charged with protecting.

They’re convinced that progress made in recent years will be wiped out if Norwegian and other troops are withdrawn.

“It will all collapse,” said Lt. Col. Ivar Knotten, a former head of Norway’s military base at Meymaneh. “Various groups will fight each other to achieve power. Not the Taliban, but different groups whose interests are to undermine centralized authority.

“After that there will be alliance-building and civil war-like conditions. The Afghan security forces, police and army aren’t ready yet to control them.”

Col Arne Opperud, who headed the base at Meymaneh in 2007 and 2007, agreed, adding that political parties that earlier operated as commando units will once again resort to armed conflict. “They’ll get weapons, they have them in storage,” he said.

Col. Ole-Asbjørn Fauske, head of all Norwegian troops except Norway’s special forces in Afghanistan until this past August, stressed that 6 million Afghan children now go to school and that nearly 90 percent are offered some form of health care, compared to 8 percent four years ago.

“In the media it seems like everything is going to hell in Afghanistan,” Fauske said. “It’s not. There are an incredible number of good things happening there that you never hear about.” He and his colleagues want that progress to continue and fear it won’t if their support is withdrawn.