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The Afghan fiasco – The limited contribution of EUPOL-A

The Afghan fiasco – The limited contribution of EUPOL-A “It’s all fucked up,” reflected Mads, a Danish soldier posted in Armadillo, a Forward Operating Base located in Afghanistan. One of his comrades had been seriously wounded by an IED. Such a statement was probably the most accurate description of the then-Vietnam war, and is as fitting for today’s in Afghanistan. The violence of the environment has spilled over to the mind of deployed soldiers. The latest case was the rampage orchestrated by a US soldier killing 16 civilians on March 11th.

It is not difficult to compare the outstanding documentary Armadillo, winner of the Grand Prix Certain Regard at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, with another crucial documentary, Restrepo, winner of the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Both documentaries offer us, civilians back at home, a unique opportunity to grasp the reality on the ground in Afghanistan not only from a soldier standpoint but also from an Afghan angle. These two pictures do not judge or even try to explain the reasons of the war, but instead drop us at the heart of the daily psychological and physical violence taking place in the middle of beautiful Afghan sceneries and landscapes. A third example, Taxi to the Dark Side describes the unwanted truth about the use of violence and torture, especially in the early years of the conflict in Afghanistan. Torture is still used, but has not been directly advertised by the Obama Administration as it was done by the previous administration led by President Bush.

Janus Metz formidably shows in Aramdillo the challenges the ISAF forces face in trying to interact with civilians on the ground. The application of counter-insurgency, or winning the heart and mind of Afghanistan civilians, is extremely difficult for several reasons. First, interactions are limited due to the danger of the outside environment and the linguistic and cultural barriers. Second, the force used by ISAF soldiers, which undeniably leads to civilian casualties and material destructions. Even though civilians can ask for compensation for their losses, the damage is already done. Third, as expressed by civilians, cooperation with the ISAF forces is too dangerous for their security. Cooperation with one side, either ISAF or the Taliban, is ultimately synonymous with death.

The EUPOL-A fiasco?

During one of my interviews with a European expert on the EU police mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL-A), the latter advised me to maybe look at a more successful CSDP mission such as the one in Kosovo or even the famous EUNAVFOR off the coast of Somalia. Such recommendation illustrates the real challenge of the Afghan mission. The EU mission in Afghanistan, EUPOL-A, launched in 2007 was supposed to contribute to the rebuilding effort of the Afghan police force, or the Afghan National Police (ANP). The EUPOL-A’s strategy is embedded in the Security Sector Reform (SSR) model, which consists of building up the different sectors needed

The Afghan fiasco – The limited contribution of EUPOL-A

Polizei Hamburg/Hieber

for a government to maintain domestic security, such as police force, judiciary system, penitentiary system and so on.

The EUPOL-A mission is probably one of the worst missions in term of design, planning, and deployment. On the ground, several challenges and limits can be identified: first, personal shortage. The full capacity of the 400 civilian experts has never been attained; second, security. The EU has no way to protect its experts affecting their abilities to accomplish their missions as the EU rather have them secured inside EU would infrastructures. Furthermore, because of its civilian mandate, NATO cannot protect EUPOL-A. Third, its weak financial support; EUPOL-A’s budget is around $40 million per year as opposed to the $400 million per day of US mission in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Fourth, there is a limited feedback loop following a top-bottom process. Last, institutional overlap is a considerable problem as several actors could be performing the same task without any coordination, or even with diverging approaches.

Ultimately, the goals of the mission, training the Afghan National Police and reforming the Afghan security sectors, are quite impossible considering the limited human, material, financial, and political commitment of EU Member States. The mission was doomed to fail even before the deployment of EUPOL experts.

Many Afghans have taken pride in defining Afghanistan as a Graveyard of Empires. It is true that Britain, the Soviet Union, and now the US with its allies have all ended up leaving Afghanistan without accomplishing their goals, either occupation or securing it. Afghanistan has become a domestic political graveyard. Ms. Merkel, Mr, Sarkozy and Mr. Cameron, as well as other European leaders have always been extremely careful in addressing the Afghan dilemma. They need to show support to the transatlantic relationship, while focusing on getting reelected. In the current French political debate for the presidential election, each candidate has called for a full return of the French troops back home if elected/re-elected. No debate has taken place publicly on what does it mean to the future of CSDP missions, for the future of Afghanistan, and ultimately the stability of the region.

The US is planning to withdraw all its combat troops by 2014, which will be preceded and/or followed by each European troops part of the ISAF. The discussion of the departure of ISAF forces is accompanied by an emerging series of reports and articles criticizing the lack of truth in portraying the reality on the ground for political reasons. Several weeks ago, LT Col. Daniel L. Davis published a very insightful article, Truth, Lies and Afghanistan, in the Armed Forces Journal. His article is quite important in describing and assessing the reality on the ground going from “bad to abysmal.”

One of the problems when studying the war in Afghanistan is forgetting about the human story on the ground. When watching documentaries on Afghanistan, reading government reports, or reading articles written by ranked soldiers in Afghanistan, I simply cannot stop making the connection with the war in Vietnam. Was Vietnam worth it? Will Afghanistan be seen as worth it?



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.