For understandable reasons, the nationbuilding effort in Afghanistan has always been, and will continue to be, a sideshow to the big events in Iraq. Somehow, what mattered most in Afghanistan was first dislodging the Taliban and only after that introducing Rule of Law and democracy, while in Iraq it was/is basically the other way round. Saddam was a spent force anyway, and no matter how much his WMD threat mattered, Iraq was first and foremost all the trial ground for the grand scheme of rendering the region harmless by empowering its people and hoping they get prosperous in the process.
That said, somehow, just below the radar, the very same process as the one in Iraq DOES continue in Afghanistan, albeit in a much less publicized way – and, admitted, not always in the way we westerners would like it to be. There was the country’s new constitution, adopted January 4, 2004. Taliban Lite for some perhaps, but somehow still a step forward. Then there was the country’s first-ever democratic presidential election on October 9, 2004, from which Hamid Karzai, with a 55.4% support, emerged as the clear winner. And soon, come September 17/18, 2005, the country is going to hold its first ever democratic Parliamentary Elections, in which 249 representatives for the Wolesi Jirga, or House of the People, are to be elected for a five-year term. This Wolesi Jirga tasks sound very familiar to western ears:
* Consider, debate and approve or reject draft laws
* Approve a law with a two-thirds majority
* Approve or reject Government proposals to obtain or grant loans
* Make decisions on the annual state budget and state-funded development programs
* Question Government ministers
* Set up special commissions to review and investigate the actions of the Government
* Approve or reject individuals appointed by the President to Government positions
At least 68 seats in the Wolesi Jirga have been reserved for women, in accordance with the constitutional provision that at least two women, on average, are elected from each province. If a province is allocated only two seats, one seat will be reserved for a woman.
Direct elections will be held too to form the Provincial Councils in all provinces. Every province must have its own democratically elected council of 9 to 29 members.
As for the Meshrano Jirga, or House of the Elders, (the "Senate"), its 102 members fall apart in three categories. 34 will be appointed to four-year terms (indirectly elected, so to say) by the Provincial Councils, and 34 to three-year terms by the District Councils. The remaining 34 Meshrano Jirga members will be appointed directly, for five-year terms, by the Afghan President himself.
I admit that there seem to be a lot of Islamist loopholes in the Afghan Constitution and in the conditions set for participating in the elections, mostly about Islam being the sole religion in Afghanistan and citizens being able to do anything they want and profess what religion they like as long as it is not contradictory to the principles of the Muslim Holy Book, the Quran... Personally, I don’t believe anymore that Islam is compatible with democracy, I even wonder now how I ever could have believed that. There’s not a single country on the face of the Earth that has Islam as its main religion and is as prosperous, free and democratic as your average western democracy. Turkey e.g., has had 80 years the time and were it not for its military, it would long since have become a theocracy again.
What I do believe however is that it is possible to nudge the Muslim countries to some condition where they can create for themselves a relative sate of prosperity to the extent that no significant pool of jihadists has a chance of forming. Islam is on this planet to stay, at least as long as illiteracy, poverty and inequality exist, and since eradicating it off the face of the planet is no option, the best thing the West can do is help those countries where it is the main religion towards a state where its citizens are rich enough to not consider anymore blowing themselves and others up to protest their self-inflicted misery.
Now, I still regret Belgium did not participate in the Iraq Operation. In my opinion, we could, and should, have sent a light brigade just like the Dutch did. However, I somehow am glad that at least in the Afghanistan theatre my country takes some responsibility towards attaining said goals, see above, as well as doing at the same part something useful in the WOT. It does so within the framework of ISAF, which stands for International Security Assistance Force", and ISAF's aim is to provide the nascent Afghan nation and its government with the military backbone to impose its rule in the farthest corners of its vast territory (ISAF’s Mission Statement can be found here). Now, since ISAF is also a UN-mandated operation (yeah, urgh, I know. Heard it too about benon Sevan and Boutros Ghali's family member), one finds many non-NATO countries contributing troops to its military chapter, although ISAF is run under NATO auspices. In fact, ISAF counts among its 8,000 troops soldiers from as many as 36 nations. Current ISAF commander is the Italian Lt. Gen. Mauro del Vecchio.
A while back, Belgium had some 630 troops on the ground, composed chiefly of a 400-strong battalion guarding Kabul International Airport (KAIA) and a 200-strong Paratroop Company as part of the KMNB (Kabul Multinational Brigade). In the meantime, the Para Company has been withdrawn and the only ground troops are still the KAIA Guard unit, now consisting mainly of soldiers from the 1st Regiment Jagers te Paard, a recce unit based in Leopoldsburg. However, there is also air support, since the Belgian Air Force recently dispatched four F-16AM fighter-bombers to Kabul, under the code name "Eastern Eagle".
This happened at the request of General James Jones, NATO Commander in Europe (SACEUR), and in fact the Belgian government took the decision already on 22 April 2005, at which time there was, since April 1, already a detachment of four Dutch F-16s in Afghanistan. The actual ferry flights took place first on July 6, with the F-16s from the 2nd Fighter Wing departing from Florennes AFB towards the Turkish Base of Acinki, and then on July 12 with in-air refuelling originally scheduled over the Black Sea by a Dutch KDC 10 tanker plane, in the event however it was a French Armée de l’Air C 135 FR (this because the Dutch tanker was at… Aruba, where it assisted in the refuelling of three Dutch F-16s deployed to map and scan the area in search of the missing American teenager Natalee Holloway!). Anyway, the four F-16s arrived at KAIA after a flight of 4 hours on July 12.
Initially, they are meant to stay six months including the Afghan parliamentary elections, but this period could be extended should the need for continued air support arise. Basically, the fighters are meant to lend support to ISAF ground troops in their effort to establish and support government control in Western Afghanistan (the so-called Phase 2). But additionally, the presence of the jets is supposed to have a stabilizing effect during the crucial parliamentary elections on 17 and 18 September. In fact, the Dutch and Belgian F-16s cooperate together in an ad hoc unit, the so-called EEAW (Expeditionary Air Wing). The principal tasks of this wing are "CAS" (Close Air Support), "QRF" (Quick Reaction Force) and "REC" (Reconnaissance) flights. The Netherlands and Belgium have some kind of tradition when it comes to military cooperation. Within the NATO framework e.g., Dutch and Belgian Navy vessels often operate in a joint flotilla.
The F-16s standard equipment to carry out their mission above Afghanistan will consist of a Lantirn Targeting Pod, detection and protection systems, a 20 mm Vulcan cannon, 2 external fuel tanks of 300 gallons each, two AIM-9L Sidewinders and two GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.
Somewhere in October, the Belgian pilots drawn from the Florennes-based 2nd Fighter Wing – Walloons, from the province of Namur – will be replaced by 10th Fighter Wing pilots from Kleine Brogel AFB, in the Flemish province of Limburg. So first Walloons, then Flemings. Thus we both do our thing, however little it may be. Sometimes I wish this sharing of responsibility transcended to more terrains o’er here in "good ole" Belgium. There’s been quite some tensions earlier this year between our two communities; maybe you somewhere picked up the dreaded BHV-acronym, which stands for Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde. Not gonna elaborate now, it ain’t the place. Also, way too complex to explain in a couple of paragraphs to foreigners. Suffice to say we Flemings got screwed again, unfortunately.
Okay. Back to topic. I said "however little it may be" because, after all, four planes, if you don’t count the one 15th Transport Wing Hercules, ain’t that much. Still there’s more to this deployment than it would seem at first. Not one year ago, in late 2004, an operation like "Eastern Eagle" would have been unthinkable in Belgium – let alone in, say, late 2002 at the time of the anti-racism conference in Durban SA, where Robert Mugabe was hailed and the States vilified. Methinks just over the past year Euro states have swallowed a huge dose of reality pills. On November 15, 2004, the EU3 (France, Germany and the UK) signed an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran aimed at guaranteeing that country stops its pursuit of weapons-grade uranium in exchange for economic incentives. Well, on Monday, August 8, the Iranians blew the agreement and resumed processing uranium. What else do you expect from a country where 40,000 human time bombs are supposedly ready to selfdetonate for jihad and whose president-elect Ahmadinejad on July 25 said "that the Islamic Revolution is not restricted to a particular space or time and will conquer all the mountain tops in the world"?
One year ago, eurocrats could still delude themselves the Madrid bombings were an isolated case. Since then, not only did they learn that in fact, even after the Spanish withdrawal from Iraq, follow-up attacks in Spain were scheduled, but also that the Islamic terrorists are, for the most part, homegrown, and that they enjoy significant support from their less sassy co-religionists. With skyrocketing immigrant democgraphics that's a hell of a prospect.
Today, Europe is starting to sing a different tune. If the rampant anti-Americanism in Europes MSM and among its leftist elites is not dead yet, it however seems to be petering out into rearguard actions against a new realism setting in. Today, radical French Imams are sans pardon put on a plane back to the shitholes they came from. Londons Metropolitan Police does apologize for the killing of the hapless but foolish Jean Charles de Menezes – but it dryly notes that "unfortunately" and due to the circumstances more incidents like that are likely to happen, get used to it if you please - and it keeps sending its bobbies with submachineguns on the streets.
The deployment of the Belgian F-16s must in my opinion also be seen in this light. The realizaton has dawned on the European leadership that urgent measures are to be taken to neutralize the only "root cause" that matters today – the inability of the Muslim World to offer its subjects a decent standard of living. Two years after OIF, Europe concludes that it better help the United States in implementing its democratization scheme for the Islamic world, since it appears to be the only strategic tool to counter the deadly influence of a poisonous ideology bent on imposing its disastrous rule on the Old Continent, and, by extension, the whole Western World.
(all photos via Belgian Armed Forces website and Dirk Geerts)