In what could clearly be termed a failure to have confidence in our resolve to win the Afghanistan War, President Karzai has staked out a position between his security forces and the Taliban they fight:
Afghan security forces will be banned from calling for NATO air strikes in residential areas to help in their operations, President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday, three days after 10 civilians died in such a strike in the country's east.
NATO air strikes and civilian casualties have become a significant stress point in the relationship between Karzai and his international backers. The issue threatens to further destabilize a precarious international withdrawal, to be completed by the end of 2014.
Addressing a conference at Kabul's National Military Academy, Karzai expressed his anger about the strike and said he would issue a decree on Sunday preventing any resort to such measures by his forces.
"Tomorrow, I will issue an decree stating that under no conditions can Afghan forces request foreign air strikes on Afghan homes or Afghan villages during operations," Karzai told more than 1,000 officers, commandos and students.
Karzai just deployed a nation-wide air defense network for the Taliban. Simply put, this increases the chances for the Taliban to win the war.
And not just because the Taliban will know that they can fight government forces without worrying about the GPS-guided trip to paradise that sticking around too long always risked in the past. The Taliban knew that any direct engagement was risky if it lasted long enough for a call for help to go out and for a loitering NATO plane to plant a bomb in their lap. So the Taliban rarely stuck around on purpose. Now the Taliban can afford to try to overrun Afghan forces with less fear. Their effectiveness will increase.
On the other side, Afghan security forces used to know that if they held on for some short period of time, the bombers would soon be overhead dealing death to the enemy. Now they know that they are on their own. And they know that their president just doesn't care enough about them to provide that air support when they call for it. So Afghan security forces will be less inclined to fight when attacked. Indeed, they'll be less likely to go on patrols outside the security of the wire where they might need air support even more. So Afghan forces will cut deals with the Taliban in their area for the illusion of peace. And will be less effective.
But the fanatical Taliban will simply build up strength until they can capture those Afghan security force bases.
Afghan security forces won't be able to withstand this type of environment. They'll break--although it might take years since we still have significant forces there--and the Taliban will regain control of the south and grow stronger in the east.
And then we risk a massacre of our few remaining troops holding out in a few air bases in landlocked Afghanistan.
By then, Karzai will a rich man living in exile somewhere. If he thought we had the resolve to win the war despite drawing down our troop strength, Karzai wouldn't try to curry favor with the Taliban by denying his own troops a decisive weapon in the fight.
One day I really will want to know what distracted President Obama from winning the "good" and "real" war in Afghanistan.
UPDATE: We will help write the rules, so hopefully this is defined as narrowly as possible to make sure Afghan units in the field can still get air support:
NATO will work with the country's defence leadership to implement a ban by President Hamid Karzai on Afghan forces using NATO air strikes in residential areas, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, said on Sunday.
So this won't be as bad as I feared. But it will get more friendly people killed and allow more Taliban to survive as they exploit our rules of engagement. At some point, Afghans themselves will probably start to complain that we are letting the enemy get away and the restrictions will be loosened.
UPDATE: Strategypage has more. They note that after 2014, when the Afghans are on their own for air support, Afghan security forces will lose 90% of their air support anyway. And it won't be as good as what we provide, so the decrease in effective air power will be greater.
Why we would withdraw that force multiplier is beyond me. And you have to ask whether Karzai would have issued his order if he didn't figure he'd lose his air power anyway, so he might as well hedge his bets by walking a line between his security forces and the Taliban. Pity Karzai doesn't have more confidence in our determination to win.