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Beginning of the End for Afghan War?

Imagine that the United States were spending an amount that exceeded 60% of its national income on the military and police. (For comparison, the US department of defence budget - bloated as it is - is about 5% of GDP; and spending on police is less than 1% of GDP). Of course the United States would never reach these levels of spending, but it's worth thinking about because any population in this situation would be looking for a way out of the horrific civil conflict that got them there. This would no doubt be true even if foreigners were fronting the money.

And so it is true for the people of Afghanistan, where spending for the army and police is programmed for $11.6bn (61% of projected GDP) in 2011. If that doesn't fit the definition of "unsustainable", it's not clear what would.

Not surprisingly, the Afghan people are looking for a way out. They want negotiations to end the conflict. But the United States says no. The US and its Nato allies are preparing for a major military offensive, perhaps the biggest of the war so far, in the southern province of Kandahar.

A poll sponsored by the US army showed that 94% of Kandahar residents support negotiating with the Taliban, rather than military confrontation.

The New York Times reports this week that "in some parts of the country, American and Nato convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, raising questions about whether the damage" to the perception of US forces caused by the continued US killings of Afghan civilians "can be reversed to any real degree".

 "'People hate the international forces,' said Bakhtialy, a tribal elder in Kandahar. ' ... Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don't let people travel on the road.'"

A series of high-profile atrocities by US and Nato forces that have surfaced recently has made matters worse. Three weeks ago Nato admitted that US special operations forces had killed five civilians, including three women, two of them pregnant. Nato had previously engaged in a cover-up, claiming that special operations forces had "found the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed".


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