Afghanistan Meltdown Continues

As we get closer to the NATO summit next week in Chicago, the meltdown of Afghanistan continues. It is clear that the intent of the Obama administration is to maintain the stance that the surge of US troops into the country over the past two years has stabilized the situation and that developments are on pace for a complete handoff of security to Afghan forces and full NATO withdrawal by the end of 2014. Any deviation from this script could trigger a Congressional review of strategy for Afghanistan just when the campaign season is heating up for the November election. Such a review, the Obama administration fears, would be fodder for accusations that their strategy in Afghanistan has failed.

The news today is not good for maintaining the “success” point of view. Yesterday, yet another member of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council was gunned down in Kabul. This morning, a bomb placed on a bicycle killed nine people in what Reuters described as “the relatively peaceful Faryab province of northern Afghanistan”. A provincial council member was among those killed. Reuters also reminds us this morning that there are over 500,000 refugees displaced within Afghanistan. Furthermore, at the mid-point of the surge, that total increased by 100,000 during the first half of 2011. The situation has not improved, as 400 more people are displaced daily.

“Isolated events” of green on blue killings appear to be picking up in pace. One American was killed on Friday in Kunar province and two British soldiers were killed on Saturday in Helmand province. These attacks bring the total to 16 isolated incidents for the year. The Department of Defense is now moving closer to adapting the language of the clumsily and retroactively classified report “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf), now saying ““We believe, again, that most of these [attacks] are acted out as an act of honor for most of them representing a grievance of some sort.” Rather than acknowledging that the grievances arise out of cultural insensitivities displayed by NATO forces, however, DoD is offering the grievance explanation as a way of saying the attacks do not stem from Taliban infiltration (although the release does mention that “less than half” of the attacks have such an influence).

Interestingly, it appears that there is another publication that can shed some light on internal DoD analyses of green on blue attacks. Conservative blogger Bob McCarty is on the trail of a publication titled “Inside the Wire Threats — Afghanistan”. He is about a month into an FOIA fight to get a copy of the publication from the Army.

There are two recent stories on Afghanistan that are not entirely bad news. AP has a story this morning from an interview with Agha Jan Motasim, who sits on the Taliban council. They quote Motasim: “I can tell you, though, that the majority of the Taliban and the Taliban leadership want a broad-based government for all Afghan people and an Islamic system like other Islamic countries.” Motasim tells AP that only a few hard-liners are responsible for the violence carried out by the Taliban. On Friday, the Washington Post informed us that on “more than a dozen” occasions since control of night raids was handed over to Afghanistan, Afghan commanders have refused to act, citing a concern for innocent civilians who would be nearby. It appears that there might actually be a healthy process working in this case:

“In the last two months, 14 to 16 [night] operations have been rejected by the Afghans,” said Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the top Afghan army officer. “The U.S. has said, ‘This operation better be conducted. It’s a high-value target.’ Then my people said, ‘It’s a high-value target. I agree with you. But there are so many civilian children and women [in the area].’ ”

Many of the rejected night operations are later conducted once civilians are no longer in the vicinity of the targets, Karimi said.

What a concept: waiting until no civilians are present to carry out a raid that is likely to be violent. Why couldn’t US forces have come up with that idea on their own?

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.
13 replies
  1. emptywheel says:

    Remember that Karimi is Karzai’s investigator into the Bales massacre. I wonder how much that–with allegations it resembled a night raid–is in the background of these decisions.

  2. Jim White says:

    @emptywheel: Oooh. Good point. But I’m also still struck by word being allowed to get out that night raids can still be effective if the timing is delayed to find a time without civilians present. That really points out how callous and careless the raids (developed by McChrystal and his aide Flynn who is now going to run DIA) have been to date. And these morons wonder why new insurgents get created every night…

  3. MadDog says:

    Tactically, the Taliban has been generally very effective in making the most of their PR opportunities, so I expect even more melting down in Afghanistan before or during the Chicago NATO conference.

  4. MadDog says:

    OT – Last night the NYT’s Scott Shane had a piece about John Brennan’s Sunday meeting with Yemen’s president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

    One should wonder why Obama’s top counterterrorism and intelligence official would personally travel to Yemen for such a meeting. What was so important that the US Ambassador to Yemen couldn’t handle it or even a phone call from Brennan?

    One thought would be formalizing an agreement between the US and Yemen for US “assistance” in battling AQAP who have taken over parts of southern Yemen.

    When one thinks of US “assistance”, I’ve remarked before about the umbrella organization that ran things for the US in Vietnam. It was called the Military Assistance Command Vietnam or MACV.

    One might speculate that Brennan’s visit was to formalize at the highest levels between the 2 countries a MACY or Military Assistance Command Yemen.

    Consider the recent news reports, and even statements from the DOD, that the US military “assistance” spigot has been turned on again in Yemen, and that the number of US military advisors have increasingly been seen swashbuckling around in Yemeni hotels.

    Also consider the serious tactical mistake that the AQAP has made of of actually trying to hold territory.

    US military planners are likely salivating at the very thought. There are centuries of military doctrine detailing how to attack and destroy an enemy’s attempt to hold territory.

    Also remember that US military advisors in Vietnam didn’t just consist of lowly Lieutenants and Captains “advising” squads and platoons of South Vietnamese in small tactical battles.

    They also included US Colonels and Generals directing strategic campaign planning.

    Add that particular thought to Brennan’s meeting with the President of Yemen as well as the AQAP’s mistake in attempting to hold actual territory.

    In that instance, AQAP is going to get its ass kicked until such time it realizes that its amateur military status is deserved and tactically attempting to hold territory is downright stupid.

    Far better to use “hit and run” tactics instead of standing in one place looking for all the world like a big fat stupid target.

  5. bsbafflesbrains says:

    Old Turkish Proverb – No Matter How Far You Have Traveled Down The Wrong Road…Turn Back!

  6. Jeff Kaye says:

    Many of the rejected night operations are later conducted once civilians are no longer in the vicinity of the targets, Karimi said.

    But then above, I read, “… 400 more people are displaced daily.”

    Connections? Are the “civilians” simply fleeing drone and night attacks? Told to flee?

    OTOH, I’m not sure I accept the assurances of Karimi anymore than I do NATO/US.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: Gregory Johnsen just noted that the people killed in two of the weekend’s bombing attacks were listed as local tribesmen.

    If we continue to kill locals, it doesn’t matter if DOD takes back territory.

  8. tjallen says:

    I see a parallel between this story and the story of how Americans don’t like the stop & frisk in New York. I would suggest that it is a cross-cultural dislike of might-makes-right, rather than (or in addition to) a problem local to Afghan culture. Our military in Afghanistan has the same “I’m God now” attitudes as the local police forces here in America – do as I say or get shot, I’m right because I have a gun. This isn’t a cultural issue, it is a human issue.

  9. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Oh, I’m not suggesting that the US are the White Knights riding to the rescue.

    I think like you, I believe that the US has been seduced by its animus to AQAP into warfare in Yemen that is far broader in its scope, and that in our haste to defang AQAP, we are ending up also taking sides with the PTBs in a very fragmented and tribal conglomeration that is Yemen.

    I’m really just making the point that AQAP is doing a pretty dumb thing by attempting to hold territory. The effect as you rightly point out will not just be on AQAP. They, along with their putative tribal allies, and likely a bunch of innocents will pay the price.

  10. ondelette says:

    Be careful about linking the number of IDPs to your American success or failure stories. Their numbers have risen and fallen during the last 11 years somewhat independently of the war or lack of war itself. They are more a measure of the lack of infrastructure in some areas, as they tend to rise sharply with other things — drought in particular.

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