Afghan National Security Forces

In War That Didn’t End, UN Finds Afghan Civilian Deaths Up 25% Over Previous Year

Washington has tried its very best to sweep the war in Afghanistan under the rug. Most of the press dutifully went along with the fiction of declaring the war to have ended in December. The military joined in, trying to classify virtually all information coming out of Afghanistan. That classification move has been backtracked somewhat, but we still haven’t seen a revised quarterly report from SIGAR with the newly released data.

For those who care about the truth of what is really taking place in Afghanistan as a result of the misguided US action, it is a good thing that Washington cannot stifle information flowing out of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. UNAMA has been tracking civilian casualties in Afghanistan since 2009, and their latest report was released today (press release is here and full report in pdf form is here). The news is not good at all. Deaths jumped by 25% from 2013, going from 2969 to 3699. Injuries also showed a sharp increase, from 5668 to 6849. These numbers simply do not comport with the rosy statements coming out of the Pentagon on what our troops in Afghanistan “accomplished”, how the Taliban are being defeated and how the ANSF are now “hugely capable”. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have shown a relentless rise since the UN started collecting data:

UNAMA Civilian casualties 2014

It is harder to find data for the years leading up to 2009, but here is one report (pdf) in tabular form from Costs of War:

costs of war afghanistan 2001-2010

The figures from this report include only a subset of the types of death tracked by UN, accounting for the slight discrepancy in the years of overlapping data.

US military operations and continued presence in Afghanistan has been a disaster for civilians there. The insurgency which has arisen in response to the US presence is responsible for most of the casualties, but it is hard to see how these numbers would be as high if the US had simply left after deposing the Taliban in the first few weeks of the operation.

In addition to tracking casualties, the UN collects information on war crimes. Units of the Afghan Local Police are notorious in this regard (ALP most often are comprised of private militias that have been given a brief bit of training by US death squad trainers from JSOC and/or CIA). From the report:

For example, on 11 July, an ALP member shot and killed a local shopkeeper after an argument over ice. On 7 July, an ALP commander and four of his men assaulted (and injured) four civilians in Jorum district, Badakhshan province, during a wedding party. The reason for the beating was reportedly that the family had failed to provide food to the ALP as demanded.

UNAMA documented multiple examples of ALP intimidating and ordering the displacement of families from their communities. For example, on 12 October, ALP forcibly displaced 150-200 families from Khak-e-Safed district, Farah province. The ALP had warned the local population not to allow the Taliban to launch attacks from the village. The Taliban had also threatened the local population not to cooperate with the ALP. After Taliban fighters established positions in the area, the ALP ordered the 150-200 families to leave the area, resulting in displacement of an entire village, mainly to Farah city.

I would imagine that someone in Washington is busy today trying to find a way to prevent UNAMA from releasing its next report.

Did Obama Order Total Information Shutdown on Afghanistan?

In a stunning and blatantly obvious move to try to hide its failed efforts in Afghanistan, the military suddenly decided back in October that they would classify any and all information on the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) despite data having been provided to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for the 24 quarterly reports that preceded the one dated October 30, 2014 (pdf). Initial digging on that classification decision appeared to put the classification decision in the hands of ISAF Joint Command. The head of ISAF Joint Command then broke his own classification of ANSF capability a few days later when he proclaimed that ANSF is a “hugely capable fighting force” in a news briefing.

The timing for this classification couldn’t have been worse. US forces were in the final stages of the handoff of Afghan security to ANSF and Barack Obama eventually relied on butchered semantics to proudly proclaim that the war was over, despite a residual fighting force to which he had secretly given expanded combat powers.

Today, though, the classification of ANSF capability last quarter looks less like an arbitrary move by the Commander of ISAF Joint Command and more like a total information shutdown on Afghanistan. Perhaps Lt. Gen. Anderson just got the call for a shutdown before everyone else. In the SIGAR quarterly report released today (pdf), we learn that the military now has classified “nearly every piece of data used by the inspector general to assess the Afghan security forces.” In an appendix to the report, SIGAR lists the more than 140 questions that the military previously responded to openly but now says the answers are classified. Here is a sampling that SIGAR provided in the email sent out releasing the report:

–The over 140 SIGAR questions that received classified or otherwise restricted responses are listed starting on page 211. Sample of questions:
–Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty.” (page 211)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Army food from Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) for the current year. (page 211)
–How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used? (page 212)
–Total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries from ASFF for the current year. (page 212)
–Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: a. the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete (page 213)
–Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved. (page 215)
–Please offer an assessment of the anticorruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior (page 215)

As the New York Times article linked above points out, the military also initially tried to classify the number of US forces present in Afghanistan and only relented on that point when it was pointed out that the number had already been released by the Obama Administration.

The “explanation” offered by the Commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General John F. Campbell, is far from satisfactory. Here is an excerpt from his letter to SIGAR explaining the sudden expansion of classification:

Campbell

Campbell then had the temerity to add later in his letter that he is “committed to maximum transparency in our operations”. Just wow. That sounds like Obama declaring himself the most transparent President ever, and then going on to rely on expanded classification coupled with unprecedented levels of prosecution of whistleblowers.

But instead of just looking like a move Obama would make, perhaps it did come at his behest. Not only is the military clamming up on virtually all information out of Afghanistan, it appears that the State Department is as well. From page 147 of SIGAR’s report:

Despite the requirement of Public Law 110-181 that federal agencies provide requested information or assistance to SIGAR, the State Department did not answer any of SIGAR’s questions on economic and social-development this quarter, and failed to respond to SIGAR’s attempts to follow up.

Had only one Federal agency, the Defense Department, suddenly shut down the flow of information, it would have been easy to believe that they were ones trying to hide their own failures. But now that a second agency, the State Department, has shut down information flow at the same time, and won’t even provide an explanation for their move, it seems clear to me that the order to shut down information flow had to come from above. With both the Defense Department and State Department going silent, could such an order have come down from anyone other than Obama himself? The failure that is our Afghanistan war has entered its fourteenth year, has spanned two presidents and is now being summarily swept under the rug by the Most Transparent Administration Ever®.

Postscript: For more evidence on just how failed the Afghanistan effort has been, recall that John Kerry’s brokered extra-constitutional National Unity Government was over three months late in finally announcing a full slate of 19 cabinet nominees. Sadly, the slate included poorly screened candidates and the Afghan Parliament yesterday rejected 10 of those nominees while voting to confirm only 9.

Did ISAF Joint Command Chief Leak Classified Information on Afghan Troop Capabilities?

Shorter Anderson: "Afghan forces are winning, trust me. I just can't tell you how capable they are."Recall that back on October 30, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction informed us in a quarterly report that the military suddenly has classified its evaluation of the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). One of the key commanders who may have been involved in this classification decision, Lt. General Joseph Anderson, who is the head of ISAF Joint Command, held a telephone briefing yesterday. The attached partial screenshot here shows the rah-rah article that DoD News put out covering the briefing. The headline blares “Afghan Forces Winning, ISAF Joint Command Chief Says” and opens with gushing praise for ANSF:

In the final days of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, the Afghan national security forces are winning and the long coalition effort is taking hold, the commander of ISAF Joint Command said today.

In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters from his headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said that despite these gains, progress remains to be made.

The Afghan national security forces include Afghanistan’s armed forces, national police, border police, local police and members of the National Directorate of Security.

“They are the most trusted government organization in Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “They are trying to provide time and space for this society to grow and reduce the insurgency.”

Ah, but did Anderson go too far? Recall that the evaluation of ANSF capability has been classified. Here is what comes next in the cheerleading article:

He called the Afghan national security forces a hugely capable fighting force that has been holding its ground against the enemy.

Hmmm. Is that a leak of classified information? Saying that ANSF is “a hugely capable fighting force” sure sounds like a statement based on an evaluation of ANSF capability similar to the evaluation that has been classified. Here once again is the SIGAR description (pdf) of the evaluation suddenly becoming classified:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

So ISAF classifies the Regional ANSF Status Report but then unleashes the chief of ISAF Joint Command to make a statement that ANSF is “hugely capable” even though, as SIGAR notes, the public now has no way to have an “informed national discussion” on whether Anderson’s claim has any basis.

I’m sure that leak investigation will get started any century now.

US Military Suddenly Decides to Classify Its Analysis of Afghan Troop Capability

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just released the 25th quarterly report (pdf) on US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. We are of course at a major crossroads in US involvement in Afghanistan, as US and NATO combat involvement are being phased out and Afghanistan assumes responsibility for its own security. Some US and international troops will remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year under the new Bilateral Security Agreement, but with Afghanistan in charge it is of utmost importance that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are fully staffed and functional so that they can take on their responsibilities. One of SIGAR’s key roles in its oversight activity through the years has been to collect and review information coming directly from ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, concerning the recruitment, training and subsequent capabilities of ANSF. ISAF ostensibly is a NATO team but is of course dominated, both in command and in personnel, by the US military.

Suddenly, in the final SIGAR report before the current ISAF mission ends and operations move to the new arrangement, ISAF, and more specifically ISAF Joint Command, has decided to classify the reports it prepares on ANSF troop capability. Here is Inspector General John Sopko in his cover letter accompanying the quarterly report:

This quarterly report also examines the reconstruction effort across the security, governance, and economic sectors. In the security sector, SIGAR was deeply troubled by the decision of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to classify the executive summary of the report that assesses the capability of the ANSF. For years, SIGAR has used the ISAF report as a primary metric to show Congress and the public the effectiveness of the $61.5 billion U.S. investment to build, train, equip, and sustain those forces. Prior to this quarter, aggregate data on the operational effectiveness of the ANSF were unclassified in the Regional ANSF Status Report (RASR) as well as its predecessors, the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the Capability Milestone rating system.

ISAF’s classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort. SIGAR and Congress can of course request classified briefings on this information, but its inexplicable classification now and its disappearance from public view does a disservice to the interest of informed national discussion. Moreover, while SIGAR understands that detailed, unit-level assessments could provide insurgents with potentially useful intelligence, there is no indication that the public release of aggregated data on ANSF capabilities has or could deliver any tactical benefit to Afghan insurgents.

It is very difficult to see this move by ISAF as anything more than a blatant attempt to cover up massive failure on the part of the efforts to train Afghan troops to take over their own security functions. This move by ISAF follows previous efforts that also come off as attempts to game the system so that evaluation of the always-claimed “progress” is difficult to impossible. Note in Sopko’s letter that he refers to three different systems by which troop readiness has been analyzed and reported. First, we had the Capability Milestone system, which was replaced by the Commanders’ Unit Assessment Tool (CUAT) and the now-classified Regional ANSF Status Report has replaced CUAT.

In March of 2013, I pointed out SIGAR’s frustration with how ISAF was gaming the CUAT:

A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report:

In 2010, SIGAR audited the previous assessment tool—the Capability Milestone (CM) rating system which had been in use since 2005—and found that it did not provide reliable or consistent assessments of ANSF capabilities. During the course of that audit, DoD and NATO began using a new system, the CUAT [Commander’s Unit Assessment Tool], to rate the ANSF. In May 2010, the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) issued an order to implement the new system which would “provide users the specific rating criteria for each [ANSF] element to be reported by the CUAT including leader/commander considerations, operations conducted, intelligence gathering capability, logistics and sustainment, equipping, partnering, personnel readiness, maintenance, communications, unit training and individual education, as well as the partner unit or advisor team’s overall assessment.”

Since the implementation of the CUAT, the titles of the various rating levels have changed, as shown in Table 3.3. In July 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raised concerns that the change of the title of the highest rating level from “independent” to “independent with advisors” was, in part, responsible for an increase in the number of ANSF units rated at the highest level. GAO also noted that “the change lowered the standard for unit personnel and equipment levels from ‘not less than 85’ to ‘not less than 75’ percent of authorized levels.” In a response to SIGAR last quarter, the IJC disagreed with GAO’s assessment, saying a change in title does not “equal a change in definition.” Since last quarter, the IJC has initiated a CUAT Refinement Working Group to standardize inputs and outputs in the areas covered by the assessments.

But it turns out that the CUAT itself was developed only when SIGAR initiated an audit (pdf) of the Capability Milestone rating system. So, twice, when SIGAR decided to audit the system for evaluating Afghan troop readiness, ISAF responded by developing a totally new system, creating a strong discontinuity in the ability to track Afghan troop readiness over time. And now that we are at the most important moment for Afghan troops to be ready, ISAF decides that any information at all on their readiness is classified, even though they have provided the very same information without classification for years.

When we drill down to the details about the classification that SIGAR provides in the report, we see in footnote 196 (page 94) that they were informed of the classification in response to a data call submitted to IJC on October 3 of this year. Noting this and the arguments that SIGAR provides that aggregate data on Afghan troop readiness should not provide any sort of strategic advantage to insurgents, I submitted the following question to SIGAR: Continue reading

“Progress” Report: ANSF Abandoning Over One Third of ISAF Facilities

As I have noted previously, Congress requires the Defense Department to provide status reports on the situation in Afghanistan twice a year. The scheduling of these reports appears to be entirely random. The first report in 2012 was in April, but since there was an election in the US in November, it appears that the Defense Department and the Obama administration managed to delay the next report for several months, so that it was published in December instead of October. The next report in this series has now been released (pdf), about seven and a half months after the December 2012 report was released. So much for that “semi-annual” requirement from Congress. The next interval will have to be significantly shorter than six months if there are to be two reports in 2013.

I am still taken aback each time I open one of these reports, since the title is always “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan”. Aside from the fact that even with Afghans self-reporting their own troop strength, the Defense Department can only report an overall ANSF force size of 333,368 as of January, 2013, well short of the fabled 352,000 overall ANSF force size that the Obama administration and media spout regularly. But the abject failure displayed in how these Afghan troops have been deployed as they take over primary responsibility for security in the country is staggering.

We have heard anecdotal reports in the media for some time now about how individual bases and small outposts in Afghanistan have been abandoned during the process of handing over security responsibility. One figure in the Defense Department report, however, drives home just how widespread the process of abandoning facilities has become:

Many bases are being abandoned in Afghanistan as Afghans take over primary security responsibility.

Many bases are being abandoned in Afghanistan as Afghans take over primary security responsibility.

Note that ISAF starts off with more or less 800 facilities at the beginning of 2011. At the end of the graph, ISAF appears to be in charge of only about 175 facilities and yet the ANSF has only taken over 400 facilities. That leaves between 200 and 225 facilities abandoned, presumably because the ANSF cannot defend them. In other words, of the over 600 facilities ISAF has withdrawn from, less than two thirds of them can be defended or maintained by Afghan forces.

And keep in mind that this is not a problem of number of personnel. In fact, ANSF force size, at least as reported by Afghanistan and ISAF, is more than twice the troop size ISAF has ever had in-country:

Afghanistan has more than twice as many troops as ISAF, and yet it can maintain only about two thirds of facilities ISAF is exiting.

Afghanistan has more than twice as many troops as ISAF, and yet it can maintain only about two thirds of the facilities that ISAF is exiting.

How can the Defense Department continue to claim “progress” in Afghanistan when the large force it has trained is not capable of maintaining ISAF-established facilities with more than twice as many troops? And with the number of bases going down by at least a third, how can Afghanistan be expected to provide anything near the level of security that ISAF provided?

Here is the text that was provided with the figure where it is clear that many bases are disappearing:

Figure 4 illustrates the number of ISAF bases transferred to the ANSF. Many—but not all—ISAF bases that have been closed have been transferred to the ANSF. This demonstrates the drawdown of ISAF forces and their shrinking footprint and evolving mission as well as the growth of the ANSF.

Yup, abandoning over 200 bases would indeed qualify as “not all” of those ISAF has exited being transferred to ANSF control.

Postscript: I chose a really bad time to take a few days off. While I was gone, this Defense Department report, the latest SIGAR quarterly report on Afghanistan and the latest UNAMA report on civilian casualties all came out. I will try to dig through this report more thoroughly as well as the other reports over the next few days.

Even With Non-Validated Afghan Self-Reporting, SIGAR Finds ANSF Falls Short of 352,000 Goal

A central tenet of DoD dogma regarding withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan rests on Afghan National Security Forces reaching a force size of 352,000 and taking over full responsibility for security in the country as US forces leave at the end of 2014. There are multiple problems surrounding the myth of ANSF force size of 352,000. As reported last quarter by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the “official” force size reported by DoD relies on self-reporting by Afghanistan and can not be validated. Further, NATO ministers proposed back in February that financial support for the 352,000 size should be extended through 2018, rather than allowing the force size to drop by about a third at the end of 2014. I equated this offer to dangling an extra $22 billion in front of Afghan government officials for embezzling in return for a grant of criminal immunity for US forces remaining behind after the official withdrawal.

SIGAR released its latest quarterly report yesterday (pdf), covering the first quarter of 2013, and we see that the problems surrounding the myth of 352,000 ANSF force size persist and show no prospect of improving.

From the report, we see that even with Afghanistan self-reporting in an unvalidated way, and with US goals clearly known, force size falls short of the goal:

ANSF force size

Although the reported force size is only about 5.5% below the goal, it seems remarkable that Afghan officials developing their own numbers in a non-validated way were not able to reach the goals that are clearly known to them.

This process of developing the ANSF has drawn the largest portion of US funds that have been allocated to Afghanistan. Here is how funds have been allocated since the beginning of the Afghan war:

As of March 31, 2013, the United States had appropriated approximately $92.73 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002. This total has been allocated as follows:

• $54.27 billion for security
• $22.97 billion for governance and development
• $6.39 billion for counter-narcotics efforts
• $2.43 billion for humanitarian aid
• $6.66 billion for operations and oversight

Of all the funds allocated to Afghanistan by the US, over half have gone to developing ANSF. Here is how security money breaks down from 2005 to the present time:

ASFF breakdown

Note that since the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year, we have provided nearly $14 billion in salaries for troop sizes that are self-reported in a non-validated system and therefore ripe for embezzlement. Further, another $13.8 billion was provided for “equipment and transportation” of ANSF, which would also seem a good source for corruption. That is a huge amount of money and it appears to be very poorly spent, given the lack of preparedness for ANSF.

SIGAR calls DoD into question on its claims that the 352,000 ANSF force size has been met: Continue reading

SIGAR: Widely Cited 352,000 ANSF Force Size Is Not Validated

The January 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report has been out for some time now, but @SIGARHQ has still been tweeting about it regularly. One of their tweets yesterday brought my attention to the section of their report (pdf) where they discuss force size for Afghan National Security Forces. Since the interruption in training brought about by decreased interactions between US and Afghan forces during the  massive outbreak of green on blue attacks, I have maintained that the claim of 352,000 for ANSF force size was no longer credible. It appears that my skepticism is well-founded, as the pertinent section of the SIGAR report bears this heading:

ANSF NUMBERS NOT VALIDATED

The section begins:

Determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and coalition forces rely on the Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers. Moreover, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) noted that, in the case of the Afghan National Army, there is “no viable method of validating [their] personnel numbers.” SIGAR will continue to follow this issue to determine whether U.S. financial support to the ANSF is based on accurately reported personnel numbers.

There are several important bits to unpack in that paragraph. First, note that even though the US (well, officially, NATO) is training the Afghan forces, it is the Afghans themselves who report on their force size. It appears that our training of the Afghans, however, has not trained them on how to count personnel in a way that can be validated. But the end of the paragraph is the kicker, because it appears that our financial support of the Afghans is based on their own reporting of the force size. Since we are paying them for the force size they report, why wouldn’t they inflate the numbers to get paid as much as possible? The Afghans know that the bulk of US policy is built around the 352,000 force size myth, so they know that there will be absolutely no push-back (aside from an obscure SIGAR report that only DFH’s will read) for inflating the number to get the result the US desires. For further enticement, recall that NATO has proposed extending the time over which a force size of 352,000 will be supported, in a move that I saw as a blatant attempt to dangle an additional $22 billion ready for embezzling in front of Afghan administrators.

It comes as no small surprise, then, that SIGAR has found that the Afghan-reported numbers somehow manage to include over 11,000 civilians in the reports for security force size that is specifically meant to exclude civilian personnel.

A related area in which SIGAR has found a disgusting level of dishonesty is in how the US goes about evaluating Afghan forces in terms of readiness. Because it became clear to the trainers in 2010 that they had no hope of achieving the trained and independent force size numbers that NATO planners wanted (and because SIGAR found that the tool they were using at the time was useless), they decided that the only way to demonstrate sufficient progress was to redefine the criteria for evaluating progress. From the report: Continue reading

Obama Still Clinging to 352,000 Afghan National Security Force Size Myth

Before the outbreak of green on blue killings that eventually led to a significant interruption in the training of Afghan security forces last September, it was impossible to read a statement from the US military or NATO regarding future plans without encountering a reference to a required 352,000 force size for combined Afghan National Security Forces. It was our training of the ANSF that was touted as our primary reason for remaining in Afghanistan because we need those trained troops available to take over security responsibility as we withdraw. I have been insisting since the interruption that it will be impossible to continue to claim that a functional ANSF force size of 352,000 can be achieved, as the known high rate of attrition continued during the training interruption. No new troop size prediction has emerged, but it was significant to me that references to the 352,000 force size claim had seemed to disappear.

Last night, President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that he intends to withdraw about half the troops now in Afghanistan within the next twelve months, but he made no direct reference ANSF force size. Here are the three short paragraphs on Afghanistan in the speech as found in the transcript of his address:

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us.  Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda.  (Applause.)

Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women.  This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead.  Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan.  This drawdown will continue and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.  (Applause.)

Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions — training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Despite the specific force numbers cited with respect to US forces, Obama merely mentions “Afghan security forces” without telling us how many of them there will be. Resorting to the more detailed Afghanistan Fact Sheet released last night by the White House, however, shows that Obama still clings to the myth that there are 352,000 members of the ANSF. The Fact Sheet even goes to so far as to claim that this force level will be maintained for the next three years. I don’t believe I have seen this three year claim before: Continue reading

Shorter Gen. Nicholson: “Yeah, We Lied Earlier About Afghan Troop Capabilities, But You Can Believe Us This Time”

It would appear that even the Washington Post is beginning to see through the way that the Defense Department continues to make outrageous claims regarding the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces. An article published last night to the Post’s website carries the headline “Panetta, other U.S. officials in Kabul paint rosy picture of Afghan situation”. The article opens in conventional news-as-transcription-of-government-narrative fashion:

With Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Kabul to take stock as the Obama administration weighs how quickly to draw down troops over the next two years, a senior U.S. military commander on Wednesday hailed the progress Afghan security forces have made.

Marine Maj. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, the head of operations for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said NATO troops have begun a radical shift in mission: doing the bare minimum to support Afghan troops, who, he said, are starting to operate unilaterally. “We’re now un-partnering from” Afghan forces, Nicholson told reporters Wednesday evening. “We’re at that stage of the fight.”

The article then plants a hint, stating that if Afghan forces are seen as achieving capability to function on their own, the US withdrawal can be accelerated from the current plan of taking another two years.

Remarkably, the Post then moves on to provide some perspective for Nicholson’s claim:

The assessment Nicholson offered, however, is far rosier than the one that U.S. officials have provided recently. They have been citing the resilience of the Taliban and the shortcomings of the Afghan government and military.

Just one of 23 Afghan army brigades is able to operate on its own without air or other military support from the United States or NATO, according to a Pentagon report to Congress that was released Monday.

But Nicholson wants us to believe that even though the Defense Department has been lying for years about Afghan troop capabilities, they really, really mean it this time and we should believe them:

Nicholson said that although U.S. commanders have made “disingenuous” claims in the past about the extent to which Afghans were acting as equal partners in joint missions, officials now see the Afghan army as ready to operate largely on its own, albeit with key logistical and financial support from NATO. The new strategy as the United States tries to transfer greater responsibility to the Afghan government and military is one of “tough love,” Nicholson said.

Sadly, Nicholson’s claims appear to have no more credibility than previous DoD claims on ANSF capabilities. Consider this exchange from the briefing held Monday at the Defense Department, featuring as speakers Senior Defense Official “[Briefer name deleted]” and Senior State Department Official “[briefer name deleted]” where we see that the Post isn’t the only media operation that sees through the duplicity. This exchange starts with a question from Lita Baldor of AP [emphasis added]: Continue reading

Lethal Events in Afghanistan Become Even More Difficult to Decipher

Events on Wednesday, Thursday and early Friday in Afghanistan stand as a stark reminder that killings now take place for such a variety of reasons and by such a variety of groups that assigning blame and motivation becomes extremely difficult.

The dead include two British troops and one Afghan soldier on Wednesday, two American servicemembers  in one Thursday event and three Afghan policemen in another, and a large number of Afghan police, soldiers and civilians early on Friday. It would appear that the killing of the US soldiers is the event best understood at this point. From AP in the Washington Post:

 A man in an Afghan police uniform shot and killed two American service members Thursday, in what appeared to be the latest in a rash of attacks on international forces this year by their Afghan partners.

/snip/

In Thursday’s shooting, authorities had yet to determine if the attacker was an Afghan police officer or an insurgent who had donned a uniform to get close to the Americans, said Maj. Lori Hodge, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The assailant escaped after killing the service members while they were out on a late morning patrol in the southern Uruzgan province, she added.

This same article goes on to partially describe the deaths of the two British troops:

It was the second suspected insider attack in two days. On Wednesday, two British service members and an Afghan police officer were killed in an “exchange of gunfire” in Helmand province, the British Ministry of Defense said in a statement. The Afghan officer was not wearing his uniform and the statement said it was not clear who started shooting first.

There appears to be considerable disagreement at this point on just what took place in this encounter. Afghanistan’s Khaama Press has two articles released a little over three hours apart that provide very different explanations. From the first article:

The pair are thought to have been killed by insurgents, though the BBC said an Afghan source claimed the deaths were from a “green on blue” attack – where coalition troops are killed by their Afghan allies.

The later article provides a very different description:

According to local authorities in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan, British troops based in southern Helmand province killed two of their comrades in a friendly fire in this province.

Provincial security chief spokesman Farid Ahmad Farhang confirming the report said the incident took place in Greshk district while British troops were patrolling in the area.

Mr. Farhang further added, “A group of British troops opened fire on an Afghan national police and killed him.”

He said, “British troops were then attacked by a group of other British soldiers who were also patrolling in the area, killing two service members.”

The first description describes the British deaths as from insurgents or as green on blue. The second description first says there was a blue on green killing followed by blue on blue friendly fire. BBC is still agnostic on this event, choosing to quote ISAF: Continue reading

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bmaz RT @BobbyChesney: @bmaz They seem to have wanted to maximize impression of constraint, but w/out paying full price in practice. I'm sensing…
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bmaz RT @lawfareblog: Robert Chesney: "Waiving the "Imminent Threat" Test for CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan?" http://t.co/yxKjG6CQBG
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bmaz @BobbyChesney Works as a PR salve for a complicit and unrestrained Executive Branch?
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bmaz RT @BobbyChesney: Big issue this story raises: what work does the "imminent threat" test really do when "imminent" means "continuing"? http…
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bmaz .@BobbyChesney @adamentous If there can be such a blanket, non-specific "waiver" on "imminent threat", then there is no requirement at all.
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bmaz @dpottzzz @william_pitts I dunno, I think this is yet another thing I can hold over @AZ_Dream_Killer #GoDevils
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bmaz RT @MikeBerco: I have no idea what I'm watching on ESPN2 right now... But GO DEVILS!! #HeroesOfTheDorm
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bmaz RT @william_pitts: The best part of #HeroesOfTheDorm ? U of A probably sucks at it too. #GODEVILS
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bmaz No clue what this is, but I bet @Popehat would grok it.
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bmaz There is some wild ass shit on @ESPN2 right now. National Championship game between Cal and ASU on some kind of video game league. Bizarre.
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bmaz RT @william_pitts: HOLY CRAP CAN WE GET @SunDevilCurtain on whatever this is on espn2??? @942Crew
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