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.
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