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
After there had been a lull in Green on Blue attacks in Afghanistan, I noted in describing an attack late last month that an extra layer of security has been added at training facilities for Afghan National Security Forces, so that foreign security personnel act as a buffer between Western and Afghan forces. Reports are just now beginning to filter in on a new Green on Blue attack today at a facility near Kabul. The facility, Camp Qargha, is a training facility for officers in the ANSF and is run by the British. It is often referred to as “Sandhurst in the Sand”: a training facility for Afghan officers modeled after the British officer training school.
Although it is very early in the reporting on this incident (so all of this is subject to change as more is learned) there are at least two reports that suggest a US two-star general has been killed. This German article, using Google translate, tells us:
After the death of the two-star general of the U.S. Army was in NATO of a “black day” the speech Headquarters in Brussels. The ISAF announced that the incident was being investigated.
Further, Michael Yon has tweeted:
American 2 star general reported killed in Afghanistan. German general in bad condition. I asked HQ for more. Nothing yet.
— Michael Yon (@Michael_Yon) August 5, 2014
From the New York Times, we learn that those dead (reports vary from one to four, depending on the source) and wounded all appear to be high ranking officers:
An attacker in an Afghan army uniform killed at least three service members from the NATO-led coalition and wounded a senior Afghan commander on Tuesday in a shooting at a military training academy on the outskirts of Kabul, an Afghan official said.
Details of the shooting, which took place on Tuesday afternoon, were sketchy, and the coalition would only confirm that “an incident” had taken place at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. An Afghan defense official said that at least three coalition officers had been killed, and that a number of other foreign and Afghan officers had been wounded. The dead coalition service members were believed to be senior officers, the Afghan official said.
The Der Spiegel article linked above confirms Yon’s report that a German general was shot, describing his injuries as serious but also stating that he was out of danger and is receiving medical treatment.
The Times article goes on:
The Afghan official and a coalition official said that it appeared that the foreign casualties were high-ranking officers who were taking part in a meeting at the academy.
Lt. Gen. Afzal Aman, the director of operations at Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said that the academy’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ghulam Saki, was wounded in the shooting along with two other senior Afghan officers.
The most confusing issue for me at this point is that most accounts of the incident mention an argument between the shooter and other Afghan troops just prior to shots being fired. It seems very strange that both the shooter and the Afghan troops who eventually killed him in response would be armed in a spot so close to so many high ranking officers, which at this point would seem to be at least one general from Germany, the US and Afghanistan, all of whom appeared to have been shot in the disturbance. If shooting happened during a meeting, that seems like a lot of weapons to be present. Since reports are that the incident took place around noon, I am left to wonder if the shooting took place during lunch.
Since Qargha is a facility for training Afghan officers, I wonder if there is less emphasis on the buffer layer of security that we saw in the July Green on Blue event. The underlying assumption is that once an Afghan soldier is approved for training at Qargha, they would have been through more background checking than standard enlisted trainees. That then prompts the question posed by the strange juxtaposition of the headline and opening paragraph in the Khaama Press account of the shooting, as pictured above. Was the shooter an outside terrorist who gained access to the uniform (and presumably, some identification to go along with it) of an officer trainee, or was the shooter an actual ANA officer trainee who took advantage of an opportunity to inflict very high level damage?
I will track the story through the day and add updates as appropriate.
Update: The New York Times article has now been updated to confirm the death of an unnamed US general.
Update 2: The Washington Post has identified the victim as Harold Greene, who was Deputy Commander of CSTC-A. He was deeply involved in the training effort.
I have been harping lately on the US approach to international crises being to first ask “Which group should we arm?” and how this strategy has come back countless times to bite us in the ass, as seen most spectacularly in Osama bin Laden. Further, in Afghanistan, the dual problems of failed training and insider attacks have demonstrated that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are ineffective and now even require a separate layer of security between them and US forces.
Back when there was a stronger push for the US to arm and train “moderates” in Syria, I noted the poor record-keeping that was being put into place, where we were being assured by those doing the training that they were getting handwritten receipts for the weapons they were handing out. Who could have known that in our much larger program of handing out weapons, in Afghanistan, that records were not much better? The 2010 NDAA required that DOD establish a program for accounting for weapons handed out in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report today (pdf) on how that accounting has gone. And the answer is not pretty:
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 required that DOD establish a program for registering and monitoring the use of weapons transferred to the ANSF. However, controls over the accountability of small arms provided to the ANSF are insufficient both before and after the weapons are transferred. Accountability over these weapons within DOD prior to their transfer to Afghan ownership is affected by incompatible inventory systems that have missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records, that may result in missing weapons prior to transfer to the ANSF. However, the problems are far more severe after the weapons are transferred to the ANSF. ANSF record-keeping and inventory processes are poor and, in many cases, we were unable to conduct even basic inventory testing at the ANSF facilities we visited. Although CSTC-A has established end use monitoring procedures, the lack of adherence to these procedures, along with the lack of reliable weapons inventories, limits monitoring of weapons under Afghan control and reduces the ability to identify missing and unaccounted for weapons that could be used by insurgents to harm U.S., coalition, and ANSF personnel.
This graphic from the report shows the insanity of how three completely independent and incompatible databases are used to track the weapons:
Seriously, who comes up with these acronyms? The database used by the military in shipping the weapons out is the Security Cooperation Information Portal, or SCIP. This name seems designed to let us know up front that these weapons are skipping town and there is no prospect for tracking them. And to make sure they can’t be tracked, once they arrive in Afghanistan, the weapons are logged in, but they go into a completely different database incompatible with SCIP. In Afghanistan they use the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database, or OVERLORD. SIGAR tells us “SCIP is used by DOD personnel to track the shipment of weapons from the United States, while OVERLORD is used for tracking the receipt of weapons in Afghanistan. Errors and discrepancies often occur because these two systems are not linked to each other and require manual data entry.”
Perhaps if we were dealing with the relatively smaller number of weapons for an operation like our death squad training in Syria, manual entry into a database might make sense. But here is a photo from SIGAR of one of the weapons caches that they attempted to audit in Afghanistan:
But perhaps even worse is that SIGAR has found Afghan forces already have far more light weapons than they need. From the databases they determined that there are 112,909 weapons in excess of stated needs for the Afghans (and 83,184 of them are AK-47′s that many Afghans learn to handle practically from birth) already in country.
As if that is not enough, more weapons will keep flowing even though ANSF force size is projected to shrink:
The problems posed by the lack of a fully functional weapons registration and monitoring program may increase as plans to reduce the total number of ANSF personnel proceed. According to our analysis, the ANSF already has over 112,000 weapons that exceed its current requirements. The scheduled reduction in ANSF personnel to 228,500 by 2017 is likely to result in an even greater number of excess weapons. Yet, DOD continues to provide ANSF with weapons based on the ANSF force strength of 352,000 and has no plans to stop providing weapons to the ANSF. Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the ANSF, and Afghan civilians.
What could possibly go wrong?
As noted last week, the Afghan Taliban brazenly stated the day and hour at which their 2014 offensive would launch while also characterizing the targets they would attack. It appears that the attacks started pretty much at the appointed hour this morning, with rocket attacks aimed at the airport in Kabul and Bagram Air Base. There also was an attack on a government building in Nangahar. The rocket attacks appear to have done little or no damage, while there were at least four deaths in the attack on the building.
Data continue to accumulate that pierce the narrative that the US military has tried to create around a “weakened” Taliban insurgency. Khaama Press reports that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released a report stating that at least 545 children were killed in Afghanistan in 2013. The same article notes that the Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan has counted at least 284 children have been killed so far this year, suggesting that 2014 will be even worse for child deaths. A report from the International Crisis Group is also being released today, and in it we see that violence in Afghanistan is indeed continuing to rise. From the Wall Street Journal:
Violence levels across Afghanistan are steadily rising as U.S.-led troops return home, an indication that the Taliban remain determined to fight for power, according to a report by the International Crisis Group set for release on Monday.
An analysis by the ICG, an independent conflict-resolution organization, estimates that the number of insurgent attacks in Afghanistan increased 15-20% in 2013 from a year earlier, the first time such figures will be released publicly. It added that violence continued to escalate in the first months of 2014.
Despite the fact that the International Crisis Group describes itself as an “independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict”, its leaders published an op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail aimed at drumming up support for Afghanistan’s armed forces. Even the title of the piece is aimed at the military’s battle for hearts and minds: “Reduced to eating grass, Afghanistan’s forces are in dire need of our help”, and the text seems just as slanted toward the West maintaining a presence in Afghanistan:
Afghan forces are holding the district by themselves, so far, but Taliban roadblocks are causing food shortages. Ghorak’s defenders recently started to eat boiled grass.
It’s the same story in many other rural areas: Afghan police and soldiers are keeping the insurgency at bay, but they need more support from the international community.
Current plans for international support of the ANSF are insufficient. Donors must go beyond the annual commitment of $3.6-billion (U.S.) made at the Chicago 2012 summit and provide funding for maintenance of an ANSF personnel roster approximately equal to its current size, until stability improves in Afghanistan.
The Afghan government also needs international assistance with logistics, air support, intelligence and other technical aspects of security operations sometimes known as “enablers.” There is, for example, a pressing need for more helicopters and armoured vehicles. Currently, Afghan police and soldiers, far from urban centres, die of minor injuries while they wait for scarce helicopters or armoured convoys to transfer them to medical facilities.
As for the bullshit claim to need even more armored vehicles, read this from last August. But again, this whole plea by the International Crisis Group is just the same line we have gotten from the military essentially from the start of the Afghan quagmire. The narrative of a weakened Taliban and an increasingly capable Afghan defense force is always there, and yet the entire operation always teeters on the edge of collapse if we don’t ramp up our support. Completely missing is an understanding that the Taliban’s targets are centered around the presence of US troops and those who collaborate with them. When US troops are completely gone, the main reason for fighting is also gone.
One of the most enduring formulas throughout the nearly 13 year US quagmire in Afghanistan has been the persistent claims by our military and their fans that we are making tremendous progress and that the Taliban has been weakened significantly. That formula held true in spectacular fashion for the Afghan election, with broad instant claims of how successful and peaceful voting was. But alas, once real information started coming out, it turns out that election day was in fact extremely violent. Even less noticed is that the facilities of the Independent Election Commission have been attacked since the day of the vote and now it appears that there will be a delay in the runoff election because of that attack. As if that blow is not enough, the “weakened” Afghan Taliban has now announced the date for the start of their spring offensive and have provided a long list of the types of targets they will attack.
Here is ISAF patting itself on the back on the day of the elections because those ANSF troops they trained did so well:
The International Security Assistance Force congratulates the people of Afghanistan on today’s historic election. Today’s success clearly demonstrates that the Afghan people have chosen their future of progress and opportunity.
As the world watched, Afghan National Security Forces provided the opportunity for the Afghan people to choose their new President, securing over 6,200 polling centers across the country. Soldiers and policemen confidently patrolled the cities and countryside to protect innocent civilians and prevent insurgents from disrupting today’s elections. Afghan voters displayed confidence in their army and police, turning out in unprecedented numbers to cast their ballot for the future of Afghanistan.
“The people of Afghanistan can be proud of their security forces,” said General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., ISAF commander. “For months, they’ve conducted planning and security operations to ensure that the conditions were set for inclusive elections. What we saw today as a result of that effort was extraordinary. In addition to their physical performance, what equally impresses me is the sense of responsibility and determination they had in ensuring the Afghan people had a secure environment in which to vote and determine their own future.”
Ah, but that carefully crafted narrative of peaceful elections was bullshit that took several days for the media to pierce. Ten days after the election, the Washington Post had this to say:
But on voting day, the country seemed unusually calm, prompting Afghan politicians to speculate that the Taliban had intentionally allowed the election to proceed.
“I don’t think the other side put too much pressure,” said Hedayat Amin Arsala, a presidential candidate. “They even prevented some people from attacking.”
The statistics tell another story. Data released Monday by the U.S. military in Kabul show that April 5 was, in fact, an unusually violent day, spiking far above the norm, although falling 36 percent short of the peak number of attacks during the 2009 election, one of the bloodiest days of the war.
Of the 286 insurgent attacks during this election, the vast majority (226) occurred in eastern Afghanistan, followed by 21 in the Kandahar area of southern Afghanistan, 17 in the west, 14 in the north, seven in the Helmand region and just one in Kabul.
It now turns out that the fallout from Taliban attacks after the election could be huge, with the runoff possibly delayed:
Independent Election Commission (IEC) Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani admitted on Wednesday that the runoff round expected between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai could face delays.
A runoff is required by Afghan law if no presidential candidate gets over 50 percent of votes in the first round. As of now, no one has passed that threshold. Although the runoff round was originally scheduled for May 28, election officials have said a number of setbacks have made it more likely that the round will be delayed.
Mr. Nuristani cited the Taliban’s attack on the IEC’s headquarters in Kabul as the cause of the delay.
“The election law says that a run-off must be held two weeks after the final results’ announcement, but the Taliban launched a rocket attack, and as a result of the attack we lost some of our critical materials, therefore, we will not be able to hold a run-off after two weeks,” he explained.
So the Taliban, despite the early claims of a hugely successful election, has now managed to get a crucial delay in the runoff election. Remember that Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would allow US troops to stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year. Although both Abdullah and Ghani have said that they would sign the agreement, a delay in the winner taking office increases the odds that the US will simply withdraw completely if they feel there isn’t sufficient time to plan for the number of troops to leave behind.
Saturday will mark the first time Afghanistan has gone to the polls to choose a new president since the US overthrew the Taliban and put Hamid Karzai in charge. This will hardly be an accomplishment to herald in the US press, although I am sure the military will attempt to get major outlets to tout it as so after the fact. In fact, even the rosy “look what has been accomplished in Afghanistan” fluff piece published today in Khaama Press cites a paltry list of accomplishments, such as 50 television stations and not quite half a million Afghans on Facebook. Tellingly, though, a closer look reveals that the piece is attributed to Dr. Florance Ebrahimi. It turns out that even though she is originally from Kabul, she practices in Sydney. And why shouldn’t she? Afghanistan is tied with North Korea and Somalia at the very bottom of the list when countries are ranked for their level of corruption. And it appears that even before the election takes place, ten percent of the planned polling stations have been closed due to security concerns. And what of the candidates? The top three are profiled here by the New York Times. All three of the leaders have already pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year–and thus assuring the maximal continuing flow of US funds to fuel even more corruption. The candidates are noteworthy to me only in that two of them have running mates that would rival Dick Cheney as the most notorious war criminal to be Vice President of a country in the past 15 years.
Today’s New York Times piece cited above on the closure of polling places due to anticipated violence is devastating. For example:
One of the few polling centers in this part of Logar Province is the government’s district headquarters, a building so devastated by rocket attacks and Taliban gunfire that it looks more like a bomb shelter than an administrative office.
As the body count for security forces has risen over the past few days in this embattled district, a stretch of dusty farmland surrounded by mountains, it has become clear that no one here is going to vote on Saturday, either for president or for provincial council delegates.
So far, that has not stopped security officials from proclaiming the district open for voting: It is not among the roughly 10 percent of 7,500 total national sites shut down as too dangerous to protect. The Charkh district center has been pumped full of security forces to keep the vote a nominal possibility, but residents know that within a day or two after the elections, the guards will be gone and the Taliban will remain.
“The government has no meaning here,” said Khalilullah Kamal, the district governor, who was shot two times in the stomach a few months back while speaking in a mosque. “If there is no expectation that we will arrest people who break the law, then how do we expect the people to come and vote?”
Think about that. The polling place in this passage looks like a bomb shelter and life has gotten so violent there that it is clear nobody will vote there Saturday. And yet this site isn’t included among the 10 percent of sites that won’t be open Saturday. Further, “government has no meaning here” reflects the utter failure of US efforts to establish a unified government in Afghanistan. But does that apply only to a small area? Hardly. Consider that the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction stated back in October that it is likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to SIGAR (pdf) to carry out oversight functions (and the State Department warned them that the 21 percent figure may be overly optimistic) by the end of this year.
Since the US has already formally handed over security operations to the Afghans, what are they doing to make the election safe? On Tuesday they announced that 60,000 “fresh” (I presume this means newly trained? How well were they screened?) Afghan National Army troops were deployed across the country for election security. Then, on Wednesday, the figure was increased to 195,000 total security personnel when ANA figures were joined with security personnel from the Afghan National Police and the National Directorate of Security. That’s quite a force. So for roughly 7500 polling stations, that gives about 26 security personnel guarding each site if they are distributed evenly. Oh, and to protect Westerners before the election, places where they tend to gather have been closed.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, I see little reason to be optimistic that there will be any improvement in living conditions for the average Afghan citizen.
In the worst attack in at least six months, Taliban fighters overran an Afghan army base in Kunar province near the Pakistan border, killing 21 Afghan soldiers who were said to have been sleeping at the time of the attack. It appears that a very large Taliban force carried out the attack. The New York Times carried a statement from the Afghan Defense Ministry that “hundreds” of fighters were in the attack and that the battle lasted four hours, while the Washington Post stated that “more than 100″ Taliban fighters carried out the attack.
The Times article informs us that at least one version of events suggests that the Taliban had infiltrators on the base who helped the assault forces:
One of the Afghan soldiers taken prisoner, who later escaped and was interviewed in the eastern city of Asadabad, said he believed that the insurgents had entered the fortified base with the collusion of infiltrators who had been on guard duty in the base’s three watchtowers and outside its barracks. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
“I believe these four soldiers had links with the Taliban,” he said. “They shot our soldiers while they were sleeping. When others woke up, they were taken alive, along with me.” He said that he and three other soldiers had managed to escape from the insurgents as they fled the area.
The Times article also states that as the US draws down its forces, Afghan units no longer are accompanied by US forces and “do not have the close air support they often enjoyed”. It should be noted, though, that Afghan forces have already retaken the base. Also note that, as seen in the accompanying video of the funeral in Kabul for those killed, and as noted in this article in ToloNews, Afghan helicopters were at least available to ferry the dead, and so we are left to wonder if they were also involved in the re-taking of the base.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai canceled a planned trip in response to the attack and called for Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban forces which find refuge in Pakistan. It is not clear if Karzai was aware that on Sunday, Pakistan killed at least 38 suspected militants in North Waziristan in air raids carried out by Pakistani jets. Yet another high ranking member of Pakistan’s Taliban also was gunned down today, as well.
Interestingly, at least one person the New York Times talked to about the attack seemed to think that there are still problems with screening of Afghan security forces since there are hints that sympathizers let the Taliban onto the base:
“My cousin was killed in the attack yesterday,” Hajji Alif Khan, from Khost Province, said at the ceremony at the military hospital. “I want to see the bloodshed ended in this country in my lifetime. It is enough, we lost thousands of people. Let’s stop this war,” he said.
But in the meantime, he said, “They should check every soldier’s background.”
Gosh, we were told about a year and a half ago that screening was now very good…
The United Nations is the best source of information on the impact of the war in Afghanistan on civilians. They released their latest data this weekend (pdf), and their results show that the vaunted “surge” of US troops into the country in early 2010 through late 2012 failed to protect civilians. In fact, the data show that civilian injuries have shown a steady rise from 2009 pre-surge levels through 2013′s post-surge period. Civilian deaths rose in 2010 and 2011. They went down slightly in 2012 before rising again in 2013.
Despite this clear indication that the surge was a waste of lives and money, recall that the Pentagon continued to spew its positive spin as troops were drawn down. From September, 2012 as the surge ended:
Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge “a very important milestone” in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The “surge did accomplish its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces,” Panetta said.
As seen in the UN data, the surge did nothing to reverse attacks on civilians, with civilian casualties continuing a steady increase. How about Panetta’s other claim, the one about dramatically increasing the size and capability of Afghan national security forces? To answer that, we depend on data supplied by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Their latest report can be found here (pdf). Once again, the target for ANSF size was not achieved, even after moving the goalposts (footnotes removed):
This quarter, ANSF’s assigned force strength was 334,852, according to data provided by CSTC-A. This is short of the goal to have an end strength of 352,000 ANSF personnel by October 2012. That goal had been in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) April 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. When that end strength was not met, DOD revised the goal to 352,000 ANSF by 2014 (187,000 ANA by December 2012, 157,000 ANP by February 2013, and 8,000 Air Force by December 2014). Neither the ANA nor the ANP met their end-strength goal by the revised deadline, as shown in Table 3.6.
But the reality could be far worse than those numbers indicate. While the force size falls just barely short of the target, the functionality of those troops is suspect. Further, it appears that Afghanistan may be playing games with the meaning of “available” (sorry, this bit of text won’t copy, so I have to use images instead): Continue reading
Back in October, I noted that one of Hamid Karzai’s primary barriers to signing the Bilateral Security Agreement is his objection to night raids carried out by US-trained death squads because of the high rate of civilian casualties involved. Yesterday, yet another night raid went bad, but this time, instead of the death squad killing civilians, an air raid called in when the raiding party came under heavy fire was responsible for civilian deaths. In an attempt to deflect blame, ISAF tried to emphasize that this mission was Afghan-led:
International Security Assistance Force regrets that civilians were killed Jan. 15 during a deliberately-planned, Afghan-led clearing operation to disrupt insurgent activity in Ghorband district, Parwan province.
The mission, led by commandos of the 6th Special Operations Kandak and supported by ISAF special operations advisers, was conducted to disrupt insurgent activities in the district, including attacks on Bagram Airfield, and in support of Afghan National Security Forces’ tactical priorities. Local district and provincial officials were informed in advance of the operation and were provided updates during and after the actions.
It would not surprise me if ISAF eventually blames the “local district and provincial officials” who were warned for tipping off the insurgents so that an ambush could be carried out. But note that “ISAF special operations advisers” were present, and as I have noted previously, this is the hallmark of the US-trained death squads that have previously operated with impunity but have infuriated Karzai. Even though ISAF is claiming that the intelligence for the operation was generated by the Afghans, you can bet that our “advisers” would not have ventured off their base if our own intelligence hadn’t also been involved in planning the attack.
Strangely, the NYTimes article linked above puts the operation taking place at 6:30 am, but the Washington Post puts it at 1 am, which fits night raid timing much better. The details in the two stories differ substantially. From the Times:
Aziz Ahmad Zaki, a spokesman for the governor of Parwan, said that the coalition Special Operations advisers had come to assist the Afghan forces in the area, setting up alongside them in a district check post that quickly came under fire from Taliban attackers on Tuesday.
Around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, Afghan and coalition forces began a clearance operation in the Wazghar Valley, but ran into a Taliban ambush, taking fire from several compounds in the area at once, officials said.
“Afghan and coalition forces returned fire and required defensive air support to suppress the enemy fire,” according to the coalition statement.
But according to the Post, the raiding party attempted to enter a home at 1 am, rather than conducting a “clearing operation” at 6:30:
According to Karzai and the governor of Parwan province, the incident occurred about 1 a.m. when U.S. Special Forces attempted to enter a home. A gun battle ensued, resulting in a coalition airstrike that killed the children and a female relative in the house, they said.
This version says nothing about being attacked at a checkpost but instead follows a usual night raid routine.
Karzai is furious. From AFP:
President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday accused the United States of killing seven children and a woman in an airstrike in central Afghanistan — an incident set to further damage frayed ties between the two allies.
Relations between Washington and Kabul have been rocky for years, and negotiations over an agreement that would allow some US troops to remain in the country after this year have broken down into a long-running public dispute.
“As a result of bombardment by American forces last night… in Siahgird district of Parwan province, one woman and seven children were martyred and one civilian injured,” a statement from Karzai’s office said.
“The Afghan government has been asking for a complete end to operations in Afghan villages for years, but American forces acting against all mutual agreements… have once again bombarded a residential area and killed civilians.
The zero option in Afghanistan is looking more and more likely.
The latest effort by War, Inc. to prolong the war in Afghanistan consists of a “leak” of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan. The Washington Post dutifully stepped up to transcribe the official line, bleating breathlessly in its headline “Afghanistan gains will be lost quickly after drawdown, U.S. intelligence estimate warns”. Since drawing down our troops closes the spigot feeding war profiteers, we just can’t consider leaving:
A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report.
And if we leave faster, Afghanistan will go to hell faster, according to our Intelligence Oracles:
The report predicts that Afghanistan would likely descend into chaos quickly if Washington and Kabul don’t sign a security pact that would keep an international military contingent there beyond 2014 — a precondition for the delivery of billions of dollars in aid that the United States and its allies have pledged to spend in Afghanistan over the coming years.
As I have long maintained, however, virtually all claims of “progress” in Afghanistan come more from a process of gaming the numbers than any real calming of the country. Consider this post from June of 2012. Note from the figure in that post that violence in Afghanistan varies greatly with the season, but that the peak level of violence increased steadily from 2006 through 2011. I intended to go back to this same source to see how the subsequent years look on the graph, but it appears that these particular reports are no longer published for the general public.
The UN does still release reports on its collection of data regarding protection of civilians in Afghanistan. Noting that the current claim regarding the “success” of the surge in Afghanistan is that it managed to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and give the government more of an edge”, consider the latest data on civilian deaths that the UN ascribes to anti-government elements in Afghanistan:
Perhaps, if we consider only deaths, an argument can be made that the rate of increase of deaths has been slowed, but there certainly is no basis for claiming that there is a trend to fewer deaths.
Lurking beneath this dire warning in the NIE is a tacit admission that the $50 billion that the US has spent to train and arm Afghan security forces has been a total waste, since the ANSF will not be able to maintain security once we are gone.
The bottom line is that the entire US war machinery has failed in every single facet of the effort in Afghanistan. Our presence has accomplished nothing but death, destruction and the wasting of nearly a trillion dollars. Our leaving will see further death and destruction. Staying longer would make no difference other than continuing to enrich War, Inc. There are no good options left, but getting our troops out at least stops the hemorrhaging of money.