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.
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.
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.
It is a tradition that goes back to the very start of the Great War on Terror. Secret detention of prisoners has been both a central feature of the US approach to its response to terrorism and a rallying point for the creation of new enemies. In order to sustain this practice, the US has resorted to remarkable levels of dissembling and language engineering. Fresh controversy has arisen in Afghanistan centering around Afghanistan’s insistence (rooted in Afghan law), that all Afghan prisoners must be under Afghan control (note: the issue of some 49 or so foreign prisoners the US maintains at Parwan prison is completely separate).
The New York Times first broke the story on this latest controversy on Saturday:
A commission appointed by President Hamid Karzai to investigate detention facilities run by American and British forces in southern Afghanistan claimed Saturday to have uncovered secret prisons on two coalition bases, an allegation that could not be immediately confirmed but that was likely to further complicate relations between the Afghan government and its allies.
“We have conducted a thorough investigation and search of Kandahar Airfield and Camp Bastion and found several illegal and unlawful detention facilities run and operated by foreign military forces,” said Abdul Shakur Dadras, the panel’s chairman.
Abdul Shokur Dadras, a member of the commission, said two of the jails were overseen by British soldiers at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, while a third jail at that base was under American military control. At Kandahar Airfield, also in the southern part of the country, three more foreign-run prisons were discovered — one controlled by American soldiers, one by the British and one managed by a joint coalition force, Dadras said.
The US, as usual, was quick to declare innocence. From the Times story:
Lt. Col. J. Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the Defense Department, wrote in an email, “Every facility that we use for detention is well known not only by the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, but also by the I.C.R.C.,” a reference to the International Committee of the Red Cross, a nonpartisan organization that provides humanitarian care for victims of conflict.
The International Security Assistance Force, or I.S.A.F., as the coalition is known, said in a statement on Saturday that it was “aware of their investigative team looking into the detention facilities in Kandahar and Helmand and we are cooperating fully with the investigation on this matter.”
Once again, it appears that a restriction that isn’t really a restriction could be the basis for this latest controversy. From the Times story:
He [Dadras] said his team reviewed the number of prisoners as well as the details of their detention. The issue at Camp Bastion has been aired before. The British military must abide by rules that prohibit the transfer of prisoners to facilities where torture is believed to occur. For now, that concern is unresolved, and the sites where these detainees are held by the British forces could be the locations Mr. Dadras is referring to.
In Kandahar, the details are less clear. American forces are allowed to detain combatants seized on the battlefield for up to 96 hours before turning them over to the Afghan government. It was unclear whether Mr. Dadras was referring to such detainees or whether his commission had uncovered evidence of prisons that were illegally holding Afghans.
As we will see in a bit, this restriction to holding Afghan prisoners for 96 hours applies to British forces as well. Except that as with virtually all “restrictions” on coalition forces in Afghanistan, this one doesn’t apply if they don’t want it to. From the AP story: Continue reading
Back in July of last year, SIGAR issued an alert (pdf) regarding what SIGAR head John Sopko termed “a potentially troubling example of waste that requires your immediate attention”. That statement was in Sopko’s cover letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Head of Central Command Lloyd Austin and ISAF Commander Joseph Dunford. It would appear that the folks in the Department of Defense missed that key word “immediate”, as the subsequent responses from the Defense Department have been both troubling and, at least on the most important move, slow.
First, to set the stage on the evidence of wasteful spending in constructing a building that had no use at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province. From the alert letter linked above:
I was told by senior U.S. military officials that the recently completed Regional Command-Southwest (RC-SW) Command and Control Facility, a 64,000 square feet building and related infrastructure with a contract award value of $34 million that was meant to serve as a command headquarters in Helmand to support the surge, will not be occupied. Based on documents provided to SIGAR, it appears that military commanders in Afghanistan determined as early as May 2010 that there was no need for the facility, yet the military still moved ahead with the construction project and continued to purchase equipment and make various improvements to the building in early 2013. Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped.
In addition, I was told that U.S. military officials expect that the building will be either demolished or turned over to the Afghan government as our military presence in Afghanistan declines and Camp Leatherneck is reduced in size. Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling—destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a “white elephant” to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain. Determining all of the facts on how we reached this $34 million dilemma and what can be done to prevent it from happening again is the reason for sending this management alert letter to you.
Even though the Camp Leatherneck Commander determined in May, 2010 that the building was not needed, construction began anyhow after February of 2011. Ironically, Sopko notes in his letter that this may well be the best-constructed building he has toured in his many inspections in Afghanistan, even though it was known before construction began that there would be no use for the building.
Sopko’s letter continues, citing information collected that the building can accomodate 1200 to 1500 staff but that at the time of writing, only 450 people were available to use it. Furthermore, there was nobody on the base qualified to maintain the expensive HVAC system. But it gets even worse:
According to a senior U.S. military official, as the footprint of Camp Leatherneck decreases, the building could be outside the security perimeter, thereby making it unsafe for the U.S. military to occupy it. This leaves the military with two primary options—demolish the building or give it to the Afghan government.
However, to make it usable for the Afghan government, the building would require a major overhaul of existing systems, including the expensive heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. A high-ranking, senior U.S. military official also advised me that the facility was built to U.S. construction standards rather than Afghan standards. For example, the power runs at U.S. 60 cycles versus Afghan 50 cycles and U.S. 120 volts versus Afghan 220 volts. Therefore, it would not be easy to transfer the building to the Afghan government. These were some of the reasons why the U.S. military officials we spoke with believe the building will probably be demolished.
It appears that the Defense Department reacted to Sopko’s letter, because Sopko states in a subsequent letter that he was informed that an investigation was underway and that his questions would be answered. But that process seems to have directly contradicted earlier work from DoD. Sopko wrote a new letter (pdf) to the same recipients on November 27 of last year: Continue reading
Update: Reuters is reporting that the 65 prisoners were released on February 13.
Without a single hint of awareness of the irony involved, the US military yesterday released a statement decrying Afghanistan’s decision calling for the imminent release of 65 prisoners held at the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan, stating that the release would be a “major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan”. There are 88 prisoners over whom the US and Afghanistan disagree, but so far only 65 are subject to the current release orders (with the release order for 37 of the 65 dating back to January). Recall that an independent commission, headed by Abdul Shakor Dadras, has been reviewing the status of the prisoners handed over from US control. Despite US bleating that Karzai and Dadras are releasing hardened insurgents bent on returning to battle, it is hardly noted that over 100 of the prisoners have been ordered held over for trial and that the US has not disputed the release of hundreds of others (648 out of 760 reviewed as of January) against whom there was no evidence of crimes.
In their rush to transcribe the complaints from the US military, articles by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times quickly brush over the fact that the results of the Dadras board have been reviewed both by the Afghan attorney general’s office and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, which is the main intelligence agency. In fact, the New York Times doesn’t mention the NDS review at all. From the Los Angeles Times article:
Afghan officials issued a sharp rebuttal, saying the attorney general’s office and the National Directorate of Security – Afghanistan’s CIA – had reviewed the U.S. information and found insufficient evidence to continue to hold the prisoners. “According to Afghan laws there is no information gathered about these detainees to prove them guilty, so they were ordered released,” Abdul Shakoor Dadras, head of the Afghan government committee responsible for the prisoner issue, said in an interview Tuesday.
The New York Times has also posted a document (pdf) purporting to lay out the evidence against the 37 disputed prisoners cleared for release in January. Remarkably, although the military is expressing concern for rule of law, there is a strong reliance on failed polygraph tests in the evidence cited. Of course, polygraph results are so unreliable that they are not admissible in most US states, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the military. Fingerprints and other biometric matches are also cited in the document for some prisoners, but whether these matches are strong or weak is not discussed, even though a court would be very interested in the level at which the match is said to occur. Similarly, evidence of explosive residue is cited for some of the prisoners without any discussion of how conclusive the test result was. Laughably, possession of firearms is cited for many of the prisoners, despite the fact that the country in which they live has been at war for over the last twelve years after the US military invaded.
Back in January, Dadras had this to say about some of the evidence:
Mr. Dadras said in an interview on Monday that he was only being true to Afghan law. He insisted that he had to discard any evidence that was collected without a defense lawyer present, which would appear to include anything in the suspect’s possession when captured. He also said he distrusted evidence collected years after suspects were detained, and was not persuaded when lab analysis found residue from chloride chemical compounds used in explosives. Suspects could have picked up the residue other ways, he said.
“The air is contaminated with chlorides, given the fighting; there is bombing and the wind,” Mr. Dadras said.
Returning to the US military statement, they do acknowledge that Afghanistan’s attorney general’s carried out a review of the disputed cases. However, they dismiss that review: Continue reading
On Monday, I could only reply with the Twitter equivalent of uncontrolled laughter when Robert Caruso tweeted a quote from Stanley McChrystal, who was appearing on Morning Joe to hype the paperback release of his book. Responding to a question from Al Sharpton, McChrystal said, in Caruso’s transcription, “the military doesn’t have goals…we follow the policy of the nation”.
Of course, as Michael Hastings so exquisitely documented, McChrystal and his band of merry operators had as their primary goal the advancement of their own careers while also promoting the concept of forever war. And as Gareth Porter points out, David (ass-kissing little chickenshit) Petraeus gamed Obama on the end date for the surge in Afghanistan, significantly extending the time of maximum troop presence (and maximum fund flow to contractors). It is equally important not to forget the Pentagon operation that places “analysts” with television news operations, somehow always finding analysts whose views align with Pentagon goals of forever war (and more purchases from the defense contractors who employ these same analysts when they go to the other side of the revolving door). Yes, Eisenhower foresaw all of this and yet we ignored his warning in 1961.
But somehow last night’s headline from the Wall Street Journal seems on first blush to run counter to the concept of forever war. We are now told that the military’s latest plan for a troop presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year (pending a signed BSA, which is certainly not a given) would be only 10,000 troops (a significant reduction from previous ideas that have been floated) and that these troops would be drawn down to essentially zero in another two years, ending precisely with Obama’s term in office. The Journal offered this by way of explanation:
The request reflects a far shorter time frame for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan than commanders had previously envisaged after the current international mission ends this year. The new approach is intended to buy the U.S. military time to advise and train the Afghan army but still allow Mr. Obama to leave office saying he ended America’s longest war, the officials said.
So the military is pitching this latest plan as being an opportunity for Obama to claim “success” in ending the war. But we all know that the effort in Afghanistan has been an abject failure that has achieved absolutely nothing beyond killing a huge number of Afghans along with far too many coalition troops while squandering an obscene amount of US money. Instead, this looks to me more like the military moving to try to hang its failure on Obama by not extending the quagmire into yet another presidential administration. And that view seems to me to be reinforced by the military’s framing of Obama’s options:
Military leaders told Mr. Obama that if he rejects the 10,000-troop option, then it would be best to withdraw nearly all military personnel at the end of this year because a smaller troop presence wouldn’t offer adequate protection to U.S. personnel, said officials involved in the discussions.
The military wants this debacle to end during Obama’s term no matter what, and you can bet that is because their goal is to blame him for their failure.
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.
I’ve noted before how the “fighting season” in Afghanistan is viewed by the Pentagon in terms that are eerily parallel to baseball season, but the end of season reviews this year have sunk to a pitifully low level as military leaders cast about for anything that can be viewed as a positive sign to take away from the season that is winding down. In today’s New York Times, the season review has sunk lower than any diehard Cubs fan’s version of “wait until next year”:
Some American and Afghan commanders characterized a kind of moral victory for the Afghan forces: they mostly survived, and they did not completely give back gains from past Western offensives.
True to form, the article opened by presenting the “fighting season” framing:
When the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, they saw few limits to their ambitions: to kill top Afghan officials across every major ministry, to plot even more infiltration attacks against Americans and to bloody, break and drive off the Afghan security forces who were newly in charge across the country.
Now, Afghan and American officials are cautiously celebrating a deflation of the Taliban’s propaganda bubble, the militants’ goals largely unmet.
With this year’s fighting season nearly over, the officials say the good news is that the Afghan forces mostly held their own, responding to attacks well and cutting down on assassinations. But at the same time, the Afghans were unable to make significant gains and, worse, suffered such heavy casualties that some officials called the rate unsustainable.
So, in other words, the Taliban team was really cocky coming out of spring training and felt like they could win it all. Their arch-rivals ANSF instead played them to a standstill, with neither team making the playoffs yet again. And the ANSF team is in dire danger of being seriously depleted next spring.
The review coming from manager Joseph Dunford at the ISAF team website is no better:
While the ANSF are making real progress in security, the challenges faced by Afghans and the international community are primarily psychological and political. There is still widespread uncertainty amongst the Afghan people and in the region concerning the post-2014 environment. This uncertainty causes unhelpful hedging behavior. The overall perception of security is affected by the Taliban’s high profile attacks (HPAs), which is nothing more than a campaign of fear, murder and intimidation. ISAF’s current focus is to enable the ANSF to emerge from this fighting season confident and credible in the eyes of the Afghan people; this will create the perception of security that will support the political process and lead to successful elections in 2014.
If only that damned commissioner’s office would quit screwing around with league alignment, we’d win it all! Honest!
But all jokes aside, when military sources providing quotes to the Times can only speak of “moral victories” and when the commander of US forces has as his goal “the perception of security”, the battle is already lost.
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:
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:
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.