I often note how the US military, throughout its nearly 13 year quagmire in Afghanistan, continues to spout “we’re winning” messages when it is clear that the entire effort has been an utter failure from the start. Juxtaposing a story in today’s Washington Post with another in today’s New York Times shows how the military’s rosy statements are devoid of all connection to reality on the ground.
The Post story centers on the military, with Joseph Dunford in the lead, filling in more details on projected troop staffing levels in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year. The article ends with this gem:
U.S. and NATO officials described a Taliban force that has been greatly debilitated since the beginning of this year and pointed to the successful first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election in April as a defeat for the militants. The top two vote-getters are competing in next week’s runoff to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign the bilateral security and status-of-forces agreements.
“In the wake of the election, for the first time . . . the Taliban are on the defensive in the information space,” the senior military official said. For 10 years, he said, the Taliban has had two messages — that the United States was occupying their country and ultimately would abandon it. In the wake of the turnover of combat operations to Afghan national forces over the past year, and Obama’s announcement for the future, those messages have less resonance, the official said. The coalition has made clear, the official said, that we “won’t fall off the cliff at the end of 2014.”
Dunford described “friction” within the Taliban and said that although the militants are still carrying out lethal attacks against Afghan forces, “if you compare the political space of the Taliban, it’s significantly reduced.”
Okay, then. The Taliban is “greatly debilitated”, are “on the defensive in the information space” and are “significantly reduced” in “the political space”. Yet, on the very day that Dunford and a “senior military officer” made such outrageous claims, the Taliban were happily scoring their biggest propaganda victory of the entire war in Afghanistan. From the Times:
The Taliban seem loose, almost offhand, on camera as they wait for the American Black Hawk to land. Two fighters walk their hostage, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, out to American troops, greeting their enemies eye to eye as they quickly shake hands. They wave as the Americans retreat back to the chopper.
In their viral video to the world on Wednesday, framing dramatic images of their transaction with the United States with music, commentary and context, the Taliban scored their biggest hit yet after years of effort to improve their publicity machine — one bent on portraying them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in exile.
Within hours of the video’s release, the Taliban website where it was posted was overwhelmed with traffic and the page hosting it crashed, according to Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the insurgents. The video has since been uploaded in dozens of different versions on YouTube.
It is the product of a Taliban propaganda effort that has grown increasingly savvy.
It’s hard to imagine a better example of how the US has lost all credibility when it comes to describing conditions in Afghanistan. Granted, the statements in the Post stem initially from claims made around the election going “smoothly“, but the sweeping statements quoted clearly are meant to apply to the Taliban’s situation generally, not just regarding the election. But the Taliban even covered that:
And they suggested that they had purposefully held back on attacking civilians on election day in April, and that Afghans should trust the Taliban over a government being chosen by Western ways.
We can only wonder how Dunford and his associates will ever be able to top this one.
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
I was only able to monitor portions of yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in which Joseph Dunford provided an update on the situation in Afghanistan. Most of the hearing was the usual frustrating bunk, such as Roger Wicker whinging that we just don’t hear enough in the media about US successes in Afghanistan. John McCain actually was a bit more responsible than usual, showing a lot of doubt about the current set of plans and complaining that the small reserve force anticipated after 2014 is just not worth the risk to the troops if a BSA is eventually signed. Dunford’s opening statement as submitted can be found here (pdf) and the video of the entire hearing is here. What stood out at the hearing for me, though, was the entire exchange between Joe Manchin and Dunford. Here is the clip of that exchange:
In the middle of the exchange, Manchin brings up the issue of the “excess” Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, or MRAP’s. This has been an issue I’ve followed closely, especially when I found that the US ordered nearly a billion dollars’ worth next generation vehicles while declaring a large number of usable vehicles unneeded. Several months after writing that post, I happened to overhear a conversation on an airplane in which a person claimed to have just come from Kabul, where they witnessed brand new MRAP’s coming off planes being delivered, driving across the tarmac and then being cut up for scrap. I made a few inquiries on whether this was indeed occurring (the explanation from the person on the airplane was that the purchase contracts could not be rescinded and that delivery to Kabul was a part of the contract), so the bit where Manchin and Dunford discuss them perked up my ears. Note that Dunford claims he’s saving money by scrapping them, since it costs only $10,000 to cut one up but $50,000 to ship it home. Manchin rightfully then points out that building the replacement costs a million dollars if a new MRAP is needed. Dunford then offers that sufficient MRAP’s have been moved back to the US to cover any projected needs for the next conflict that breaks out. Significantly, he states that he has discontinued the practice of cutting them up for scrap. This is the first I’ve heard about discontinuing the practice and I have to wonder if DoD was beginning to feel pressure due to word getting out about scrapping such expensive equipment. The “donation” plan is doomed from the start, since any recipients have to arrange and pay for shipment. This might not be entirely bad, though, as it may prevent a rash of these ridiculous beasts showing up in the fleets of local law enforcement agencies.
The final bit of the exchange, though, is the most telling. In their coverage of the hearing, both the New York Times and Washington Post picked up “quotables” from Manchin in the lead-up to the final exchange, but stopped short of what I see as Dunford first denying and then going all in on the concept of a forever war in Afghanistan.
My transcript of the final exchange, after Dunford had claimed there would be a time when the US would leave:
Manchin: And I’m saying if thirteen years didn’t do the job, how many more years do you think it’ll take? That’s the question I cannot answer. You know, we’re just basically saying if you can’t do the job in ten, twelve, thriteen years, you’re just not going to get the job done.
Dunford: Well, Senator, I would assume because we have vital national interests in the region, that the United States would be engaged in the region for a long period of time to come. The nature of our engagement and the nature of our presence would of course change over time.
Manchin: Again, thank you so much for your service and I would just respectfully disagree.
So although Dunford first told Manchin that there would be a time when the US could leave Afghanistan (in contrast to Manchin’s example of South Korea), Dunford then failed to put any endpoint on what would be “a long period of time to come” when the US would have such a vital interest in Afghanistan that we need to keep troops there. I’m with Manchin on disagreeing, but I can’t get to the respectful part.
Hamid Karzai continues his expert gamesmanship in his dealing with the US, forcing deadline after deadline to be abandoned in the US effort to get him to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would keep US troops in Afghanistan beyond the expiration of the NATO mission at the end of this year. Yesterday, Karzai followed through on his intention to release a number of prisoners who have been at the heart of one of the latest controversies when he gave final orders for the release of a number of them.
Recall that one week ago, Hypocrisy Tourists John McCain and Lindsey Graham were in Kabul to warn of the dire dangers of releasing these prisoners. Almost lost behind the headlines in this latest turn of events is that Karzai and Afghanistan have been true to their words in this process. Last week, their position was to state that the 88 prisoners were designated for release but that the US and NATO could provide any evidence that they have that would call for the prisoners to be sent to trial instead. It would appear that based on the latest evidence, 16 of those prisoners now are slated for trial and only 72 are now slated for release.
The Afghan government said Thursday it will release 72 high-profile detainees, a decision that defies pleas by U.S. officials and deals a massive blow to U.S.-Afghan relations just as the two countries attempt to complete a long-term security agreement.
U.S. officials say the prisoners pose a threat to both Afghan security and American service members based here, claiming their exoneration proves not only the dysfunction of the Afghan judiciary, but also the government’s inability to cooperate on even the gravest matters.
President Hamid Karzai declared Thursday that the evidence against the 72 men — which had been collected by both the Afghan intelligence service and the U.S. military — was insufficient to warrant formal trials, according to a statement from the presidential palace.
The release, which is expected within days, was ordered after a “thorough and serious review of the prisoners,” the statement said.
In an attempt to keep the detainees behind bars, U.S. officials had handed over reams of evidence against them — enough, they said they assumed, to at least justify formal trials.
So while by removing 16 prisoners from the list for release after considering the extra evidence, Afghanistan actually followed through with what they said they would do, word from the US has changed. Recall that last week, I pointed out that the US was claiming that their evidence for the disputed prisoners was enough to send them to trial “or at least to hold them pending further investigation”. I noted that given the number of years at least some of these prisoners have been held, this amounted to a plea to hold the prisoners indefinitely without charge. That language is now mysteriously missing from the US bleating about the harm that will be done by releasing the prisoners.
But that is not the only substantive change from the US side. Graham and McCain were leading the dire warnings to Karzai that releasing the prisoners was likely to lead Congress to cut off the billions of dollars of aid that would otherwise flow to Afghanistan and that even the Bilateral Security Agreement would be endangered.
It is difficult to imagine how the situation could be any worse for the US ahead of Thursday’s opening of the loya jirga that was meant to give a stamp of approval to the Bilateral Security Agreement that would govern US troops remaining in Afghanistan after 2014. Both the New York Times and Reuters are reporting a sticking point (the issue is not a new one) in the negotiations that threatens to prevent an agreement being reached. Furthermore, a suicide bomber struck on Saturday at the site where the jirga is planned. The Taliban has claimed responsibility. Finally, the UN is reporting that despite as many as 12,000 Taliban fighters being killed, wounded or captured in the last year, violence in Afghanistan is at its highest point since the US surge.
The latest sticking point in the Bilateral Security Agreement (immunity for US troops also is a sticking point that is just as likely to derail approval by the jirga) addresses US troops entering Afghan homes without permission. This is at the heart of the operations of US death squads as Special Operations forces carry out night raids. From the Times:
Offstage, however, American raids continued to be a point of deadlock, according to the Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations were continuing. In recent days, the talks have been led on the Afghan side by Mr. Karzai, and on the American side by Ambassador James B. Cunningham and the military coalition commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.
The Afghan officials said Mr. Karzai would not change his position before Thursday’s loya jirga, to which 3,000 officials, elders and notables from around the country have been invited to ratify or reject the security agreement.
So even though these negotiations are being carried out at the highest level, it appears that a serious disagreement persists, just a few days short of the critical jirga. The article notes that some on the US side feel that this is a last-minute ploy by the Afghans, but considering that Karzai has opposed the raids from the beginning, it is hard to see how that argument has any merit. The article continues to show how this disagreement could scuttle the entire deal: Continue reading
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.
With so much attention focused on Syria, it is important that we don’t lose sight of just how badly the situation in Afghanistan is limping toward a final resolution. There is a report ToloNews website this morning on a memorial service that was held yesterday in Kabul. It’s not clear why the service was held yesterday (the anniversary of the US invasion isn’t until early October), but the service was described as honoring both foreign and Afghan soldiers who have fallen in the war. While the words attributed to Dunford were simple enough in deploring terrorism, the quotes attributed to Afghan figures were appalling in their attempts to use a solemn occasion to shill for what their US military handlers want in the coming months:
Highlighting on the importance of support from the international community post-2014, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) requested the international community to continue assisting the Afghan forces by providing equipment and proper training post-2014.
The battle of Afghanistan against terrorism has seen some big sacrifices in terms of military and civilian casualties. Over the past 12 years, since the beginning of the Afghan war, over 3,000 foreign soldiers and over 10,000 Afghan soldiers have lost their lives.
The foreign forces’ combat mission is scheduled to end in the next few months, but a greater question looms large with regard to how effective has the fight against terrorism been over the past 12 years?
In light of this, Bismillah Mohammadi, the Minister of Defence expressed concerns over the training and equipping of the Afghan Security Forces post-2014. Mr. Mohammadi urged the international community to continue assisting the Afghan forces beyond 2014.
“We urge the international community to equip and train the Afghan Security Forces post- 2014,” said Mr. Mohammadi.
And how well is all that “training” going? Pretty much as we saw before. Despite massive efforts by the US to re-screen Afghan personnel in the military and to decrease the number of interaction points between Afghan recruits and their trainers, there was another green on blue killing on Saturday. From ToloNews:
“Three International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service members died when an individual wearing an Afghan National Security Forces uniform shot them in eastern Afghanistan today,” a statement from the coalition said.
A US defence official confirmed to AFP that the three victims were from the United States.
An Afghan official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the attack happened during a training session in the insurgency-hit province of Paktia.
The Afghan soldier opened fire on US soldiers, killing two on the spot, he said. A third later died of his wounds.
The attacker was killed when Americans and Afghan soldiers returned fire.
The article, which originally comes from AFP, lists the various programs the US has put into place in response to green on blue killings. By listing these programs in such proximity, we can see how they are self-contradictory:
There have been seven “insider attacks” this year against coalition forces, compared with 48 in 2012. ISAF officials say the decline has been due to better vetting, counter-intelligence and cultural awareness.
Foreign soldiers working with Afghan forces are regularly watched over by so-called “guardian angel” troops to provide protection from their supposed allies.
The military really wants us to believe that they have finally learned cultural awareness and that they have put into place appropriate screening and counterintelligence processes that will eliminate threats. And those programs are working so well that the military now assigns soldiers to act as armed guards during training sessions.
Reuters is carrying a remarkable article today on an interview conducted with the current US Commander in Afghanistan, Joseph Dunford. I say the article is remarkable because it is a perfect embodiment of the extreme dishonesty the military has used so that it can continue to convey the message that we are “winning” in Afghanistan. Neither Dunford nor the Reuters reporters or editors appear to catch the glaring contradiction inherent in Dunford’s statements and the current situation in Afghanistan.
Reuters has titled the article “Afghanistan’s future depends on foreign soldiers: US commander” and opens with this paragraph:
Afghanistan’s future security will remain dependent on international troops for many years after most foreign combat forces leave by the end of 2014, the U.S. commander of the NATO-led force in the South Asian country said.
Okay, so the future security of Afghanistan depends directly on the presence of foreign (that is, US) troops after 2014. But aren’t we handing over security responsibility? Oh yes, see the next paragraph:
With the formal security handover to Afghans closing in, intense debate is underway about how many troops the United States and its mainly NATO allies should leave behind to conduct training, support and counter-terror operations.
Which is it, then? Are we handing over security responsibility to Afghanistan or is security dependent on US troops remaining there? Dunford can’t have it both ways, but he is caught up in the dishonesty that the military has used in order to claim it is making progress in the training of Afghan security forces. When training had been ongoing for many years without any Afghan units getting to the point that they can function entirely on their own, the military simply removed that category from their reporting on training. Now, the most advanced category is “independent with advisors”. The tenacity with which the military is hanging onto its desire to keep those “advisors” on duty in Afghanistan beyond 2014 suggests to me that the military has stretched a long way to put Afghan units into this category and the lie will be exposed when US troops leave for good and the dysfunction of the Afghan units becomes clear.
Dunford’s dishonesty here is hardly unique just to him. One of my favorite figures in the military, Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Davis, has come forward with a proposal aimed at ridding the military of its current penchant for lying in order to claim success. Writing in the Armed Forces Journal, Davis tells us to “Purge the generals“: Continue reading
In a complete repeat of the process the Obama administration used to get NATO to be the entity to propose extending the mythical 352,000 Afghan National Security Force size through 2018 instead of letting it drop by a third in 2015, yesterday saw NATO “announcing” that the training of ANSF would extend post-2014 and that Germany and Italy would participate in this training. This mission is clearly guaranteed to succeed because it has the nifty new name of “Resolute Support” and is even the subject of the slick video above that NATO released for the roll-out of the surrounding propaganda campaign:
The United States has agreed to lead a training mission in Afghanistan after 2014 that will include troops from Germany and Italy and will operate under a new NATO mandate, officials announced Wednesday.
U.S. troops would be based in hubs in the east and south, Taliban strongholds where the Afghan army is likely to face a deadly insurgency for years to come. Germany has pledged to keep troops in the north and Italy in the west, an arrangement that would mark a continuation of the current force structure, albeit with far fewer troops.
However, there still is no underlying agreement that will authorize US trainers to be in Afghanistan after 2014 with full criminal immunity:
Officials did not specify how many troops the mission, called Resolute Support, would include. They declined to say whether it would include a counterterrorism mission, one of the capabilities that the Obama administration has expressed interest in keeping after the mandate of NATO’s current troop contingent, the International Security Assistance Force, expires.
“The new mission will not be ISAF by another name,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “It will be significantly smaller.”
The White House has been reluctant to specify how many troops it would be willing to keep in the country because it has yet to sign a security cooperation agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. That has made U.S. allies reluctant to make their own commitments to continue pouring money and troops into a deeply unpopular conflict.
It’s nice to know that we have the toughest detail of naming the mission out the way so that we can now get down to the minor details of criminal immunity, force size and full combat activity for US troops under the rubric of “counterterrorism”. What could possibly go wrong with this terrific new effort?
It might also be noted in parting that Rasmussen claimed Afghan Special Forces as the “bedrock” of the post-2014 effort. From what I have been able to find, those “special forces” have a whopping twelve weeks of extra training, compared to 14-18 months of extra training for US Special Forces.
Back in April, I ridiculed the Senate Armed Services Committee and especially ISAF Commander Joseph Dunford for continuing to hold on to the delusion that the US can still “win” in Afghanistan. As the situation in Afghanistan continues to get worse, a new wave of summer propaganda is being trotted out to combat the gore being produced by the Taliban’s summer offensive. One arm of the propaganda has been to tout an individual vigilante group that claims to have cleared a hundred villages of Taliban fighters in one small region. I’ll return to the problems with that a bit later, but the big propaganda blitz that is now hitting is so pitiful that I keep checking the URL of the report to make sure it wasn’t published by The Onion.
The feel-good war hawk think tank that is supposed to make the left love war, Center for a New American Security, just released a “report” that is meant to get the country to buck up and continue to support the war effort in Afghanistan. In order to get anyone to lend their name to this drivel, the group had to sink so far as to recruit serial “liberal” war apologist (and always wrong) Michael O’Hanlon. O’Hanlon was joined by John Allen, the former ISAF Commander who is so smart that he blamed green on blue killings on Ramadan fasting and former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy. But even this hand-picked group of people guaranteed to be in favor of any kind of violence that the US can wage could only muster half-hearted enthusiasm for “success” in Afghanistan. From the report (pdf):
The United States can still achieve its strategic objectives in Afghanistan if it maintains and adequately resources its current policy course – and if Afghan partners in particular do their part, including by successfully navigating the shoals of their presidential election and transition in 2014. The core reasons for this judgment are the impressive progress of the Afghan security forces and the significant strides made in areas such as agriculture, health and education, combined with the promising pool of human capital that is increasingly influential within the country and that may be poised to gain greater influence in the country’s future politics. However, the United States and other international security and development partners would risk snatching defeat from the jaws of something that could still resemble victory if, due to frustration with President Hamid Karzai or domestic budgetary pressures, they were to accelerate disengagement between now and 2014 and under-resource their commitment to Afghanistan after 2014.
Note that this group is carefully laying out several potential villains on whom to blame the upcoming failure. Continue reading