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.
A single line item in the latest quarterly report from SIGAR (pdf) has my blood boiling. The report states that among the up to $7.73 billion that the Defense Department has requested for fiscal 2014 in Afghanistan, a single item of $886.9 million is listed as being for Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. A quick look with teh Googler gives us this page where we see details on just what the Mobile Strike Force Vehicle is. A Marine Corps photo of an MSFV appears here to the left. Here is the caption that the Marine Corps provided for the photo on Flickr:
Cpl. Damario Tillman, vehicle commander, Mobile Strike Force Advisor Team, observes his surroundings as a Mobile Strike Force Vehicle assigned to the Afghan National Army (ANA) Mobile Strike Force Kandak, navigates through a series of obstacles at a rough terrain driving course on Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 13, 2013. The course was part of a three day training package that the Marines with Mobile Strike Force Advisor Team conducted for their ANA counterparts.
The stupidity of spending nearly a billion dollars on new armored vehicles for Afghanistan is mind-boggling. I have been haunted for several months by this photo:
Here is the caption provided by the Defense Video & Image Distribution System where the photo can be found:
Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles wait in a staging area for onward movement at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia March 20, 2013. The joint team of Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Central Command’s DDOC will play a major role in moving the more than 50,000 Coalition (U.S. and NATO, of which 28,000 are U.S.) military vehicles in Afghanistan that will need to be recovered or pre-positioned in contingency stocks abroad.
Although I am far from an expert on defense equipment, it appears to me that the MSFV is merely the latest version in the wide array of MRAP vehicles. Here is a snippet from a press release relating one of the major purchases of MSFV’s:
Part of the TM&LS COMMANDO Select line of armored vehicles, the MSFV is derived from the combat-proven M1117 Armored Security Vehicle (ASV). All MSFVs are configured with Enhanced Survivability (ES) capability, which increases blast protection to mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) levels. The ES-equipped vehicles continue to possess the ASV’s original, all-important V-shaped hull design, in addition to innovative protection design features that enable them to meet MRAP blast protection standards.
Note that the date given for the photo of MRAP’s that have already been shipped out of Afghanistan is March 20 of this year. It would appear that the Defense Department is engaging in a bit of misinformation to make it look like there isn’t an excess of usable MRAP’s, given this Marine Corps Times article dated less than a week later on March 26. The title of the article is “Most MRAP’s won’t be coming home from Afghanistan” and it is accompanied by this photo of several disheveled, out of service MRAP’s that look nothing like the shiny, functional ones already shipped out of the country in the March 20 photo.
The article states:
Very few of the Marine Corps’ 1,200 mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles still in Afghanistan will be traveling back to the U.S., the Corps’ deputy commandant for installations and logistics said this week.
Speaking at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies Wednesday afternoon, Lt. Gen. William Faulkner revealed elements of a plan to donate unwanted MRAPs to partner nations within Central Command as Marines balance efforts to retrograde from Afghanistan with a mandate to get lighter and more compact as a service.
“The bottom line is, we don’t need them,” Faulkner said of the MRAPs remaining in Afghanistan. “We don’t need as many as we have today.”
The Marine Corps has about 4,000 MRAPs in its inventory, Faulkner said, and officials have calculated they want to keep fewer than 1,500 of the 14-ton machines after Operation Enduring Freedom draws to a close in 2014.
So the Marines have an excess of 2500 MRAP’s and Faulkner even admits we want to give them away. So why haven’t these MRAP’s been donated to the ANA instead of the US sending them brand new MSFV’s?