The last time I addressed the transit of NATO goods through Pakistan, I noted that NATO is now facing similar problems with convoys as goods are removed from Afghanistan to those seen previously while sending supplies to Afghanistan through Pakistan. There was a new incident with a NATO convoy today, and this time it appears that the strike was once again on supplies as they headed into Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass.
AP puts the death toll from today’s strike at four, but both Dawn and BBC say six have been killed. The most striking aspect to the attack, though, is that both AP and BBC report that the attackers wore local police uniforms. Further, local authorities were the ones who relayed this information to the news organizations. From the AP report:
Militants dressed as policemen and armed with assault rifles and rockets attacked a NATO convoy in Pakistan carrying supplies Monday for the U.S.-led coalition in neighboring Afghanistan, killing four people, officials said.
In Monday’s attack, the militants emerged from the mountains and lobbed rockets at the NATO trucks, setting fire and completely burning two vehicles, said local official Iqbal Khan.
The militants wore local police uniforms and the four dead included truck drivers and their assistants, he said.
The attack took place in the Jamrud area of the Khyber tribal region, through which runs the main route into Afghanistan for the supply trucks. The trucks’ journey often begins from the southern port city of Karachi.
Government official Jehangir Azam told DunyaNews TV that around 15 heavily armed militants were involved.
BBC adds to the size of the group carrying out the attack and places the attack into context for recent similar events:
Officials say that between 15 to 20 men dressed in local police uniform fired at the lorries, killing the drivers and some of their helpers.
Violent attacks against Nato supply trucks are not uncommon in the Khyber region, says the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad.
Over the last few months, at least 10 people have died and more than 15 trucks have been damaged in similar attacks, our correspondent adds.
The AP story noted further that the materials being transported included an ambulance.
The use of local police uniforms is especially striking to me. With Pakistan’s government transition continuing and the new government moving within 24 hours to summon the US envoy over Friday’s drone strike, the question becomes whether local police themselves were involved in the attack or if they at least provided uniforms and weapons to the attackers.
The fate of convoys both entering and leaving Afghanistan will be worth watching closely in the near term to see if these attacks accelerate or if more evidence of local police involvement emerges.
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.
When we last heard from General Joseph (We Are Winning in Afghanistan, We Really Are!) Dunford, he was showing total incompetence in terms of budget awareness in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had announced on March 28 that DoD was $7 billion over budget in Afghanistan. By the time Dunford was asked about the over-budget situation during the hearing on April 16, Mike Lee stated that the overage had grown to $10 billion. Despite being in charge of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Dunford professed complete ignorance of the over-budget situation. That is a stunning lack of situational awareness for someone who is supposed to be in charge. After bumbling on a bit, Dunford did promise to eventually get back to Lee on the budget issue.
It would appear that even if he has gone back and looked over his own money management failures, Dunford has looked no further than the DoD budget. The New York Times posted a story yesterday based on an interview with him, and Dunford made another statement that is mind-boggling in terms of its lack of awareness of budget realities for the region. Recall that back in February, NATO defense ministers proposed that instead of allowing Afghan National Security Forces to drop by about a third after the end of 2014, the full force size of “352,000″ (that’s in quotes because I think the SIGAR audit is going to finally destroy the 352,000 force size myth) should be maintained through at least 2018. My response to this suggestion was that it appeared to be a $22 billion bribe being offered to Afghan authorities in return for their agreeing to a Status of Forces Agreement that would grant criminal immunity to US forces remaining after the end of the official NATO mission at the end of 2014.
In the interview with the Times, Dunford continued his previous agreement with the concept of extending the time frame for the larger ANSF force size, but then made a suggestion that is stunningly stupid regarding how the extended force size should be funded:
He has concluded as well that plans to reduce the number of Afghan security forces — the army and police combined — to 228,000 after 2015 from the current target level of 352,000 are not realistic, given the threats in the country. “The consensus now both from the Afghans and certainly from us is that we ought to sustain that for some period time to come,” said General Dunford, referring to the 352,000 head count.
What is less clear is how such a force could be paid for. The international community, led by the United States, has agreed to pay roughly $4.1 billion in aid per year for the Afghan security forces after 2014, based on estimates of what a smaller Afghan security contingent would cost. If the Afghans want to keep a larger force, they will either have to field a cheaper army and police force or come up with more money themselves to pay for it. General Dunford suggested that the Afghans could economize, although he did not give examples of where they might find the savings.
That’s right. A totally dysfunctional, stunningly corrupt government should just somehow “economize” and find an additional $22 billion to fund a mythically large defense force.
Oh, and just like his own war effort in Afghanistan that has been mis-managed into a huge budget deficit, if Dunford only read the New York Times, he would be aware that the IMF has found Afghanistan’s government to be facing a serious budget shortfall:
The Afghan government is supposed to cover less than half its own bills this year, yet achieving even that modest goal is proving an unexpected challenge, Afghan and Western officials said.
A confidential assessment of Afghan finances by the International Monetary Fund said the potentially severe cash crunch was caused by widespread tax evasion abetted by government officials, the increasing theft of customs revenues by provincial governors and softening economic growth.
The I.M.F. assessment, which has not been publicly released but was described by American and European diplomats who were recently briefed on its findings, estimated that Afghan revenue in the first quarter of the year was roughly 20 percent to 30 percent short of an informal target the fund had set for the government.
Yeah, sure. With revenues already 20 to 30 percent short of projections, that’s a government that can just poke around a bit and find another $22 billion in the SOFA.
A central tenet of DoD dogma regarding withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan rests on Afghan National Security Forces reaching a force size of 352,000 and taking over full responsibility for security in the country as US forces leave at the end of 2014. There are multiple problems surrounding the myth of ANSF force size of 352,000. As reported last quarter by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the “official” force size reported by DoD relies on self-reporting by Afghanistan and can not be validated. Further, NATO ministers proposed back in February that financial support for the 352,000 size should be extended through 2018, rather than allowing the force size to drop by about a third at the end of 2014. I equated this offer to dangling an extra $22 billion in front of Afghan government officials for embezzling in return for a grant of criminal immunity for US forces remaining behind after the official withdrawal.
SIGAR released its latest quarterly report yesterday (pdf), covering the first quarter of 2013, and we see that the problems surrounding the myth of 352,000 ANSF force size persist and show no prospect of improving.
From the report, we see that even with Afghanistan self-reporting in an unvalidated way, and with US goals clearly known, force size falls short of the goal:
Although the reported force size is only about 5.5% below the goal, it seems remarkable that Afghan officials developing their own numbers in a non-validated way were not able to reach the goals that are clearly known to them.
This process of developing the ANSF has drawn the largest portion of US funds that have been allocated to Afghanistan. Here is how funds have been allocated since the beginning of the Afghan war:
As of March 31, 2013, the United States had appropriated approximately $92.73 billion for relief and reconstruction in Afghanistan since FY 2002. This total has been allocated as follows:
• $54.27 billion for security
• $22.97 billion for governance and development
• $6.39 billion for counter-narcotics efforts
• $2.43 billion for humanitarian aid
• $6.66 billion for operations and oversight
Of all the funds allocated to Afghanistan by the US, over half have gone to developing ANSF. Here is how security money breaks down from 2005 to the present time:
Note that since the beginning of the 2005 fiscal year, we have provided nearly $14 billion in salaries for troop sizes that are self-reported in a non-validated system and therefore ripe for embezzlement. Further, another $13.8 billion was provided for “equipment and transportation” of ANSF, which would also seem a good source for corruption. That is a huge amount of money and it appears to be very poorly spent, given the lack of preparedness for ANSF.
SIGAR calls DoD into question on its claims that the 352,000 ANSF force size has been met: Continue reading
Khaama Press reports today that a group of investigators appointed by the Afghan government has confirmed that eleven children were killed on Saturday in a NATO air strike in Kunar Province. Although several press reports indicate that NATO has said that it is investigating the strike, I can find no word on the Defense Department or ISAF websites mentioning this strike. The absence of any report from NATO is puzzling, since their site provides near-daily accounts of actions under the heading of “Joint Command Operational Update”.
Here is how Khaama Press relates the confirmation of the deaths:
Head of the Afghan delegation appointed by Afghan president Hamid Karzai to probe NATO airstrike in eastern Kunar province of Afghanistan confirmed at least 11 children and 4 women were killed during raid.
The delegation also added that at least 25 people had suffered casualties during the air raid in this province.
The airstrike was carried out during a joint military operation conducted by Afghan and coalition security forces in Shegal district of eastern Kunar province three days.
The delegation met with the families of the victims after being appointed by president Hamid Karzai.
Two very important details about the strike come in the final paragraph:
At least 7 Taliban militants were also killed during the airstrike, the delegation confirmed adding that 4 residential houses were damaged during the airstrike.
The details that Taliban militants were killed and that more than one house was damaged are important because of the other information that has come out regarding the incident.
The day after the strike, the Washington Post carried an AP article about it. Near the end of the article, AP relayed information that came from a local official:
Afghan officials said the airstrike occurred after a joint U.S.-Afghan force faced hours of heavy gunfire from militants. The joint force was conducting an operation targeting a senior Taliban leader that began around midnight Friday in the Shultan area of Kunar’s Shigal district, according to tribal elder Gul Pasha, who also is the chief of the local council.
The remote area is one of the main points of entry for Taliban and other insurgents trying to move across the mountainous border from neighboring Pakistan, where they enjoy refuge in the lawless northwestern area.
“In the morning after sunrise, planes appeared in the sky and airstrikes started,” Pasha said in a telephone interview, adding that the fighting didn’t end until the evening.
“I don’t think that they knew that all these children and women were in the house because they were under attack from the house and they were shooting at the house,” he said.
There were slightly differing accounts of the death toll.
Pasha said the main Taliban suspect was in the house that was hit and was killed along with a woman and the children, ages 1 to 12, who were members of the suspect’s family.
So Pasha is claiming that the children all belonged to the main Taliban suspect and were in the same house where he was located. That is very interesting considering that in an article published April 8 that also mentioned this attack, Khaama Press featured a government condemnation of the use of civilians as human shields: Continue reading
At the height of the green on blue killing outbreak, one aspect that stood out was that the attackers often had access to Afghan military and police uniforms whether they were actual members of these groups or not. As the Taliban shift their targets this year to attacking the Afghan military and government, it appears that the tactic of attackers disguising themselves in official uniforms is continuing. Today, there was a major attack on a court complex (and a nearby bank office) where Taliban attackers were wearing Afghan National Army Uniforms.
From the New York Times:
A group of eight Taliban insurgents dressed in Afghan Army uniforms staged a complex assault on a provincial government compound in Western Afghanistan on Wednesday morning, killing at least six officials and civilians and seizing several hostages in one of the buildings, officials and witnesses said.
Officials said that the violence in Farah began after insurgents detonated a Ford Ranger laden with explosives near the entrance of the government compound. Government officials said the Taliban seized the second floor of the provincial court building, which is near the offices of the mayor, prosecutor and the governor, among other officials.
In addition to the at least six people killed in the attack, roughly 75 others were wounded, including women and children, according to hospital officials. Shah Mohammad Noor, head of the regional Court for western Afghanistan, said four of the attackers had been killed so far.
“The firefight is still ongoing,” said Mohammad Akram Khpalwak, the governor of Farah province. “The terrorists are still resisting.”
We learn from Reuters that the timing of the attack was not random, as the court proceedings going on at the time were specifically targeted:
Five militants stormed a court in Afghanistan on Wednesday where Taliban insurgents were standing trial, killing seven people and wounding 75, officials said.
At least one of the attackers blew himself up and a gun battle between Afghan security forces and an insurgent holed up inside the court was going on in the capital of the western province of Farah, near the Iranian border, said provincial deputy governor Mohammad Younis Rasouli.
“They stormed the court as a trial was being held to convict 10 Taliban fighters,” he told Reuters, adding that four civilians and three members of the security forces were killed.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to media, spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said, adding that the insurgents standing trial had been freed in the attack.
I suppose there could be a language or translation issue here, but the matter of fact statement that the “trial was being held to convict 10 Taliban fighters” kind of stands out here as not quite in line with the usual concept of a criminal court proceeding. The willingness of a Taliban spokesman to attach his name to a text claiming credit for the attack while it was still onging is also pretty stunning in its own right.
ToloNews adds that a bank was targeted along with the courthouse:
Several gunmen have launched a coordinated attack on a court building and a private bank branch in western Farah province, killing at least six people and wounding more than 70 others on Wednesday morning, officials said.
Two gunmen, wearing Afghan National Army’s uniform, entered the primary court building and two others managed their way into the provincial branch of New Kabul Bank.
Extra forces have been deployed to gun-down the insurgents.
And AFP (via Dawn) informs us that the Taliban were so open in taking credit for the attack that they even posted it on their website:
Taliban militants fighting the US-backed central government immediately claimed they were behind the attack.
“Our fighters attacked several government buildings in Farah according to their planned tactic. They conducted the attack with small arms and grenades,” the group said on its website.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan public now appears to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban with the US (and NATO) in the process of becoming more spectators than participants.
Back in July, Pakistan finally re-opened its highways to NATO supply trucks after the routes had been closed for several months in response to the US killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in an attack on a border post in November, 2011. A huge backlog of trucks and supplies had accumulated during that prolonged closure, and clearing it was complicated by the resumption of attacks on the supply convoys inside Pakistan.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal informed us that the US would test using the Pakistan overland route in reverse, as the long process of ending the NATO mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 begins its withdrawal of equipment:
The U.S. military’s efforts to ship out the mountains of equipment it accumulated over 11 years of Afghan war began in earnest this month, when a trial load of military hardware trucked through Pakistan set sail from the port of Karachi.
The shipment, which included more than 70 containers and 20 military vehicles, was a crucial test of a plan to bring home an estimated $22 billion in U.S. military gear from landlocked Afghanistan. Until now, the Pakistani route was used for supplies entering Afghanistan, rather than exiting.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Shapiro, deputy commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, said the successful delivery proved that the coalition’s transit route through Pakistan would enable the military to meet President Barack Obama‘s goal of cutting the size of the 66,000-strong American force in Afghanistan by half by next February.
“Pakistan certainly has a vested interest in getting it right too, because it’s a big deal for them,” Gen. Shapiro said. “So we feel very confident that the Pakistani military is going to help us move through Pakistan.”
Perhaps that first shipment of 20 trucks made it through, but today we have news that a convoy of five trucks on the exit route was attacked and destroyed. From AFP via the Express Tribune:
Five trucks carrying Nato equipment out of Afghanistan were set ablaze by gunmen near Quetta on Monday, as the international military alliance winds down its combat mission there, officials said.
Four masked gunmen on two motorbikes opened fire at the vehicles, forcing them to stop and then doused them in petrol to set them on fire in Balochistan.
“Five Nato trucks were carrying Nato equipment back. Gunmen first fired on the first vehicle and then sprinkled petrol on all of them,” Iftikhar Bugti, a senior government official told AFP by telephone.
The incident happened in Bolan district, around 120 kilometres (75 miles) southeast of Quetta, the provincial capital.
“All five trucks have been almost completely destroyed,” Bugti said. One driver was slightly injured in the attack, he added.
The pace of exiting material is expected to pick up greatly, and the Wall Street Journal article informs us that the bulk of the material will be shipped through Pakistan:
When the exodus is in full swing—military commanders expect the logistics push to reach its peak this August—the U.S. will be sending about 1,500 military vehicles and 1,000 containers per month out of Afghanistan. The majority—around two-thirds of that cargo—will move through Pakistan, military officials say.
The most sensitive equipment, such as weapons and communications systems, must be flown out by air, the costliest option. U.S. officials have also negotiated an alternative overland route, dubbed the Northern Distribution Network, through Central Asia to Baltic and Black Sea ports. While more expensive than the route through Pakistan, the NDN isn’t exposed to attacks by Pakistani Taliban.
Perhaps the military will be content to allow a number of the convoys to be burned by militants in Pakistan. After all, when the military burns excess equipment, it now has to track the soldiers who were at the burn site for future health problems.
The January 2013 Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report has been out for some time now, but @SIGARHQ has still been tweeting about it regularly. One of their tweets yesterday brought my attention to the section of their report (pdf) where they discuss force size for Afghan National Security Forces. Since the interruption in training brought about by decreased interactions between US and Afghan forces during the massive outbreak of green on blue attacks, I have maintained that the claim of 352,000 for ANSF force size was no longer credible. It appears that my skepticism is well-founded, as the pertinent section of the SIGAR report bears this heading:
ANSF NUMBERS NOT VALIDATED
The section begins:
Determining ANSF strength is fraught with challenges. U.S. and coalition forces rely on the Afghan forces to report their own personnel strength numbers. Moreover, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) noted that, in the case of the Afghan National Army, there is “no viable method of validating [their] personnel numbers.” SIGAR will continue to follow this issue to determine whether U.S. financial support to the ANSF is based on accurately reported personnel numbers.
There are several important bits to unpack in that paragraph. First, note that even though the US (well, officially, NATO) is training the Afghan forces, it is the Afghans themselves who report on their force size. It appears that our training of the Afghans, however, has not trained them on how to count personnel in a way that can be validated. But the end of the paragraph is the kicker, because it appears that our financial support of the Afghans is based on their own reporting of the force size. Since we are paying them for the force size they report, why wouldn’t they inflate the numbers to get paid as much as possible? The Afghans know that the bulk of US policy is built around the 352,000 force size myth, so they know that there will be absolutely no push-back (aside from an obscure SIGAR report that only DFH’s will read) for inflating the number to get the result the US desires. For further enticement, recall that NATO has proposed extending the time over which a force size of 352,000 will be supported, in a move that I saw as a blatant attempt to dangle an additional $22 billion ready for embezzling in front of Afghan administrators.
It comes as no small surprise, then, that SIGAR has found that the Afghan-reported numbers somehow manage to include over 11,000 civilians in the reports for security force size that is specifically meant to exclude civilian personnel.
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: Continue reading
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. We have headlines at multiple news outlets trumpeting that the US has ceded control of Parwan Prison (newly re-named today as the Afghan National Detention Facility at Parwan!), but when we drill down just a bit, we see that the US can never truly let go of its love of indefinite detention without trial, and so they have held back a few prisoners from today’s deal. Rod Nordland and Alissa Rubin do the best job of cutting through the US reliance on deception and semantics with their article in today’s New York Times, where even the headline writer got into the spirit of seeing this “agreement” as it really is: “U.S. Cedes Control, Almost, on Afghan Prisoners“.
At the heart of the long-standing difficulty in handing over control of the Parwan facility has been the US insistence that some prisoners be maintained indefinitely without charge while Afghanistan has continued to point out that the rule of law should prevail and all prisoners deserve a trial to determine their guilt. Nordland and Rubin were fed a list of recidivist Taliban figures who have been released by Afghanistan only to return to battle, but they did not allow that information to cloud their reporting on the fact that the US has held back some prisoners in the handover:
The American military formally transferred all but “a small number” of the Afghan prisoners at the Bagram Prison to the Afghan government on Monday in a ceremony that almost, but not quite, marked the end of the American involvement in the long-term detention of insurgents here.
Afghan officials said the review boards will no longer exist and all prisoners at Bagram, present and future, will go straight into normal judicial proceedings. American officials, however, said they expected the Afghans to maintain review boards, but without American participation. The difference may be a semantic one, as Afghans expect teams of prosecutors to review which prisoners are released and which are prosecuted in court.
An American military official in Kabul insisted that the military has confidence that those insurgents whom the United States views as enduring security threats would not be released easily or quickly. “These people pose a threat to Afghan soldiers and Afghan civilians, too,” the official said. “We’re confident they will have appropriate measures in place to ensure dangerous detainees don’t pose a threat to Afghan and coalition forces.”
The Americans have long argued for a nonjudicial review process and a way to hold insurgent prisoners in long-term administrative detention, because of the difficulty of building criminal cases under battlefield conditions. Americans have argued that without such a system, soldiers in the field may be tempted to kill rather than capture insurgents. Afghan officials objected that administrative detention was unconstitutional.
We get a bit more information on the prisoners held back in the AP story carried in the Washington Post:
The detention center houses about 3,000 prisoners and the majority are already under Afghan control. The United States had not handed over about 100, and some of those under American authority do not have the right to a trial because the U.S. considers them part of an ongoing conflict.
There are also about three dozen non-Afghan detainees, including Pakistanis and other nationals that will remain in American hands. The exact number and nationality of those detainees has never been made public.
“They are not the priority of the Afghan government so the Americans can keep them for the time being. Our priority are the Afghan detainees,” Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi said.
The US sweetened the pot today with an extra $39 million in funding for the facility on top of the approximately $250 million it has already spent building and maintaining it.
All coverage of today’s handover agreement that I have read does place it in the context of the next agreement that is required on whether US troops remaining behind after the NATO withdrawal at the end of 2014 will have criminal immunity. (I must have made too many SOFA jokes in post headlines, because now all US news sources refer to the need for a “bilateral security agreement” rather than a “status of forces agreement”.) The timing for getting today’s agreement in place is quite significant, as John Kerry has suddenly appeared in Afghanistan, presumably to do a bit of SOFA shopping. I’m guessing he will promise a very good purchase price.
Update: The New York Times article has mutated and no longer has the headline that was so revealing. New headline: “Amid Fears of Releases, U.S. Cedes Prison to Afghanistan”. Oh well, the clear explanation lasted for a while and even still lingers in the url of the article.
NATO is claiming that there now is an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai regarding the withdrawal of US Special Operations Forces from Maidan Wardak province in the wake of Karzai’s insistence last month that the troops leave immediately. Despite the presence of an agreement, however, there appear to be many different explanations for just what the agreement means for how long US SOF will be present in the province. Given the history of the US bargaining with Afghanistan in bad faith (see, for example, this post on the Parwan Prison handover and work backwards in time through the links and this post for a description of US reliance on semantics in making these sham agreements), it is not at all surprising to me that these initial reports on the agreement would cite a lack of specificity and that different news organizations would come up with widely differing descriptions of its expected effects.
Reuters puts its doubts about the meaning of the agreement right up front in its report:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO-led forces have reached an agreement on the departure of foreign troops from a strategically key province near the capital, coalition forces said, but it was unclear if U.S. special forces would leave.
An Afghan defense ministry spokesman told reporters in Kabul that the elite American force would quit Wardak within a few days, despite earlier U.S. concerns that their departure would leave a security vacuum.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan said in a statement Afghan security forces would take over security from coalition forces in Wardak, but did specifically mention the withdrawal of U.S. special forces.
Note that Reuters knows that ISAF statements must be parsed carefully and they do a good job here of warning us that ISAF did not state outright that US SOF would leave the province.
Writing for AP, Kimberly Dozier provides less analysis of the statements received, and so her report provides conflicting information from ISAF and from an Afghan spokesman. The article opens:
The U.S. military and the Afghan government reached a deal Wednesday on a gradual pullout of American special forces and their Afghan counterparts from a contentious eastern province, officials said.
President Hamid Karzai has blamed the troops for egregious human rights abuses in Wardak province, allegations which U.S. military officials have steadfastly denied.
However, NATO forces said in a statement that commander Gen. Joseph Dunford agreed with Karzai to remove American troops first from Wardak’s Nerkh district and then later from other parts of the province.
But then the information from an Afghan spokesman presented next appears to conflict with the ISAF information:
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi confirmed there has been a deal in a news conference in Kabul on Wednesday.
“The international forces are ready to withdraw the special forces from Nirkh district of Maidan Wardak province and Afghan army units are going to replace them in the coming days,” Azimi said, adding that there are no other U.S. commando units in the rest of the province.
A U.S. military official explained that a small, mostly U.S. army special operations team would withdraw from Nerkh, as would the Afghan local police force that works alongside the Americans.
Azimi states outright that the only US Special Operations Forces in Wardak are in the Nerkh district and that these will be withdrawn. Dozier misses the point that Reuters parsed out, namely, that it appears that ISAF speaks of US forces withdrawing from the province while being silent on whether SOF also would withdraw.
There is a larger problem with Dozier accepting Azimi’s statement at face value, though. In this post, I addressed what is known (unfortunately, September, 2012 is the latest information from this map) about Afghan Local Police presence in Wardak: Continue reading