The United Nations is the best source of information on the impact of the war in Afghanistan on civilians. They released their latest data this weekend (pdf), and their results show that the vaunted “surge” of US troops into the country in early 2010 through late 2012 failed to protect civilians. In fact, the data show that civilian injuries have shown a steady rise from 2009 pre-surge levels through 2013′s post-surge period. Civilian deaths rose in 2010 and 2011. They went down slightly in 2012 before rising again in 2013.
Despite this clear indication that the surge was a waste of lives and money, recall that the Pentagon continued to spew its positive spin as troops were drawn down. From September, 2012 as the surge ended:
Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge “a very important milestone” in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The “surge did accomplish its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces,” Panetta said.
As seen in the UN data, the surge did nothing to reverse attacks on civilians, with civilian casualties continuing a steady increase. How about Panetta’s other claim, the one about dramatically increasing the size and capability of Afghan national security forces? To answer that, we depend on data supplied by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Their latest report can be found here (pdf). Once again, the target for ANSF size was not achieved, even after moving the goalposts (footnotes removed):
This quarter, ANSF’s assigned force strength was 334,852, according to data provided by CSTC-A. This is short of the goal to have an end strength of 352,000 ANSF personnel by October 2012. That goal had been in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) April 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. When that end strength was not met, DOD revised the goal to 352,000 ANSF by 2014 (187,000 ANA by December 2012, 157,000 ANP by February 2013, and 8,000 Air Force by December 2014). Neither the ANA nor the ANP met their end-strength goal by the revised deadline, as shown in Table 3.6.
But the reality could be far worse than those numbers indicate. While the force size falls just barely short of the target, the functionality of those troops is suspect. Further, it appears that Afghanistan may be playing games with the meaning of “available” (sorry, this bit of text won’t copy, so I have to use images instead): Continue reading
Back in October of 2011, I wrote about a report prepared by the UN (pdf) in which it was found that torture is widespread in detention facilities administered by Afghanistan. The primary point of my post was that the US, and especially JSOC, had no credibility in their denials of responsibility for torture in Afghan prisons because the entire Afghan detention system had been established and its personnel trained by JSOC.
The US response to that report was not a huge surprise. It consisted of a doubling down on the one thing ISAF claims as its savior–training. After all, it is training of the ANSF that is intended to provide cover for the eventual withdrawal of combat forces by the end of next year, so why can’t training save the detention system, too? A follow-up report was issued yesterday (pdf), and it serves as a complete slap-down to the US response.
The report finds that this training approach was a dismal failure, as torture has not abated:
Using internationally accepted methodology, standards and best practices, UNAMA’s detention observation from October 2011 to October 2012 found that despite Government and international efforts to address torture and ill-treatment of conflict related detainees, torture persists and remains a serious concern in numerous detention facilities across Afghanistan.
UNAMA found sufficiently credible and reliable evidence that more than half of 635 detainees interviewed (326 detainees) experienced torture and ill-treatment in numerous facilities of the Afghan National Police (ANP), National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Local Police (ALP) between October 2011 and October 2012 This finding is similar to UNAMA’s findings for October 2010-11 which determined that almost half of the detainees interviewed who had been held in NDS facilities and one third of detainees interviewed who had been held in ANP facilities experienced torture or ill-treatment at the hands of ANP or NDS officials.
And here is the UN concluding in the report that training alone won’t stop torture. Instead, real accountability is what is needed:
Similar to previous findings, UNAMA found a persistent lack of accountability for perpetrators of torture with few investigations and no prosecutions or loss of jobs for those responsible for torture or ill-treatment. The findings in this report highlight that torture cannot be addressed by training, inspections and directives alone but requires sound accountability measures to stop and prevent its use. Without effective deterrents and disincentives to use torture, including a robust, independent investigation process or criminal prosecutions, Afghan officials have no incentive to stop torture. A way forward is clear.
This seems like a particularly important message to take into consideration on the day that Barack Obama is involved in the pomp and circumstance of starting his second term in office. He gained the support of many progressives during the Democratic primaries in 2008 by issuing a strong call for torture accountability and then famously turned his back on it by expressing his desire to “look forward, not backward”. With this report, the UN shows the moral bankruptcy of such an approach and seems in fact to even be taunting him with the final “A way forward is clear.”