Military Just Can’t Kick Its Afghanistan Habit, Picks Up Pace of Night Raids

The US military’s addiction to war in Afghanistan is now in its fourteenth year. Such a long addiction can’t just be ended in a weekend of going cold turkey. Much of the effort to end the war has been cosmetic and semantic. Although troop levels are now down dramatically from the peak of Obama’s surge, Obama’s tactic at the end of 2014 was to declare the war “over” while at the same time signing a secret order allowing for expanded activities by those troops remaining in the country.

The military has joined in Obama’s gamesmanship, taking as much of the war effort behind curtains of secrecy as it possibly can. In October, it suddenly classified information on Afghan troop capabilities and then in January it tried to expand that classification to nearly all information coming out of the war. While the military seems to have relented on at least some of that move, I haven’t yet seen SIGAR report on the information grudgingly given up after the classification was strongly criticized in Washington.

Two reports in the current news cycle highlight the military’s desperation in hanging onto as much combat activity in Afghanistan as it can. Yesterday, John Campbell, commander of US troops in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the current schedule for drawdown of troops from Afghanistan must be slowed:

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan confirmed Thursday that he supports a slowing of the troop drawdown and slated pullback from bases in the country by the end of the year, as the White House reconsiders its plans.

Gen. John Campbell told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he has made those recommendations and they are now being considered by the joint staff and secretary of defense’s office.

It is hard to see this move as anything but an attempt to delay the inevitable total collapse of Afghan forces, just as Iraqi forces collapsed without US support. Consider how Campbell framed his testimony:

“This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said, speaking of the Afghan forces the United States hopes will be able to secure the country against Taliban, Islamic extremists linked to the Islamic State, and drug lords.

Just like a junkie needing that next fix, Campbell tries to claim that just one more year of training will have those Afghan troops working perfectly:

A slower withdrawal time line could allow the forces to continue the train-advise — and-assist and the counterterror operations at more of the 21 bases it and coalition forces now use throughout the country.

This desperate plea for a slower US troop withdrawal and more time for training Afghan forces puts a much colder light on the sudden classification of Afghan troop capability. Even John McCain realizes that we are headed down the same path in Afghanistan as we saw in Iraq (but of course he used that make a dig at Obama while overlooking his own cheerleading of the ongoing clusterfuck):

“We are worried about it being done ‘just as we’ve done in Iraq,’” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., mocking a statement by President Barack Obama last year that touted the proposed Afghanistan drawdown.

But the classification of Afghan troop capability is not the only front on which actions in Afghanistan have gone secret. We learn today from the New York Times (h/t The Biased Reporter) that the US is relying on new authority for night raids as part of its counterterror activities authorized under the Bilateral Security Agreement put into place once Ashraf Ghani assumed the presidency. Unlike the days of the Karzai presidency, the John Kerry-invented National Unity Government of Ghani and Abdullah not only doesn’t protest US night raids, it actively works with the US to hide all news of them:

The spike in raids is at odds with policy declarations in Washington, where the Obama administration has deemed the American role in the war essentially over. But the increase reflects the reality in Afghanistan, where fierce fighting in the past year killed record numbers of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civilians.

American and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing operations that are largely classified, said that American forces were playing direct combat roles in many of the raids and were not simply going along as advisers.

“We’ve been clear that counterterrorism operations remain a part of our mission in Afghanistan,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Thursday. “We’ve also been clear that we will conduct these operations in partnership with the Afghans to eliminate threats to our forces, our partners and our interests.”

The raids appear to have targeted a broad cross section of Islamist militants. They have hit both Qaeda and Taliban operatives, going beyond the narrow counterterrorism mission that Obama administration officials had said would continue after the formal end of American-led combat operations last December.

The gist of the Times article is that this uptick in raids is driven mostly by intelligence contained on a laptop magically captured by Afghan forces, but it is clear that US forces would have used any excuse they could find to justify this increase in death squad activity now that the Afghan government allows their return.

Postscript: Somehow, even though the laptop is supposed to have been from an al Qaeda operative, it is even claimed to have had information that helped target drones to kill Abdul Rauf Khadim. I’m pretty sure that by now getting his al Qaeda space checked off, Rauf has completed his terror bingo card showing sides on which he has played, even if posthumously.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

5 replies
  1. Don Bacon says:

    General Campbell is a liar.
    .
    news report: “The raids appear to have targeted a broad cross section of Islamist militants. They have hit both Qaeda and Taliban operatives, going beyond the narrow counterterrorism mission that Obama administration officials had said would continue after the formal end of American-led combat operations last December.”
    .
    But that’s not what General Campbell testified to the Senate yesterday. —
    “U.S. forces are now carrying out two well-defined missions: a Counter-Terrorism (CT) mission against the remnants of al Qaeda and the RS TAA* mission in support of Afghan security forces.”
    .
    *Campbell: The new NATO mission, Resolute Support (RS), began executing their Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA) mission in order to build the capabilities and long-term sustainability of the Afghan Security Institutions (ASI) and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
    .
    General Dunford, when he was in charge, said that there were 20,000 to 30,000 Taliban and 50-75 al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Apparently these counter-productive house raids are being done against suspected Taliban, but who knows. In any case it is NOT “against the remnants of al Qaeda” and not “Train, Advise, and Assist” as Campbell falsely testified. The “two well-defined missions” are BS, which is what we usually get from generals.
    .
    “I didn’t fire him [General MacArthur] because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three quarters of them would be in jail.” — Harry S Truman

    • Aarky says:

      Dang! That Truman comment is so appropriate. Karzai the past Afghan head always insisted that the night raids in which many of the bread winners of the family were killed, was the most damaging for the US-Afghan relationship. It’s almost as if this new General thinks of the midnight raids as training grounds for the Special Ops troops. What wasn’t mentioned in this article was that a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was leaked predicts that the Afghan governement will fail and the Talibs will take over sometime in 2016. One ofthe major reasons that the US military tried to keep all it’s failures secret is that the Afghan Army has such a high desertian rate that it is getting more and more like the Ghost soldiers in the Iraqi Army. 50,000 were on the rolls and being paid, but the money was going into the pockets of corrupt Generals.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    We are at the point in the war in which domestic politics exclusively dominates over everything else–double so with Republicans exercising power in Congress. The Obama administration is struggling mightily to avoid being saddled for history with the note: The Obama administration lost both Iraq and Afghanistan. (One might also add Syria and some other places by the time the administration is over.)

    The US military is clinging to the “only thing that lost us Vietnam is that you did not pursue the war long enough and hard enough” story. Admitting that 14 years in Afghanistan and 12 years in Iraq was not enough is a hard sell even for US Yeah patriots. It exposes the lie that the counter-insurgency proponents have been pushing for over 50 years. It returns us to the understanding that there really are no small wars when one is opposed. All those easy triumphs like the First Gulf War create a self-destructive hubris. Is the US military strong enough to face hard facts; the evidence says that they are not and that they will perpetuate foolishness right up to a Custerian catastrophe. And then they will lash out with unbridled atrocities until the politicians have had enough.

    The issue is now domestic. The mixture of sociopaths and cowards in Congress has now become bipartisan and more fractured than in any war in US history. We seem likely to stop this madness when Congress implodes.

  3. der says:

    Piggy backing on the 2 other comments:
    * “Campbell tries to claim that just one more year of training will have those Afghan troops working perfectly…” [thankfully when that year ends I’ll be out of here and it’ll be the next guys problem.]
    * “This is their first fighting season on their own,” Campbell said…” [His point being Team America has had 14 years of experience and still not gotten it right.]
    * The night raids are the only effective way to fight the people who are watching every move Team America makes day in and day out.
    * McCain’s petrified thinking won’t allow him to see that if Nixon had used Obama’s end the war by declaring victory plan he would have been released by the North Vietnamese years sooner.

    Ruled by fools.

  4. Kevin Schmidt says:

    Gotta keep the poppy fields growing and the opium flowing! The US Government push for a global heroin epidemic is working.

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