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Security in Afghanistan Crumbles as Counterinsurgency Fails

9:11 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

As President Obama’s strategy review for Afghanistan commences, let’s hope he’s balancing the information coming to him from his happy-talking generals with some independent news reading of his own.

  • While General David Petraeus serenades the major news media in the United States with the siren song of "progress," security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and efforts in the south to win legitimacy for the Kabul government are failing.
  • Hamid Karzai seems dead set on proving just how corrupt he and his business connections are.
  • Efforts to transform the Afghan National Army from a carpetbagger army to a legitimate, representative force capable of keeping peace in the south are a flop.

All of these reports are clear indications that the massive influx of troops into Afghanistan under Obama failed to improve the situation in that country and very likely made it worse. The president should seize on any of the numerous signs of policy failure–from the massively corrupt Kabulbank fiasco to the collapse of security across the country–and use this strategy review to create a plan that begins immediate U.S. troop withdrawals.

Security Crumbles

Aid groups warn that security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and they strongly dispute military assurances that things are "getting worse before they get better." According to The New York Times:

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

…Last month, ISAF recorded 4,919 “kinetic events,” …a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009, according to Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky, an ISAF spokeswoman. August 2009 was itself an unusually active month for the insurgency as it sought to disrupt the presidential elections then.

With one attack after another, the Taliban and their insurgent allies have degraded security in almost every part of the country (the one exception is Panjshir Province in the north, which has never succumbed to Taliban control).

While Petraeus has been on a media blitz claiming that the rise in violence can be attributed to the Taliban fighting back as NATO forces "take away areas that are important to the enemy," the Times’ story makes clear that his explanation fails to address rapidly deteriorating security in parts of the country where the NATO presence is light. In fact, compared to August 2009, insurgent attacks more than doubled last month.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

$547 Million Can’t Paper Over Failure of Afghanistan War

5:55 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

The Pentagon’s public relations machine is working overtime these days trying to sell a theme of "progress" in Afghanistan to push back against calls to end the war. The message machine behind this push is gargantuan, costing $547 million and employing more than 27,000 people. But, as our latest Rethink Afghanistan video shows, all that wasted P.R. money can’t paper over the fact that the Afghanistan War isn’t making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost.

So far, we’ve seen General David Petraeus give headline interviews on NBC, CBS, BBC, FOX News, and schedule an upcoming headline interview on ABC. He’s given interviews to The New York Times and The Washington Post. He’s kicked the Pentagon’s P.R. apparatus, especially that of the U.S. 3rd Army and its paid contractors, into gear, churning out articles to push his narrative of "progress."

An investigation last year by the Associated Press uncovered the staggering reach of the Pentagon’s P.R. apparatus:  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Who’s the Huckster for This High-Interest War?

5:00 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

On college campuses, credit card companies entice naive undergrads into signing up for super-high-interest-rate credit cards by giving away “perceived high-value items” like t-shirts or coffee mugs. They’re called perceived high value items because they really aren’t worth as much as people assume. Their only purpose is to distract from the terrible terms in the fine print of the contract you’re signing.

Someone’s word on the Afghanistan escalation is a perceived high-value item, either Petraeus’ or President Obama’s, or both.

The president’s December 2009 decision to add 30,000 more troops on top of his prior troop increase was always the wrong decision, but in the course of making that decision, he made an explicit deal with the restless American voter:

“And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

General Petraeus explicitly agreed to this timeline before the December 2009 announcement of the latest troop increase:

“The only way we’ll consider this is if we get the troops in and out in a shorter time frame,” Obama said.

Obama was moving out of his probing mode and toward conclusions and eventually presidential orders. …[T]he Pentagon was to present a “targeted” plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real—not a token—withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

[The President said:] “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

…The commanders couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.

Now, with their strategy limping embarrassingly toward quagmire, the generals are putting on a full-court-press in the media, pushing for more time and resources, to redefine the President’s explicit promise to limit the troop increase to 18 months, and finally to have him break his word to the American people. Read the rest of this entry →

Petraeus’ Oily Spin about Progress in Afghanistan

5:00 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

With General Petraeus’ stop on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric now halfway over, it’s worth taking a moment to unpack the unchallenged, false assertions and implications he’s piled up thus far on his media tour. We decided to look into the claims he made about "oil spots" of "progress" during his interview with NBC’s David Gregory. Both claims were absolute fantasies, and the remaining journalists on Petraeus’ tour owe their viewers more rigorous skepticism than what we saw on Meet the Press.

Despite Petraeus’ use of the term more than a dozen times in his MTP interview, virtually no data that shows strategically significant security “progress” in Afghanistan since the start of the latest escalation. According to the Afghan NGO Safety Office (ANSO), emphasis mine:

…[T]he number of provinces having more than three attacks per day has grown from 1 to 4 while the number of provinces seeing the lowest rate (<1 per 2 days) has dropped from 22 to 19. Overall ANSO assess that, in terms of daily attack rates, 23 provinces have remained stable, 1 has improved and nine provinces have deteriorated being Nangahar, Paktya, Kandahar, Paktika, Uruzgan, Helmand, Ghazni, Farah, Kunduz.

AOG are presenting a formidable geographic presence and are escalating attacks, in areas well outside of IMF main focus, at their own direction and tempo.

Needless to say, if insurgents are initiating many more attacks “at their own direction and tempo,” International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not “regained the initiative.”

But let’s talk specifically about General Petraeus’ "oil spots." . .

Read the rest of this entry →

Spike in Civilian Casualties Shows U.S. War Policy Is Failing Afghans and Americans

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

The new United Nations report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan shows that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is failing, even according to the military’s own doctrine.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan reports that the number of civilians killed in the first six months of 2010 spiked by 25 percent compared to the same period last year. According to counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, the coalition’s inability to protect civilians from NATO- or insurgent-caused violence seriously undermines any political effort to win the support of the local population. From The U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual:

“Progress in building support for the [host nation] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do now believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts. (p. 179)”

“During any period of instability, people’s primary interest is physical security for themselves and their families. When [host nation] forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency. (p 98)”

Simply put, according to COIN theory, if you can’t prevent your own side from killing civilians, and you can’t offer credible assurances of security to the population, you lose. And, guess what? Judged by its own standards, the U.S. military is losing: . . .

Read the rest of this entry →

Invitees to President Obama’s UT-Austin Speech: Get Out of Afghanistan, War’s Failing, Set a Timetable

9:30 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Today, President Obama came to my town to give an invite-only speech at the University of Texas. Lacking an invite, I wondered what people with invites had to say about the Afghanistan War. Here’s what I found:

All the people who had tickets to the event who consented to be interviewed and who gave an opinion for or against are in this video, and their views are fairly represented. Of course, that’s not a surprise, given the levels of public disgust with this war, the higher levels of opposition among Democrats and the likely makeup of the invitee crowd.

Most Americans — 54 percent — think the U.S. should set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Forty-one percent disagree.

There is a partisan divide on the issue: 73 percent of Democrats think the U.S. should set a timetable, while only 32 percent of Republicans say the U.S. should do so. Fifty-four percent of independents want a timetable.

What is surprising, though, is the "heads down, follow through" attitude on the part of our elected leaders.

Ever heard of a thing called an election?

Love the Afghanistan War in Public at Your Peril

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

One of the gems buried in Michael Hastings’ now ubiquitous Rolling Stone article is a senior adviser to General McChrystal thanking his lucky stars for public ignorance of the state of the war:

Even those closest to McChrystal know that the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular," a senior adviser to McChrystal says.

Well, mission accomplished, gentlemen. Your little frat party managed to get everyone’s attention and, combined with a never-ending stream of gruesome milestones, it caused the bottom to drop out of public support for the Afghanistan War. According to the newest polling from Newsweek:

  • Only 37 percent of those surveyed approve of the way President Obama is handling the war. 53 percent disapprove. That’s a major reversal from prior results that showed support/opposition solidly in the president’s favor by a 55/27 margin.
  • Only 26 percent of those surveyed believe we’re winning in Afghanistan. 46 percent believe we’re losing.
  • This crystallizing opposition isn’t due to disagreement with the way President Obama handled the McChrystal/Rolling Stone flap, either. Most Americans agreed with his decision to dismiss the general by a 50/35 margin.

Read the rest of this entry →

Before the COINdinistas Start Spinning the UN Report…

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

You’re going to hear a lot of crowing about the reduction in NATO-caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan during the last few months compared to the same time last year. (Read the full report here in PDF format.) This reduction took place in the context of a massive spike in overall violence and a continually degrading security environment in that country. Before the supporters of the president’s brutal, costly counterinsurgency strategy (referred to without affection as "COINdinistas") get started this week, I want to reiterate a point I made a couple of months ago when the last round of silly, disingenuous pro-counterinsurgency celebrations took place:

Selective Interpretation

COIN doctrine as interpreted by [COINdinistas] with the aid of the stats [they] used asserts something like this: McChrystal and friends reduce by 28 percent the number of civilians they kill, while the Taliban increase the number they kill. The local population’s animosity builds toward the Taliban, triggering a shift in political support to the U.S. and allies, a withdrawal of support for the Taliban and an influx of intelligence to the counter-insurgents.

This interpretation, however, is a very academic exercise with major blind spots as to the actual dynamic in Afghanistan and [and it's a gross distortion of] the actual COIN doctrine described in the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual:

"Progress in building support for the [host nation] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do now believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts. The populace decides when it feels secure enough to support COIN efforts. (p. 179)"

"During any period of instability, people’s primary interest is physical security for themselves and their families. When [host nation] forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency. (p 98)"

"Counterinsurgents should not expect people to willingly provide information if insurgents have the ability to violently intimidate sources. (p. 120)"

Here’s Stanley McChrystal explicitly stating that COIN doctrine requires you to protect the population from the insurgents.

Note that all of these statements deal with the importance not just of the protection of civilians from killings by counterinsurgents, but the protection of the people in general. Counterinsurgency doctrine says that people aren’t going to switch to your side if they think they’ll get killed for it, no matter how low you drop the rate at which you cause civilian deaths. In other words, a drop in casualties caused by U.S. and allied groups is not sufficient for the hoped-for dynamic to take hold, according to COIN doctrine. It must be paired with an increase in security from insurgent violence as well.

So, even if … McChrystal and Co. were killing fewer civilians, they still hadn’t managed to increase security for civilians in Afghanistan as measured by the total civilian deaths caused by the parties to the conflict. …Even if McChrystal proved he could drive down civilian casualties when he puts his mind to it, he’s also managed to prove over the last year that he can’t protect the population.

People who claim to actually believe in the efficacy of and the necessity for actual counterinsurgency in Afghanistan need to start screaming, right now, about what’s going on in Afghanistan under General McChrystal because their credibility is now unambiguously on the line. …The problem is, though, that an honest reading of counterinsurgency doctrine should have indicated that the system was already blinking red in 2009, but for whatever reason people continued to sing the praises of Saint Stanley McChrystal and took up gross distortions of COIN doctrine to do so. Numerous prerequisites for success as articulated by COIN doctrine remained absent and/or further degraded over 2009, including host nation government legitimacy and security for the local population, yet many writers focused on one particular statistic (casualties caused by pro-government forces) because it let them tell the story they wanted to tell.

If you see a person crowing about how the new U.N. reports shows the "strategy is working" and we’re on our way to victory, know that you’re looking at a disingenuous snake-oil salesman who’s hoping you can’t read.

General Petraeus, Concern Troll

4:25 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Watch "Don’t Let General Petraeus Move the Goalposts on Afghanistan" in HD on Facebook.

Concern troll.

In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns". The idea behind this is that your opponents will take your arguments more seriously if they think you’re an ally.

Urban Dictionary.

When asked about the July 2011 deadline to begin troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, General Petraeus says “I support the policy of the president.” This past week, though, in testimony before Congress in hastily arranged hearings, he made his position more clear. He supports the policy of the president,” but thinks “we have to be very careful with time-lines,” and he might even try to convince the president to renege on his promise to the American people as July 2011 comes closer.

He’s a concern troll. He’s kowtowing to the principle of civilian control of the military, but his function in the debate is to constantly hem and haw, sapping support for strong action in favor of a position with which he does not (and maybe never did) agree.

Now, Petraeus is a cool customer and an experienced hand at testifying before Congress. When faced with an adversarial questioner, he rarely shows his cards and tends to filibuster them out of time, sticking closely to the “I support the president” talking point. That’s what makes his performance this week slightly shocking. The masked slipped.

When asked by Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) whether his support for the July 2011 reflected his best, personal, professional judgment, he responded with a very interesting stare at the senator, an “um,” and a five-second-or-so pause before saying, “We have to be very careful with time-lines.” Asked whether that was a qualified yes, or qualified no, or a non-answer, he said, “qualified yes.”

In other words, “yes, but…”

Read the rest of this entry →

Secretary Gates, Backpedaling

1:00 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Defense Secretary Gates wants to extricate himself and the president from the impending P.R. disaster shaping up around the flailing Kandahar operation set for this Fall.

"I think it’s important to remember that Kandahar is not Afghanistan," Gates said in comments that appeared to play down a U.S.-led operation for control of the area, known as the birthplace of the Taliban.

"Kandahar and Helmand are important but they are not the only provinces in Afghanistan that matter in terms of the outcome of this struggle," he said.

From the Pentagon’s most recent Afghanistan report to Congress, here’s a chart showing how optional Kandahar and Helmand are for the success of the counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy being pursued by U.S. and allied forces.

Kandahar and Helmand...meh.

Read the rest of this entry →