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Petraeus, McCain Continue Afghanistan War Spin, But No One Buys It (Nor Should They)

12:07 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict by Derrick Crowe

General David Petraeus

General David Petraeus by TalkMediaNews, on Flickr

General David Petraeus is set to testify before Congress today, and he’s expected to again try to put a positive spin on a war effort that’s utterly failing to meet the goals set by its backers. While intelligence assessments show that tactical moves on the ground in Afghanistan have failed to fundamentally weaken the growing insurgency, Petraeus expected to offer “a mostly upbeat assessment today of military progress.” Petraeus’s Potemkin village tours of Afghanistan for visiting dignitaries may have “impressed” people like John McCain, but Defense Intelligence Agency head General Ronald Burgess rains all over the progress talk with the sobering news that the casualties inflicted on the Taliban have caused “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight.”

As if to underline Burgess’ point, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a recruiting station for the Afghan Army, killing at least 35 people in northern Afghanistan on Monday.

Despite the assurances from the administration, the military and their think-tank allies, the massive troop escalations of 2009 and 2010 have failed to reverse the momentum of the insurgency or protect the Afghan population from insurgent intimidation and violence. From today’s L.A. Times:

A report March 2 by the British Parliament’s foreign affairs committee concluded that despite the “optimistic progress appraisals we heard from some military and official sources … the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating.”

Counterinsurgency efforts in the south and east have “allowed the Taliban to expand its presence and control in other previously relatively stable areas in Afghanistan.”

“The Taliban have the momentum, especially in the east and north,” analyst Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the committee. “There is no change in the overall balance of power, and the Taliban are still making problems.”

While the Taliban maintained momentum in 2010 and early 2011, the escalation strategy backed by Petraeus failed to protect Afghans from violence as promised, with 2010 being the deadliest year of the war so far for civilians.

One of the most hawkish of the Petraeus backers in the Senate, Senator McCain, is working hard to set the bounds for acceptable debate in Congress, but he, like the counterinsurgency campaign, is failing:

“I expect certainly some skepticism on both sides of the aisle,” McCain said. “I don’t see any kind of pressure to withdraw immediately.”

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Pentagon Assertions of “Progress” In Afghanistan Are a Bad Joke

11:28 am in Afghanistan, Countries in Conflict, Foreign Policy by Derrick Crowe

The Pentagon wants you to ignore some inconvenient facts about the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan.

The latest Petraeus/Gates media tour is under way in preparation for the general’s testimony to Congress next week, and they’re trotting out the same, tired spin they’ve been using since McChrystal was replaced in disgrace last year. Despite the most violent year of the war so far, despite the highest civilian and military toll of the war so far, and despite the continued growth of the insurgency, they want you to believe that we’re “making progress.” While they spend this week fudging and shading and spinning, we’ll waste another $2 billion on this brutal, futile war, and we won’t be any closer to “victory” than we are today.

Let me make a couple of predictions about Petraeus’ testimony based on experience. He will attempt to narrow the conversation to a few showcase districts in Afghanistan, use a lot of aspirational language (“What we’re attempting to do,” instead of, “What we’ve done“) and assure the hand-wringers among the congressional hawks that he’ll be happy to suggest to the president that they stay longer in Afghanistan if that’s what he thinks is best. Most importantly, he will try to keep the conversation as far away from a high-level strategic assessment based on his own counterinsurgency doctrine as possible, because if Congress bothers to check his assertions of “progress” against what he wrote in the counterinsurgency manual, he’s in for a world of hurt.

Here’s what Petraeus’ own U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says about the main goal of a COIN campaign:

“I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.”

Not by any stretch of the imagination is the counterinsurgency campaign under Petraeus’ direction serving what his own field manual says is the primary goal of his campaign. If we were looking for a legitimate government in Afghanistan, it’s crystal clear that we backed the wrong horse. Hamid Karzai and his family are neck-deep in any number of corruption scandals, the most glaring of which involves the largest private bank in Afghanistan and a sweeping control fraud scheme that has already resulted in unrest across the country. (That scandal, by the way, is likely to result in a U.S.-taxpayer-funded bank bailout for Kabulbank, according to white-collar crime expert Bill Black.) The Karzai administration is an embarrassment of illegitimacy and cronyism, and the local tentacles of the Kabul cartel are as likely to inspire people to join the insurgency as they are to win over popular support.

Even if the Karzai regime where a glimmering example of the rule of law, the military campaign under Petraeus would be utterly failing to achieve what counterinsurgency doctrine holds up as the primary way in which a legitimate government wins over support from the people: securing the population. From the COIN manual:

“5-68. Progress in building support for the HN ["host nation"] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do not believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts.”

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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: . . .

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NATO Forces in Afghanistan Can’t Deny They Killed Civilians in Sangin Anymore

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Exclusive, on-the-ground interviews obtained by Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project confirm what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin District of Helmand Province on July 23.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office first acknowledged the incident when they condemned the killings on July 26. At that time, the Afghan National Directorate of Security claimed that the American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed “52 civilians…including women and children” in a “rocket attack.” (The Kabul government later revised that tally to 39.) By Sunday, August 1, there were protests in the streets of Kabul.

ISAF immediately attacked the credibility of the Afghan government’s report, complaining bitterly of Karzai’s decision to condemn the incident without conferring with U.S. and allied forces.

Working with our team in Afghanistan, Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan campaign sent an intrepid local blogger into Sangin–one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas–to get the truth. The video interviews he obtained are incredible and horrifying. We made the full interview transcripts available online at http://rethinkafghanistan.com, and we encourage you to read them. Here’s the short version: Every survivor our interviewer talked to confirmed that a massive civilian casualty event occurred, and that NATO was responsible.

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Nothing to See Here, Folks: Covering Up a Massacre in Afghanistan

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

“I want to ask: What does apology mean? We apologize for our mistakes and repeat our mistakes again? What meaning does this have?” –Sayid Mohammed Mal, Vice Chancellor, Gardez University.

Please sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition calling for an independent, U.N.-led investigation into what happened at Gardez and who tried to cover it up.

The video above shows a survivor of a brutal, botched special forces raid on February 12, 2010, in which U.S. and allied forces killed 5 civilians, including local Afghan officials and pregnant women. If that were the extent of the bad conduct in this incident, it would be devastating enough. Unfortunately, personnel under McChrystal’s command compounded the outrage by tampering with evidence at the scene and then attempted a propaganda job and cover-up of the massacre, which has now blown up in their faces.

Initially, ISAF claimed that "insurgents" “engaged the joint force in a fire fight and were killed.” The release states the special forces then made a “gruesome discovery,” finding “the bodies of three women who had been tied up, gagged and killed” and that the bodies had been “hidden.” They also claim that the “joint force immediately secured the area and requested expert medical support and will conduct a joint forensic investigation.”

Almost every piece of this initial description of the chain of events was later proved to be a lie.

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Pretentious Brutality

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

I usually don’t do this, but I have to take my friend Spencer Ackerman out for a ride. (In my defense, brother, just keep in mind that I’m taking you out for a ride for a blog post in which you took your friend out for a ride. Just sayin’.) And, I want to say at the outset that on a critical point he’s the victim of some really bad timing, and that on that point he’s made a concession, but the episode is illustrative of a larger problem within the ranks of the left-leaning national security crowd and the way they’ve handled counterinsurgency doctrine in the public debate.

Also, pardon my French. Some things merit swearing.

Spencer wrote a strongly worded critique of Matthew Yglesias’ article on civilian casualties and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Specifically, Spencer said Yglesias "didn’t deal with the relevant body of data on civilian casualties in the counterinsurgency era in Afghanistan," pointing to UNAMA data that showed a 28-percent drop in civilian deaths attributed to U.S. and allied forces for 2009 compared to the previous year. He says (emphasis mine):

I don’t know how you can neglect the reduced proportion of U.S.-caused deaths when evaluating the success of a strategy that seeks to get that civilian-casualty-causation figure down. No one I have ever encountered who has waged, studied or advocated for counterinsurgency has made the case that counterinsurgency is a kinder or gentler method of warfare…

…Everything McChrystal has said in command has indicated that he embrace the perspective that U.S.-caused civilian casualties needs to drop if his mission is to succeed on his own terms, and his actions and that of his predecessor– so far at least, and clearly not sufficiently — have gotten results in that regard.

Unfortunately for Spencer, within a few hours of his post, USA TODAY reported new data from NATO that shows that the downward trend in the civilian death rate has reversed itself with a vengeance:

KABUL — Deaths of Afghan civilians by NATO troops have more than doubled [so far] this year, NATO statistics show, jeopardizing a U.S. campaign to win over the local population by protecting them against insurgent attacks.

NATO troops accidentally killed 72 civilians in the first three months of 2010, up from 29 in the same period in 2009, according to figures the International Security Assistance Force gave USA TODAY.

Ouch. To his credit, Spencer addressed this new information in an update to his post and in a new post today. And if the basic premise of the main argument in this blog post were the only problem, I’d probably let this go with a snarky tweet and some good-natured ribbing about bad timing. However, this piece has other problems besides inconvenient expiration of facts, and they illustrate the way counterinsurgency doctrine is misused and abused by its supposed backers to give themselves cover to back an ongoing brutal exercise in Afghanistan. We shouldn’t let those issues go unaddressed.

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Civilian Killings in Afghanistan: A Pattern of Brutality, Denial, Outrage and Violence

3:15 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Cross-posted from Rethink Afghanistan.

U.S. and allied forces storm an Afghan family’s home. They kill civilians. They lie about it. The public affairs officer denies it. Outraged community members are outraged. Violence spikes. More people die.

This is an all-too-familiar pattern in Afghanistan, and it’s got to stop.

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U.S. and Allied Forces: We Killed Those Pregnant Afghan Women After All

3:53 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project has been following the story about a night raid in Gardez by U.S. and Afghan forces (see the video above), and today those forces made a major admission about their responsibility for civilian deaths. In a press release issued on Easter (gee, I wonder if they hoped people would be distracted today), the U.S. and allied forces under General McChrystal’s command, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), admitted they killed three innocent Afghan women, two of whom were pregnant. Read the rest of this entry →

NATO Tries to Silence a Truth-Teller in Afghanistan After Killing Pregnant Women

5:00 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

Q: Why would U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan go out of their way to smear a journalist?

A: Because he told the truth about a night raid that killed Afghan civilians, including pregnant women.

Last week, I spoke with Afghanistan-based journalist Jerome Starkey about his reporting on special forces raids that killed civilians and NATOs surprising–and disappointing–response. This video contains disturbing images, and an even more disturbing story of violence, and an attempt to silence a truth-teller. It shows why its absolutely essential that we keep pushing back against the Pentagon’s message machine.

Over the past few months, Starkey exposed two incidents where NATO initially claimed to have engaged and killed insurgents, when they’d in fact killed civilians, including school children and pregnant women. In both cases, when confronted with eye-witness accounts obtained by Starkey that clearly rebutted NATO’s initial claims, NATO resisted publicly recanting.

In the first case, NATO officials told him they no longer believed that the raid would have been justified if they’d known what they now know, but no official would consent to direct attribution for this admission.

In the second case, NATO’s initially made sensational claims that they’d discovered during the raid the bodies of pregnant women that had been bound, gagged and executed. Starkey’s reporting forcefully rebutted this claim. Instead of simply retracting their story, NATO went so far as to attempt to damage Starkey’s credibility by telling other Kabul-based journalists that they had proof he’d misquoted ISAF spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith. When Starkey demanded a copy of the recording, NATO initially ignored him and eventually admitted that no recording existed. NATO only admitted their story was false in a retraction buried several paragraphs deep in a press release that led with an attack on Starkey’s credibility.

Under Gen. Stanley McChrystal, NATO’s made a big show of apologizing early and often when civilians are killed in broad daylight. But Starkey’s reporting and ISAF’s reaction to it shows that their natural inclination to escape accountability remains strong and operative when they think they can get away with violent mistakes under the cover of darkness.

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U.S., Allies Responsible for Most Marjah Civilian Casualties

12:00 pm in Uncategorized by Derrick Crowe

According to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, U.S. and Allied forces have killed and injured more civilians than have the insurgents during Operation Moshtarak. Incredibly, the Pentagon continues to insist that this operation "protects the people." AIHRC’s Feb. 23 press release reports [h/t Josh Mull, our new Afghanistan blog fellow]:

"AIHRC is concerned at the loss of life and civilian harm already caused by this operation. AIHRC found that in the first 12 days of Operation Mushtarak 28 civilians, including 13 children, were killed and approximately 70 civilians, including 30 children, were injured.

"Witnesses suggested the majority of the casualties were caused by PGF artillery and rocket-fire."

Late last year, just after the President announced his escalation, I wrote:

The president’s decision to add more troops is a mistake that will result in deep costs which we cannot afford; increased U.S. casualties; and increased civilian casualties as our troop increase further raises the temperature in the conflict.

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