The New York Times has a fresh story on the training of Afghan security forces, and despite making claims of training progress in the headline, the story documents, yet again, that US efforts to shape a Western security force in Afghanistan are failing. At the same time, we learn from the ICRC that the offensive in the Kandahar area has doubled the rate of war injured treated at a local hospital.
The military and political career of General David Petraeus has been propelled forward many times on the basis of his ability to spin the same myth over and over. As I pointed out in this diary, Petraeus first burst on the scene by writing an op-ed in the Washington Post just before the 2004 elections. In the op-ed, Petraeus spouted ridiculous claims of "progress" in training Iraqi security forces and perhaps aided Bush’s re-election. Just three years later, all of Washington worshiped at the feet of Petraeus as he laid out his "new" plan for the Iraq surge, with a large reliance on training that started essentially from scratch. There was no reference to his prior claims of success or investigation into why the previous training had failed. That same diary then went on to point out that this second round of training in Iraq has failed, with Iraq’s highest ranking army officer admitting this summer that it would be at least five years before Iraq could provide its own security. That claim is borne out by the ongoing charade of 50,000 US "non-combat" troops remaining in Iraq despite the "end of combat operations" announced by President Obama.
The "success" of training in Afghanistan has been addressed a few times. See, for example, this diary in April or this one in June. Despite these earlier hints in the press that training might not be working as well as claimed, the New York Times insists on using "Gains in Afghan Training" as part of the headline on its current story. Those "gains" are nowhere to be found in this passage:
For that to be the case, the Pentagon must overcome a persistent problem in the Afghan security forces: attrition. Official estimates put attrition across the force at roughly 3 percent each month. Attrition is a powerful drain that makes growth difficult. Police officers and soldiers simply disappear, even as replacements flow in.
For this reason, for the army to grow by 36,000 more soldiers, the government must recruit and train 83,000 Afghans, according to projections released by NATO. Similarly, for the police to reach the hoped-for increase of 14,000, the government must train 50,000 more officers. This drives up costs to Westerners paying the bill.
The training mission in Afghanistan also labors under a legacy of unfulfilled past promises, inadequate training even in basic skills like marksmanship and driving military vehicles, and a pattern of overstating how ready or skilled the forces are.
I suppose it is progress of a sort that the Times will now acknowledge that there is a "legacy of unfilled past promises", but there is still a long way to go before that legacy and the deceit associated with it are tied more directly to Petreaus, who is the leading proponent of these overstatements. The Times touts as an example of the training progress being made the opening of an artillery school. Keeping up its part in this propaganda campaign, ISAFMedia has provided the photo above to document Afghans firing artillery at the school. Their caption reads:
Afghan National Army instructors fire artillery from the 122 milimeter howitzer D-30 Oct. 4, 2010. This demonstation marked the end of the train the trainer course and the opening ceremony for the artillery school where these instructors will teach.
Despite the clear evidence that there will never be a Western-styled security apparatus to take over Afghanistan once NATO "liberates" it, the offensive to oust Taliban forces in the Kandahar area has resulted in a dramatic increase in casualties. From the ICRC:
The number of war casualties taken to Mirwais Regional Hospital in Kandahar for treatment is hitting record highs. The hospital, which is supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), registered almost twice as many new patients with weapon-related injuries in August and September 2010 as during the same months last year – close to 1,000 compared with just over 500 during the same period in 2009.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg, as those who suffer other sorts of injuries or contract disease as an indirect result of the conflict far outnumber weapon-wounded patients," said Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC delegation in Kabul. Every day, there are mothers who bring their sick children to hospital too late because they are afraid to travel or are held up by roadblocks, and relatives who take patients home before their treatment is completed. "The result is that children die from tetanus, measles and tuberculosis – easily prevented with vaccines – while women die in childbirth and otherwise strong men succumb to simple infections," added Mr Stocker.
The deteriorating security situation is affecting the Afghan people in many ways. Last week’s bombing that left eight children dead in Kandahar, like other serious recent incidents, is an example of how the conflict keeps on raging in various parts of the country.
The next Afghanistan strategy review is scheduled for December. Now is the time to start increasing the pressure for this review to include an acknowledgment of the abject failure that is called "training", because there simply is no prospect that the type of security force the US wants can ever be produced. Without such a force, the stated mission of "creating space" for the Afghan security force and government to take over becomes meaningless. With a meaningless mission, it is time to simply begin an orderly withdrawal. However, count on Petraeus to once again erase all memory of his failures and to secure more time for the training charade to continue.