Thanksgiving at Camp Marmal. (ISAFMedia photo)

In a move that he has used many times before, David Petraeus is putting out inflated claims on his “training” prowess in advance of a war strategy review. This time, Petraeus’ claim comes through an ISAF press release dated Monday, with the headline “Afghan Force Strength Growing Faster than Projected”. This looks like a direct repeat of September, 2004 when he burst onto the political scene by penning a Washington Post Op-Ed in which he falsely claimed great progress on troop training in Iraq and helped George W. Bush to re-election. Then, in September, 2007, while defending the surge in Iraq (and starting again from scratch on Iraqi troop training), Petraeus’ actions prompted John Arquilla, of the Naval Postgraduate School to note to Michael Hirsh “I think Colin Powell used dodgy information to get us into the war, and Petraeus is using dodgy information to keep us there.” Little wonder, then, that with another Afghanistan strategy review session looming, Petraeus should get ISAF to put out a claim that training is moving ahead of schedule.

Here are portions of the ISAF press release:

Larger-than-expected increases in the size of the Afghan National Security Force are enabling Afghan forces to take an ever-larger role in providing for their country’s security – an encouraging sign that they will be able to take the lead by the 2014 transition date outlined during the Lisbon summit, NATO and ISAF spokesmen said today during a press conference at International Security Assistance Force Headquarters.

/snip/

In Herat, nearly 300 recruits graduated from the 14-week Afghan Border Police training course this week. Next year, more than 10,000 recruits are expected to graduate the ABP course. A firefighting course also graduated 27 Afghan National Army members this week.

“Afghan forces number about 263,000 today, exceeding expectations by several thousand,” said Blotz. “We are very confident that they will be ready to defend their country in 2014.”

That does not mean coalition forces will leave Afghanistan at that time.

“We will stand by [Afghanistan] as long as needed,” said Christopher Chambers, a spokesman for NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan. “This partnership will ensure Al-Qaida and Taliban will never be a threat to Afghanistan again.”

Same old story from Petraeus: our training is moving ahead of schedule and local troops will one day be able to take over for us, but until then, we have to stay and fight. And, as they have in the past, the war hawks in Washington will eat up this blather and refuse to hold Petraeus accountable when his rosy predictions (10,000 graduates from ABP course next year? Don’t hold your breath…) don’t come true.

Meanwhile, both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and British Prime Minister David Cameron have traveled to Afghanistan this week for additional motivational speeches to the troops and perhaps to repair damage from Obama’s botched visit on Friday.

Here is how the New York Times describes Gates’ visit:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates landed here Tuesday morning for an unannounced visit to meet with American commanders and President Hamid Karzai.

Over the next several days, Mr. Gates is to have talks with Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, as the White House prepares a year-end review of its strategy in the country. There are close to 100,000 American troops currently serving here.

/snip/

The White House review is not expected to lead to major changes in United States policy in Afghanistan and President Obama has said he remains committed to start withdrawing American troops from the country in July 2011.

The Guardian’s description of Cameron’s visit shows that the British are pushing even harder on the “astronomical” progress in training, but at least they are using the ruse in an attempt to withdraw their troops sooner than previously announced:

David Cameron has revived the prospect of beginning the phased withdrawal of British troops in Afghanistan from next year, after flying into Helmand province for a pre-Christmas visit to the troops.

The prime minister declared himself “cautiously optimistic” about progress against the Taliban in Afghanistan, claiming that security had improved and that preparations for the Afghan army to take control by 2014 were ahead of schedule. General Sir David Richards, the chief of defence staff, described progress in the last three months as “astronomical”.

Finally, for a glimpse of just how misguided the entire Afghanistan operation is, take another look at the photo above.  Here is the caption that ISAFMedia provided:

CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan – Members of the Afghan National Army join the gospel choir, comprised of Soldiers from the 307th Movement Control Team and the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26. The choir performs songs while service members and civilians stationed here enjoy their holiday meal in the American dining facility.

How stupid is that? The entertainment at the Thanksgiving celebration is a “gospel choir”? Really? And we spread photos of Afghan troops clapping along with them? Do the troops know just what messages gospel choirs proclaim in their singing? Nothing good can come of this. I have embedded the link to the ISAFMedia Flickr posting of the photo so that we can monitor how long it takes ISAF to pull the photo. [Of course, I also have downloaded the photo onto my computer and it has been put into FDL's media database, so it is not in danger of ever disappearing completely even after ISAF tries to scrub it.]