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

Posted by Derrick Crowe on March 9th, 2011

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.”

The United Nations reports that 2010 was the deadliest year of the war for civilians of the decade-long war, and targeted killings of Kabul government officials are at an all-time high. Petraeus often seeks to deflect this point by citing insurgent responsibility for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but that is largely beside the point. As his own field manual makes clear, reducing the number of civilians killed by your forces is insufficient according to COIN doctrine. If you can’t protect the population (or the officials within the host nation government!) from insurgent violence and intimidation, you can’t win a counterinsurgency.

Petraeus and Gates like to talk around this blatant break in his own strategic doctrine by narrowing the conversation to what they call “security bubbles.” In his recent remarks following his trip to Afghanistan, Gates spoke of “linking zones of security in Helmand to Kandahar.” But those two provinces have seen huge spikes in violence over the course of the past year, with attacks initiated by insurgents up 124 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Today’s New York Times explains one of the main reasons for these jumps in violence as U.S. troops arrive in new areas:

“[G]enerals have designated scores of rural areas ‘key terrain districts.’ The soldiers are creating, at cost of money and blood, pockets of security.

“But when Americans arrive in a new area, attacks and improvised bombs typically follow — making roads and trails more dangerous for the civilians whom, under current Pentagon counterinsurgency doctrine, the soldiers have arrived to protect.”

The military escalations in Afghanistan have failed their key purpose under counterinsurgency doctrine, which is to secure Afghans from insurgent violence and intimidation.

While the U.S. government is failing to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan, it’s also failing to make good on the other components of counterinsurgency strategy, especially the civilian/political component. Here’s what The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says on p. xxix, emphasis mine:

“Nonmilitary Capacity Is the Exit Strategy

“The [counterinsurgency] manual highlights military dependence not simply upon civilian political direction at all levels of operation, but also upon civilian capabilities in the field. ...[T]he primacy of the political requires significant and ongoing civilian involvement at virtually every level of operations.”

To meet this prerequisite for a successful counterinsurgency strategy, the administration promised a “civilian surge” to accompany the military escalation. But the March 8, 2011 edition of The Washington Post shows that the civilian surge has so far been a flop that’s alienating the local population:

“Efforts to improve local government in critical Afghan districts have fallen far behind schedule…according to U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the program.

“It is now expected to take four more years to assess the needs of more than 80 ‘key terrain’ districts where the bulk of the population lives, based on figures from Afghan officials who said that escalating violence has made it difficult to recruit civil servants to work in the field.

“…Of the 1,100 U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, two-thirds are stationed in Kabul, according to the State Department.

“‘At best, our Kabul-based experts simply reinforce the sense of big government coming from Kabul that ultimately alienates populations and leaders in the provinces,’ a former U.S. official said.”

As with the military side of the equation, the civilian side of the strategy is so badly broken that it’s actually pushing us further away from the administration’s stated goals in Afghanistan.

The costs of this pile of failure are huge. It costs us $1 million per troop, per year to maintain our occupation of Afghanistan. That’s $2 billion every week. Politicians at the federal level are contemplating ugly cuts to social safety nets, while politicians at the state level are already shredding programs that protect people suffering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, the admonitions from the White House and the Pentagon to be patient while this misbegotten strategy limps along the progress-road-to-nowhere seem perverse. The American people have been patient for roughly a decade now, but that patience has run out.

Petraeus and Gates want to you to ignore the ugly truths of the Afghanistan War: it’s not making us safer, and it’s not worth the costs. The escalation strategy isn’t working. It’s not going to work. Enough is enough. End it now.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join a local Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup and follow Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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

  1. [...] 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 [...]

  2. danielet says:

    Two main tragedies make the Petraesu/McChrystal self-promoting COIN arguments beside the point:

    (1) We are NOT fighting a counter-INSURGENCY war in Afghanistan but a counter-REVOLUTIONARY war. So where is our counter-REVOLUTION? The Taliban offers a revolution to Afghans in the form of swift Sharia justice in the order of an Islamic Emirate regime. That may seem unattractive to many of us, but most Afghans at the local rural level have shown to find this quite desirable, preferable to the American created Karzai Regime that Petraeus himself has labeled “an organized crime syndicate.”

    Petraeus wrote a PhD thesis on the Vietnam War. Reading it would fully exhibit his shallowness of intellect and lack of historic understanding. A commander, as Napoleon had said, should be a top intellectual and scholar in order to be a successful general. There is little doubt of the mediocrity and incompetence, respectively, on the part of Petraeus and McChrystal on that score. One need only read their writings.

    There is a critical lesson in the case of Vietnam. There too we sought to save South Vietnam by destroying it. So we plastered the countryside with indirect fire. The result was that the surviving peasants took refuge massively in the cities controlled by the dominant firepower, the Saigon regime. If effect, you might say, the peasant “sea” left the guerrilla “fish” high and dry, by becoming a swell of urban population. As Le Duc Tho, the No2 in the Hanoi regime, admitted in 1984, because the VietCong all through the Vietnam War had no urban infrastructure, it lost the population by 1967. It is here that one man– A CIVILIAN– “Blowtorch” Komer– under LBJ's direct authorization, imposed CORDS, a resettlement program on the MACV military commanders. As Hanoi Radio lamented back then, South Vietnam went from 85% rural to 75% urban in a few years, and these refugees were absorbed into a CORDS created urban economy to become what Hanoi Radio called “petites bourgeois,” meaning a nation of shopkeepers integrated into that urban economy. Hanoi was, therefore, forced to resort to the Tet Offensive of January 1968 before accepting negotiations at Paris. As a result of the Tet Offensive, the cities held but the VietCong was decimated. From 1968 on the war was between ARVN/US regular troops and Hanoi's regulars coming from North Vietnam, PAVN. The war was thus won by our side; it remained for Hanoi to win by diplomacy at Paris followed by peace treaty braking invasion of South Vietnam with every soldier it had.

    The only revolution Americans ever proved capable of is URBANIZATION. Since the end of WWII, the US had urbanized Third World rural population thus immunizing them to Communism. Ironically, the Maoist “proletarian” (industrial workers) revolution could only succeed by lying to peasants, promising them their own plots of land after it took over. Of course, its goal was to industrialize agriculture in state farms and collectives where the peasants become mere farm hands. By creating small entrepreneur enterprises in towns, the US has, over and over again, defeated Communism with capital rather than with ordnance.

    Donald Rumsfeld pushed Bush into Iraq because he thought he could win that war quickly with “shock&awe,” pull out, and then dethrone Bush in 2004 to replace him as president at that, Rumsfeld’s last shot at the presidency. Our military leadership's incompetence and parrot-on-the-shoulder submissiveness to Rumsfeld as star whores can only be matched in outrageousness to SecDef Rumsfeld's incompetence. As Iraq fizzled out into a smoldering mess, Petraeus– the perpetrator of a fraudulent “surge victory” which all analysts attribute to the change of position of Iraqi Sunnis rather than to any plan Petraeus, an ambitious careerists, might have proposed—Petraeus/McChrystal sought a repeat of that Iraq Surge in Afghanistan in hope of a victory in the latter, covering-up the actualities of the former. So Petraeus bullied Obama into putting his man McChrystal in charge; then McChrystal bullied Obama into increasing US forces in Afghanistan by 60,000 troops by now.

    Rather than learn from our rural–>urban revolutionary victory of Vietnam, Petraeus/McChrystal pushed for more troops, diluting them into the Afghan countryside. As in Vietnam, military success would have require over a million troops over a decade and $trillions (according to their own COIN Warfare thesis), which we then didn't have, having just been fleeced into national poverty by Wall Street.

    Nevertheless, had NATO earlier created its own cities in the then safe Northwest of Afghanistan where young people could be educated and trained for real economic development, leaving the countryside to the Taliban and constricting our perimeter of defense to a manageable form, we could have created our own URBAN REVOLUTION. Instead, we sent in ever more troop intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb to kill Afghans pointlessly in self-defense.

    (2)A religious Muslim State harboring alQaeda is far more unacceptable for the nations of Central, South and East Asia…that includes Russian and China. They had, however, created a SHANGHAI COOPERATIVE ACCORD (SCA) because they knew that our reason for the war in Afghanistan was not to get binLaden but to seize access to Central Asian oil and develop pipelines that carry it to Pakistani warm water ports on the Indian Ocean. All the full and informal members of SCA then deemed stopping the US grab of territory more important than eliminating alQaeda and its Jihadi offshoots in the region. Had the US pulled out of that region, the SCA would have been left to work out its own internal dialectics to resolve the Afghan Taliban/alQaeda problem at their expense. Instead, so that the Chinese go easy on our $30 trillions in debt, Obama allowed Petraeus to, in effect, make our soldiers into mercenaries of the Chinese, going after the Taliban while Chinese firms go after the assets of Central and South Asia safely.

    Our Pentagon is a treasure trove of evidence of our military incompetence and corruption. But it is allowed by law a level of secrecy that far surpasses that of the CIA. Consequently, at best, only our grand children will know what scumbags are and have been the Joint Chiefs of the last decade. But Americans don't care as they cheer on the troops, thank them for their “service” and shake their hands while saying to themselves: “ain't my kid going to war” now that ours is an all volunteer army.

    Yet, as we waste our brave kids and what’s left of our national treasury to the incompetence of Petraeus and to his ambition of becoming another Ike-like president, we should stop and ask who and what will replace all our victims and waste to that incompetence?

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