From our partners at The Agonist
Today we have horrific news from Afghanistan. The Taliban have beheaded 17 civilians in the Musa Qala region of Helmand Province, for taking part in a mixed-sex music event. It’s something they’ve done before for the same “crime” of unrelated members of the two sexes dancing and having fun together, back when they ruled Afghanistan, so that part isn’t surprising even if it is stomach-churning. To the lay American observer, however, what may be more surprising is that this atrocity took place in an area which everyone admits is firmly under Taliban control Whatever happened to the Afghan Surge of 2011, and “clear, hold and build”?
“This happened in a desert area, known as Roshanabad, which is not under the control of the government,” said the Kajaki district governor, Mullah Sharafuddin, who said he did not know the motive behind the bloody attack. “I am the governor but I don’t have full details because this land is under Taliban control.”
Taliban fighters followed up the killings with an attack on a police post in Helmand’s Washir district, killing ten – an attack in which it seems some of the Afghan police turned on their comrades and helped the Taliban. It seems obvious that even if “clear” ever actually happened in Helmand, “hold” didn’t – and now we’re back to “uncleared” across large swathes of territory.
Spencer Ackerman, writing last week, noted that the ISAF had declared last July that it had fundementally changed the reality on the ground in Helmand but that now six Helmand districts rank among the ten most violent districts in the country. Nor has violence dropped overall after the Surge.
[General] Allen, speaking to Pentagon reporters on Thursday, said the overall insurgent violence in the country has dipped three percent from this time last year — a figure he conceded “may not be statistically significant.” The previous year, ISAF said that insurgent attacks remained basically level with summer 2010 levels — when the full complement of surge troops arrived in Afghanistan. The purpose of the surge was to reverse the momentum of the Taliban in order to hand over a stable Afghanistan to the Afghan government. If measured by the rate of insurgent activity, the surge at most dented the Taliban’s momentum.
We’re not hearing the presidential candidates or their proxies talk about this, nor are we seeing any major discussion in the mainstream U.S. media. The surge failed, was a huge defeat; there was no “hold” and no permanent “clear”…“build” is right out. But the U.S. must not go down to defeat, at least in the public’s perception, so just like in Iraq we’re being treated to a great deal of slapping up nice-looking wallpaper while the walls themselves crack and crumble. That way, when Afghanistan can no longer be spun as even a little bit stable, it’ll be the Afghans’ fault, not ours.