On his way out of Afghanistan, General David Petraeus continues to throw out deceptive spin about the direction of the conflict in that country. The general wants to use cherry-picked numbers and vague characterizations to paint the insurgents as reeling under an assault by his pet counterinsurgency campaign, but big-picture “progress” exists only in his imagination. The truth is that security for Afghans is much, much worse than it was when Petraeus and his protege, General McChrystal, arrived.
Here’s Petraeus’ most recent attempt to put lipstick on the counterinsurgency pig, from The New York Times:
…[T]he general said signs of progress were beginning to appear. Insurgent attacks were down in May and June compared with the same months in 2010, and July is showing the same trend, he said.
“This just means that they have less capacity; they have been degraded somewhat,” he said of the insurgents. “This is the first real indicator — for the first time since 2006 — compared to the previous year, insurgent attack numbers are lower.”
Second: General Petraeus, as always, loves his cherry-picked statistics. Here’s a chart showing insurgent-initiated attacks over time from the Afghan NGO Safety Office’s latest bi-weekly report (.pdf):
Here’s another chart from the same report, showing the rate of attacks in Helmand province, where Petraeus’ counterinsurgency project focused over his and McChrystal’s tenure:
See all that progress? I don’t, either.
The increased rate of attacks by insurgents and the escalated NATO response to it means that Petraeus’ counterinsurgency campaign has failed in one of its primary objectives: to protect the Afghan population. From the L.A. Times:
The Afghan war claimed 15% more civilian lives in the first half of this year than in the same period a year ago, the United Nations said in a report Thursday that painted a picture of deteriorating safety across the country.
The grim figures contrasted with relatively upbeat recent security assessments presented by senior U.S. military officials as an American troop drawdown gets underway.
The U.N. said it had documented 1,462 civilian deaths from January to June, four-fifths of them caused by insurgents. The report singled out the “dramatic growth” in the use of improvised explosive devices whose pressure plates can be tripped even by the weight of a child.
This snippet at the end of today’s New York Times article sums up the disconnect between Petraeus’ continued deceptions on the situation in Afghanistan and the true state of the conflict:
“There is no plan,” said Thomas Ruttig, a co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research group.
“What we have is a public relations strategy — ‘Everything is improving; it’s hard but we’re making progress,’ ” Mr. Ruttig said, quoting Western officials here. “But for the president, the picture is gloomy. For Afghanistan, the picture is gloomy.”
For a recap of Petraeus’ unhinged P.R. campaign, see this video.
More Afghans are dying. Violence in Afghanistan is at the highest levels observed in the 10-year conflict. The simple fact is that security for Afghans is worse now than it was before the Obama Administration’s repeated escalations. Afghanistan is more dangerous for Afghans than it was before counterinsurgency enthusiasts turned it into a laboratory to test a now-discredited doctrine of war. And Petraeus, on his way out the door, is just as deceptive in his spin as ever.
If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.
As President Obama prepares to announce his intentions for how many troops to withdraw this year, public opinion polls show the ground is moving under him. Over the past few days, several new surveys show a significant spike in the number of people who want to see big numbers of troops brought home. The war isn’t making us safer and it’s not worth the costs, and following Bin Laden’s death it’s become impossible for the American people to make sense of keeping troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan.
Two separate polls taken on June 3-7 by different firms show a significant shift in public opinion:
A CBS News poll shows a 16-percent increase in the number of people who think troops levels should be decreased (64 percent, vs. 48 percent last month in the same poll).
A survey by CNN shows a 9-percent jump compared to last month in the number of people who say the U.S. should withdraw all of its troops.
The CBS poll also showed that a whopping 73 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should withdraw a “substantial” number of troops from Afghanistan this summer.
These polls show a major move in public opinion as we approach the president’s deadline for the start of troop withdrawals; the American people are practically yelling at the White House to get troops home.
The CNN and CBS surveys also put into stark relief just how badly Washington, D.C. politics lag behind U.S. public opinion. None of the numbers bandied about over the past few weeks by public officials come close to being “significant” withdrawals. Senator John McCain says only 3,000 troops should be withdrawn, a paltry number that’s even smaller than the 5,000 troops suggested by an unnamed military official several weeks ago. Senator Carl Levin says 15,000 would be a better number, but that number wouldn’t even reverse President Obama’s first escalation of 17,000 troops, much less the 30,000 he sent in early 2010. Keep in mind, these numbers are in comparison to military force of well over 100,000, not including private security companies. The highest number among these anemic proposals, Levin’s 15,000, would leave more than 85 percent of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year. That’s a fig leaf, not a significant troop withdrawal.
The Afghanistan Study Group’s proposal comes much closer to the sentiments of the American people. They propose “ceasefires, large troop reductions (30,000 this year, 40,000 in 2012), reformation of the Afghan government, and political negotiations within Afghanistan and amongst its neighbors to stabilize Afghanistan and the region, and to begin to get the United States out of Afghanistan’s quicksand.”
Memorial Day is a national holiday dedicated to remembering Americans killed in wartime. This year, unfortunately, we remember war dead who didn’t have to die, and unless Congress and the president act, we’ll remember more needless deaths next year. As of today, 1,516 Americans have died in the Afghanistan War, a conflict that the American people oppose and the continuation of which makes no sense.
Hidden from the front pages of newspapers and other media who can’t be bothered to devote significant coverage to the longest war in U.S. history, these dead troops had names and lives before our national policies forced them to give them up.
For example, 23-year-old Army Pvt. Thomas C. Allers from Plainwell, Michigan, was remembered as a “great kid, very sweet,” who enjoyed fishing with his parents. He died this week alongside Staff Sgt. Kristofferson B. Lorenzo, 33, of Chula Vista, California; Pfc. William S. Blevins, 21, of Sardinia, Ohio; and Pvt. Andrew M. Krippner, 20, of Garland, Texas.
These men didn’t have to die. They died because our politicians sent them to Afghanistan over the continued objections of their countrymen. Their comrades will continue to die until those politicians bring them home.
In a bitter moment of irony this week, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly failed to agree to amendments that would have reined in the brutal, futile war on the same day U.S. troops were suffering their worst losses in Afghanistan since Bin Laden’s death. But, as Robert Naiman points out, even though McGovern/Jones amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act failed, the vote margin was so narrow (204-215) that it sent a strong signal to the president that Congress’ patience with the constantly deteriorating and resource-hungry war was running out. As U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) put it, “[W]hen somebody comes up with the right amendment, it’s going to pass.”
The American people’s patience ran out long ago, however. For months, poll after poll has shown rock-solid opposition to the Afghanistan War. Since last December, for example, Pew Research Center’s polling has consistently shown that at least a plurality (hovering around 50 percent) want to “remove troops ASAP.” With Osama Bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda driven from the country, it’s time Congress and the president listened.
Today, we remember Americans killed during the Afghanistan War. Below are the names of the troops who died in that conflict just since last Memorial Day. Congress and the president need to act to end this war immediately so that next year’s list is drastically shorter. Please take a moment to sign our petition to bring the troops home.
With Memorial Day coming up, we should take a moment to consider something that’s gone largely unremarked in the mainstream media: more than 1,500 troops have now died in a war the American people oppose. That’s a national tragedy, and it’s one Congress can mitigate by demanding a date certain for troop withdrawals and an exit strategy to get troops home.
It’s worth noting that the backers of the administration’s war policies swore to us that their plan would lead to fewer troop deaths, not more. Back in 2009, when the Pentagon was putting on a full-court press in support of massive troop escalations in Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said:
“[O]ur extended security presence must — and will — improve security for the Afghan people and limit both future civilian and military casualties.” –Admiral Mike Mullen, Congressional Testimony, December 2, 2009.
In Jan-May 2009, there were 61 U.S. troop deaths in the Afghanistan War.
In the same period in 2010, as escalations began, there were 141.
In the same period this year, there were 136.
In other words, comparing the year so far with the same period in 2009, before the escalations began in earnest, we can see that despite Mullen’s promise, troop deaths are double what they were before. This is just one of a string of broken promises made by war backers to the American people, and as we sail past the 1,500-troop-death milestone and careen toward the 2,000th death, it’s time we said, “Enough is enough.”
Today, Congress is considering the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, a piece of legislation that outlines a budget for our nation’s military. One of the amendments to the bill that will be considered as early as this afternoon is based on U.S. Reps. Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) and Walter Jones’ (R-N.C.) Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act (.pdf), which will require:
A plan and time-frame on accelerated transition of military operations to Afghan authorities;
A plan and time-frame on negotiations leading to a political solution and reconciliation in Afghanistan; and
A new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on al-Qaeda.
The McGovern/Jones amendment won’t end the war by itself, but it’s a necessary first step to reining in a war policy that up to this point has utterly failed to deliver on the promises of its backers to the American people. Supporters of Rethink Afghanistan and other organizations are urging Congress to pass this amendment this week, and the vote may happen as early as today. If you want the war to end, please use our petition to send a note to your representative immediately.
This weekend, many Americans will mark Memorial Day at barbecues or other patriotic events, but thousands of families will spend the day dealing with the heartbreaking absence of a loved one. Others will spend the day like they spent every day for the last decade: hoping there’s not a phone call or a knock at the door to tell them their deployed family member won’t be coming home.
This should be the last Memorial Day we put military families through this agony for a war that’s not making us safer. Watch our new video and then sign our petition to tell your Member of Congress why the troops should come home from Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters late last week that he thinks we may turn the corner at the end of this year in Afghanistan. Again. Turning the corner, or the tide, or the momentum, or what have you, has become a semi-annual ritual in the failing U.S. war in Afghanistan. While all these turned corners make for great soundbites, the reality is that we’re just turning in circles in Afghanistan.
“We have driven the Taliban out of areas they have controlled for years, including their heartland. They clearly intend to try and take that back. If we can prevent them this year from retaking the areas that we have taken away from them and we can continue to expand the security bubble, I think it’s possible that by the end of this year we will have turned a corner, just because of the Taliban being driven out and, more importantly, kept out.”
First of all, let’s not fail to notice that this is the latest a continual string of promises about “turning a corner.” Joshua Foust and Win Without War over the past months have compiled fairly extensive lists of the embarrassment of “turned corners” claimed by U.S. officials. Here’s Foust’s list, just to give you an idea:
February 20, 2010: “Western officials believe that a turning point has been reached in the war against the Taliban, with a series of breakthroughs suggesting that the insurgents are on the back foot for the first time since their resurgence four years ago.”
August 31, 2009: “Monday marks the end of August, a month with both good and bad news out of Afghanistan — and the approach of a key turning point.”
February 6, 2008: “But the ties that bind NATO are fraying badly – and publicly – over just how much each member state wants to commit to turning Afghanistan around. ‘It’s starting to get to a turning point about what is this alliance about,’ says Michael Williams, director of the transatlan- tic program at the Royal United Services Institute in London.”
July 23, 2007: “Taken together these may reflect a turning point in how the war in Afghanistan is to be waged.”
September 12, 2006: “The Afghan front is at a critical turning point that imperils many of the hard-fought successes of the early phase of the conflict and the prospects for snaring bin Laden.”
September 22, 2005: “Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s foreign minister, called the recent parliamentary elections ‘a major turning point’ on his country’s path to democracy.”
January 27, 2004: “A statement from U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the enactment of the constitution a ‘turning point for the Afghan nation.’”
February 26, 2003: “The growing aggressiveness by guerrillas is a relief for US forces, who greet the possibility of a real engagement with the Taliban as a possible turning point in the war. ‘We want them to attack us, so we can engage them and destroy them,’ says one Special Forces soldier from the US firebase at Spin Boldak, who took part in the initial firefight that led to Operation Mongoose.
December 2, 2002: “But in ‘Bush at War’ there’s a glaring omission. Woodward misses the turning point in the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda forces. It’s as though the most important scene had been left out of a movie, say, where Clark Kent turns into Superman.”
It’s almost a yearly tradition for some ebullient U.S. official to come to some microphone and claim we’re ready to hang a left or a right onto the road to glorious victory. It’s silly, and it insults our intelligence.
Gates’ comments imply a growing level of security in Afghanistan. That is a patent falsehood.
Insurgent attacks are at an all-time high in Afghanistan. March 2011 saw 68 percent more insurgent-initiated attacks than March 2010.
In fact, every March since at least 2006 has been more violent than the last. The same is true for every February, and it looks like attacks are on track to make that true for every April as well, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office’s (ANSO) figures.
Looking at the entire first quarter of the year, insurgent attacks have skyrocketed by a horrendous 51 percent compared to the prior year. ANSO reports that in the first quarter of this year, insurgent attacks averaged “35 per day, surpassing even the August 2009 summer peak during Presidenial elections.”
The number of insurgent-initiated attacks in the first quarter of 2011 was more than twice the level of insurgent-initiated attacks in the first quarter of 2009, when President Obama took office and started launching his repeated escalations of the military campaign. That strategy has obviously failed.
Rolling into places like Marjah with lots of troops and TV cameras hasn’t done a thing to increase security nation-wide for Afghans or blunt the growth in insurgent-initiated attacks. We’re not “turning a corner.” We’re turning in circles. It’s time to make a U-turn and get those troops home.
A new report put out today by The Century Foundation urges the start of serious peace talks among the parties to the Afghanistan War. The report warns that even with the massive influx of U.S. troops over the past year, the war has settled into a stalemate in which neither side has a credible potential to eliminate the other on the battlefield. As such, the only credible path to an end to the Afghanistan conflict is through serious negotiations, which must begin now.
The Century Foundation’s call for serious negotiations to end the war reinforces the message pushed by the Rethink Afghanistan campaign for months, specifically that the only feasible way to end the war is through a political settlement, and the longer we wait, the less acceptable the settlement is likely to be. From the foundation’s report:
“For all sides, the longer negotiations are delayed, the higher the price is likely to be for restoring peace at the end. While negotiations will involve difficult trade-offs and priority-setting, a substantive agreement that would end the war in a way acceptable to all parties is possible. The sooner a peace process starts, the better the odds that a genuine peace can be reached well ahead of 2014.”
Earlier this year, a report by Felix Kuehn and Alex Strick van Linschoten showed that current U.S. policy was standing in the way of negotiations and allowing more radical elements, who are less open to negotiation, to take control of the Taliban. This latest report reinforces the view that the sooner the U.S. abandons its demand for a de facto surrender before talks can begin, the better.
The Century Foundation’s report also relayed the importance of withdrawing troops from the war:
“A willingness of ISAF troop contributors, and particularly the United States, to accept a phased withdrawal will thus be an important component of any political settlement. In negotiating a phased withdrawal with the Afghans, there will need to be consideration of the capacity of the declining force levels to deter signatories from reneging on their obligations during the transition period, as well as a consideration of whatever residual elements, if any, the future Afghan government might wish to request after major forces have withdrawn, and what ongoing military training, assistance, and support—if any—the Afghan government would seek for its own security forces.”
This new report is just another indication that the ongoing war isn’t making us safer and isn’t worth the cost, and the time is now to start real negotiations to end the conflict.
You can read the Century Foundation’s full report here, and a webcast of the event is available here.
If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and find others who agree with you in your hometown at your local Rethink Afghanistan Meetup.
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.”
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.”
Petraeus and McCain can try to spin this all they want, but the fact is that the counterinsurgency gamble failed, and the American people want our troops out, pronto. Nobody buys the counterinsurgency propaganda anymore, and the more these guys trot it out, the more damage it does to their credibility.
If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter, and join your neighbors for a Rethink Afghanistan Meetup in your hometown.
This past Saturday, Rethinkers in communities all over the country joined their neighbors for “Rethink the Cost,” a worldwide Meetup day organized by Rethink Afghanistan. I attended the Meetup in Austin, Texas, and as always, it was a great experience. I got to know new friends who share my desire to end this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost. Just as importantly, we made concrete plans to take local action to help end the war. Members of our Meetup decided to participate in an upcoming anti-war rally, and we’re chipping in to have a banner for our local Rethink Afghanistan Meetup printed which we’ll carry at the event. And, we made plans to get together and leaflet soon so we can spread the word about the need to bring our troops home.
How did your local Meetup go? Do you have any photos you can share with us? Would you be willing to write a quick blog post about your local event? Contact derrick[at]bravenewfoundation.org and let us know. Or, leave your comments and photo links in the comments section of this post. Be sure to tag your photos and videos with either “RethinkAfghanistan” or “RethinktheCost”, and use the #rethinkafghanistan or #rethinkthecost hashtags for your related tweets.
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.”
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.”
“[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.
We’ve compiled our war-cost-related Rethink Afghanistan videos into one YouTube playlist. Use videos from this list to spark conversations at your Meetup about the cost of war, or use your Meetup to plan screenings of these videos in your neighborhood.
5 Things You Should Do to Have a Successful Meetup (shamelessly stolen from various places on the Meetup site):
Call your venue a day or two in advance and let them know how many people you expect to come. This will prevent any confusion when you get there. And if it’s a place that you’ve never been to before, you might want to stop by sometime before your Meetup to check it out.
Get to the venue a little bit early. This will allow you set aside space and get there before any members do.
Bring a Meetup table top sign, or something else that helps members find you: name tags, a distinctive t-shirt – something that lets them know who you are.
Be welcoming! Be on the lookout for people wandering around looking lost and ask them if they’re here for the Rethink the Cost Meetup. Stand up and shake each attendee’s hand as they arrive and actually say, “Welcome! We’re glad you’re here!”
Bring a digital camera (or a cellphone with a good camera) and encourage your members to do the same! That way you can snap a couple of photos and post them to Flickr with the #RethinktheCost or #RethinkAfghanistan tags, which will let us and other Rethinkers across the country see all the fun you had at your Meetup.
We hope this helps! If you’ve not already RSVP’ed for your local Rethink the Cost Meetup, please do! If there’s not a Meetup near you, you still have time to start your own group. See you on Saturday!
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