Sunday, October 17, 2010

Claims of Progress in Afghan War

I recommend Josh Partlow's report in the WaPo for the purposes of spin assessment.  Partlow's report reeks of cynicism about the US military's pronouncement of progress, especially with so much evidence to the contrary.  And as he notes, the Obama report card on the Afghan war is upcoming.  The Pentagon and field commanders are surely going to spin a case for their own success and effectiveness . . . and, ergo, increased funding.  I've selectively excerpted some portions below:

With a year-end report card coming due, top U.S. military and civilian officials in Afghanistan have begun to assert that they see concrete progress in the war against the Taliban, a sharp departure from earlier assessments that the insurgency had the momentum.

Despite growing numbers of Taliban attacks and American casualties, U.S. officials are building their case for why they are on the right track, ahead of the December war review ordered by President Obama. They describe an aggressive campaign that has killed or captured hundreds of Taliban leaders and more than 3,000 fighters around the country in recent months, and has pressured insurgents into exploring talks with the Afghan government. At the same time, they say, the Afghan army is bigger and better trained than it has ever been. . . .

As political pressure mounts for evidence that the United States and its allies are not hopelessly mired in Afghanistan, military officials here say the time is past to deplore deficiencies of manpower or strategy. Obama's 30,000 new troops are on the ground. The United States' most celebrated general is at the helm. And the deadline Obama set to begin withdrawal is nine months away.

Upbeat assessments had become more common here since Gen. David H. Petraeus took over in July, but the refrain grew louder after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sounded a note of hope during a trip to Afghanistan early last month.

Yet even as U.S. officials here echo Gates's assessment, they have offered relatively little evidence to back up their claims of progress, and many still hesitate to say that successes against the Taliban in certain pockets add up to the war's pendulum swinging their way. Indeed, one week last month broke the nine-year war's record for violence, as the Taliban sought to ambush parliamentary elections: NATO forces logged more than 1,600 attacks nationwide, 500 more than in the previous worst week.

Asked for specific instances of progress, NATO spokeswoman Maj. Sunset Belinsky cited Marja, the district in Kandahar where Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal sent troops in January with the hopes of a quick victory that could build momentum for a broader push in the province. The Taliban proved resilient in Marja, and Afghan governance was slow to take hold, but Belinsky pointed out that the district now has 300 trained policemen where there were none five months ago, as well as four new schools, including a high school that reopened after more than six years.

[But as the AP reported less than 2 weeks ago, the Marines deployed in Marja are still facing a "full-blown insurgency."]

Skeptics here counter such examples with accounts of ineffectual counterinsurgency efforts. Official corruption remains pervasive, and there is little tangible evidence of improved governance on a national scale, one of the main reasons the Taliban has won support. Relations between the United States and President Hamid Karzai's government are still fraught. Karzai's aides voice frustration with U.S. unwillingness to confront Pakistan more firmly on harboring insurgents. They have also repeatedly urged Petraeus to eliminate night raids and work to further reduce civilian casualties.

"This uncertainty, confusion and distrust is getting stronger and stronger now," said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan's deputy national security adviser. "The basic thing we should fix is to reestablish the trust."

U.S. military officials who say they see progress in the war also praise the development of the Afghan security forces, particularly the army, which has already surpassed its target of 134,000 members by the end of this month. In Kandahar, Afghan troops outnumber NATO forces for the first time, according to Wardak, the defense minister.

"We are practically in the lead of the operation," he said.

And see my post earlier today -  new operation unfolding there, with Afghan troops in the lead.  We'll see . . .

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