06 February 2012

A Damning Account of "Progress" on the Ground in Afghanistan

Of all the criticisms of the war, LTC Davis's Truth, lies and Afghanistan from the February 2012 issue of Armed Forces Journal hits pretty hard.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.

And it gets worse. Go read.

Now, I've not done a lot of research on this story, but at first blush, I wonder if there's not a disconnect in the evaluation metrics being used.

When senior leaders stand before Congress and say "things are improving" they are very likely telling the truth, in that what is "improving" are those metrics being tracked by their command. The question now is "what" is it that's improving?

When LTC Davis walks around the country and concludes that things are not improving, what is the evaluation metric he's using?

If they're both using the same metrics, and the same ways of measuring those metrics, and coming to different conclusions, then we have evidence of a serious problem.

If they're measuring completely different things - for instance, if no one in uniform is tracking "incidents of Taliban violence within visual range of US bases" - then you've got a different problem. Potentially just as serious, but still very different.

Either way, it sounds like there needs to be some investigation and introspection, rather than the expected career-nuking smear campaign that we all know is coming.

h/t Ed at CSW

By: Brant

1 comment:

Guardian said...

When I was in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, we used to call it Operation ENDURING BOREDOM. All the attention (and critical resources like airlift, ISR, and SOF) had shifted to Iraq. Too often, it felt like we were marking time against the Taliban, just waiting for them to get tired and give up. Many of us had a vague, rarely articulated, sense that they were playing a long game, just like they did against the Brits and the Soviets, knowing that eventually *we* (the US and NATO governments, not individual troops) would get tired and give up.

I'm usually quick to offer opinions and I certainly know what I would have had advocated if President George W. Bush had asked my opinion in the first days after 9/11, but I find it hard to imagine a good way out of the present mess in Afghanistan. Cold national interest and politics says to pull up our stakes, leave some SOF, ISR, strike, and support assets in a nearby 'stan to make sure al-Qaeda doesn't re-constitute in Afghanistan and make sure that the Taliban don't cause trouble outside Afghanistan and the Pakistani FATAs. Alas, this leaves the Afghan people to the tender mercies of the Taliban, who really are awful people, and increases the risk of the Taliban taking over Pakistan and making nuclear terrorism a reality.

(You know the trailer for "Rise of the Planet of Apes" where the chimp grabs an AK and starts shooting up an African rebel camp? The Taliban have about the same mindset, so them having a few 150KT warheads would be all bad).

It's been too long since I've been close to the Afghan campaign for me though, but where is the Afghan counterpart to the "Sunni Awakening"? If the Afghan people are going to have a decent life after we've left, it's going to be up to them. They can't rely on Karzai and his cronies. They can't rely on the warlords. They can't rely on the ANSF. It's going to depend on the men of each village picking up AKs, RPKs, and RPGs (there are plenty about), organizing themselves, and standing up to the Taliban, village-by-village.

Any other thoughts (preferably from someone with a recent, relevant perspective)?