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Sat Sep 8, 2012, 05:19 PM

More unwarranted optimism about Afghanistan

By Stephen M. Walt Thursday, September 6, 2012

Over at FP's new National Security Channel, reporter Gordon Lubold has a lengthy interview with U.S. Afghan commander John Allen. Allen offers a pretty upbeat assessment: He says the Afghan National Security Force "is really taking over much more of the fighting than it has done in the past," adding that our Security Force Assistance Teams are "really accelerating that." He doesn't actually come out and say we're going to win (or even try to define what "victory" would look like), but his bottom line is simple: "the campaign is on track."

But to where? I thought Obama made a bad mistake when he decided to escalate in Afghanistan, but this is another one of those issues where I'd love to be proven wrong. Unfortunately, I've heard nothing but upbeat assessments from U.S. commanders ever since Obama took office, which makes me more than a little skeptical about Allen's testimony now. Back in January 2010, for example, former U.S. commander Stanley McChrystal told ABC's Diane Sawyer that he "believed we had turned the tide." His successor, General David Petraeus, issued a similarly optimistic assessment a year later, though it was at odds with U.S. intelligence assessments and followed by a major increase in the overall level of violence.

Well, it's déjà vu all over again: Today, despite a dramatic increase in "green on blue" attacks (i.e., attacks by Afghan security forces on U.S. or ISAF personnel) and the announced departure of other U.S. allies, the latest American commander continues to portray our efforts in a positive light, especially with respect to the progress made by Afghan security forces. But you might have missed the fact that the DoD quietly lowered the bar for the latter, by eliminating the category of "independent" (meaning that a unit that can operate on its own) from the ratings system used to assess Afghan forces. Now the top ranking is "independent with advisors," which allows us to describe more Afghan units as "top rated." And even with these lower standards, less than ten percent of Afghan units are rated as capable of being able to operate semi-independently.

In one sense, Allen's optimism is neither surprising nor objectionable. You're not going to hear the U.S. commander tell a reporter that things aren't going well, because that is hardly the best way to inspire your troops to greater effort. Plus, the "surge" in Afghanistan was not designed to fix all of that unfortunate country's problems; it was intended either to 1) provide a fig leaf for a U.S. withdrawal, 2) inflict enough pain on the Taliban so that they'd cut a deal, or 3) buy a bit of time to build up Afghan security forces, at which point we'd get the hell out. Notice that these various goals aren't mutually exclusive, but none of them constitutes "victory."


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Reply More unwarranted optimism about Afghanistan (Original post)
sad sally Sep 2012 OP
bhikkhu Sep 2012 #1
Heather MC Sep 2012 #2
sad sally Sep 2012 #3

Response to sad sally (Original post)

Sat Sep 8, 2012, 09:37 PM

1. Regardless of how things are going, we're out in 2014

...a withdrawal that has been under way for some months now. There's no prerequisite that we "build up Afghan security forces, at which point we'd get the hell out", though that might lead to the best outcome for the people there.

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Response to sad sally (Original post)

Sun Sep 9, 2012, 09:35 AM

2. How can we ever claim victory in Afghanistan?

We are not fighting a government we are fighting its people. Who will sit down at the table and sign a treaty?

We invaded them they did not invade us what do we expect them to do besides fight.

even if we were to bomb them off the face of the earth,God forbid, where is the victory in defeating a country that we already out man and Out gunned before we step foot on their soil?

I am hoping after the election our president will surprise everyone involved and end this thing quicker than 2014.

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Response to Heather MC (Reply #2)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 05:11 PM

3. I'd like to (naively) think the "end" date could come sooner rather than 2014 with a re-elected

President Obama, but sadly believe many more American and NATO forces, and many more Afghans and neighboring countries people will be killed and maimed before the official (2014) end date.

Regardless of the fact that no or very few Al Qaeda enemies remain there, the growing numbers of newly created Taliban enemies may keep this forever war to never end.

For the overwhelming majority of Americans with no visible skin in the war - no loved one or close friend either dead or physically or mentally wounded, no daily worry over a deployed loved one or close friend - the war today nor when it ends, if ever, is a high priority or something that's given more than a fleeting thought, and certainly not a daily concern. That's the reality that happens when wars go on forever and become the normal acceptable way a country deals with the world.

from "TalkingProud.us"

The Marines’ Camp Leatherneck has been a focal point for assembling gear and equipment for transport back to the US or hand over to the Afghans. A receiving yard has been set up and the Marines are packing what has to be shipped home, 24-7. The Marines have a detailed plan on how to do this. There are several areas where they have to be careful. First, the Afghans are watching the packing and are worried about what happens when the Americans are gone. Second the Americans want to leave Afghan in better shape than the Soviets did with regard to leaving stuff strewn all over the place. Third, arguably the biggest area of attention is that the US forces expect fighting to still be going on as they ship stuff and troops out. Fourth, distances to departure points are greater than seen in Iraq, and Kuwait was a friendly destination whereas no such friendly detonation exists for this exit. Karachi is 600 miles away and the Northern Distribution Network will one each long haul operation. The Marines are shipping a great deal of equipment out by air, some 18-24 flights per day. Once the initial troop withdrawal is finished by end of September 2012, there will be 68,000 US troops left, of whom only 7,000 will be Marines. Finally, there are concerns about the many Afghan civilians who worked for the US at their bases. How will they find new jobs, and what risks might they endure because they helped the US?


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