Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Blood, sweat, & tears in vain?

Fewer troops in Afghanistan means fewer reports of what is actually going on. Almost everyone agreed that Afghanistan is where terrorism had to be fought, including President Obama.  Despite that, the President is conducting his withdrawal/endgame, and Afghanistan is (predictably) unraveling.  

The New York Times documents the chaos in the incredible report posted below in its entirety.

Taliban Making Military Gains in Afghanistan
By Azam Ahmed
July 26, 2014

MAHMUD RAQI, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The Taliban have found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar.

Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

At a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government, the Taliban’s increasingly aggressive campaign is threatening another crucial facet of the American withdrawal plan, full security by Afghan forces this year.

Credit Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times “They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,” one Western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. “They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait” until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

Interviews with local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district center. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighboring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

But there are only anecdotal reports to help gauge just how deadly the offensive has been. The Afghan defense and interior ministries stopped releasing casualty data after a shocking surge of military and police deaths in 2013 began raising questions about the country’s ability to sustain the losses. By September, with more than 100 soldiers and police officers dying every week, even the commander of the International Security Assistance Force suggested the losses could not be sustained.

Continue reading the main story Asked for figures on the latest security force casualties this year, both ministries refused to provide data or confirm accounts from local officials. But there are signs that the casualty rate is already likely to be at least as bad as it was last year.

In one important indicator, the United Nations reported a 24 percent rise in civilian casualties for the first half of this year compared with a similar period from 2013, hitting a new peak since the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan began tracking the data in 2009. More significantly, for the first time, the highest number of those casualties came from ground fighting between the Afghan forces and insurgents rather than from roadside bombs.

The United Nations found that more fighting was taking place near populous areas, closer to the district centers that serve as the government seats. Ground violence also seemed to increase in areas where coalition bases had been closed, as the Taliban felt more emboldened to launch attacks without fear of reprisal.

One important effect of those gains, particularly where police forces are being driven away, is that the Taliban are establishing larger sections of lawless territory where they can intimidate local populations. They become safe havens, and staging grounds for more ambitious attacks against Kabul and other major cities, like the militant assault on Kabul’s airport on July 17.

In the immediate vicinity of the country’s main cities, the Afghan military was still holding up well, according to American and Afghan commanders. But as more marginal districts have come under unexpectedly heavy attack, the military planners’ expectations have been tested.

One widely accepted prediction was that soon after 2014, the Taliban would gain in rural areas and traditional strongholds, as the government made tough decisions about what to fight for and what to let go. Places of no strategic value in remote areas of the south and east, some officials said, could afford to be forgotten.

But heavy attacks, and some territorial losses, are already happening in those places, earlier than predicted.

On July 9, the Taliban overran a district center in Ghor Province, a rugged and violent area close to the center of the country, which left Afghan forces scrambling to reclaim it and smarting from the embarrassment. On Saturday, militants stormed Registan District in Kandahar, killing five police officers, including the district police chief, in a battle that continued into the evening.

The heavy fighting earlier this summer in northern Helmand Province, long a Taliban stronghold and a center of opium poppy production, was mostly expected. But the breadth of the Taliban assault, which is now said by locals to extend to four districts, has surprised many, and foreshadowed a more ambitious reach for the insurgents.

The efforts of this fighting season have not been solely in the countryside, or traditional strongholds like those in Helmand. The Taliban have made strides in Nangarhar Province, home to one of the most economically vibrant cities in the country and a strategically important region. Surkh Rod, a district that borders the provincial capital Jalalabad and was safe to visit just three months ago, has become dangerous to enter.

“The difference is that five months ago there were more government forces here; now it is the Taliban,” said Nawab, a resident of Shamshapor village.

Bati Kot District, too, has become more dangerous. Outside the district center, residents say, the Taliban dominate a crucial swath of territory that straddles the main highway leading from Kabul to the eastern border with Pakistan. Villagers living in the district say the Taliban force them to feed and house insurgents, and threaten to kill them if they refuse.

Much like Nangarhar, Kapisa is connected directly to Kabul, presenting a troubling threat for the government as it struggles to safeguard the security corridor around the capital. Trouble in three districts has been the focus of a concerted American Special Forces campaign to ferret out the insurgents, who many say appear more trained and disciplined than the average Taliban.

“The command and control is incredible,” said one American Special Forces officer who has fought with his men in insurgent-controlled valleys in Kapisa. “They have found an awesome safe haven.”

The biggest fear for the province stems from Tagab and Alasay districts. Though there is an entire battalion of Afghan soldiers in the area, the vast majority of the fighting and dying are done by the police forces.

Two weeks ago, in the Askin Valley area of Alasay, insurgents surrounded a village where the local and national police had only recently taken root. Tribal and interpersonal rivalries fueled the animosity toward the police, but the consequence was clear: The government was not welcome.

An estimated 60 insurgents surrounded Askin Valley and engaged in a gunfight with about 35 local and 10 national police officers in the area, according to police officials. The two sides fought for more than a week, with coalition aircraft entering the area to offer support for the beleaguered security forces. Eventually, the police were forced to retreat, along with hundreds of villagers.

Two police officials in the area, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, relayed the account. One, a local police officer, said the Taliban’s reach permeated the entire district, and the security forces were consigned to their bases, trying to stay alive.

“The Afghan security forces are controlling the bazaar for one in every 24 hours,” the commander said. “From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., the police, army and local police come out of their outposts and buy what they need, then they go back to their bases.”

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Shock & Awe: Afghan literacy program fails

Hundreds of billions were spent on an Afghan Army, Air Force, and Police that will disintegrate without U.S. support.  Renewable energy was another money pit.  And still there were all those wasted driving lessons.  Yet someone thought that spending hundreds of millions on literacy would teach grown men to read in a country that doesn’t have a unified language or culture.

The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported the failure of the literacy program in their most recent report.  Since 2008, SIGAR has been swooping in like a vulture to investigate the use of “relief funding” in Afghanistan and recording their findings in reports that had less readership than the Dari version of Bill Press’s last book.

For anyone with half a brain, it is no surprise that After $200 Million, Afghan Soldiers Still Can’t Read.  Given that success in Afghanistan has been linked to literacy (see pp. 54-55 of DoD’s 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan) this does not bode well.

But there is hope.  On the eve of our surrender, SIGAR recommends:

  1. Establishing program goals that are reasonable given the time frames involved and ensure that progress toward achieving these goals is measurable.
  2. Revising the acquisition approach to include requirements for verification of students’ language capabilities and tracking of literacy levels.
  3. Limiting, to the extent practicable, the number of classes offered at training locations that cannot be inspected.
  4. Enhancing oversight of the new quality assurance contractor’s performance.
  5. Modifying the contracts to better define requirements for classes.
  6. Developing and implementing—by April 30, 2014—a formal transition and sustainment strategy for the literacy training program.

What couldn’t be done in several years will surely be completed now that SIGAR has identified the problem.  If only someone  would (or could) read the report.

Hat tip: Bob Roughsedge

Picture of Afghanistan post-2014 not pretty

In August 2012, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the liberal Brookings Institution gave testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, documented in Afghan National Security Forces: Afghan Corruption and the Development of an Effective Fighting Force

Even though this may be the current regime’s think-tank, Felbab-Brown gives quite an indictment of the Obama policy and her expert opinion painted a bleak picture for the future.  Some excerpts follow:

Despite the substantial improvements of Afghan security forces, few Afghans believe that a better future is on the horizon after 2014.

[Afghans] are profoundly dissatisfied with Kabul’s inability and unwillingness to provide basic public services and with the widespread corruption of the power elites. Afghan citizens intensely resent the abuse of power, impunity, and lack of justice that have become entrenched over the past decade. During that period of the initial post-Taliban hope and promise, governance in Afghanistan became defined by weakly functioning state institutions unable and unwilling to uniformly enforce laws and policies. Official and unofficial powerbrokers have issued exceptions from law enforcement to their networks of clients, who have thus been able to reap high economic benefits, and can get away even with major crimes. Murder, extortion, and land theft have gone unpunished, often perpetrated by those in the government. At the same time, access to jobs, promotions, and economic rents has depended on being on good terms with the local strongman, instead of merit and hard work.

Yet as the decade comes to a close, the political patronage networks too have been shrinking and becoming more exclusionary. Local government officials have had only a limited capacity and motivation to redress the broader governance deficiencies. The level of inter-elite infighting, much of it along ethnic and regional lines, is at a peak. The result is pervasive hedging on the part of key powerbrokers, including their resurrection of semi-clandestine or officially-sanctioned militias. Hedging against a precariously uncertain future is equally pervasive on the part of ordinary Afghans. Especially in the Pashtun areas that constitute the Taliban heartland, they will often send one son to join the ANA, and another to join the Taliban, and possibly a third son to join the local strongman’s militia, to maximize the chances of being on the winning side, whoever will control the area where they live after 2014.

The ANA appears to be increasingly weakened by corruption. This development is not new, but it may be intensifying. In some of the best kandaks, excellent soldiers are not being promoted because they do not have influential friends. Conversely, many extra positions, at the level of colonel, for example, are being created so that commanders can give payoffs to their loyal supporters. Soldiers from marginalized groups, without powerful patrons, or simply those who cannot afford to pay a bribe, are being repeatedly posted to tough environments whereas their better-positioned compatriots get cushier postings. Clamping down on such corruption is as important as increasing the ANA numbers.

The ANP has of course been notorious both for such intense ethnic factionalization, as well as for corruption. It is important that the international community continue to demand credible progress against both vices and carefully assesses whether personnel shifts are indeed motivated by efforts to reduce corruption or mask further ethnic rifts and the firing of one’s ethnic rivals.

But the ANP critically continues to lack an anti-crime capacity, and the anti-crime training it receives is minimal. Instead, the ANP is being configured as a light counterinsurgency and SWAT-like counterterrorism force. Yet, crime — murders, robberies, and extortion — are the bane of many Afghans’ daily existence. The inability of the Afghan government to respond to such crimes allows the Taliban to impose its own brutal forms of order and justice and to develop a foothold in Afghan communities. Worse yet, the ANP remains notorious for being the perpetrator of many crimes. 

The political and governance system in Afghanistan is, in fact, so pervasively corrupt and so deeply and intricately linked to key structures of power and networks of influence, that some prioritization of anti-corruption focus is required.

This all appears to be very much in line with the military thinking and there are no real surprises.  That it is public

Corruption, corruption, corruption. . .  In 2014 after 6 years of President Obama fighting the “right war,” it will still be George W. Bush’s fault.

Latest intel: Insider attacks a threat to ISAF

Note to ISAF Commander:  Read the news (or fire your intelligence staff). 

After more than a year on the job and countless “insider” or green-on-blue attacks before and during his tenure, GEN Allen has realized that Afghans within the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may be a significant threat.  In the CBS News interview Insider attacks kill U.S troops in Afghanistan, he states, “Here, I think the signature attack that we’re beginning to see the– is going to be the insider attack.”

Excuse me?  Excusez-moi (for those reading in Gulfe Juan)?  “. . . Beginning to see. . . ?”  Our military have been getting killed by uniformed Afghans for years!  I’m dumbfounded by the ignorance of recent events, the General’s epiphany, and desperately wrestling with some respectful way to call our military leaders idiots at best and political stooges at worst.  

Over a year ago, everyone in ISAF (well, at least NTM-A) was being trained how to draw a holstered weapon while seated at a conference room table, required to have at least one ‘look-out’ with a round chambered when meeting with Afghan counterparts, and be ready at any time for an insider attack.  What was that all about if the recent observation is something new?

Most generals state at the beginning of their tours that everything was messed-up by their predecessor while stating that they have the solution by which, at the end of their tour, they are able to declare victory.  I’m thankful that GEN Allen seems to have flipped this history on its head but wonder what he has been doing for 14+ months.

Let’s finally declare that the emperor has no clothes–that would hardly be a new trend.

Over 20 killed in Pakistan’s violent demonstrations

Ok, so this is mostly about Pakistan, but it illustrates the absurdity of the entire region:  Over 20 killed in Pakistan’s violent demonstrations | The AfPak Channel.

Jay Leno couldn’t put together a better gem than this. . .

Pakistan’s official “Day of Love for the Prophet Muhammad” turned into a day of deadly protests on Friday. . .

Doesn’t that say it all?  Yet there is more.  From the “say it ain’t so” stack. . .

A senior Chinese official, domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, made China’s first high-level visit to Afghanistan in almost 50 years on Saturday, speaking with President Hamid Karzai on a range of economic and security issues (Reuters, AJE, CNN, Tel, BBC). While in Kabul, Zhou signed a security agreement that includes a pledge to “train, fund, and equip Afghan police” among other things, as analysts say China is looking to increase its presence in Afghanistan ahead of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops in 2014.

Imagine that, we borrow billions of Yen to spend billions of Dollars so the Chinese can come in and take over.  Sounds about right.

Afghan Right Data Storage

Maybe this is Ali Mohd Kamil’s* idea of a filing system.  Since sinks are the prefered bathing venue (on the rare occasion when a bath is desired), the shower is a huge waste of space. . . until now.

Plenty of surplus space. . .

According to a U.S. official that may or may not desire to remain anonymous, this is “[Afghan] Government records storage at the Ministry of Interior.”  Continuing, he says:

Yes, these are showers;
No, the water has not been turned off; and
Yes, water drips from the shower heads.

Perhaps the record of U.S. involvement can be washed from the Afghan records if not the collective memory of the residents and our economy. 

. . . but it may be tough to find that “one” document.

The U.S. has thought of other document storage options.  But for $12 Billion, you would think someone would have thought of buying a file cabinet.

*Ali Mohd Kamil is an apparent Afghan entrepreneur that has posted a couple of shameless requests for work on other pages of this site.

Cod’s on the menu (finally)

Nine months ago, it resulted in a two-star getting fired.  After the media learned we’re spending nearly $100 million on an Afghan National Army Headquarters in Kabul, it’s a battle cry: 

“Cod’s on the menu.”

It was a good idea then and it is a good idea now–you just can’t keep a good idea down.

Perhaps it was just MGen Fuller’s politically incorrect way of saying “Afghan Good Enough” (we are indeed a more sensitive military now).  While still yet unable to employ the impactful brevity of a two-star, COL Andrew Backus, Director of Engineering for NTM-A, was able to construct the right combination of words to sell the concept to the Washingon Post:

“What we’re going to do is finish the project with strict change control and turn it over to the Afghans. And if they want to change it, then they can change it.”

While it may not change the “19 true things generals can’t say in public about the Afghan war,” it does provide hope that a good idea has a chance in Afghanistan–even if the Afghans don’t like it.