Tag Archives: President Obama

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.”

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.

Questioning the reliability of Afghans

President Obama issued an apology and is amazed that the violence in Afghanistan against U.S. and the coalition didn’t suddenly stop (By the way, why are we apologizing for destroying something the enemy is using to pass inflammatory, if not coordinating, information against us?). 

The GIRoA Ministry of Interior is conducting an investigation into the most recent killings perpetrated by ANSF personnel against coalition forces.  No doubt that’ll shed light on the situation.

ISAF leadership repeatedly asserts that infiltration and/or impersonations of Afghan Security Forces is not a problem even while “Green on Blue” violence increases. 

Now Fox News has stumbled onto something “new:” New violence stokes questions about reliability of Afghan partners in war.  For NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A), it is no big stretch to say that ANSF forces are the number one cause of death yet only now we are beginning to wonder if the Afghans are reliable.

Last year, an Afghan airman opened up an killed nine–and the Afghan Air Force is supposed to be among the most affluent groups in the ANSF.  Recently, the French suffered several dead due to the Afghans security forces. Short of an exhaustive search, it is safe to say these are fairly regular events.  Unfortunately, they have been treated as isolated and unrelated events and regarded as irregular which, coincidently, helps to preserve the illusion of progress.

Can there be any conclusion other than to question the reliability of the forces we’ve poured billions into over the last decade?  Maybe the solution is just to spill more blood and treasure.

Waging peace

As leaked by the White House, Congress, and/or the National Intelligence Council, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has uncovered a gem:  The Taliban (not to be confused with the girls at Kabul’s Raba-e-Balkhi High School) want to create their own utopia in Afghanistan.

McClatchy’s Washington Bureau released this information earlier this month in the report, “Intelligence report:  Taliban still hope to rule Afghanistan.” 

Given that the smartest President in the history of the United States can only assemble a National Intelligence Council capable of producing the obvious, it is fitting that he would think it’s possible to negotiate peace with the Taliban:

Obama has said repeatedly that the longest war in U.S. history can be settled only through negotiations between the Afghan government and the insurgents — not by force.

The report also states that the CENTCOM and ISAF Commanders and the U.S. Ambassador believe that the NIE is overly pessimistic.  But with car bombs still exploding during the “off-season” and Commanding Generals’ poor track-record in assessing conditions in Afghanistan, it’s hard to object to the leaked reports. 

Perhaps U.S. policy should adjust to the intel report accordingly.  But in an election year, that wouldn’t appease the political base.

An Afghan good enough peace treaty

An “Afghan good enough” solution with the Taliban? 

That’s what the United States is negotiating.  According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Obama Administration is attempting to trade five Afghans at Guantanamo Bay for a “public renunciation of international terrorism” by the Taliban.

“We’re not looking for nirvana,” said a second [Obama] administration official. “We’re pretty sanguine about Afghan ‘good enough.’ That’s the framework” for current strategy discussions, this official said. “That’s why we’re working so hard on reconciliation.”

The Vice President doesn’t think the Taliban is an enemy; there is no “Global War on Terror.”  Apparently an ‘Afghan good enough’ peace treaty is appropriate in this situation.

Does the Afghan good enough strategy include poor air quality, car bombs, and culturally-accepted pedophilia?  Since when did a third-world country ever become the U.S. standard for anything? 

Welcome to the new “normal.”

The Nazis per se were not our enemy

If you thought President George Bush was an idiot, what would you call Vice President Joe Biden?  From The Daily Beast:

Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us. So there’s a dual track here:

One, continue to keep the pressure on al Qaeda and continue to diminish them. Two, put the government in a position where they can be strong enough that they can negotiate with and not be overthrown by the Taliban. And at the same time try to get the Taliban to move in the direction to see to it that they, through reconciliation, commit not to be engaged with al Qaeda or any other organization that they would harbor to do damage to us and our allies.

Isn’t the enemy of our friend our enemy too?  Perhaps the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan really isn’t a friend. . .

Then there are the defenders:  Why Biden Isn’t Necessarily Wrong About the Taliban.  The writer of this OpEd, Mr. Kerry Patton, states that a lazy American culture has rushed to label everyone and in so doing has wrongfully labelled everyone (isn’t ‘lazy American’ a label?).  The grave injustice?  The word “taliban” simply comes from the Arabic word Talib meaning “student” so to call anything “Taliban” is indifinitive, spurious, and reckless.

Mr. Patton then admits what everyone else knows, that there is indeed a real Taliban militant group (maybe that is the one the lazy Americans are referring to).   No one in the Coalition countries–except for Vice President Biden–is thinking of the little girls at  Bibi Mahru High School in Wazir Akbar Khan when they speak of the Taliban.

Anyone paying attention knows that every warlord in Afghanistan is not a friend of the Taliban.  But this Presidency is so much smarter than us doofuses that put them in office.  Just make sure to get them on the same teleprompter:

“Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I have argued for years that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq. – I will make the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be.

– President Obama, July 15, 2008

“The fight” to which the President refers must be synonymous to the fighting between two brothers arguing over their Tonka trucks while throwing sand on each other during the family vacation to the beach–except for the water.

With all the clarity of a person not limited by logic, gravity, or planetary motion, Mr. Patton begins wrapping up his drivel with this gem:  “In Afghanistan, our enemy may or may not be the Taliban.”  Time to update the map of COIN Dynamics.

Then again, we botched the whole World War II thing; Nazis may or may not have been bad guys.

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Hamid Karzai IS crazy. . . maybe

Last Summer, President Hamid Karzai stated, “We are a rich country.”

Perhaps HamKar was thinking of the vast mineral reserves in Afghanistan.

He certainly wasn’t considering the massive costs such as extraction, transportation, corruption, extortion, and instability that cut into the profit motive.

But he is now singing a slightly different tune and even starting to sound much like MG Fuller, fired for stating some similar things (admittedly in a slightly different context).  As reported by the USA Today, the President of Afghanistan stated, “Together we have spent blood and treasure in fighting terrorism.  Your continued solidarity, your commitment and support will be crucial so that we can consolidate our gains and continue to address the challenges that remain.”

HamKar went on to state, “We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade.”  The USA Today reported that “Afghanistan estimates it will need outside contributions of roughly $10 billion in 2015 and onward.”

So he has demonstrated an ability to adapt and belly-up to the gravy train.  Perhaps HamKar isn’t crazy after all–but then, who is qualified to judge?