In the late 1960’s, I spent my junior year of college studying in Europe. Before the start of the year, I along with all the other student participants did a 21 day whirl wind tour of the continent. It’s one of the highlights of my life but I had a unique experience as I traveled around. People kept coming up to me saying: “America must truly be a great country. They let you out of jail to come study in Europe.” The US had been racked by a series of race riots in many of its major cities and although at times it got pretty ugly, by no means were most black Americans languishing in US jails. European press coverage of the events apparently had given many a different impression. That brings me to the topic of today’s blog.
This week on PBS’ program Washington Week The Backstory, Gwen Ifill interviewed ABC News Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, Martha Raddatz. Raddatz, had just returned from touring Afghanistan with the ISAF Commander, General John R. Allen. Ifill asked her if she had experienced any uproar and upheaval in the after math of the alleged massacre of Afghans by a U.S. soldier and the Koran burnings. Raddatz said surprisingly she did not saying: “We think the whole world is erupting over there but it wasn’t”. She said she went up to several Afghan soldiers on her own and they weren’t ever aware of the Koran burnings.
The “so what” factor for me is the need to continue to look at as much information as is available in determining the effectiveness of our Afghan policy and the question should we just pull out now or stick with the previously announced 2014 deadline. If you’re read my blog before you know one of my pet peeves is analysis of an issue based just on media sound bites.
To get a better sense of what the people running the Afghan war think of what’s been happening recently in our operations, I checked two primary sources, Dr. James N. Miller, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and General Allen’s testimony before Congress this week. The second was the publication ISAF Monthly Data Trends through February 2012.
Speaking of trends Dr. Miller said:
“From 2010 to 2011, enemy-initiated attacks were down nine percent across Afghanistan. This trend has continued in 2012. For January and February of this year, enemy-initiated attacks are down 22 percent from the comparable period in 2011.”
The ISAF publication gave some more specific statistics on the stating:
“…enemy-initiated attacks over the last 3 months are 21 percent lower compared to the same period last year.
•Each month since May 2011 had fewer enemy-initiated attacks than the corresponding month one year ago.
•This is the longest sustained downward trend in enemy-initiated attacks recorded by ISAF.”
The definition of enemy-initiated attacks given in the publication is:
“Enemy-initiated attacks comprise enemy action (enemy-initiated direct fire, indirect fire, surface-to-air fire) and explosive hazard events, to include executed attacks only (improvised explosive device (IED) explosions / mine strikes).”
Other observations from the report are:
“IED and mine explosions for Feb 2012 are 32 percent lower when compared to Feb 2011.
• Insurgents continue to rely on IEDs as the principal means to execute their campaign.
• Over 60 percent of civilian casualties caused by insurgents result from indiscriminate IED explosions.
• More than half of IEDs and mines were found and cleared rather than exploded.”
“Insurgents caused over 90 percent of civilian casualties (deaths and wounded) in Feb 2012.
• The number of ISAF-caused civilian casualties decreased by 77 percent for the first two months in 2012 compared to 2011.
• ISAF continues to work with the ANSF to make every effort to protect the Afghan population and ensure that the number of civilian casualties is kept to an absolute minimum.”
Concerning the numbers and quality of the Afghan security forces, Dr. Miller said:
“Building an effective ASNF is crucial to success in Afghanistan, and we are making good progress. To get a sense of how far we have come in the last several years, in October 2008, there were only 140,000 Afghans in the ANSF. Today, there are approximately 330,000 – nearly two-and-a-half times as many. We are nearing our October 2012 goal of 352,000 Afghan soldiers and national police in uniform – and we expect to reach that goal well before October.
The quality of the ANSF is vitally important. And while there is much more work ahead, we are seeing some good signs. For example, Afghan National Army (ANA) attrition rates have improved from over three percent per month to less than two percent, although they are still short of the goal of no more than 1.4 percent per month. The Afghan National Police (ANP) has done better than its target attrition rate of no more than 1.4 percent for the last several months.
We are seeing the results of this improvement where it counts most – on the ground. Afghan forces continue to take charge and lead operations to secure their country. Almost 90 percent of Coalition operations in Afghanistan are now carried out in partnership with the ANSF. And the ANSF is the lead for more than 40 percent of operations. These figures will continue to grow.”
During his testimony, General Allen began by saying:
“I can tell you unequivocally three things. First, we remain on-track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for Al Qaida and will not longer be terrorized by the Taliban. Second, as a coalition, the largest in recent history, we are well aware and well along on the progress to meet our 2010 Lisbon commitments to transition security lead to the Afghan national security forces by December, 2014. And third, our troops know the difference that they’re making every day. They know it and the enemy feels it every day.”
Concerning the Taliban, the General said:
“We have severely degraded the insurgency. As one Afghan commander told me in the south, in the latter part of 2011, quote, “This time around the Afghan Taliban were the away team,” unquote.
On top of that success, as a result of our recent winter operations, we have seriously degraded the Taliban’s ability to mount a major spring offensive of their own. This spring they will come back to find many of their caches empty, their former strongholds untenable, and a good many of their foot soldiers absent or unwilling to join the fight.”
Concerning the importance and caliber of the Afghan forces General Allen stated:
“Throughout history, insurgencies have seldom been defeated by foreign forces. Indeed, they have been ultimately beaten by indigenous forces.
In the long run our goals can only be achieved and then secured by Afghan forces. Transition then is the linchpin of our strategy, not merely the way out…
The expansion and the professionalization of the Afghan security forces allows us to recover the remaining 23,000 U.S. surge forces this fall, enables us to continue to pressure the Taliban to reconcile, and makes possible security transition to the Afghans in accordance with our Lisbon commitments and on time…
the Afghan forces are better than we thought they were, and they’re better than they thought they were when tried in combat.
So as we move them to the fore, they’re gaining more and more confidence and they’re gaining more and more capability. In the past five months 89 percent of the total conventional operations were partnered with both coalition and Afghan forces and 42 percent were Afghan led.
Over the next two years coalition forces will remain combat ready, but increasingly focused on security force assistance missions as we continue to move the Afghans into the lead.
In this process, Afghan leadership is simply key, and I can tell you that the Afghans want to lead and they want the responsibility that comes with it. In fact, for the very first time, our joint coalition-Afghan operational campaign plan for January 2012 through July 2013 was conceived, developed and planned with Afghans in the lead. They are truly emerging as the real defeat mechanism of this insurgency and increasingly as an emblem of national unity. And this is essential for the long-term security of Afghanistan.”
I’ll conclude with General Allens overall assessment of the Afghanistan operations:
“But none of us harbor illusions. We know that we face long-term challenges as well. We know that Al Qaida and other extremist networks, the very same networks that kill Afghan and coalition troops every day, still operate with impunity across the boarder in Pakistan.
We know that the Taliban remain a resilient and determined enemy and that many of them will try to regain their lost ground this spring through assassination, intimidation, high profile attacks and the emplacement of IEDs.
We know that Iran continues to support the insurgency and fuels often the flame of violence.
We know that corruption still robs Afghan citizens of their faith in their government and that poor governance itself often advances insurgent messages.
This campaign has been long. It has been difficult. And it has been costly. There have been setbacks, to be sure, and we’re experiencing them now. And there will be setbacks ahead.
I wish I could tell you that this war was simple and that progress could easily be measured, but that’s not the way of counterinsurgencies. They are fraught with both successes and setbacks which can exist in the same space and in the same time, but each must be seen in the larger context of the overall campaign.
And I believe the campaign is on track.”
As always my views are my own. I’m off to Alabama to help my Mother celebrate her 85th birthday.