Posts Tagged ‘civilian deaths’

The Pentagon wants you to ignore some inconvenient facts about the failure of the escalation strategy in Afghanistan.

The latest Petraeus/Gates media tour is under way in preparation for the general’s testimony to Congress next week, and they’re trotting out the same, tired spin they’ve been using since McChrystal was replaced in disgrace last year. Despite the most violent year of the war so far, despite the highest civilian and military toll of the war so far, and despite the continued growth of the insurgency, they want you to believe that we’re “making progress.” While they spend this week fudging and shading and spinning, we’ll waste another $2 billion on this brutal, futile war, and we won’t be any closer to “victory” than we are today.

Let me make a couple of predictions about Petraeus’ testimony based on experience. He will attempt to narrow the conversation to a few showcase districts in Afghanistan, use a lot of aspirational language (“What we’re attempting to do,” instead of, “What we’ve done“) and assure the hand-wringers among the congressional hawks that he’ll be happy to suggest to the president that they stay longer in Afghanistan if that’s what he thinks is best. Most importantly, he will try to keep the conversation as far away from a high-level strategic assessment based on his own counterinsurgency doctrine as possible, because if Congress bothers to check his assertions of “progress” against what he wrote in the counterinsurgency manual, he’s in for a world of hurt.

Here’s what Petraeus’ own U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says about the main goal of a COIN campaign:

“I-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.”

Not by any stretch of the imagination is the counterinsurgency campaign under Petraeus’ direction serving what his own field manual says is the primary goal of his campaign. If we were looking for a legitimate government in Afghanistan, it’s crystal clear that we backed the wrong horse. Hamid Karzai and his family are neck-deep in any number of corruption scandals, the most glaring of which involves the largest private bank in Afghanistan and a sweeping control fraud scheme that has already resulted in unrest across the country. (That scandal, by the way, is likely to result in a U.S.-taxpayer-funded bank bailout for Kabulbank, according to white-collar crime expert Bill Black.) The Karzai administration is an embarrassment of illegitimacy and cronyism, and the local tentacles of the Kabul cartel are as likely to inspire people to join the insurgency as they are to win over popular support.

Even if the Karzai regime where a glimmering example of the rule of law, the military campaign under Petraeus would be utterly failing to achieve what counterinsurgency doctrine holds up as the primary way in which a legitimate government wins over support from the people: securing the population. From the COIN manual:

“5-68. Progress in building support for the HN [“host nation”] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do not believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts.”

The United Nations reports that 2010 was the deadliest year of the war for civilians of the decade-long war, and targeted killings of Kabul government officials are at an all-time high. Petraeus often seeks to deflect this point by citing insurgent responsibility for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, but that is largely beside the point. As his own field manual makes clear, reducing the number of civilians killed by your forces is insufficient according to COIN doctrine. If you can’t protect the population (or the officials within the host nation government!) from insurgent violence and intimidation, you can’t win a counterinsurgency.

Petraeus and Gates like to talk around this blatant break in his own strategic doctrine by narrowing the conversation to what they call “security bubbles.” In his recent remarks following his trip to Afghanistan, Gates spoke of “linking zones of security in Helmand to Kandahar.” But those two provinces have seen huge spikes in violence over the course of the past year, with attacks initiated by insurgents up 124 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Today’s New York Times explains one of the main reasons for these jumps in violence as U.S. troops arrive in new areas:

“[G]enerals have designated scores of rural areas ‘key terrain districts.’ The soldiers are creating, at cost of money and blood, pockets of security.

“But when Americans arrive in a new area, attacks and improvised bombs typically follow — making roads and trails more dangerous for the civilians whom, under current Pentagon counterinsurgency doctrine, the soldiers have arrived to protect.”

The military escalations in Afghanistan have failed their key purpose under counterinsurgency doctrine, which is to secure Afghans from insurgent violence and intimidation.

While the U.S. government is failing to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan, it’s also failing to make good on the other components of counterinsurgency strategy, especially the civilian/political component. Here’s what The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual says on p. xxix, emphasis mine:

“Nonmilitary Capacity Is the Exit Strategy

“The [counterinsurgency] manual highlights military dependence not simply upon civilian political direction at all levels of operation, but also upon civilian capabilities in the field. ...[T]he primacy of the political requires significant and ongoing civilian involvement at virtually every level of operations.”

To meet this prerequisite for a successful counterinsurgency strategy, the administration promised a “civilian surge” to accompany the military escalation. But the March 8, 2011 edition of The Washington Post shows that the civilian surge has so far been a flop that’s alienating the local population:

“Efforts to improve local government in critical Afghan districts have fallen far behind schedule…according to U.S. and Afghan officials familiar with the program.

“It is now expected to take four more years to assess the needs of more than 80 ‘key terrain’ districts where the bulk of the population lives, based on figures from Afghan officials who said that escalating violence has made it difficult to recruit civil servants to work in the field.

“…Of the 1,100 U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan, two-thirds are stationed in Kabul, according to the State Department.

“‘At best, our Kabul-based experts simply reinforce the sense of big government coming from Kabul that ultimately alienates populations and leaders in the provinces,’ a former U.S. official said.”

As with the military side of the equation, the civilian side of the strategy is so badly broken that it’s actually pushing us further away from the administration’s stated goals in Afghanistan.

The costs of this pile of failure are huge. It costs us $1 million per troop, per year to maintain our occupation of Afghanistan. That’s $2 billion every week. Politicians at the federal level are contemplating ugly cuts to social safety nets, while politicians at the state level are already shredding programs that protect people suffering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, the admonitions from the White House and the Pentagon to be patient while this misbegotten strategy limps along the progress-road-to-nowhere seem perverse. The American people have been patient for roughly a decade now, but that patience has run out.

Petraeus and Gates want to you to ignore the ugly truths of the Afghanistan War: it’s not making us safer, and it’s not worth the costs. The escalation strategy isn’t working. It’s not going to work. Enough is enough. End it now.

If you’re fed up with this war that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the costs, join a local Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetup and follow Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.

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Last week I posted about the silly contradictions in the various spin pieces coming from General Petraeus’ press shop in Afghanistan. At the time, ISAF was claiming that a) Kandahar and Helmand were “security bubbles” and b) ISAF was obviously winning because they were confining most of the violence in Afghanistan to…Kandahar and Helmand. This week, ISAF wants to top their crossed messages with whole new contradictions.

Today Petraeus’ folks are screaming bloody murder about the Taliban’s killing of civilians:

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — The NATO-led command in Afghanistan said insurgent fighters were responsible for scores of civilian casualties in October — more than 100 deaths and 200 injuries.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, which has been staunchly criticized by Afghans over the years for civilian casualties during the war, said the latest violence belies senior Taliban claims that the insurgents have protected civilians.

“Their message simply does not match the reality that every day, insurgents are deliberately killing, injuring and intimidating Afghan civilians.” [Rear Adm. Vic Beck, ISAF spokesman]

But wait…remember this from last week?

The number of civilians wounded and killed last quarter (July-September) was 20 percent lower than the same period last year, despite the increase in fighting and increased numbers of coalition forces and Afghan forces. ISAF believes this means that even with rising attacks, it is reducing the ability of insurgents to harm the Afghan civilian population.

Since both of these stories were filed by CNN staff, it sure would be nice if any of their 4,000 news professionals asked ISAF about these contradictions, wouldn’t it?

The truth is that the massive troop presence and escalated military activity isn’t protecting Afghan civilians. That means the U.S. and allied forces are failing at the basic requirement of counterinsurgency: protect the population. The war’s not making us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. Get those troops home.

Exclusive, on-the-ground interviews obtained by Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project confirm what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin District of Helmand Province on July 23.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office first acknowledged the incident when they condemned the killings on July 26. At that time, the Afghan National Directorate of Security claimed that the American-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) killed “52 civilians…including women and children” in a “rocket attack.” (The Kabul government later revised that tally to 39.) By Sunday, August 1, there were protests in the streets of Kabul.

ISAF immediately attacked the credibility of the Afghan government’s report, complaining bitterly of Karzai’s decision to condemn the incident without conferring with U.S. and allied forces.

Working with our team in Afghanistan led by Anita Sreedhar, Brave New Foundation‘s Rethink Afghanistan campaign sent an intrepid local blogger into Sangin–one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas–to get the truth. The video interviews he obtained are incredible and horrifying. We made the full interview transcripts available online at http://rethinkafghanistan.com, and we encourage you to read them. Here’s the short version: Every survivor our interviewer talked to confirmed that a massive civilian casualty event occurred, and that NATO was responsible.

NATO vs. the Kabul Government

ISAF began their push-back against press accounts of the Sangin incident with a simple press release on July 24: “We have no operational reporting that correlates to this alleged incident.” No further press release available on the ISAF website expands or updates this statement. However, ISAF personnel soon ratcheted up their attacks on the Afghan government’s narrative and, in the process, circulated alternative (and often contradictory) official responses, tallies and accounts of the event.

Quoted in a July 27 New York Times article, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith (whom you might remember from that embarrassing and horrific event in Gardez earlier this year) escalated ISAF’s push-back by claiming Karzai’s office’s account was premature and speculative.

“Any speculation at this point of an alleged civilian casualty in Rigi village is completely unfounded…We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”

On August 5, ISAF spokespeople still claimed to lack information on the outcome of this promised “joint investigation.” However, that didn’t stop other ISAF officials from offering “speculations” of their own. Brigadier General Josef Blotz, for example, claimed that Afghan and coalition forces examined images of the scene and interviewed witnesses but found “no substance in terms of proof or evidence” to support Karzai’s claim. He did, however, concede that "one to three civilians may have been inadvertently killed.”

Later, again on August 5, while ISAF provided quotes from named sources for attribution that denied knowledge of the outcome of the investigation, an unnamed “senior intelligence official” told The New York Times that six civilians died with eight Taliban fighters when a troop fired a Javelin rocket into a structure from which U.S. Marines took fire.

When asked to explain the discrepancy between his tally and that of the Afghan government, the unnamed official cited “political challenges,” as if “political challenges” account for a 33-person difference in the death tallies. This explanation reminds one of the Gardez massacre earlier this year, when ISAF tried to pass off its blatant lie about an American special forces team finding women “bound, gagged and executed” as a “cultural misunderstanding,” when in fact they’d killed the women themselves and tried to dig the bullets out while one of them was still alive, screaming in pain. In effect, this unnamed source accused Afghan locals and officials of lying about civilian deaths because of hard feelings between them and the coalition.

What is going on here? One explanation might be that ISAF engaged in the same type of damage control campaign utilized in other horrifying incidents like the Farah airstrike and the Gardez massacre. In both cases, ISAF initially denied wrongdoing, aggressively attacked the credibility of alternative accounts that disputed the official story, and claimed that the evidence was either neutral or exculpatory. Only when new information made it impossible to deny responsibility did ISAF admit its guilt in both cases. Perhaps we’re seeing a repeat of that behavior here.

Regardless of the source and possible motivation for all this contradicting information and blatant disinformation, what is clear, based on interviews obtained by our team on the ground in Sangin, is that ISAF troops killed dozens of civilians on July 23.

What We Found

52 people were killed! We don’t know how many children or women! …The rest of my family is scattered and lost I don’t know where they are. …My mind doesn’t work okay. … My daughter’s in laws were sitting in our house with their other children when the bombing started I saw them get killed with my own eyes!

–Mahmoud Jan Kaka

I saw a child on the floor was injured. I thought he was the only injured one so I took him to the clinic. When I came back my nephew told me that there were more injured people. I tried to pull my daughter from the rubble but I couldn’t. I heard her calling for help but I couldn’t reach her.

–Abdul Zahar

In all of my experiences not the Russians or the Taliban ever did what they (N.A.T.O.) did. …I wanted to go to the government post and tell them to kill the rest of us too as we have nothing to live for anymore!

…In the morning we see bodies with heads, blood and guts everywhere, arms here and legs there. All of my loved ones who were still alive were soaked in blood. We tried to go and identify the bodies; everyone was looking for there missing relatives. There was so much sorrow and pain from those people who were lost in shock.

–Unnamed Sangin Resident 1

See the full transcripts.

The most important takeaway from these interviews, aside from the universal attribution of blame to NATO, is that there is absolutely no way that the civilian death toll is in the single digits. One person described losing eight family members; another said he lost nine loved ones; still another lost 11. One of the men, Abdul Barg, insisted that, “the number of martyred were no less than 35 up to 50.” He also related that “every family in the village was placing at least a couple of their loved ones in a bag.”

These video interviews prove what NATO wants to deny. As you watch the footage of these Afghan men and hear their voices crack, it becomes sickeningly clear. U.S. and allied forces killed dozens of Afghan civilians in Sangin.

This incident is more than a moral outrage: it shows why the Afghanistan War undermines our safety. Thanks to the work of the National Bureau of Economic Research, we know that, statistically speaking, every time an incident like this happens, we can expect an additional six attacks on coalition forces. But we don’t have to generalize from this incident to see the threat when the specifics spell it out so clearly:

More than 200 people demonstrated over the July 23 incident in the Sangin district of Helmand province… The protesters shouted "Death to America" and carried banners calling for justice and pictures of children they say were killed in the strike…

This is what our elected officials need to understand: when we debate the war in Afghanistan, it’s not an academic exercise. It’s a string of specific incidents like Sangin, concrete moral outrages that pay us back with increased strategic risk.

Our reaction to Sangin and the other similar catastrophes defines us. That’s why when I go into a voting booth this November, or I get a solicitation for a political donation or a request to volunteer for a federal candidate, I’m going ask, “How did this person respond when he or she heard that we slaughtered the heart of a village? Did this person explain it away? Did they continue to support a policy that ensured more Sangins all across Afghanistan? Or did they finally catch themselves, finally realize that this war ensures the slow death of more children under rubble while parents claw at the pile?” These are the questions I’ll ask myself before I punch the touch-screen at the local library, and if the opinion polls are any indication, I’ll be far, far from alone.

I encourage all of you to visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com to send a note to your elected officials and let them know you’ll be watching what they do in response to this disaster, and that you’ll remember it when you vote in November.

Last week, the military published an ironically titled “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” that wrapped blunt admissions of strategic collapse in typical Pentagon happy talk. Short version: Violence is up 87 percent (p. 39), the insurgency has population sympathy/support in 92 of 121 key regions, and local support for International Security Assistance Force’s mission in the toilet (p. 38-39). Oh, and we’re killing more civilians, too. Oh, and Marja is crumbling under NATO’s feet. But worry not! Unnamed senior administration officials tell us, “We are on the cusp! Moving in the right direction!”

Anyone who bothered to read the report could see right through this silly bit of P.R. work. But senior administration officials and elected Democrats can’t be bothered with such petty details as mission failure. They have neocons and neolibs to sop and hippies to punch. Thank G-d for talking-point-laden CODELs!

Here’s TIME’s Joe Klein, quoting an unnamed senior administration official:

McChrystal’s optimism is based on information that he cannot share. …”The counterterrorism effort has broken the momentum that the Taliban built up over the past few years.”

Here’s U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri), paraphrasing General McChrystal from his latest razzle-dazzle CODEL:

Speaking from Pakistan before returning home, Carnahan, D-St. Louis, said the United States is making progress but that tough challenges remain. He said Gen. Stanley McChrystal…told Carnahan and fellow members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the trip that the tide may be turning.

“He believes that they (the Taliban) had lost momentum and that we have an opportunity … but we’re not there yet,” Carnahan said.

Here’s U.S. Rep. Michael McMahon (D-New York):

McMahon said U.S. military leaders, including Gen. Stanley McChrystal…told him and other members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the “new counter-insurgency strategy is taking hold.”

“They are seeing progress,” said McMahon…and praised the “marriage of military and civilian support” forces.

McMahon plans to vote for that $33 billion supplemental war spending bill, by the way.

These Democrats would have better served constituents and taxpayers had they stayed home, read the reports that they mandated the military provide them, and applied their critical thinking skills rather than getting a Potemkin-village tour from the military. Instead, though, they opted for a little war tourism and spent a nice afternoon regurgitating the talking points given to them by the military over which they supposedly have oversight authority.

Recall that in December 2009, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn gave a presentation, The State of the Insurgency [h/t Wired’s Danger Room blog], that described insurgent momentum:

“Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding”

Now see this assessment from the list of insurgent strengths from last week’s report:

The Afghan insurgency has a robust means of sustaining its operations…A ready supply of recruits is drawn from the frustrated population…Organizational capabilities and operational reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding. …Insurgents’ tactics, techniques, and procedures for conducting complex attacks are increasing in sophistication and strategic effect. (p. 21)

See all that “broken,” “lost” momentum? Me neither. The list of insurgent strengths listed on page 21 of last week’s report is almost identical to the list of strengths on slide 16 of Flynn’s December presentation. The insurgents’ momentum apparently carried on such that the report authors could cut and paste its description from the December 2009 report.

There’s a major set of votes coming up on $33 billion in new war spending to fund President Obama’s latest massive deployment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan and on U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern’s (D-Mass.) bill to require an exit strategy. But, it looks like many Members of Congress can’t be bothered to do their homework or question the happy-talk handed to them during their tourist stops in Kabul. While the military is cutting and pasting its reports together, some Members of Congress are cutting and pasting their talking points.

Fantastic.

I’d like to remind my readers that in September 2009, McChrystal said:

“Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) — while Afghan security capacity matures — risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

For those who are counting, that was almost 9 months ago.

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I usually don’t do this, but I have to take my friend Spencer Ackerman out for a ride. (In my defense, brother, just keep in mind that I’m taking you out for a ride for a blog post in which you took your friend out for a ride. Just sayin’.) And, I want to say at the outset that on a critical point he’s the victim of some really bad timing, and that on that point he’s made a concession, but the episode is illustrative of a larger problem within the ranks of the left-leaning national security crowd and the way they’ve handled counterinsurgency doctrine in the public debate.

Also, pardon my French. Some things merit swearing.

Spencer wrote a strongly worded critique of Matthew Yglesias’ article on civilian casualties and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Specifically, Spencer said Yglesias “didn’t deal with the relevant body of data on civilian casualties in the counterinsurgency era in Afghanistan,” pointing to UNAMA data that showed a 28-percent drop in civilian deaths attributed to U.S. and allied forces for 2009 compared to the previous year. He says (emphasis mine):

I don’t know how you can neglect the reduced proportion of U.S.-caused deaths when evaluating the success of a strategy that seeks to get that civilian-casualty-causation figure down. No one I have ever encountered who has waged, studied or advocated for counterinsurgency has made the case that counterinsurgency is a kinder or gentler method of warfare…

…Everything McChrystal has said in command has indicated that he embrace the perspective that U.S.-caused civilian casualties needs to drop if his mission is to succeed on his own terms, and his actions and that of his predecessor– so far at least, and clearly not sufficiently — have gotten results in that regard.

Unfortunately for Spencer, within a few hours of his post, USA TODAY reported new data from NATO that shows that the downward trend in the civilian death rate has reversed itself with a vengeance:

KABUL — Deaths of Afghan civilians by NATO troops have more than doubled [so far] this year, NATO statistics show, jeopardizing a U.S. campaign to win over the local population by protecting them against insurgent attacks.

NATO troops accidentally killed 72 civilians in the first three months of 2010, up from 29 in the same period in 2009, according to figures the International Security Assistance Force gave USA TODAY.

Ouch. To his credit, Spencer addressed this new information in an update to his post and in a new post today. And if the basic premise of the main argument in this blog post were the only problem, I’d probably let this go with a snarky tweet and some good-natured ribbing about bad timing. However, this piece has other problems besides inconvenient expiration of facts, and they illustrate the way counterinsurgency doctrine is misused and abused by its supposed backers to give themselves cover to back an ongoing brutal exercise in Afghanistan. We shouldn’t let those issues go unaddressed.

Warm and Fuzzy War

Spencer also wrote:

No one I have ever encountered who has waged, studied or advocated for counterinsurgency has made the case that counterinsurgency is a kinder or gentler method of warfare, or that it’s no more than development work with an M4.

No one ever called counterinsurgency a kinder, gentler kind of war in the same way that President Bush never explicitly said Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attacks, but, gee, I wonder how so many Americans got that idea. I mean, it’s almost like someone wrote this in the introduction to the COIN manual on pages xxx – xxxi:

“Equally important, success in COIN relies upon nonkinetic activities like providing electricity, jobs, and a functioning judicial system…

…If these other instruments of national power don’t show up, can’t stay or aren’t effective, the buck then passes back to military forces…[T]he manual ultimately recognizes military responsibility for those tasks, particularly when an insurgency is violent…Recognizing the need to ensure the population’s well-being, the manual directs military forces to be able to conduct political, social, information, and economic programs ‘as necessary.'”

I can’t tell you how many House Armed Services terrorism subcommittee hearings I’ve sat through in which someone related  the story about how during one particular special forces operation, their most important weapon was a dentist. Or, you know, when Air Force spokespeople comically assert that the purpose of air power in counterinsurgency is “to bring goodness, and not death” (skip to 2:30 here). Yeah, I don’t know where we got that kinder, gentler idea.

However, I’m glad to see Spencer own the brutality of counterinsurgency. To give you a sense of that brutality, consider that the field manual for this doctrine refers to our involvement in the Salvadoran civil war as a success story. Yes, the El Salvador adventure that saw us training and funding the forces that were running around raping and killing nuns and murdering Archbishop Oscar Romero during mass and shooting up his funeral and had U.S. military advisers supervising the torture of prisoners. More than 70,000 dead to protect a political arrangement that’s overturned in a few decades by the people who were victims of our “help”– that’s what “success” looks like in counterinsurgency. One wonders how a manual on a doctrine from which McChrystal can derive his continued homages to civilian protection can refer to El Salvador as a success story…that is, unless it’s a slick-sounding snake-oil cookbook full of hypocritical bullshit.

Selective Interpretation

COIN doctrine as interpreted by Ackerman with the aid of the stats he used asserts something like this: McChrystal and friends reduce by 28 percent the number of civilians they kill, while the Taliban increase the number they kill. The local population’s animosity builds toward the Taliban, triggering a shift in political support to the U.S. and allies, a withdrawal of support for the Taliban and an influx of intelligence to the counter-insurgents. This interpretation, however, is a very academic exercise with major blind spots as to the actual dynamic in Afghanistan and the actual COIN doctrine described in the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual:

“Progress in building support for the [host nation] government requires protecting the local populace. People who do now believe they are secure from insurgent intimidation, coercion, and reprisals will not risk overtly supporting COIN efforts. The populace decides when it feels secure enough to support COIN efforts. (p. 179)”

“During any period of instability, people’s primary interest is physical security for themselves and their families. When [host nation] forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias, or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency. (p 98)”

“Counterinsurgents should not expect people to willingly provide information if insurgents have the ability to violently intimidate sources. (p. 120)”

Here’s Stanley McChrystal explicitly stating that COIN doctrine requires you to protect the population from the insurgents.

Note that all of these statements deal with the importance not just of the protection of civilians from killings by counterinsurgents, but the protection of the people in general. Counterinsurgency doctrine says that people aren’t going to switch to your side if they think they’ll get killed for it, no matter how low you drop the rate at which you cause civilian deaths. In other words, a drop in casualties caused by U.S. and allied groups is not sufficient for the hoped-for dynamic to take hold, according to COIN doctrine. It must be paired with an increase in security from insurgent violence as well. And that’s a problem for Spencer’s interpretation of counterinsurgency doctrine and his assessments of progress in Afghanistan, especially since the data he cites shows that in 2009:

“The escalation and spread of armed conflict resulted in the highest number of civilian casualties recorded since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and in the further erosion of humanitarian space.”

So, even if we just went with the information that was available early yesterday, which said that McChrystal and Co. were killing fewer civilians, they still hadn’t managed to increase security for civilians in Afghanistan as measured by the total civilian deaths caused by the parties to the conflict. The Afghans, especially those in Kandahar, know it. The elders who live in the area targeted for the next big offensive told Karzai and McChrystal they didn’t want an operation in their area and specifically cited the increased risk to the civilian population from insurgent IEDs. Even if McChrystal proved he could drive down civilian casualties when he puts his mind to it, he’s also managed to prove over the last year that he can’t protect the population.

People who claim to actually believe in the efficacy of and the necessity for actual counterinsurgency in Afghanistan need to start screaming, right now, about what’s going on in Afghanistan under General McChrystal because their credibility is now unambiguously on the line. To his credit, Spencer notes in today’s post that, “By McChrystal’s own reckoning…the system is blinking red and new measures have to be put in place…” The problem is, though, that in an honest reading of counterinsurgency doctrine should have indicated that the system was already blinking red in 2009, but for whatever reason people continued to sing the praises of Saint Stanley McChrystal and took up gross distortions of COIN doctrine to do so. Numerous prerequisites for success as articulated by COIN doctrine remained absent and/or further degraded over 2009, including host nation government legitimacy and security for the local population, yet many writers focused on one particular statistic (casualties caused by pro-government forces) because it let them tell the story they wanted to tell.

The facts are these: Not only are we not protecting the population generally, but we’re demolishing progress made on decreasing civilian deaths attributed to us and our allies. We’ve doubled the number of special forces in the country, forces responsible for some of the most outrageous, alienating incidents of the war. We don’t have a legitimate local partner or a legitimate host nation government. And after paying lip-service to getting local buy-in for a Kandahar operation, McChrystal’s people now inform us that we plan to go ahead whether the people of Kandahar like it or not. McChrystal is letting the COIN pretensions fall away as the reality of the Afghanistan war reveals them as the hypocritical bullshit they always were. What’s left is the uncompromising and ugly truth: we are fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan, it’s going badly and we don’t have a credible prospect for a turnaround.

Spencer is right, the system is blinking red. It’s been blinking for years.

Here’s my latest video created for Rethink Afghanistan. You can find the accompanying blog post here.

Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan project has been following the story about a night raid in Gardez by U.S. and Afghan forces (see the video above), and today those forces made a major admission about their responsibility for civilian deaths. In a press release issued on Easter (gee, I wonder if they hoped people would be distracted today), the U.S. and allied forces under General McChrystal’s command, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), admitted they killed three innocent Afghan women, two of them pregnant. (more…)