Posts Tagged ‘COIN’

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.

Rethink Afghanistan Year Ten video graphic

Watch Rethink Afghanistan’s latest video at RethinkAfghanistan.com.

I spent several days last week giving guest lectures about the Afghanistan War to freshmen and seniors at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. It’s no secret that I loathe this brutal, futile war that’s not making us safer. So, when I talk to kids about it, I state my biases up-front, and I do my best to represent my opponents’ views fairly. In the process of playing devil’s advocate during these talks, I usually ask people if they remember how they felt on 9/11. I do this because I think it’s a good way to get into the mindset of decision-makers who led us down this road back in 2001. But this year, something startling happened: When I asked the students this question, they laughed at me.

“Dude, that was a long time ago,” they giggled. “We were, like, in 3rd grade or something.” In other words, no, Mr. Old Guy, we don’t remember. We weren’t even 10 years old when that happened.

Year 10. That’s where we are, starting October 7, 2010. We are now in the Afghanistan War’s 10th year. Of course most of those kids don’t remember what they felt like when the towers fell. It was almost a decade ago, more than half of their lives ago.

It’s startling to be reminded how long ago 9/11 was because our public figures keep talking about the Afghanistan War like it started last year. General Petraeus let us know back in February in a Meet the Press interview that we were just then getting “the inputs about right,” and were now “starting to see some of the outputs.” Nine years into this war, and Petraeus lets us know they’re just getting warmed up. Good God.

U.S. foreign policy luminaries have this habit of talking about Afghanistan like it’s some sort of laboratory experiment, some controlled environment where we can just start over if Counterinsurgency Hypothesis A doesn’t pan out. We talk about it like it’s therapy, where “making progress” is good enough. But Afghanistan isn’t a controlled environment where we can safely discard old models and just roll up our sleeves and start over; it’s the Graveyard of Empires ™, and it’s full of people who die when we wipe their slates clean. And as far as progress goes, please fire any public servant who utters those words to cover their inability to produce results.

Dana Perino said we’re making progress… remember her? She was the last president’s spokesperson. You remember, that president so terrible we don’t even like talking about him in polite company. And he said we were making progress, along with the last two commanding officers of the Afghanistan mission we kicked to the curb for various forms of stupidity.

We’ve been making progress for nine-plus years now, progress into the deadliest year for U.S. troops since the war began, progress into record levels of suicide terrorism directed at Americans, progress into war debt so high we’ll probably never be able to pay it off. No more progress in Afghanistan, please. I want these poor high school kids, who don’t remember how they felt back in the Paleolithic Era when the war began, to be left with something resembling the country in which I was lucky enough to grow up.

The war in Afghanistan isn’t making us safer. According to Robert Pape’s research, since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began, suicide attacks around the world increased by a factor of six, and 90 percent of all suicide attacks are now anti-American. According to Homeland Security back in May:

“The number and pace of attempted attacks against the United States over the past nine months have surpassed the number of attempts during any other previous one-year period.”

This has also been the deadliest year for U.S. troops in Afghanistan already with several months left to go. We are not safer. We are less safe.

The war in Afghanistan isn’t worth the cost. War costs have already exceeded $1 trillion and will go much higher once the cost of caring for the veterans kicks in. It costs us $1 million per troop, per year to occupy that country. And civilian deaths in Afghanistan are up more than 30 percent so far this year; I strain to imagine a goal that would make that level of death “worth it.”

We are 10 years into this godforsaken catastrophe of a war with virtually no chance of a turnaround brought about by military force. We are not about to turn a corner. We are not about to turn the tide. Despite Petraeus’ “dark before the dawn” rhetoric, the spike in violence we’re seeing now is consistent with a well-established pattern of ever-increasing violence as the insurgency metastasizes across the country. Here’s a chart to illustrate from the Afghan NGO Safety Office, showing the level of insurgent-initiated violence:

ANSOgraph2010

Year 10 has to be the last year of this war. The president doesn’t need to wait until next July to start pulling out troops. He should start withdrawals today, this afternoon, before dinner. He should drag generals by the four-starred shirt to the radios to give the signal if that’s what it takes. He should admit that our national interest isn’t served by throwing a 100,000-plus-troop war machine at a dirt-poor country to catch fewer than 100 nutcases. We should be in the White House’s face, in the Pentagon’s face, every day, telling them that we won’t tolerate mealy-mouthed dithering on “conditions” while our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers get ground into record numbers of amputees and coffin-filler.

And we should make damn sure they know we won’t sit around and watch while they drag kids too young to really remember how they felt on September 11, 2001, into a war that we’re too proud to admit is a failure.

It’s not working. It’s not going to work. It’s over. Shut it down. Bring them home.

If you want to help us make sure this war’s 10th year is its last year, join us at Rethink Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan Study Group report is out, and the fight is on. A number of critiques have been leveled at the report, one of the most influential being Joshua Foust’s over at Registan.net, chunks of which are percolating upward into larger outlets. Foust is a smart guy with whom I regularly debate, but there’s a particularly offensive landmine hiding at the end of Foust’s post that I want to highlight:

But in a real way, this is symptomatic of much of the anti-war movement in this country: it starts with a conclusion and works backward to develop justifications for it. That is an inversion of reasoned argument, as it relies on assumption and beliefs to shape reality, rather than using reality as a base for arguments and beliefs.

That’s pretty rich, especially considering the outrageous intellectual dishonesty on display over the past couple of weeks with regard to the pro-counterinsurgency decision-makers in this country, who spent the last few weeks furiously redefining not only reality but their own doctrine. I don’t mean to deflect from Foust’s substantive critiques of the ASG’s report, some of which I plan to return to in a latter post, and I should be clear that I also have some points of contention to raise with some of the particulars of the report, but this drive-by smear is too offensive to let go without a detailed response.

I read Joshua’s swipe as calling out the anti-war movement in the current debate as being the parties particularly guilty of this activity, and if that’s the case, let me go out on a limb here and say that such an assertion is flatly ridiculous on its face. This is particularly offensive given that in the last couple of weeks, our opponents have worked furiously to construct a dishonest narrative of “progress” while their strategy is clearly failing to arrest the deterioration of security in Afghanistan.

To get a sense of the pro-COIN crowd’s continuous intellectual dishonesty, let’s take the most glaring example: how they deal with the “north star” of counterinsurgency, “a legitimate host nation government.”

A writer might mean “legitimate” in a couple of different ways:

  • Winning tangible local support such that the population is either a) tangibly supporting government efforts to root out insurgents, b) refusing to tolerate insurgent operations in within their area or population, or c) all of the above.
  • Relatively non-corrupt. This aspect of legitimacy influences the prior aspect. It’s an especially important aspect of legitimacy in the current conflict because corruption was a major factor seized on by the Taliban in their last rise to power (hypocrisy notwithstanding).

Now, let’s talk about that “tangible local support” for a second. The dream of the counterinsurgent is that “living among the population” and “protecting them” from the insurgents (U.N. condemnation of this practice as one that endangers civilians notwithstanding) is supposed to give locals the “freedom” to side with the counterinsurgents and the local government. Two of the most important manifestations of that support are supposed to be:

  1. increased intelligence from the locals about insurgent activities, and
  2. a measurable increase in the number of locals willing to put their lives on the line by siding with the local government against the insurgents.

As Matthew Hoh points out in his response to Foust and others, the Afghan population only reported one percent of the improvised explosive devices found or detonated in June. That number has been in decline every year since NATO started adding troops in Pashtun areas in 2006:

In late 2005, the civilian population was informing U.S. and NATO troops of about 15 percent of of all IEDs planted. That proportion fell to just over nine percent in 2006, to less than seven percent in 2007 to about three percent in 2008, and again to 2.8 percent in 2009.

In the first six months of 2010, that ratio dropped to 2.6 percent, and in May and June it fell to 1.4 and one percent, respectively.

This is especially salient given that one of the other bloggers attacking the ASG report, Andrew Exum, previously identified this as a core metric for local support and security:

Conversely, a drop in the proportion of IEDs found and cleared indicates the population is not passing on information to security forces, and is standing by while they are attacked — a sign of deteriorating security.

Spontaneous tip-offs from the population, where local people volunteer information about the enemy (known as “walk ins” in the intelligence community), indicate confidence by the people in the government and security forces, and are another useful measurement of cooperation and progress.

And, as I pointed out earlier this week, efforts to recruit for the Afghan National Army out of the local populations that form core insurgent constituencies are failing abysmally, with the only 66 of the more than 3,000 recruits in August coming from the southern Pashtun population (Recall that in February, the deputy commander of the NATO Training Mission called the ethnic makeup of the ANA a “very sensitive issue.”).

In other words, on points 1 and 2, U.S. and our allies are failing to see the signs of increased legitimacy among local populations that are essential for counterinsurgency. Yet, war supporters drone on and on about how public opinion polls–that don’t mean squat without #1 and #2 above–show “popular support” for the Afghan government and opposition to the Taliban.

And corruption. Oh, corruption. Over the last few months, we’ve seen a string of statements from U.S. and NATO officials, including Petraeus, that corruption is, “an enemy,” “counter to our strategy,” that addressing it is “an operational imperative.” Petraeus’ most recent counterinsurgency guidance (.doc) calls corruption one of the “recruiters for the Taliban.” He tells his forces:

Act with your Afghan partners to confront, isolate, pressure, and defund malign actors – and, where appropriate, to refer malign actors for prosecution.

President Obama said last Friday that tackling corruption was essential to “helping President Karzai stand up a broadly accepted, legitimate government.”

Let’s not leave out the admonitions from Andrew Exum from last year, either:

In the next 12 months, however, the priority of civilian-led efforts should be neither small-scale development projects, nor ambiguous “capacity building.” Instead, the civilian surge should have one overriding objective: visibly decreasing corruption inside the Afghan government in order to increase the confidence of Afghans in their own government.

And yet, the moment the full extent of the corruption of our “partner” in Afghanistan breaks into full view with a financial fraud and political corruption scandal that implicates virtually the whole top echelon of the Kabul administration, we get headlines like these:

Exum also abruptly “admitted” he “was wrong,” saying “I am not sure that we should focus to heavily on corruption as an issue unless we plan on retaining a very strong presence in Afghanistan well past June 2011.” Admitting when you’re wrong is laudable. However, it’s one thing to say you’re wrong and another thing to admit just how far into your position’s premises such an admission eats. As recently as September 1, Exum wrote:

Corruption is not something to be opposed merely on the grounds of principle or morality…There are many other reasons, but perhaps the most damaging in the current climate is the effect it has of alienating the disenfranchised and propelling them to turn to non-state actors to provide security, legal redress or relief.  It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that ending corruption is a recurrent theme with extremists.

I don’t understand at all–nor does Exum’s explanation illuminate–how one can support a policy that views “Karzai as our man in Kabul” while holding the above (correct) view. If one is intellectually honest, admitting that highly caustic corruption is so endemic to your local partner that you can’t address it without the whole enterprise coming apart is tantamount to admitting you shouldn’t be doing counterinsurgency with that partner. After all, as Exum points out, Pillar #1 of counterinsurgency doctrine is supposedly “protect the people,” to which all other COIN directives must be subservient. Yet we’ve seen that the people we have to protect the people from apparently includes the Karzai administration and the private business cronies around it. How exactly does building a nice, shiny security force that answers to corrupt human rights abusers “protect the people?”  I wait with bated breath for a real explanation.

Petraeus is trying to put lipstick on the pig by saying things like, “So, there’s actually been quite a bit of activity in the realm of anti-corruption,” pointing to the arrest of a police official as his evidence. Well, yes, general, they did arrest a “very important provincial police chief,” but that’s a little myopic while government workers and security force employees are being literally beaten away from trying to get their salaries out of the president’s brother’s corrupt bank, isn’t it? (This, by the way, is emblematic of Petraeus’ spin campaign: use tiny bites of “progress” to try to paint a narrative while the broader strategic picture is rapidly deteriorating. If the reporter had pressed him a bit on this, you would have seen his other standard response, “Yes, absolutely, more needs to be done, but we’re making progress.”) This is intellectual dishonesty in the extreme and a blatant case of starting with a conclusion (“progress”) and working backwards to find facts that fit the frame.

Foust is a frequent critic of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He thinks “the fight in the south is a waste of resources” and says so, so I don’t want to try to try to lay the burden of defending all the outrageous contradictions listed above on him. But in the context of the above, it really takes some gall to try to portray the anti-war movement as the faction starting with a conclusion and working backwards to develop justifications and frame reality.

Every movement has elements that frame facts to fit their interpretation to win arguments, on both sides, and it’s fair to call those folks out when it happens. If one wants to assert that a particular person is being dishonest in their interpretation of facts, just make your case and be done with it. This kind of swipe is an evolution of the old smear that those with anti-war views are irrational and “don’t live in the real world,” and it betrays more bias in those that use it than in those it targets. Here’s a little bit of that bias peeking through in Foust’s over-the-top criticism of ASG’s report, emphasis mine:

“[T]he Afghanistan Study Group blames our problems on Afghanistan—the civil war, the al Qaeda safe havens, and so on. It’s the equivalent of complaining, “math is hard” when you do poorly on a math quiz. …To be clear: the real problem in Afghanistan isn’t Afghanistan itself…So [ASG’s report is] misdiagnosing the problem, and perpetuating the likelihood that a similarly mishandling of policies and expectations will happen next time.That is a incredibly dangerous thing to do, and, ultimately, cowardly.”

But I don’t recall him calling Exum “cowardly” when Exum showed a similar tendency last year while he was helping with McChrystal’s strategy review, emphasis mine:

I was and am still haunted by one of the last paragraphs in David B. Edwards’ majesterial Heroes of the Age: “Afghanistan’s central problem [is] Afghanistan itself, specifically certain profound moral contradictions that have inhibited this country from forging a coherent civil society. These contradictions are deeply rooted in Afghan culture, but they have come to the fore in the last one hundred years, since the advent of the nation-state, the laying down of permanent borders, and the attempt to establish an extensive state bureaucracy and to invest that bureaucracy with novel forms of authority and control.” Ooph. With that paragraph in mind I set about examining ISAF operations and strategy…

To try to indict the anti-war movement as being particularly guilty of framing facts to fit untrue realities after the last nine years is intellectually dishonest and, may I say, total garbage. I would, however, be happy to hear a clarification from Foust that I’m reading his comment incorrectly, and I’ll be happy to correct this post if it turns out he took Exum to task for his “cowardly” frame of mind during McChrystal’s strategy review. (I don’t think any of this is necessarily intentional. Mostly I think Foust got carried away by requests he received for him to “destroy” the ASG report.) But I’d be even happier to hear counterinsurgency pushers either stick to their doctrine and announce that we have no business doing COIN in Afghanistan if Karzai is our “partner,” or admit that the stuff they’ve been shoveling for the last 9 years on Afghanistan originates from the back end of a bull.

Update: Foust let me know that he did criticize Exum for a number of contradictions last year, and I want to include the link here to be fair.

As President Obama’s strategy review for Afghanistan commences, let’s hope he’s balancing the information coming to him from his happy-talking generals with some independent news reading of his own.

  • While General David Petraeus serenades the major news media in the United States with the siren song of “progress,” security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and efforts in the south to win legitimacy for the Kabul government are failing.
  • Hamid Karzai seems dead set on proving just how corrupt he and his business connections are.
  • Efforts to transform the Afghan National Army from a carpetbagger army to a legitimate, representative force capable of keeping peace in the south are a flop.

All of these reports are clear indications that the massive influx of troops into Afghanistan under Obama failed to improve the situation in that country and very likely made it worse. The president should seize on any of the numerous signs of policy failure–from the massively corrupt Kabulbank fiasco to the collapse of security across the country–and use this strategy review to create a plan that begins immediate U.S. troop withdrawals.

Security Crumbles

Aid groups warn that security in Afghanistan is rapidly deteriorating, and they strongly dispute military assurances that things are “getting worse before they get better.” According to The New York Times:

Even as more American troops flow into the country, Afghanistan is more dangerous than it has ever been during this war, with security deteriorating in recent months, according to international organizations and humanitarian groups.

…Last month, ISAF recorded 4,919 “kinetic events,” …a 7 percent increase over the previous month, and a 49 percent increase over August 2009, according to Maj. Sunset R. Belinsky, an ISAF spokeswoman. August 2009 was itself an unusually active month for the insurgency as it sought to disrupt the presidential elections then.

With one attack after another, the Taliban and their insurgent allies have degraded security in almost every part of the country (the one exception is Panjshir Province in the north, which has never succumbed to Taliban control).

While Petraeus has been on a media blitz claiming that the rise in violence can be attributed to the Taliban fighting back as NATO forces “take away areas that are important to the enemy,” the Times’ story makes clear that his explanation fails to address rapidly deteriorating security in parts of the country where the NATO presence is light. In fact, compared to August 2009, insurgent attacks more than doubled last month.

Kabulbank Corruption

General Petraeus’ manual on how to conduct counterinsurgency refers to a legitimate host nation government as “a north star.” But over the past week, we’ve been treated to a sickening spectacle showing just how corrupt Hamid Karzai and his cronies really are. A real estate market collapse in Dubai rocked the privately owned Kabulbank, exposing the “investment” of hundreds of millions of depositor assets in palatial homes on Palm Jumeirah off Dubai’s cost, handed out to friends and family of the government. As media attention zeroed in on the bank, we learned that presidential campaign contributions were given to Karzai by Kabulbank in exchange for naming a major shareholder’s brother (a notorious war criminal) as his vice presidential running mate; that Karzai’s brother, Mahmoud Karzai, sat at the center of the scandal; and that key campaign advisers had become major shareholders in the bank. Now government forces and security guards are beating people away (literally) as outraged depositors seek to get their money out. Karzai’s inner circle was implicated so thoroughly that now the U.S. is backing off its repeated pronouncements of the importance of rooting out corruption.

In short, we lack one of the prerequisites asserted by Petraeus’ own doctrine for success under the current strategy in Afghanistan, and we’ve stopped even really trying to construct one.

Southern Pashtuns Stay Away from ANA

Another of the key components of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to create an army with a sizable enough southern Pashtun contingent to allow the security forces to operate in the Taliban’s traditional strongholds without being seen as an occupying force from the north. According to The Wall Street Journal, that effort is failing:

Recent initiatives to recruit more southern Pashtuns into the Afghan security forces…appear to have backfired.

In January, southern Pashtuns accounted for 3.4% of recruits that month, falling to 1.1% in July and 1.8% in August.

Last month, just 66 of the 3,708 Afghan recruits were Pashtuns, U.S. officials said.

Overall, Pashtuns account for 43% of the Afghan army, but very few of them are from the south.

Afghanistan’s recent history is fraught with internal strife between factions and ethnic groups, including a nasty conflict between those forces comprising the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Pashtuns in the south likely aren’t going to take kindly to the presence of a U.S.-backed force made up of northerners. The fact that the security forces can’t recruit southern Pashtuns speaks volumes about the failure of efforts to persuade populations in the heart of Taliban territory to support the Kabul regime.

There’s No Time Like the Present

Giles Dorronsoro, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, just returned from Afghanistan with a stark warning:

“Washington wants to weaken the Taliban by beefing up the counterinsurgency campaign to the point where the Taliban will be forced to ask for amnesty and join the government. But the Taliban are growing stronger and there are no indications that U.S. efforts can defeat the insurgents…

“Since last year there has not been one serious element of progress and the situation will not improve without a strategic recalculation. …In a year, the Taliban will not disappear as a political force or even be weakened militarily—the longer it takes for negotiations to begin, the harder it will be for the coalition to carry out the best possible exit strategy.  …In the coming months, the American-led coalition needs to declare a ceasefire and begin talking to the Taliban. While negotiations could be an extremely long and fraught process, the sooner they begin the more likely they are to achieve results.”

Every individual factor listed above would be a body blow to the premises of a counterinsurgency strategy according to General Petraeus’ own handbook. Taken together, they’ve exposed the Afghanistan War as a brutal fiasco that’s not making us safer and that’s not worth the cost.

The American people, recognizing the futility of spending more U.S. lives and dollars on this failing war, have turned solidly against it, with nearly six-in-10 saying they oppose the war in CNN’s most recent poll. The president should keep that in mind as we approach our own midterm elections here in the U.S.

We can’t wait until July 2011. Those troops need to start coming home, now.

If you’re tired of this costly, brutal war that’s not making us safer, join us at Rethink Afghanistan:

Spencer Ackerman wants you to meet him halfway between his house and the straw man:

Here’s where those who base their opposition to the war its promotion of human suffering have to meet halfway as well. If the U.S. stops prosecuting its end of the war, civilian casualties will not end. What will end is the civilian casualties we directly cause. The Taliban-led coalition will continue its insurgency until victory or negotiation, with all the acceleration of civilian casualties that will entail. …you can’t simply argue that a U.S. withdrawal comes with a pony for every Afghan citizen, since that overlooks the United Nations’ documented increase in the proportion of civilian casualties for which the Taliban are responsible.

Spencer knows damn well that we are not in Afghanistan to reduce civilian casualties there, but rather that reduction of civilian casualties is valuable within the military strategy only insofar as it helps the generals achieve their strategic objectives in pursuit of an asserted national interest. As such, everyone reading this kind of pro-COIN hand-wringing should treat it with the deepest skepticism possible. Ackerman may be deeply concerned about civilian casualties, but if you think the military won’t drop the civilian love the moment it gets between them and a sufficiently attractive objective, you need to go read more or better history. Or, you could just look at the recent agitations by war cheerleaders for relaxed rules for civilian protection in the war zone and General Petraeus’ capitulations to them.

And what, pray tell, would it mean for those who base opposition to the war on its promotion of human suffering to “meet halfway?” Ackerman apparently wants his readers to believe that those of us who oppose the war due to its deliterious effect on civilians actually believe that all civilian casualties will cease if U.S. troops withdraw. Dear Spencer: please cite this assertion made by your debate partners. Otherwise, enough with the straw men. And, if you want to assert that removing the U.S. force from Afghanistan will not lead to a reduction in the total number of civilian casualties, be my guest but show your work.

More broadly, though, I’m perplexed by what I infer as the moral reasoning standing behind Ackerman’s post. He seems to be saying the following: If you’re opposed to the killing of civilians, and you think you can reduce the total number of civilians killed by killing some yourself, you have an obligation to violate your principles and kill civilians. This is real, “destroy the village in order to save it” reasoning, and while I’m not surprised to find the brimstone from America’s most famous counterinsurgency in the mouths of COINdinistas in general, I am always shocked to hear it in the mouth of people with brains and a bare minimum of moral fortitude.

I hope this goes without saying, but if one holds a given policy effect to be profoundly immoral, the only way to maintain any integrity is to say, “First, I will never personally take an action or agitate for a policy that I know will or is likely to cause Profoundly Immoral Side Effect X. Second, I will work to find all possible ways to reduce Profoundly Immoral Side Effect X consistent with my prior statement.”

Essentially, Ackerman seems to be telling us that if we care about civilian lives, we have to be personally willing to kill a few civilians here and there. Suppress those personal scruples for the greater good, son. It’ll all be okay in the end.

Readers may or may not be aware that today is the birthday of Henry David Thoreau. He might have a few things to say about Ackerman’s moral reasoning:

…[Y]ou may see a file of soldiers, colonel, captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?

I say again:  we all know damn well that our purpose in Afghanistan isn’t to reduce civilian casualties. It doesn’t even rank on the list of the president’s stated goals for the Afghanistan campaign. In fact, in his 35-minute West Point speech announcing the “new” Afghanistan strategy back in December 2009, President Obama didn’t directly address the issue of Afghan civilian casualties at all. We have our own purposes in Afghanistan that have nothing to do with the well-being of Afghans that will continue to take priority unless there’s a sea change in U.S. policy in that country. When you hear this sort of humanitarian hand-wringing from people in the war business or from their allies, beware.

Update: Spencer expressed to me his feeling that the original opening line of the post was an unfair representation of the issue, and I agreed. It’s been updated above.

This evening, I spent a couple of hours at Central Market in downtown Austin, Texas, with 7 other people in one of the first Meetups to Rethink the Afghanistan War. I’ve been involved in a serious way in the struggle to end the war for a little more than two years. This was the most positive, hopeful experience of my time in this movement.

It’s cliche these days to talk about the isolation that can occur when one participates in a movement largely based online. It’s cliche for a reason: even in the age of social media, movement participation through online means can lead to slactivism and lonely vigils in front of computer screens, such that even while blogging, tweeting and Gchatting, one can feel thoroughly, coldly alone. Though I am a firm believer in “going online to go offline,” tonight was the first time in years that I’d gathered in a real place with real people wearing their real bodies to talk about the issue I’m most passionate about (except, of course, in-person meetings at work, but that’s a slightly different animal).

This isn’t to say that the work we do online at places like the Rethink Afghanistan Facebook page isn’t powerful and important. It’s just that when you get together with your fellow travelers face-to-face, that’s when the magic happens.

As the organizer of the local Meetup, I had very simple objectives for the first meeting: I wanted to get to know the attendees and find out what would bring them back to the next meeting, and I wanted to know what they wanted from the group. For the latter, there was a unanimous answer: action. We didn’t want to sit around and blow off steam about what was wrong with U.S. policy in Afghanistan. We were all already converted. We wanted a group that would dive in and agitate for an end to the war through effective local events and actions. Austin is a music town, so some of our ideas tied local music and local speakers on the war. Austin is also something of a movie town, so we also raised the idea of a screening of the Rethink Afghanistan documentary at the Alamo Drafthouse. The group was forward-leaning, down-to-earth, and seemed to share a positive attitude about the work ahead.

Sitting there with a handful of people willing to give up their Friday night for this issue, I got the sense we were tapping into a much larger phenomenon taking place all across the country. Polls show that opposition to the war has sharply increased, and the “Inauguration Hangover” is wearing off. Whereas once Americans opposed the war, yet gave President Obama high marks for his handling of it, these days people are unreservedly unwilling to give “Our President” a free pass on a brutal, costly policy, post-9/11 rhetoric notwithstanding. It’s a phenomenon now on display in Congress, as described in today’s L.A. Times:

The moment has been long in coming, but it may finally have arrived.

For the last year and a half, on issues including healthcare, financial regulation and climate change, Democrats in Congress have bent for President Obama. Liberals swallowed hard to accept compromises that fell short of their long-sought goals, and moderates cast tough votes that now threaten their reelection prospects as voters revolt against government overreach.

Then, last week, the president asked them to bend yet again — this time to approve more money for his troop buildup in an Afghanistan war that many Democrats oppose.

And once again, lawmakers went to work. On the eve of the vote last week, Democratic leaders compiled a complicated $82-billion package of war funding, disaster aid and domestic spending that achieved the seemingly impossible — meeting the president’s request while accommodating the needs of its politically diverse members.

Obama responded with a one-word message that sent shudders through his party on the Hill: veto.

In that exchange, the tension between the White House and the president’s Democratic allies spilled over.

The President isn’t up for election this year, but Members of Congress and many Senators are, and they are heading into a stiff wind carrying the stench of dead civilians and soldiers from the longest war in U.S. history. The honeymoon is over, and what was once a clever anti-Republican rhetorical strategy–Iraq bad! Afghanistan good!–has been revealed as morally and strategically bankrupt nonsense. People in Congress and people across the country get it, and they’re finished with their post-2008 break, and they’re not content to let made-for-swagger campaign rhetoric kill people any longer.

Tonight, with Rattletree Marimba playing steel drums in the background (yes, in Austin, we have live–and good!–music at the grocery store cafe), I made some new friends with whom I plan to share important work. I also had my hope renewed that, struggling together in small groups all across the country, we can end this war and set our country onto the paths of peace.

I cannot recommend Rethink the Afghanistan War Meetups strongly enough. Many local groups’ first meetings will take place this Saturday and Sunday. I hope you’ll join us.