Posts Tagged ‘troop increase’

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.

Death Star II

"After this we'll clone some troops to fill the gap for an escalation in Afghanistan."

The last few hours have been a flurry of news reports on the President’s supposed decision on troop levels for Afghanistan. First, CBS News reported that the president planned to send roughly 40,000 troops to Afghanistan for about four years.  Then, CNN reported that the White House angrily denied CBS News’ assertions, with two unnamed “senior administration officials” accusing Pentagon sources of leaking the story to set expectations and box the president into executing what’s essentially McChrystal’s preferred plan. Now, ABC News reports that, while the president has apparently not made a final decision, all five of the options now on the table would send more troops to Afghanistan.

There are a few explanations for the mixed signals. The first could be that some staff flunkie at the Pentagon wanted to impress a reporter and phoned in a tip before they knew what they were talking about, prompting an angry response from a White House still settling on options, all of which involve more troops. The second is slightly more sinister: elements in the Pentagon could be attempting to force the president’s hand, which would be a very subversive move and an assault on civilian control of the military. The third explanation is even darker: that the administration is more unified than it appears, and that it’s using leaks about high-end troop level estimates to desensitize the public and position the president’s inevitable, smaller troop increase as the more reasonable option. None of these explanations provide much comfort.

The simple truth is that even if one grants all the administration’s other assumptions about war and international politics (which I certainly do not), the troops are just not available for anything remotely approaching McChrystal’s preferred way forward, and certainly not within the critical period mentioned by his strategy paper. Spencer Ackerman:

The thing is, can we actually get 34,000 new troops into Afghanistan before summer of 2010? Remember that in the McChrystal strategy review, completed in late August, the commanding general talks about a window of about 12-18 month wherein he’ll know if he can arrest Taliban momentum. (That’s different, notice, than rolling back Taliban gains.)

Ackerman points to Politics Daily, which notes:

Maintaining one brigade combat team in the field requires two others on standby. So, for every unit in combat, planners keep a second one in training and a third one in “reset” after a long combat deployment – time when the Army can send its soldiers off for advanced schooling, absorb new replacements, receive new gear. Thus, a total of three BCTs are tied up.

Just to maintain the 16 current brigades in Iraq and Afghanistan is, let’s see, three times 16 is 48 and – oops! We’re already out of BCTs! And here’s the White House blithely batting around numbers like 40,000 more troops. That’s roughly eight BCTs, which do not exist.

Storm Troopers on Tatooine

"So this guy pulls me straight out of the cloning vats and says, 'Congratulations, we're sending you to Afghanistan!' Guess what my first word was!"

One of the only ways available to provide the levels of troops needed for anything remotely approaching a McChrystal plan would be to shorten dwell time at home for troops. That would be, in short, a mental health disaster. As PD notes,

Tragically, and despite an all-out prevention effort, the Army is experiencing another record-setting year for suicides. From January through September this year there were 117 reported suicides among active duty soldiers, up from 108 reported during the same period in 2008.

This is why, as Robert Naiman notes, the Joint Chiefs are begging the president not to do anything to shorten dwell times at home. Shorter dwell times means more mental health problems, period. The fact that troops “volunteered” (which is a rather flexible term in many situations) does not give the government the right to use them up until they break their brains. See how long your beloved “all-volunteer force” lasts when future recruits see that you’re shoving them into overseas hell holes over and over with shorter recovery periods between nightmares. At some point basic human dignity demands we end this farce.

I have to admit a certain level of exhaustion as a member of the anti-war movement focused on Afghanistan, especially when the debate moves into a place where our opponents start sputtering, “Well what’s your alternative?!” as if the options they push are reasonable and moored to the real resources available. The simple fact is that a person pushing for anything resembling a McChrystal strategy either a) has no clue as to the manpower restraints on the U.S. military or b) doesn’t give a damn about the mental health of the people they want to throw into combat. In fact, they don’t even understand fully McChrystal’s reasoning because key sections of his report were redacted for public consumption. A person asking me what my alternative is to troop increases in Afghanistan might as well be asking what my alternative is to firing the Death Star at Kandahar.

I don’t have to know how to construct a working safety belt to demand the recall of a car with a defective safety belt. I don’t have to know how to fashion a health reform bill to know that the health care system is broken and to demand that my elected representatives do something other than endorse the status quo. And I sure don’t have to be able to plot out the detailed exit strategy for our forces in Afghanistan to be able to say with integrity that we shouldn’t have our military tramping around someone else’s country killing people.

What I do know is this: every single person I’ve heard the president cite as a moral and philosophical guiding light, from Jesus of Nazareth, to Gandhi, to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Cesar Chavez, to Reinhold Niebuhr, would reject the idea that the U.S. should be dropping bombs on people in Afghanistan in the pursuit of U.S. national security. Every single one. The president probably knows this too, and only the most cynical politician would continue to drop these names at campaign stops and press conferences while ordering more and more troops to fight and die and kill in Asia.

That’s enough now, Mr. President. Stop this war.

The Washington Post today reports that Gen. McChrystal is likely about to request more troops for the stated rationale of protecting the civilian population in Afghanistan. President Obama should deny this request because no past increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan prevented a subsequent yearly increase in a) civilian casualties generally or b) civilian casualties specifically caused by pro-Afghan-government forces (that’s us, folks).

From a new report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA):

Operations carried out by PGF [pro-government forces] have resulted in a growing number of civilian casualties since 2007. Whereas the overall proportion of civilian deaths attributed to the PGF has declined in recent years, mainly due to concerted mitigation efforts, the actual number of civilian deaths continues to increase.

UNAMA’s report shows that troop increases in Afghanistan for the purpose of reducing civilian deaths are all repeats of a failed tactic. Note this chart from BBC:

Source: BBC News

Source: BBC News

U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan have increased every year since 2001.

The data clearly show that escalation as a tactic to reduce civilian casualties does not work. Systematic collection of civilian fatality data only began in 2007,” but if we begin our analysis in that year, we find:

  • No escalation has been followed by a subsequent overall decrease in civilian casualties in the following year. To the contrary: each year following an increase in U.S. troops since we started systematic collection of civilian casualty data has seen an increase in civilian casualties over the previous year.
  • In 2007, the Afghan NGO Safety Office estimated that “1,980 civilians were killed”.
  • In 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded “2,118 civilian casualties.”
  • According to the UNAMA report, “In the first six months of 2009, UNAMA recorded 1013 civilian deaths, compared with 818 for the same period in 2008, and 684 in 2007…This represents an increase of 24% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2009 as compared to the same period in 2008.”

    Further, escalation as a tactic to reduce civilian casualties caused by pro-Afghan-government forces also fails:

    • In every year since systematic civilian casualty data collection started, civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces (PGFs) per year have increased.
    • In 2007, PGFs caused 539 civilian casualties, according to the Afghan NGO Safety Office.
    • In 2008, UNAMA reported 826 PGF-caused civilian casualties.
    • From January-June 2009, UNAMA reports 310 PGF-caused civilian casualties, compared with 276 for the same period last year.

    All of these facts, taken together, show that troop increases do not prevent increases in a) civilian deaths generally or b) civilian deaths caused specifically by pro-government forces (that’s us).

    McChrystal is expected to couch a request for troop increases in the context of a larger new strategy. At least one piece of the new strategy is worth applauding:

    “…McChrystal has indicated that he is considering moving troops out of remote mountain valleys where Taliban fighters have traditionally sought sanctuary and concentrating more forces around key population centers.”

    This move tracks with recommendations by Giles Dorronsoro at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as part of a strategy to sharply reduce military conflict in Afghanistan, which he suggests should become the overriding goal of near-term U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But, Dorronsoro suggests moving troops out of the remote contested areas in Afghanistan to population centers as the first step in a strategy that withdraws U.S. troops from Afghanistan. So, despite this apparent area of agreement, McChrystal’s reported overall strategy is headed in exactly the wrong direction, digging us deeper into Afghanistan.

    When you add to that McChrystal’s planned escalation of drone strikes inside Afghanistan against the Taliban, it’s hard to see how his “new” strategy will reduce civilian casualties. After all, experience in Pakistan shows that drones strikes kill 10-15 times as many civilians as they do suspected militants. And if we withdraw troops on the ground from remote areas and replace them with drones, doesn’t that contradict the last rationale we were given for putting boots on the ground–to reduce reliance on airstrikes that kill so many civilians?

    McChrystal’s new strategy is headed in the wrong direction. We should decrease, not increase, the number of troops in Afghanistan. Troop increases do not reduce civilian deaths.

    For more on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, check out Brave New Foundation’s Rethink Afghanistan, and in particular their segment on civilian casualties.