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Few were surprised that the Obama Administration reports "signs of progress" in Afghanistan in their assessment of strategy in Afghanistan, released today. Yet numerous publicly available analyses – including the Pentagon’s own November 2010 "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability" to Congress – point to fundamental problems with the current military-led strategy. The significant escalation of troops over the past 22 months has only exacerbated these problems, and a long-term foreign military presence will only continue that trend. In light of these sobering facts, the President should immediately begin taking the political and diplomatic steps necessary to end the war and withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan

  • Nationwide, security in Afghanistan has not improved. According to the Pentagon’s own report to Congress in November 2010, the portion of the population living in districts with a ‘satisfactory’ security rating "remains relatively unchanged over the past three quarters." In fact, "the number of Afghans rating their security situation as ‘bad’ is the highest since the nationwide survey began in September 2008. This downward trend in security perception is likely due to the steady increase in total violence over the past nine months."
  • Violence has dramatically increased in Afghanistan over the last year. Kinetic events – Pentagon speak for violence – "are up 300 percent since 2007 and up an additional 70 percent since 2009."  The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office reports a 59% increase in insurgent-led attacks in the 3rd quarter of this year over and above the 2009 level. They state: "By any measure 2010 has been the most violent year since ANSO’s records began in 2002."

    Any progress toward increased security in the south has been more than offset by increased violence elsewhere in Afghanistan. Insurgent attacks in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan "rose 200% in June compared with June 2009."  There are reports that "in northern Afghanistan, security has been deteriorating for the past two years in Kunduz and surrounding provinces" and that "the Taliban also have spread their influence in western Afghanistan and now control several districts."


  • American and allied casualties are higher than ever. Taliban small-arms attacks against U.S. and allied troops are nearly twice what they were a year ago  and more than 680 international troops have been killed so far this year, well above the 502 killed in the whole of 2009.
  • Troop increases have fueled the growing insurgency. A U.S. intelligence estimate presented to President Obama in October 2009 showed that the number of fighters in the insurgency had ballooned to 25,000 from only 7,000 in 2006.  Now Matt Waldman, former Head of Policy and Advocacy for Oxfam International in Afghanistan, reports that "today [the NATO force] estimates the Taliban as 35,000 to 40,000. One of the points we have to bear in mind is they have a very large pool of recruits inside Afghanistan and Pakistan."
  • The Taliban’s capacity to fight remains undiminished. The Pentagon recently reported to Congress: "Efforts to reduce insurgent capacity, such as safe havens and logistic support originating in Pakistan and Iran, have not produced measurable results... the insurgents will retain operational momentum in some areas as long as they have access to externally supported safe havens and support networks... The insurgency continues to adapt and retain a robust means of sustaining its operations, through internal and external funding sources and the exploitation of the Afghan Government’s inability to provide tangible benefits to the populace."
  • Corruption runs rampant, fueling the insurgency. The Pentagon’s own polling from September 2010 "shows that 80.6 percent of Afghans polled believe corruption affects their daily lives. This is consistent with the view that corruption is preventing the Afghan Government from connecting with the people and remains a key reason for Afghans supporting the insurgency..."

    As the New York Times reported, after a meeting with President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Walid Karzai, Ambassador Eikenberry wrote that "one of our major challenges in Afghanistan [is] how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt."  

    And just this past weekend, Afghanistan’s Attorney General asked their Supreme Court to nullify the results of recent parliamentary elections due to allegations of fraud and to "issue sentences against 14 top officials who organized the vote and oversaw fraud investigations."

  • Nationwide, governance has not expanded. The Pentagon reports that only "38 percent of the population live in areas rated as having ‘emerging’ or ‘full authority’ Afghan governance. This reflects no substantial change since March 2010."  "Shadow governments" run by insurgent forces continue to operate in many parts of the south and east, "extracting taxes and carrying out ‘official’ functions like trials and determining land and marriage disputes."
  • The militarization of aid is failing those we seek to help. Over 100 aid workers have died this year, far more than in previous years , and a recent report of 29 aid organizations led by Oxfam International found the likelihood of attacks on aid workers has been increased because the distinction between military and civilian efforts has been "severely blurred to the point of being unrecognizable to many Afghans." The report continues that a failure "to re-establish the civil-military distinction in Afghanistan ... will have dire consequences for the Afghan civilian population – particularly once the IMF [International Military Forces] withdraw."
  • The war is undermining the American economy and burying the nation in debt. As Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently explained: "Afghanistan itself is no longer a vital interest of the United States, but continuing the war there tears at our own nation’s very vitals. With America drowning under a $1.5 trillion deficit for next year and an almost $15 trillion overall debt, we are verging on banana republic-hood. Most of the $125 billion being spent in and for Afghanistan could better be deducted from those bills. How on earth can the administration justify spending billions to build roads, schools, and hospitals in Afghanistan when America’s physical and intellectual infrastructure is simply collapsing? Of course, I feel for the Afghans; but I feel far, far more for Americans"  

    In fact, 23% of the combined budget deficits since 2003 are a result of spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,  and Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard budget guru Linda Bilmes now believe the wars will cost the American economy between $4 and $6 trillion in total.  Even Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted this past August that "the most significant threat to our national security is our debt."

In writing his Final Orders for Afghanistan Pakistan Strategy, President Obama selected December 2010 to assess that strategy because one year would provide "sufficient time to assess progress and proof of the operational concept."  And while senior military officials tout an "expansion of the security bubbles"  in parts of Afghanistan, an overall assessment of the war only shows proof that Petraeus’ current strategy is failing. The United States should immediately begin the political and diplomatic process necessary to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

DOD November 2010 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability

Woodward, Bob, Obama’s Wars 2010, p. 388

Originally posted to TOM ANDREWS on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 07:55 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The wars are 23% of the deficits (11+ / 0-)

    since 2003. The just renewed tax cuts are an even bigger piece. Both are originally Bush policies, both are continuing.

    I do not know about Afghanistan for sure, but America would appear to be ungovernable.

    We have only just begun and none too soon.

    by global citizen on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 08:07:40 AM PST

  •  Replace "Afghanistan" with "Iraq" and... (10+ / 0-)

    ...the exact same things were being said 5 years ago.  It made no difference.

    After billions of dollars sunk and lives lost, Iraq is basically a corrupt Islamic theocracy that's going to be a powderkeg the moment the last U.S. soldier leaves.

    After billions of dollars sunk and lives lost, Afghanistan is basically a corrupt drug hub and money laundering operation which will continue to harbor terrorists, and that's going to be a powderkeg the moment the last U.S. soldier leaves.

    If I show my support and enthusiasm for positive change, I create an environment that enables the change to be made even better.

    by Richard Cranium on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 08:07:47 AM PST

  •  War is the enemy (11+ / 0-)

       "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [Branch of Government] is extended. Its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered
    by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

       James Madison--April 20, 1795

    "Pardon me, I've got something sanctimonious to do." The Rude Pundit

    by BOHICA on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 08:09:58 AM PST

  •  Why are only 60% of us against continuing the war (3+ / 0-)


    That rosy announcement certainly sounded good, tho you only had to do a bit of checking to find that things are actually so much worse, and that it was just PR, more selling of the war.

    International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it expected fighting to increase in the coming year just as it had in 2010, the deadliest year of the war since the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.

    "The proliferation of armed groups threatens the ability of humanitarian organisations to access those in need. Access for the ICRC has over the last 30 years never been as poor," Reto Stocker, head of the ICRC in Afghanistan, told a news conference.

    Daniel Ellsberg - "It was always a bad year to get out of Vietnam."

    by allenjo on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 08:28:31 AM PST

  •  Outlook Grim in Afghanistan (5+ / 0-)

    But even reports of modest progress might surprise many in Afghanistan, where a recent U.S. military report found an expanding, tenacious insurgency, entrenched corruption and dysfunctional governance despite some pockets of security.

    Almost 700 foreign troops have been killed in 2010, at least 477 of them Americans.

    "What's going to happen next year is quite clear:

    less Europeans, more Taliban, and Karzai not being able to do the work,"

    said Gilles Dorronsoro, a critic of the U.S. strategy and scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    Daniel Ellsberg - "It was always a bad year to get out of Vietnam."

    by allenjo on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 08:33:01 AM PST

  •  Why can't we be HONEST about Obama and.. (0+ / 0-)

    Afghanistan?  He is there so that the GOP cant use w/drawal against him in 2012 should we suffer a terrorist attack + if we are hit it gives him a place to strike back quickly.

    not saying I like this, but should Dems FOREVER be distrusted on national security?

    The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.

    by Zacapoet on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 09:11:21 AM PST

  •  A Harmful and Corrosive Dynamic (7+ / 0-)

    The President must say we are making progress in Afghanistan. We are not making progress in Afghanistan.

    A President speaking pretend nonsense is harmful and corrosive for a nation. It spreads a cynicism and a mistrust about government. A cynicism and mistrust of government hurts government ability to attend to, say, economic problems.

    We came out of eight years of the worst sort of continual pretend nonsense from a President. About economics, and about war, both. We are still pretty much shellshocked by it. The election of Barack Obama was partly just wanting an end to it.

    So long as the war continues, what government says about it will be pretend. So long as what government says is pretend, government will not be trusted. So long as government is not trusted, we are hurt in ability to attend to the economy.

    It is a deeply harmful and corrosive dynamic.

  •  Rep. Barbara Lee, the bravest voice in the House (5+ / 0-)

    The president's commitment to the start of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in July of 2011 is incompatible with military generals' qualified support based on "conditions on the ground," and their inevitable interpretation that the situation in Afghanistan demands more time, more lives, and more resources. I urge President Obama to demonstrate his resolve by immediately pledging significant and meaningful reductions to the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beginning in July of 2011.--

    Nine years ago on September 14, 2001, I placed the lone vote against the "Authorization for Use of Military Force" -- an authorization that I knew would provide a blank check to wage war anywhere, at any time, and for any length.It is deeply disappointing that after nine years of war, thousands of American casualties, and the inability of the Afghan government to rise above its corruption and incompetence, we are no closer to ending our role in this conflict.

    We must end America's longest war and we must bring our troops home

    Daniel Ellsberg - "It was always a bad year to get out of Vietnam."

    by allenjo on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 08:22:37 PM PST

  •  Dems aren't automatically distrusted on (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    EdlinUser, kurt, phonegery

    National Security.

    The problem is that we never came up with a credible counter-narrative to the GOP. For all the talk of smart power and engagement and more diplomacy (which are vacuous and able to be co-opted by either party), we don't have a coherent vision for what American foreign policy should look like.

    The GOP does. Its vision of the world (unipolar, jingoistic, muscular, highly adapted to suit the Military-Industrial-Complex) is silly even from a cold realpolitik perspective (there is no substantial geopolitical benefit in continued involvement in either Iraq or Afghanistan, aside from balancing Iran, and that could be done with more finesse and less power commitment, as much as the traditional media pretends otherwise.)

    In essence, our War on Terror strategy has adopted the greatest weaknesses of containment (global investment in a vague foreign policy goal that could be challenged at its weakest point by the enemy) and compounded that weakness by doing away with the notion of victory. After all, can we really stop when Al Qaeda is gone? Won't there always be anti-American ideology, considering our involvement in the Middle East? And so on.

    As always, the problem goes back to the one that plagues progressives and liberals on nearly every issue. Not enough strong Democrats. We need to leverage our power in academia to come up with better national security theories and then  elect Democrats who will support and articulate this worldview.

    In the meantime, President Obama's relative opportunism in this matter is pretty understandable. His campaign was predicated on the notion that Afghanistan was the good war (note that this stemmed from the same muscular, unilateral world-view that is usually the realm of the GOP.) If he began withdrawal without a good, passionate narrative, the Republicans would skewer him: the campaign ads write themselves.

    "Can we really trust Barack Hussein Obama? The Commander-in-Chief who cut and ran when it came time to face our enemies?"

    Images of Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, etc. swirl in a hazy fog.

    "With a President like this, you really have to wonder where his loyalties really lie...

    Paid for by American Crossroads. Or the Chamber of Commerce. Really, any of us. We're interchangeable as propagandizers."

    Democrats have to break this paradigm of being seen as weak on National Security. Break out the Homer. Or Thucydides. Study up on these issues. And then hit the American people with Nicias' speech on the Sicilian Expedition.

    Democrats could and should reinvent themselves as prudent stewards of American foreign policy. There's no need to caricature the GOP. For the most part, their actual statesmen on these issues (Kissinger, Lugar, Schultz, Baker, etc.) are either retired or marginalized within the party.

    This is not a communication issue we should be losing. Besides Lugar (who is pretty decent on some foreign policy issues), who does the GOP have? McCain?

    I'll leave the obvious joke for other Kossacks.

  •  Obama can't give a true accounting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    because he would have to explain that Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan, the USA is in Afghanistan as "mission creep" adding bases and maintaining a presence in SouthWest Asia is important to the Pentagon and the USA image as superpower, and the war is not militarily possible to win. Not good for  9 years of floundering.

    But the diplomats are in a jam since several powers don't want the US to win OR to leave, preferring to see the USA entangled in the war indefinitely.  Taliban might talk, if they got permission from their patrons in Pakistan and elsewhere.  There is some opposition to the talks among some Admin, Pentagon types.

    He can't give that speech. He would have to articulate a path away from the mess.  He wants a drawn out affair that goes by 2012 and the elections.  He doesn't want to destabilize Pakistan by creating a turmoil among the stringpullers behind civilian governement the senior military officers who are friends to many Taliban for many years.

    cast away illusions, prepare for struggle

    by Pete Rock on Thu Dec 16, 2010 at 09:32:34 PM PST

  •  More troops (0+ / 0-)

    Should we send more troops?

  •  But profits for Obama's financial backers are up! (0+ / 0-)

    And that's change Obama can believe in.

    Obama stands with war profiteers, torturers, Wall Street, health insurance companies, Big PhARMA, Big Oil and Social Security-haters. Good at photo ops, though.

    by expatjourno on Fri Dec 17, 2010 at 03:33:23 AM PST

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