February 2011, Week 2


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Mon, 14 Feb 2011 01:24:14 -0500
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On Anniversary of Marjah Push, Escalation Strategy 
Still Failing
February 13, 2011

Exactly one year ago, on February 13, 2010, the U.S.-led
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in
Afghanistan launched the first major military operations
enabled by President Obama's 30,000 troop increase.
President Obama and the high priests of
counterinsurgency warfare, Generals David Petraeus and
Stanley McChrystal, made two major assertions about the
escalation, that it would a) enable coalition forces to
reverse the insurgents' momentum and b) increase
security for the Afghan people. After a year of
fighting, neither of those things happened. The
escalation is a failure, and it's time to bring our
troops home.

February 13, 2010: The Push into Marjah

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago, U.S. and other
international forces began Operation Moshtarak, the
invasion of Marja District in Helmand Province. Looking
back, the hubris and hype surrounding this military
operation boggle the mind. General McChrystal promised,
"We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in,"
meaning that good governance and the extension of
Kabul's writ would be implemented very rapidly. The
operation was supposed to be a prototype for future
campaigns in Afghanistan and a "confidence builder" for
both U.S. forces and a restive political class in
Washington, D.C., not all of whom were happy about the
escalation or McChrystal's brashness in pushing it.

To put it mildly, Moshtarak failed to live up to the

    "[I]n the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive
    to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marjah in
    southern Afghanistan, the Marines' commander, Brig.
    Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan
    tribal elders.offering reassurances that his top
    priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians."-
    Chicago Tribune, February 10, 2010.

Almost immediately, this hype about an operation
purported to be proof-of-concept for the population-
protecting counterinsurgency strategy fell apart in the
face of U.S.-caused civilian deaths.  Just prior to the
operation, coalition forces dropped leaflets on the
largely illiterate district warning people to stay in
their homes. An Italian NGO, Emergeny, warned that
military blockades were preventing civilians from
fleeing the area.  At the same time commanders bragged
that the "evacuation" of the residents would allow the
use of air strikes without the danger of civilian
casualties. These contradictions soon bore deadly fruit:
On the second day of the offensive, U.S. troops fired a
HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) weapon on
a house full of civilians, killing roughly a dozen
people. By February 23, the Afghanistan Independent
Human Rights Commission reported that ISAF forces were
responsible for most civilian deaths so far in the

As insurgents melted away (as all guerrillas do in the
face of superior firepower-to bide time and return once
counter-insurgents are dug in) the "government in a box"
hype fell apart as well. The coalition's hand-picked
governor, Abdul Zahir, turned out to be an ex-convict
who served part of a prison sentence for stabbing his
own son. By July, he would be replaced as part of a
"reform procedure."

Sending Afghan National Police forces to establish rule
of law proved to be a cruel joke on the local residents:

    "In the weeks since they were sent to Helmand
    province as part of the U.S.-led offensive in
    Marjah, ANCOP members have set up checkpoints to
    shake down residents, been kicked out for using
    drugs and shunned in some areas as outsiders,
    according to U.S. officials briefed on a recent
    analysis by the RAND Corp. .More than a quarter of
    the officers in one ANCOP battalion in Helmand were
    dismissed for drug use, and the rest were sent off
    for urgent retraining. One Western official who
    attended the briefing termed ANCOP's role in Marjah
    a disaster."

As late as October 2010, residents of the town said the
area was "more insecure than ever," and Reuters
classified the Taliban re-infiltration as a "full-blown
insurgency." And, although U.S. commanders want us to
believe that the fighting in Marjah is "essentially
over" as of December, the numbers tell a different
story. According to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office,
in Helmand Province, in which Marjah is located, the
number of attacks by insurgents in spiked from 620 in
2009 to 1387 in 2010, a 124-percent increase (.pdf). A
Wider Pattern of Failure

This pattern of hype ("Protecting civilians! Reversing
insurgents momentum!") followed by a failure to deliver
extended from Marjah to the whole of the escalation
strategy across Afghanistan. Even after a month of
fighting in Marjah in which U.S. and coalition forces
were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths,
Defense Secretary Robert Gates characterized the
offensive in this way on March 8, 2010:

    "Of course the operation in Marjah is only one of
    many battles to come in a much longer campaign
    focused on protecting the people of Afghanistan."

As was the case in Marjah, that broader campaign has
utterly failed to protect the people of Afghanistan in
terms of the reach of the insurgency, the levels of war-
related violence and the number of civilians killed or
injured in the conflict.

Although President Obama, General Petraeus and others
have repeatedly asserted in public remarks that the U.S.
has reversed the insurgents' momentum, reports from the
Pentagon and from NGOs agree that the insurgency
continued to grow in size and sophistication throughout
2010. By one measure, insurgent-initiated attacks this
January are up almost 80 percent versus last January.
Worse, a new report from Alex Strick von Linschoten and
Felix Kuehn at the Center on International Cooperation
warns that the U.S. targeted killings of senior Taliban
leadership is not only failing to retard the growth of
the insurgency, but it's providing opportunities for
much more radical junior leaders to take control of the
operation, making the Taliban more susceptible to al-
Qaeda influence and making the insurgents less willing
to negotiate. In short, over the year in which the U.S.
was pursuing its escalated military strategy, the
insurgency got larger, smarter and more radical.

When testifying to Congress immediately following
President Obama's 2009 West Point speech, Joint Chiefs
Chairman Mike Mullen asserted the escalation would
"improve security for the Afghan people." The past year
proved him wrong. According to the Afghan NGO Safety
Office's (ANSO) Q4 2010 report (.pdf),

    "Consistent with the five year trend.attacks by
    armed opposition groups continue to rise. This year
    they were 64% higher than 2009, the highest inter-
    annual growth rate we have recorded. If averaged,
    the total of 12,244 armed operations (mostly small
    arms ambushes, below right) represents roughly 33
    attacks per day, every single day of the year. .[T]
    aking the national data as a whole we consider this
    indisputable evidence that conditions are

General Petraeus has taken to speaking of "security
bubbles" in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces, but violence
is up in those provinces by 20 percent and 124 percent,
respectively, according to ANSO. Security in Afghanistan
for Afghan civilians sharply declined in the period
following the launch of the escalated military campaign.

This heightened level of insurgent-initiated violence,
combined with attacks initiated by U.S. and coalition
forces, led to a predictable result: 2010 was the worst
year of the war so far for war-related civilian deaths.

President Obama and numerous Pentagon officials asserted
that the escalation strategy, which began one year ago
with the invasion of Majah, would enable U.S. forces to
reverse insurgent momentum and protect the population.
They were wrong. Measured by the standards of its
backers, the escalation strategy in Afghanistan is a
miserable failure.

Because It's Time

Let's have some accountability here. In the leaked
strategic assesment that's largely responsible for
getting us into this mess, General Stanley McChrystal
used dire language to describe the "need" for escalation

    "The long-term fight will require patience and
    commitment, but I believe the short-term fight will
    be decisive. 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."

McChrystal wrote those words in late August 2009, under
Petraeus' supervision. The insurgency's momentum has not
been reversed and security continues to deteriorate
across Afghanistan. So let's take the generals at their
word when they say we had to reverse insurgent momentum
by late August 2010 to have a chance at defeating the
insurgency. Let's also take the Pentagon at its word
that insurgent "operation capability and geographic
reach are qualitatively and geographically expanding."
That means that today, on the one-year anniversary of
the launch of the escalated military campaign, we're
several months past the point of no return. And that's
if you bought the analysis of those who thought the
escalation was a good idea in the first place.

The American people have been more than patient with
Washington, D.C. when it comes to the Afghanistan War.
In fact, we've been downright indulgent, having forked
over more than $375 billion in tax dollars and debt and
having given the Pentagon almost a decade now to play
Risk with other people's lives in other people's
country. Every deadline that's been laid down has been
fudged. Every justification that's been given for just
one more big push has fallen apart. Every guarantee of a
positive outcome has been junked. We've had enough.

Rethink Afghanistan and our supporters are tired of
politicans' making excuses for their failure to rein in
this debacle, so we're doing a little escalating of our
own. Starting on Sunday, February 13, Rethink
Afghanistan will have a new ad on CNN in Washington,
D.C., featuring the winners of our Because It's Time
contest, calling for an end to the Afghanistan War. They
represent the voices of the 72 percent of Americans who
support congressional action to speed up the withdrawal
of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The ad buy also
coincides with the upcoming reintroduction of U.S. Rep.
Barbara Lee's Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan
Act in the House of Representatives. These actions send
a strong message that we want decisive action from our
elected officials to bring our troops home-because it's

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launch of the
escalated military strategy in Afghanistan. It's clear
from the last 12 months that the escalation strategy is
a failure. It's time to come home.

If you're tired of this war that's not making us safer
and that's not worth the cost, join Rethink Afghanistan
on Facebook and Twitter.


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