More ISAF Spinning, Clumsily

by Joshua Foust on 10/22/2010 · 9 comments

A friend pointed out that just days before Gall’s OMG WIN piece on Kandahar, she had written an article sourced to actual Afghans that said something remarkably different:

While most villagers have fled the area, those who remain complain that they are trapped between insurgents and the foreign forces, often suffering damages for which they remain uncompensated.

And so on. While that piece indicates that, maybe, with all these extra troops in the area, a “proper” strategy could be put into place, her coverage there is nothing but downbeat. Of course, that same day in the paper, she ran a press release for ISAF, datelined inside Kandahar Air Field. The contrast is truly remarkable, if for no other reason than this sort of boosterism reporting is so very out of character for her.

But focusing on Carlotta Gall misses the point. ISAF is reaching for straws. Take this recent press release:

Provincial Governor Proves Kandahar Highway Safe

KABUL, Afghanistan (Oct. 22) – Kandahar Governor Tooryali Weesa drove by car for an hour along the main highway to the village of Howz-e-Mdad to the west of Kandahar City.

The governor met with 350 village elders to discuss governance and outlined a number of development projects, including a link road to allow local farmers swift access to markets. The governor, who was accompanied only by a press party and several officials, said “a year ago a similar shura here attracted only four villagers – now there are hundreds.

They credit Operation Dragon Strike, currently ongoing in Panjwai and Zhare, with so many showing up. So, I guess Highway 1 is perfectly safe now, because behind the lines of a major offensive, a high-ranking government official was able to travel in a pickup truck to a pre-arranged meeting?

Ugh. I’ll believe it when ISAF feels comfortable driving around in soft-skinned vehicles. In what universe is Highway 1 considered safe for VIPs, like at all? I guess in ISAFland.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 9 comments }

Caleb Kavon October 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Joshua, there is a whole range of stuff going on. The spin keeps going.

“Have a referendum, ask the Kandaharis if they want ISAF or Not?”

They will vote for their withdrawal, and Karzai will vote with them.
We are not saving them. They have had enough of the Surge.

They are even now telling the West- “Cancel the Aid projects, no problem”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/21/AR2010102104977_2.html?sid=ST2010102105068

This a total miscommunication, a tower of babel.

Shah Mojadedi October 24, 2010 at 4:30 am

I personally think they have made a big mistake. The whole purpose of the operation was to secure Kandahar. From what I am hearing from actual residents of the city(ie.not Kandahar AB) it appears that more insurgents have infiltrated the city.

There are daily actions, be it bombings or weapons fired, and small ambushes against police. So security in Kandahar itself is getting worse.

Here I am not even talking about the assassinations etc, but daily small activities.

This indicates that the focus on the outlying areas, has actually led to more infiltration into the city itself.

ISAF finds a way to screw things up no matter what they do. You can expect much more activity within the city in the near future.

The message is without any substance at all, and designed for one thing-Consumption in the US and Washington DC.

As such it does not matter what they put out, the truth is secondary. Sad Sad Sad for 1 million people in Kandahar and sad for the rest of us.

anan October 24, 2010 at 5:06 am

Shah Mojadedi, anecdotally your account fits. We should remember that much of greater Kandahar hasn’t been cleared yet. We won’t know how well the Kandahar operation is going until probably next summer.

I wouldn’t underestimate the affect of having 10 ANA combat infantry battalion HQs + 40 ANA combat infantry companies + 6 ANCOP combat battalions + more than 5 thousand provincial AUP + 3 K Canadians + more than 10 K US Army in Kandahar province over a prolonged period of time.

At the very least large numbers of Taliban, including mid grade Taliban leaders will be killed or captured. Who will they be replaced with?

There are places in Kunar and Nuristan province that use to be dominated by local Taliban. But the local Taliban have been supplanted by ISAF/ANSF, and been replaced by international Taliban who fight a lot better and seem more motivated. Do you think the same might happen to Kandahar? I.E. do you think this operation will lead to large numbers of foreign fighters or Pashtun fighters from other parts of Afghanistan going to Kandahar?

Anecdotally the more than 5 K Kandahar provincial AUP are not performing as well as the Helmand AUP yet. The 6 ANCOP combat battalions are temporary and eventually need to transfer elsewhere.

But at least 8 ANA combat infantry battalions with 32 combat infantry companies are likely to stay in Kandahar for the duration. Their ability to form long term relationships with Kandaharis and grow intelligence networks will be crucial. Including over this winter [when many Taliban take rest, recreation, refit and retraining in Pakistan.]

More violent kinetic activity inside Kandahar in the short run is not necessarily a bad thing if it leads to Taliban actors and supporters revealing themselves, allowing the ANSF/ISAF to remove them.

Shah Mojadedi, I wonder what Kandaharis think about all these ANA now conducting operations throughout the city. Most of these ANA are fresh inexperienced recruits.

From your anecdotal perspective, are more Kandaharis rooting for the ANA to win, or rooting for the Quetta Shura Taliban to win?

Do you think the Taliban will try to conduct large unit operations in Kandahar next spring [too late to conduct them this year]? Or will they rely almost exclusively on IEDs, and squad or smaller sized attacks?

Personally I think the Mullah Omar centric Quetta Shura will try to avoid company or larger level engagements with the ANA in Kandahar because they don’t want to get decimated.

How popular is Mullah Omar in Kandahar? He and the Taliban seem more popular in Kandahar than they are in almost any other province. Is this true?

Boris Sizemore October 24, 2010 at 5:34 am

Actually, if I had a dollar for every time someone says the Afghan Insurgent is knocked out, I would be a rich man.

IF you count the last five years of offensives in Panjwai, Argendeb, Zhari, and Dand, and this SURGE, and the 12 separate Soviet Campaigns, and our Invasion of 2001, they have been knocked out too many times to count.

Petreaus and his “this is moving faster than we ever thought,” McChrystal in “Marjah will be up and running in three weeks” the Soviet Campaigns of “Bandit Anhiliation” are really at most, hopeful.

These guys don’t go down so easily. The Gall article was just that gall. So what if the Governor can move down the highway to Howd e Majad? So what. Does that mean that the insurgents are gone?

Someone is smoking some good stuff at ISAF HQ. And the the New York Times-“all the news that give us fits when printed” better get a reality check. Actually they got one, yesterday. A terrible kind of reality check.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/world/asia/24silva.html?ref=asia

This is not over by a long shot. People better quit celebrating victories which are not there and focus on changing the situation now. Enough back patting, and get on with the show. The Rout is fiction, only reality will help anyone now.

anan October 24, 2010 at 10:32 am

“This is not over by a long shot.” True. QST seems to be trying to fade over the last few weeks in Kandahar and prepare for their spring 2012 offensive. How well the ANA, AUP, ANCOP [hard for ANCOP to do since they deploy for short periods of time and are relieved by other ANCOP units], ISAF, move into population centers and stay their over the winter developing their own information networks is critical.

I don’t agree with you that ISAF [US army and Canadians], ANA, ANCOP or the AUP are celebrating any victories. They are more realistic than you give them credit for. What the US and/or international press reports . . . so what? Let them report whatever they want.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Shah Mojadedi,
“They are probably going to be low ebb for a while. IEDs, Ambushes, bombings, etc will be enough to maintain
some pressure, along with assassinations.” Agreed. I don’t see any mini Tet coming to Kandahar.

“No one wants a Government position, because you are asking to get killed.” I don’t think this is an insurmountable problem. There are many non Kandahari Pashtuns who hate the Taliban and who might move to take these jobs in Kandahar. Problem is they are not locals. I don’t know how well Kandaharis would take too many out of town Pashtuns.

“Every day something happens is the main rule they follow. Simple and logical and frustrating for Govt forces. ” Yes. But the counterpoint to that is each operation reveals the Taliban. The Taliban themselves take heavy losses which cannot be good for morale. If the Taliban believe that the large surge of ANA and ANP into Kandahar is permanent, that can’t be good for their morale.

“most main line elements fight for a month and rest for a month, so right now might be a rest period while they wait for ISAF to get into some routine and begin harassing a la Marjah for the next several months.” Agreed. Many Taliban might also have temporarily left Kandahar planning to return in a few months. How well the ANSF/ISAF great them upon their return is very important.

“The ANA in the area is very green” True. But keep in mind that all 10 ANA combat infantry battalions assigned to Kandahar have now formed. They will likely improve in quality over time. They won’t be as green 1 year from now. They will develop relationships with Kandaharis over time. Kandaharis will likely begin to respect and trust them more than they do know.

“however the ANP in the City are more professional but are also getting tired of the Kandahari’s resistant attitudes. Tough bunch.” Do you mean ANCOP or provincial Afghan Uniformed Police?

“Wali and Company are not very popular by any means outside of the city gentry class and Barakzai Populzai villages in Dand for the most part. Even there, not very popular.” True. GIRoA is less popular in Kandahar than in Helmand or other parts of Pashtun Afghanistan. In most of Afghanistan locals want roads, schools and security, and they are okay. In Kandahar, people want less corruption, roads, schools, security. Karzai has to personally improve the reputation of his government in Kandahar.

I know you didn’t answer this question, but do you think Mullah Omar is more popular in Kandahar than in any other Afghan province?

“ISAF is hated. The population all over believes wherever they go things get worse.” This appears to be the perception in Kandahar. Worse in Kandahar than elsewhere in the Pashtun belt . . . for example worse than in Helmand.

“The hospitals are full of people hurt in crossfires and people blame ISAF for all of this right or wrong.”

“Civilian casualties have SKYROCKETED over this Surge period, and people feel LESS secure. This is the reality. There is no sectarian strife, people perceive it as ISAF against the Afghans.”

I think violence will drop in Kandahar. It already has in recent weeks. That will reduce civilian casualties. At some point the fact that the large majority of civilian casualties are caused by the Taliban rather than the ANP/ANA/ISAF will hurt their popularity as well.

“The Surge is not popular, and the sooner it ends the better. There is no way to gauge anything in a 5 month span.”

In other words Kandaharis want the large surge of AUP, ANCOP and ANA to leave Kandahar city and province? Maybe that is the perception now. But over time as locals get to know the ANSF as individual people, and as they realize the ANA and AUP are not going anywhere . . . and will continue to sacrifice to protect them; won’t that improve the perception of the ANSF in the long run?

“Is this a weaker Marjah or not? No one is sure, but the net effect has not helped the Government because ISAF is so hated in the area.” I think it is too soon to say. If security improves . . . or if the war starts to become dominated by foreign fighters . . . the dynamics change . . . . maybe in difficult to predict ways.

“As soon as ISAF goes to the background the better. Then we can actually measure how much support the Taliban have versus the Central Government.” ISAF almost always operates embedded with ANSF in Kandahar. Do you think the ANSF are less corrupt and treat locals more respectfully when they are partnered with ISAF? I don’t think you will see ISAF leave until violence drops in Kandahar. To do otherwise would hurt morale within the ANSF. Embedding ISAF inside ANSF keeps ANSF casualties down and to kills/captures more Taliban.

“Long term the Surge will make the Govt more unpopular, and this is what matters. The ANA actually will have a harder job because of the Surge and not the other way around.”

I wouldn’t agree. You are saying the ANA is better off with fewer troops? Fewer ANA troops means more violence and more civilian casualties. The Taliban are likely to take a lower profile and be less violent if there are more ANSF/ISAF. They will likely focus their operations in areas with less ANSF/ISAF.

“So much for a Route. Not logical at all. And this propaganda line is more infuriating than anything else.” That is the international media. Ignore them.

What is the Pashtun media reporting?

Shah Mojadedi October 24, 2010 at 7:54 am

Actually Anand,

They are probably going to be low ebb for a while.

IEDs, Ambushes, bombings, etc will be enough to maintain
some pressure, along with assassinations.

I think you had it correct when you stated that they would probably have to bolster the force over the winter with more
foreign elements if they want to do more significant combat
but for the meantime daily activities are enough to keep the population uncertain. No one wants a Government position, because you are asking to get killed.

Every day something happens is the main rule they follow. Simple and logical and frustrating for Govt forces.

Either way, most main line elements fight for a month and rest for a month, so right now might be a rest period while they wait for ISAF to get into some routine and begin harassing a la Marjah for the next several months.

Result is about the same they just want to maintain pressure and keep injuring and killing the ISAF force.

The ANA in the area is very green, however the ANP in the City are more professional but are also getting tired of the Kandahari’s resistant attitudes. Tough bunch.

Popularity is relative of course. Wali and Company are not very popular by any means outside of the city gentry class and Barakzai Populzai villages in Dand for the most part. Even there, not very popular.

So yes maybe MOmar has something going, BUT only because Wali etc are so hated.

It is a bad situation.

ISAF is hated. The population all over believes wherever they go things get worse. So the Surge is an all round failure from a popular perspective. The hospitals are full of people hurt in crossfires and people blame ISAF for all of this right or wrong.

Civilian casualties have SKYROCKETED over this Surge period, and people feel LESS secure. This is the reality. There is no sectarian strife, people perceive it as ISAF against the Afghans.

The Surge is not popular, and the sooner it ends the better. There is no way to gauge anything in a 5 month span.

Is this a weaker Marjah or not? No one is sure, but the net effect has not helped the Government because ISAF is so hated in the area.

As soon as ISAF goes to the background the better. Then we can actually measure how much support the Taliban have versus the Central Government.

Long term the Surge will make the Govt more unpopular, and this is what matters. The ANA actually will have a harder job because of the Surge and not the other way around.

So much for a Route. Not logical at all. And this propaganda line is more infuriating than anything else.

Helian October 25, 2010 at 11:08 am

This upbeat spin from the US mainstream media, which is normally reliably defeatist when it comes to war reporting, is certainly an anomaly. When you read jingoist pronouncements about the great victories in Kandahar in papers like the Washington Post and the New York Times, you know something’s up. My hypothesis: it has to do with the upcoming midterm elections. It fits in the context of the latest “you just don’t realize what a really great job we’ve been doing” narrative of the Obama team. If I’m right, it will evaporate after the elections, and we’ll see lots of stories about how, on second thought, things in Afghanistan weren’t so rosy after all. Just be patient.

Caleb Kavon October 25, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Helian…you are right, they need to make it look good. Also it is a great line for getting out- “We won, go home now” or if the military wants to stay longer “look we are getting it done, more time… P l e a s e?”

60% of Americans want gone, and think this is a waste of money.

Good Point…

Toryalay Shirzay November 1, 2010 at 10:01 pm

So we are witnessing the early signs of the humiliation of the greatest military power in the history of planet Earth by raghead thugs of the one-eyed emir thanks to their ultra crafty paki masters.What a shame,damn shame!!

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