Just in time for President Obama’s Strategic Review of the Afghan War, Max Boot and Pete Mansoor have an op-ed detailing their latest Petraeus-funded adventure tour through Kandahar:
The Obama administration’s Afghanistan assessment, due out Thursday, reportedly indicates uneven but real progress. Fed a steady diet of gloom and doom, including Wednesday’s headlines about negative intelligence assessments, many Americans will be surprised at this finding.
Oh noes, an implicit dig at the librul lamestream medias! This probably needs a proper, detailed review (a “fousting?”). Read on, dear intrepid readers.
Even with the recent increase in U.S. troops, bringing the NATO force to 140,000, there are not enough forces to conduct a comprehensive campaign across the entire country. Heavy-lift helicopters to ferry soldiers into the high mountains are in especially short supply. Therefore Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has focused efforts on two southern provinces, Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban has been strongest.
Yes. But before we go talking about how the bizarre obsession on Helmand and Kandahar is evidence of anything interesting, let’s not forget that we withdrew from Nuristan and vast areas of Kunar to make it happen (both areas are now Taliban strongholds). And while we’ve been obsessing over areas that don’t want us in the south, areas of friendly Afghans in the north that DO want us have been languishing on the edge of total chaos because of our misplaced priorities (several of which are now… Taliban strongholds). The best that can be said about this paragraph is it is an incomplete picture of what’s happened in Afghanistan over the last 12 months.
During a recent 10-day visit at his invitation, we found a classic, and successful, counterinsurgency campaign being conducted in the south. We drove around Kandahar city and saw markets flourishing. Children who once threw stones at American vehicles now wave at our soldiers. As we went north into the Arghandab River Valley — a Taliban stronghold until a few months ago — we found numerous American and Afghan outposts and soldiers patrolling on foot between them.
Just so we’re clear, I want to congratulate Max Boot for disclosing that his many adventure tours of Afghanistan are funded by the war’s top commander. They have a very close relationship, in case you were wondering. It’s worth keeping in mind. And when you’re not staring at locals through the thick blue ballistic plastic windows of an MRAP, and actually out talking to Afghans in the Arghandab, you see a great deal more skepticism about what these recent gains in security really mean.
The Arghandab was not safe enough, for example, for Boot and Mansoor to walk around, unescorted by a 4-star general’s security detachment and covered in body armor. It’s worth keeping that context in mind as you read this boundless optimism.
We spoke with one company commander who had just returned from a nighttime air assault to secure a village. But Arghandab is growing more secure, and officers are spending more time on governance. Everywhere we went, the message was the same: The Taliban was surprised by the capabilities and ferocity of U.S. forces, and it has largely retreated to regroup.
To be sure, fighting normally slackens in the winter; the extent of recent gains won’t be clear until the spring. But when the Taliban returns, it will find many of its old stomping grounds fortified to resist incursions.
I realize op-eds give you limited space to support your assertions, but aside from the checkable fact that fighting slackens in the winter (guess when they traveled to Kandahar!), there is not a single shred of evidence to support the assertions in that section. In fact, if you read what locals tell an unembedded reporter, you see they’re annoyed and wary because this always happens—troops move in, clear it (The Arghandab has been cleared three times, with the military’s assurance that it has enough resources to do the job right… and the locals know success is only as good as the day it’s happening), and within months things are back as they were before, or worse. There’s no evidence, not even in the op-ed arguing this is case, that this year is breaking that cycle.
Coalition operations have cleared most insurgents not only from Arghandab but also from the nearby districts of Panjwai and Zheray. Similar progress is evident in the central Helmand River Valley in districts such as Nawa, Garmsir and Marja. They are now entering the “hold and build” phase of Petraeus’ plan.
Since they’re not speaking from personal experience, I’m curious who, exactly, told them than Zari or Panjwai are cleared of insurgents… especially considering some just killed off 8 troops—six Americans and two Afghans—in precisely that area. This is also the fourth major offensive to retake these areas, and so far has followed the same script: massive success in the fall, followed by a resurgence and panic in the spring. On what basis can we believe the same pattern won’t hold true for yet another year?
This holds true for many of the claims in Boot and Mansoor’s op-ed — the assertions sound almost reassuring, but they are presented without evidence, proof, or reason to believe they’re anything other than the same point on the sine wave we’ve seen every year since 2006.
All of these efforts have been helped by the decision at NATO’s Lisbon summit last month to set the end of 2014 as the deadline for the transition of security responsibility to Afghan control. Afghan officials who only a few months ago were fretting that President Obama would pull out in 2011 are now optimistic that we’ll stick around. The new timeline has even made President Hamid Karzai more accommodating, as evidenced by his restraint over the WikiLeaks revelations.
This is illogical on its face. Which Afghan officials are now optimistic we’re sticking around when all we’ve done is push back the withdrawal date by three years? On what basis can they reasonably argue that Hamid Karzai has not lashed out over the Wikileaks cables because of the timeline? That is specious arguing as its most charitable. I’d call it dishonest. They are assertions without a shred of evidence or support.
We found that wherever a strong governor, police chief and intelligence chief are present in a district, progress is being made.
Yes, one would expect that. Now how many districts in Afghanistan have those? Four? Five? ISAF’s own reporting shows that this is frighteningly rare, and no basis on which to judge success or base a strategy. Yet that is precisely what Boot and Mansoor do here.
We will be unable to persuade Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, which sponsors the Taliban and the Haqqani network, to break ranks with the insurgents in the near term. Instead, we should strive to make the sanctuaries less relevant by solidifying security and governance in Afghanistan. Stabilizing Afghanistan may very well prod Pakistan to cut loose its proxies as a bad bet. In this regard, too, the 2014 deadline is crucial because it shows our staying power to Islamabad.
Again, what is your evidence? If we cannot persuade Pakistan to break ranks with the insurgents now, why will 2014 do that? How does a new withdrawal date remove Pakistan’s strategic imperative to maintain proxy forces inside Afghanistan? I’d say the 2014 date makes the argument for their supporting the Haqqanis and Taliban stronger, as it is even less likely the next President will be able to fend off calls for withdrawal when our war-costs have quadrupled. This gets is precisely backwards—the 2014 date will solidify ISI’s support for the insurgency, making our problems worse.
Whatever the gains in Kandahar and Helmand, there will be no immediate lessening of the violence. Tough fighting is virtually assured next summer as the Taliban tries to claw its way back into these provinces. If it is repulsed, NATO forces will be able to extend the “oil spot” north and east.
But though overall statistics for violence are likely to remain high, we should see a drop-off in key districts containing the majority of the Afghan population. Eventually, once the Taliban is convinced it can’t win, expect to see significant defections from its ranks.
Now they’re just contradicting themselves. These two paragraphs are internally inconsistent, to say nothing of inconsistent with the argument they made further up the page and with ISAF’s own accounting of what’s happening in those 120+ “key districts.” It reads like little more than a grab-bag of clichés about the war in Afghanistan, spoken by two men who have never experienced it up close for a sustained period of time, in dogged pursuit of a desperate, myopic quest to avoid the humiliation of admitting limitations on American power.
Which kind of summarizes Max Boot’s career, at any rate. I hope it doesn’t come to summarize Mansoor’s—he is far too smart for that to happen.