I received some flack for describing Max Boot and Pete Mansoor’s analysis of the war in the south as “dishonest.” I take these charges seriously, as I don’t like to attack arguments unfairly. But it’s worth keeping in mind that none of the indicators Mansoor and Boot used to describe progress—freedom of movement, the friendliness of Afghans to armed soldiers rolling through their neighborhoods, or even the number of Taliban that ISAF has managed to displace or kill—actually made sense inside the argument they’d constructed.
Today NATO has leaked to the AP a worrying development: at least in Brussels, they can’t identify any substantial reduction in Taliban strength. Here, too, Mansoor makes an appearance:
Peter Mansoor, a retired army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University, said the unchanged number of insurgents did not reflect the reality on the ground, as the Taliban had in fact sustained heavy blows over the past year.
“We have taken hundreds of their leaders off the battlefields,” he said in a telephone interview.
“Next year will be clearly crucial as the Taliban try to regain lost territory around Kandahar and in Helmand, and we’ll see if they can make up those losses,” he said. “We will also see if we’ve been able to create the institutions – the government, police and army – there that can sustain themselves.”
Oh look another crucial year. This is, what, the sixth in a row? Anyway, this is the equivalent of plugging your ears and yelling LALALALALALA NOT LISTENING. That is, when presented with official evidence that the war is not, as advertised, noticeably reducing the insurgency, he used a 10-day general’s tour from a couple of weeks ago to say that’s not what’s “on the ground.”
It is fascinating to see, in a single thought, Mansoor discount the use of an enemy count to suggest the war isn’t being won, but then to use a body count to argue that, in fact, the war is being won. But (to bring it back around again) saying that these sorts of arguments are dishonest is, to many establishment types inside the Beltway, unfair. Meh.
There is a reason war supporters don’t want to think about what the consequences are of an essentially unchanged insurgency. It means their preferred strategy—and more importantly, their winged savior in the form of David Petraeus—just might be wrong. Now that’s something we just can’t contemplate at all, ever, now can we?