I was all set to enjoy a nice quiet Easter, until I opened my web browser. Something on the news page caught my attention.
“NATO, Afghan Forces Make ‘Huge’ Gains in North,” the headline says. My stomach dropped. What could they possibly be on about, I wonder. Then I see what they really mean.
“I see a huge difference when I compare to 2006,” Maj. Gen. Markus Kneip of the German army, commander of Regional Command North, told Pentagon reporters in a video news conference from his headquarters in Afghanistan. I wonder if that’s because 2006 was substantially less violent than 2011? Diary, sometimes I just do not understand why the senior military leadership thinks we’re all stupid and can’t see the data that says the opposite of their press conferences.
Diary, I think that German guy must mean it’s better than 2006. But in what way? I don’t see how one could make that argument. “Much of the Taliban in the north have cleared out and moved to Pakistan,” he said. I know what he means—we call that “winter,” diary, when most of the Taliban leave the country to vacation in Pakistan. The trouble is, I’m not sure even that means very much, since each winter is substantially more violent than the previous one.
Plus, my dear diary, when you think of how violence usually behaves, we seem to be on track for the worst year ever.
As I thought about this, diary, I hoped, fervently hoped, that maybe this German guy had some sort of special insight into why he felt so confident about the job his country had done in the north. “The populace feels good about security throughout [the north],” the general said later. The people, he said, are “pretty optimistic about the Afghans starting to take control of the government.” This, too makes perfect sense.
“We are scared of both sides,” a village elder, Mutayeb Khan, told the soldiers, expressing a litany of concerns shared by many villagers in remote parts of the country.
They worry that NATO and Afghan forces will confuse them for insurgents while they’re tending their fields or collecting wood in the hills; that the Taliban will attack them if they help, or even talk to coalition forces; that government forces will detain their young men, perhaps for years.
Well, to keep it perfectly fair, diary, that story is about Paktika, which is very much not in the north. Because I mean, it’s not like government forces abuse and brutalize the Afghans in the north. That, dear diary, would be Taliban propaganda.
Alas, diary, I’m more confused than ever. I don’t want to accuse anyone in charge of lying, because I really don’t have the information to say. But what could possibly explain this vast, vast gulf between what the data we have in the public say, and what our leaders fighting the war say about it? That is something I am truly afraid to answer.
Charts come courtesy of Indicium Consulting, which collects this stuff.