What started out a bad joke ended as an explosion. First came the headline Afghan Taliban getting stronger.
The Los Angeles Times had reported that a Pentagon briefing to Congress, “presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland.”
This is the height of lunacy - the Pentagon admitting to and ignoring a wobbly strategy. Funny in a terrible way.
“The report, requested by Congress, portrays an insurgency with deep roots and broad reach, able to withstand repeated U.S. onslaughts and to reestablish its influence, while discrediting and undermining the country's Western-backed government. But the Pentagon said it remained optimistic that its counter-insurgency strategy, formed after an Obama administration review last year, and its effort to peel foot soldiers away from the Taliban will show success in months to come.”
Then I visited the Department of Defense (DOD) website, wishing to read the congressionally mandated Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, and found this headline: Report Notes Afghanistan Developments, Challenges.
Paragraph one: “Stability in Afghanistan is no longer on the decline, and most Afghans believe that despite increased violence, security actually has improved since this time last year, according to a new report Pentagon officials sent to Congress today.”
Lunacy indeed as this statement is followed by, “But it offers what a senior defense official speaking on background called a sobering assessment of the conditions on the ground, and a recognition of the importance of what happens within the next six months in determining the direction the operation ultimately will take.”
How exactly does that work? If the war is starting to right itself why the urgency of six months? Isn’t that an admission that America and NATO are out of time and down to their last chance?
Comparing the two articles, one written by the LA Times and one by the American Forces Press Service, to us they come off as parallel worlds. The LA Times plays down what the DOD plays up, and plays up what the DOD omits. Our prior analysis leads us to believe the LA Times, even if it is indulging in sensationalism, is speaking more truthfully than the Pentagon.
The DOD report goes from stability to sobering in three paragraphs, alerting more doublespeak ahead. The Times quotes the senior Defense official as acknowledging the assessment of the insurgency was more pessimistic than in previous assessments.
"This is a very serious and sober report,” he said.
According to the report, “A ready supply of recruits is drawn from the frustrated population, where insurgents exploit poverty, tribal friction, and lack of governance to grow their ranks.”
Yet through the Pentagon’s eyes, “The report, which covers the situation on the ground from Oct. 1 to March 31, cites progress in President Barack Obama’s strategy aimed at disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan... Despite increased violence, the report notes that the downward trend in stability appears to have stemmed, along with Taliban momentum.”
So Taliban momentum is expanding and stemmed - such duplicity litters the DOD report. The official, after prefacing the premature nature of “turning the corner,” claims, “We are on the cusp. We are no longer moving in the wrong direction... we are moving in the right direction.”
Now that doesn’t sound sobering at all.
These statements aren’t pros and cons, but contradictory, and these reports mix like a Molotov cocktail. What’s really going on here? Who’s reacting to whom, the US media to the Pentagon or the Pentagon to the media? Were there two separate briefings? It almost sounds that way.
From what we can tell the Taliban is getting stronger and the US strategy is in serious jeopardy. We’ve outlined why at the city level in Marja, regional level in Kandahar, and at the national level. The Taliban’s resiliency would also better explain why the Pentagon is engaged in a psy-ops campaign that centers around US Special-Forces and dead Taliban commanders.
Even the few areas where America appears to have something going come with major caveats.
The LA Times cites one statistic that appears ominous: “The report concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai's government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes.”
Conversely, it makes sense that the Taliban hold the districts key to stabilizing the country. What would be worse is if high activity in districts they don’t control, a statistic not offered in either report. But this logic is similar to US and coalition deaths, attributed not to the Taliban’s growing sophistication but more enemy contacts.
In reality it’s both.
The LA Times also reports, “Despite the view of an insurgency gaining in strength, the western military effort also has some important advantages. A survey conducted in March showed 52% of Afghans blame insurgents for insecurity in the country, while a minority blame the Afghan security forces.”
That leaves 48% who don’t blame the Taliban.
Most importantly the Pentagon found that Afghan training programs are “broadly on track,” but this knife cuts both ways too. We won’t even go near “broadly on track.” Unquestionably an Afghan army and police force is the real bridge out of Afghanistan for US forces, but this bridge will be out of order for years.
More time than President Obama has at least.
And at the strategic level a self-sufficient Afghan army and police will never be forged without an accountable government, still the weak link in America’s strategy. Funds for the troops could dry up, a lack of trainers wastes time, and the Taliban will continue infiltrating the ranks.
How are we to be persuaded that the Pentagon is finally putting politics first when it admits at the very bottom of the report, “For Afghan forces to be prepared to take the security lead, other elements also must be in place - governance, courts, judges, prosecutors and correctional capacity, among them.”
Expecting a propaganda campaign has made us extra leery, but this propaganda shouldn’t get far anyway. No military surge will succeed if America doesn’t get on the same page with Hamid Karzai and Pakistan. Until then the Taliban will continue to thrive.
Maybe Afghanistan has “stabilized” because it can’t go much lower.
(Karzai apparently feels the report reflected poorly on him too.)