November 23, 2010

Propaganda Battle Over Pentagon Report

No one is ever going to agree on Afghanistan.

"Pentagon Report Cites Gains in Afghanistan"

by The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — The United States and its partners are making modest gains in some key areas of Afghanistan, but the insurgency is still strong and expanding across the country, a Pentagon report to Congress this month has concluded.

In cautious findings that mirror recent statements from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, the report said that there were signs of progress in security, governance and development in “operational priority areas.”

That was a reference to Kandahar and Helmand Provinces in southern Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of United States soldiers and Marines are concentrated.

The report also said that the growth and development of the Afghan security forces “are among Afghanistan’s most promising areas of progress,” and that the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police met their target numbers for expansion three months before a deadline of Oct. 31 this year.

Currently, Afghan Army personnel number 134,000 and police officers total 109,000.

On the negative side, the report cited Pakistan’s reluctance to go after insurgents operating from havens on its border with Afghanistan.

In one particularly blunt sentence, the report said that while it recognized the “tremendous effort” Pakistan was making against some insurgents inside its country, “insurgent safe havens along the border will remain the primary problem to achieving a secure and stable Afghanistan.”

In addition, the report said overall violence in Afghanistan increased 65 percent in the third quarter of 2010 compared with that period last year.

The report attributed the increase in part to the more aggressive campaign that United States and NATO forces had mounted against the Taliban.

The report, titled “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan,” is the sixth in a series that the Pentagon is required to submit twice a year to Congress.

Its data will be used in a more comprehensive White House review next month assessing United States strategy in Afghanistan and any need for revision.

Administration officials say they expect the White House review to cite similar progress, but with the same caveats.

The current report is the first since the Obama administration completed a buildup in Afghanistan this fall to nearly 100,000 American troops. It is also the first since General Petraeus took over as the top NATO commander in the country. It covers the period from April 1 to Sept. 30 this year.

The previous report, which covered the period from Oct. 1, 2009, to March 31 this year, came to the conclusion that a “continuing decline in stability” in Afghanistan had leveled off, but it cited little progress against the Taliban.

A senior defense official who briefed reporters about the report at the Pentagon on Tuesday sought to put a positive interpretation on the expansion of the Taliban into other areas of Afghanistan like the north and west.

The official said that as United States, NATO and Afghan forces have put pressure on insurgents in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar and Helmand, the insurgents have been forced out.

“The Taliban have clearly reacted to that by going to more peripheral areas,” the official said, “so while they have expanded to those areas, the importance of those areas is not key, is not central, to their success, or to our ability to defeat them.”

The official said he could not be identified under Pentagon ground rules, but neither he nor other Pentagon officials provided an explanation for those rules.

The anonymous official acknowledged that there were many skeptics questioning the ability of the United States to make progress in Afghanistan after nearly a decade of war.

But he said this was the first time the United States had committed so much in military strength and civilian effort to the country, and therefore the doubters were being “irresponsible” in not looking at the bigger picture.

“Of course there are skeptics, there are always skeptics,” he said.
"Pentagon report: Afghans believe Taliban victory inevitable"

by CNN:
Washington (CNN) -- A new Defense Department report on Afghanistan says dramatic increases in fighting against the Taliban have failed to convince the local population that the Afghan government and coalition forces will succeed.

"The Taliban's strength lies in the Afghan population's perception that Coalition forces will soon leave, giving credence to the belief that a Taliban victory is inevitable," the report says.

The 96-page "Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan" is a required update to Congress and it covers the period from April to the end of September.

It is commonly referred to as a "12-30" report, for the section of the 2008 Defense Authorization law that requires the twice-yearly reports.

The report says that Taliban is not popular but it exploits frustration with a weak Afghanistan government.

"Despite public polling showing a lack of support for the Taliban, Afghan nationals are likely to remain non-committal until the Afghan Government and Coalition forces can convincingly provide security, government and economic opportunities," the report says. "The Taliban have sufficient organizational capability and support to pose a threat to the government's viability, particularly in the south. If the security situation erodes, regional stability will rapidly decline as well."

While the Pentagon report describes "uneven" progress with "modest gains" in security and creating stable local government, it does go on to says the current strategy is showing "some signs of progress."

At a Pentagon background briefing, a senior Defense Department official and a senior State Department official said the report did not cover progress, what he called "encouraging signs," over the past six weeks against Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan. In regard to the increase in violence, the official said that was a result of larger numbers of U.S. and coalition as well as Afghan security forces.

"This is an extraordinarily dynamic situation," he said. "Even the progress we've seen in the past seven weeks since this report came out is something that is changing the reality on the ground. But in no way, shape or form is anybody guaranteeing success, saying it's 100-percent certain."

The officials agreed to brief the media on the condition they not be identified.

The number of coalition forces on the ground has increase by 37 percent this year compared to last year. And the amount of fighting, "kinetic activity", has increased 300 percent from 2007 -- and an additional 70 percent since last year. At the end of September there were more than 96,000 U.S. forces and approximately 49,000 international forces in Afghanistan.

The report says insurgent groups continue to use Pakistan as a staging area for cross-border operations, and it raises new questions about Pakistan's willingness and ability to take on the insurgents in its territory.

"Efforts to reduce insurgency capacity, such as safe havens and logistical support originating in Pakistan and Iran have not produced measurable results," the report notes. "Pakistan's domestic extremist threat and the 2010 floods rescue the potential for a more aggressive or effective Pakistani effort in the near term."

And while praising efforts to combat corruption, the report suggests more must be done.

"Corruption continues to fuel the insurgency in various areas... The (Afghanistan President Hamid) Karzai Administration has improved its stance against corruption by prosecution of several high-profile senior officials. However, progress remains uneven and incremental."

The report makes only glancing reference to "reconciliation and reintegration," efforts to persuade low-level Taliban fighters to lay down their arms and and return to their communities.

"Although the number of insurgent who have so far reintegrated is limited, many groups have come forward to begin discussing options," the report says.

It does not touch on efforts to persuade high-ranking Taliban to give up their fight, on a day in which saw reports that a man claiming to be a Taliban leader at a meeting with Afghan and NATO officials was an impostor. The Defense Department official would not comment on that. Nor would he give any specific details of how many lower-level Taliban had re-integrated, saying it was a "dynamic situation."
"'Uneven' progress in Afghan war"

by Al Jazeera:
Progress has been "uneven" in the war in Afghanistan, with only modest gains against the Taliban despite a surge of US and NATO troops, the Pentagon has said.

All types of violent incidents in the country had increased from April through the end of September, up 300 per cent from 2007, except for the use of roadside bombs, the Pentagon said in a report issued to Congress on Tuesday.

"Progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance, and development in operational priority areas," it said.

The report contrasts public declarations from senior officials and military leaders, who have touted encouraging signs and said the US military has gained the initiative on the battlefield.

The Pentagon described limited progress by the NATO-led force in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, longstanding Taliban bastions that have been the focus of an influx of 30,000 American 
troops this year.

"While kinetic activity is at a historic high, we are seeing some early indications that comprehensive COIN (counter-insurgency) operations are having localized effects in portions of Helmand and Kandahar Provinces," the report said.

Despite the presence of nearly 100,000 US troops and nearly 50,000 other foreign forces, efforts to cut off Taliban safe havens and supply links to neighboring Iran and Pakistan "have not produced measurable results," according to the report, which covered April to September.

'Insurgency resilient'

While NATO and Afghan forces have "increased pressure on insurgent networks over the past several months, the insurgency has proven resilient with sustained logistics capacity and command and control," the Pentagon said.

Taliban "retains momentum in certain areas" while in others the momentum was shifting in favor of Afghan and NATO-led forces, it said.

One senior defense official, who asked not to be named, told journalists that the report focused on conditions through September and did not reflect "important progress" in recent weeks in military 
operations surrounding Kandahar city.

The report cited the training of Afghan security forces as "one of the most promising areas of progress," with the Afghan army and police reaching recruitment goals in July, ahead of an October target.

The quality of the Afghan forces and a high attrition rate remained cause for concern, however, according to the report, which was written in coordination with intelligence agencies, the state 
department and other government departments.

Barack Obama, the US president, has promised to begin withdrawing US troops by July 2011 and NATO plans to leave by the end of 2014.

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