The best outcome for the U.S. departure from Afghanistan? A safe exodus and a slow news day.
Afghanistan will revert to being a terrorist haven after Allied military withdrawal, U.S. study warns
The Interior Ministry said police had apprehended the young girl who had intended to carry out a suicide attack against Afghan border police in southern Helmand province. The girl, named as Spozhmay, by NDTV, is reported to be as young as ten and thought to be the sister of a prominent Taliban commander, is said to be in a state of shock and confusion.
Afghanistan’s Failed Transformation
By AHMED RASHID SEPT 25, 2014
On Sunday, after months of bitter wrangling, the two leading candidates in Afghanistan’s presidential election agreed to form a national unity government. Ashraf Ghani, a Pashtun technocrat, is to be president, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister of mixed Tajik and Pashtun descent, is to be chief executive, a newly created post akin to prime minister. The power-sharing agreement came after an audit of the ballots cast in April, in an election widely believed to have been partially rigged. It has no basis in Afghanistan’s election law. And given the rancor that has come before, it may not hold very long.
This deal, which was brokered with help from Washington, is yet another makeshift compromise that only reveals the shortcomings of the United States’ 13-year presence in Afghanistan. But rather than admit these failures, American and NATO officials would have us think that democracy is gaining traction in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency has stalled and Al Qaeda is being defeated. All these arguments, of course, serve as an excuse for U.S. troops to start withdrawing at the end of the year, a plan that seemed wrong when it was made in December 2009 and is proving catastrophically wrong now.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, apparently is the only official in Washington who dares speak truth to power. In a Sept. 12 speech at Georgetown University, he said that Afghanistan “remains under assault by insurgents and is short of domestic revenue, plagued by corruption, afflicted by criminal elements involved in opium and smuggling, and struggling to execute basic functions of government.” His comments were largely ignored by the American media, and there was no immediate reaction from the Obama administration.
And yet anything less than a heavy dose of honesty and fresh thinking by Afghans and their Western supporters will almost certainly mean the relapse of Afghanistan into civil war and the emergence of groups even more extreme than the Taliban, as has happened in Iraq and Syria.
Moving from the lengthy U.S. military presence to full Afghan sovereignty was premised on the completion of four distinct transitions. But none has been successfully carried out, despite more than $640 billion in U.S. direct spending in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013.
The most critical transition, the one on which everything else rested, was political. Rather than build state institutions or carry out much-needed electoral reforms, President Hamid Karzai spent his long tenure encouraging a form of crony politics that failed to sap the power of the warlords. He won a second term in 2009, after a vastly fraudulent election. The following year, according to U.N. officials, he asked that the United Nations stop supervising elections in the country, and Washington and NATO went along.
The second promised transition was military. U.S. forces were to hand over security matters to Afghan forces, proving that the new, U.S.-trained Afghan Army would then be able to hold back the Taliban on its own. Yet Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai told Parliament in Kabul on Sept. 16 that the previous six months had been the deadliest ever for the Afghan police. Today there is fighting in 18 of 34 provinces, Afghan and NATO officials have told me. In many areas, Afghan soldiers are barely able to secure their own bases, much less retake lost territory. Helmand, the critical drugs-producing province in southern Afghanistan, is at risk of being taken over by the Taliban. If it falls, all of southern Afghanistan might too.
The third failed transition has to do with economics. According to a senior Afghan official at the Finance Ministry, The Washington Post reported recently, the Afghan government is broke and needs an emergency $537 million bailout; it was barely able to pay more than half a million government employees this month. Money spent on schools and hospitals has dramatically improved education and health for Afghans, but these services remain dependent on foreign funding. There has been little large-scale investment in agriculture or basic industry; instead, the bulk of the economy has focused on servicing foreign troops and on their spending. And now the troops are about to withdraw.
When I first visited Afghanistan in the 1970s, the country was desperately poor, but it was almost self-sufficient in food and had a small yet thriving export trade in fruit, handicrafts, furs and gems. Today, Afghanistan imports much of its food and it produces very few commercial goods. The service economy, which is run by the middle class, has been collapsing, as both educated people and billions of dollars in capital have left the country. The resulting vacuum opens the way for the opium-fed underground economy to expand enormously, breeding crime and corruption.
The fourth contribution expected of the U.S. presence was insulating Afghanistan from foreign interference, which many Afghans fear as much as the Taliban. Iran, Pakistan and Russia, but also India, Saudi Arabia and other states helped fuel the civil war in the 1990s. The Obama administration pledged in its first term to negotiate a noninterference agreement among Afghanistan’s neighbors. But that, too, has not happened, and the country remains vulnerable to meddling from outside.
History will not look kindly on the legacy of the U.S. government and Mr. Karzai in Afghanistan. But this also means that Afghanistan’s new leaders can do better, and now, simply by acting responsibly — and working together to legitimize the results of this problematic election that has brought them to power.
The four-page joint agreement between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah calls for convening a loya jirga, a traditional gathering of tribal representatives and elected district councilors, in the next two years in order to amend the Constitution to reflect the recent creation of the chief executive post.
But a loya jirga should be called as soon as possible, so as to promptly give constitutional cover to the power-sharing agreement between Mr. Ghani and Mr. Abdullah. The assembly should also discuss how the present presidential system, which is highly centralized, could be improved and how electoral reforms can be made to prevent future vote-rigging. And the gathering should be convened before the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year: This would allow the legislators who are elected then to have some of the legitimacy that is lacking at present.
2015 is supposed to mark the start of Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade.” But if the country is to even get to 2015 in one piece, its new leaders must act fast to correct course after the failed transformation of the last decade.
Ahmed Rashid is the author of six books on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
Sunday 12 January 2014
After 12 years, £390bn, and countless dead, we leave poverty, fraud – and the Taliban in Afghanistan
World View: The country is in such a bad way as western troops depart that leaders can only spin, almost to the point of lying
A few years ago in Kabul, I was listening to a spokesman for an Afghan government organization who was giving me a long, upbeat and not very convincing account of the achievements of the institution for which he worked. To relieve the tedium, and without much expectation of getting an interesting reply, I asked him – with a guarantee of non-attribution – what benefits the Afghan government had brought to its people. Without hesitation the spokesman replied that these benefits were likely to be very limited “so long as our country is run by gangsters and warlords”.
It was at about this time that I decided that the main problem in Afghanistan was not the strength of the Taliban but the weakness of the government. It does not matter how many Nato troops are in the country because they are there in support of a government detested by much of the population. Everywhere I went in the capital there were signs of this, even among prosperous people who might be expected to be natural supporters of the status quo. I interviewed an estate agent who should not have had much to complain about since, in the 10 years after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Kabul was the world’s fastest growing city. He pointed to some workmen outside his office window saying they earned between $5 and $6 a day in a city where to rent a decent house for their families would cost $1,000 a month. He said: “It is impossible for this situation to continue without a revolution.”
The year 2014 has long been billed as a decisive year for Afghanistan because most of the remaining foreign troops, 38,000 US and 5,200 British, will pull out before the end of it. Predictions of an exact date for a historic turning point usually turn out to be mistaken, but in this case conventional wisdom may well be correct. Already there are signs of drastic political change, such as the Afghan government’s announcement last week of its intention to release 72 hard-core Taliban prisoners, provoking furious protests from Washington. Probably President Hamid Karzai’s motive is to conciliate local leaders who want their relatives out of jail and whose support Karzai needs in the presidential election in April, in which he cannot run, having served two terms, although he wants to determine his successor.
A soldier stands guard in Afghanistan after US forces accidentally shot a four-year-old boy dead in bad weather
An important feature of this withdrawal of US and British troops is how little interest it is sparking in their home countries, although 2,806 US and 447 British soldiers have been killed since 2001. The total cost to the US of war, reconstruction and aid over the same period is $641.7bn (£390bn) according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Of course, money spent on Afghanistan does not mean money spent in Afghanistan, but even taking this into account it is extraordinary that, despite gargantuan sums spent, Afghan government figures reveal that 60 per cent of children are malnourished and only 27 per cent of Afghans have access to safe drinking water. Many survive only through remittances from relatives working abroad or through the drug business, which is worth some 15 per cent of the Afghan gross national product.
The figures above come from a damning study of the outcome of 12 years of international intervention in Afghanistan by Thomas Ruttig of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. His succinct, authoritative account of where Afghanistan stands today underscores the fact that US and British military intervention has ended in near total failure. The Taliban has not been crushed, operates in all parts of the country and, in provinces like Helmand, is poised to take over as US and British troops depart. Even with the backing of foreign troops, Afghan government control often ends a couple of kilometres outside the district capital. The extra 30,000 US troops sent as part of the surge in US troop numbers in 2010-11, which brought their total to 101,000 at peak deployment, have had little long-term impact.
The whole Afghan fiasco is too often debated in terms of military tactics, while the most important reasons for US and British failure are political and go back to the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Four points need to be made about that seminal era: the Taliban were not popular among any but a small minority of Afghans at that time, but their military defeat was less decisive than it appeared in western media because they had largely withdrawn or dispersed. I followed them on the main road from Kabul to Ghazni and finally to Kandahar and there was little fighting. Under the right political circumstances, they could always re-emerge. Equally important, the 1,500-mile Afghan-Pakistan border remained open so the Taliban had safe havens in which to rest, train and resupply.
That they did re-emerge so swiftly and powerfully after 2006 was the result of a fourth factor, namely the toxic nature of the new regime that emerged in Kabul. It was made up of the same jihadi warlords and commanders whose corruption and violence had provoked the Taliban takeover, backed by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in 1996. They dominated parliament, the judiciary and the security services.
“Those who received financial means from the US in 2001 to fight the Taliban often invested in the drugs trade,” writes Thomas Ruttig, “and starting from there, gradually took over licit sectors of the economy, such as the import-export business, construction, and the real estate, banking and mining sectors.” They gorged themselves on foreign aid, so by 2013 Afghanistan ranked bottom of the 177 countries (equal with Somalia and North Korea) in Transparency International’s league table of perception of corruption by businessmen.
The new post-Taliban Afghan elite was characterized by a lethal blend of warlordism and jihadi Islam. A journalist called Mir Hossein Musawi coined the term “holy fascism” to describe the mixture of the two in a newspaper article in Kabul in 2003. He was promptly forced to flee the country accused of insulting Islam.
Elections are now so fraudulent as to rob the winners of legitimacy. The April 2014 election is likely to be worse than anything seen before, with 20.7 million voter cards distributed in a country where half the population of 27 million are under the voting age of 18. Independent election monitoring institutions have been taken over by and are now under the thumb of the government.
Faced with these multiple disasters western leaders simply ignore Afghan reality and take refuge in spin that is not far from deliberate lying. During a visit to Helmand province last December David Cameron claimed that a basic level of security had been established, so British troops could justly claim that their mission had been accomplished.
Nobody in Afghanistan believes this. But the departure of foreign troops does not necessarily mean the triumph of the Taliban who are a Pashtun movement and will have great difficulty establishing themselves in areas dominated by other ethnicities such as the Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks. Many Afghans fear a worse fate, and believe that 2014 will see the start of a return to the era of savage and anarchic cruelty in the 1990s, when jihadi war-bands ruled Afghanistan.
Afghans Assail Karzai’s Disparate Views on Killings
The Taliban for years have been killing far more civilians than the coalition has; the latest United Nations report on the subject says three-fourths of the 1,038 civilian fatalities between January and July this year were by the Taliban, and less than one-tenth of them by the Americans and their coalition partners.
Mohammed Haroon, 23, who runs a spice shop, spoke for many small businessmen who fear the country’s economy cannot survive without billions of dollars in U.S. and international aid.
“If the foreigners leave next year, then the next day, the Taliban will be back and taking over,” he said.
Afghanistan lacks official presidential candidates to replace Hamid Karzai
…In the end, weeks of private negotiations among political players from ex-warlords to ex-diplomats, aimed at forging a new culture of consensus and ideas to replace ethnic and personality politics, fell far short of that lofty goal, leaving the pre-election picture as murky and mercurial as ever. Several analysts predicted that the coalition would not last more than a few weeks. The deadline for candidates to be declared is Oct. 6, and the campaign begins in December.
“It is a very confused situation. There is a lot of horse-trading but a lot of mistrust,” said Ali Ahmad Jalali, a former interior minister and longtime U.S. resident who is part of a separate, technocrat-based electoral coalition. “We all know that the survival of the state is at stake and the political structure has to change. But with only a few weeks before the deadline, we still have no idea who the candidates will be.”
The Afghan Legacy
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Published: July 4, 2013
Along with waging war in Afghanistan, the United States has worked to rebuild the country. But, after more than a decade and nearly $93 billion spent on reconstruction and security programs, there are still worrisome lapses in accountability, management and effectiveness.
IMPORTANT Intelligence Indicator
U.S. Funds Buy No Love at Afghan College
By NATHAN HODGE and HABIB KHAN TOTAKHIL
JALALABAD, Afghanistan—Nangarhar University is a symbol of American largess: U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for dormitories, classrooms and computer labs.
Increasingly dominating the campus of Afghanistan’s second largest university, however, are Islamist activists who openly sympathize with the Taliban.
“The Taliban are the people who are defending this country,” said Hamad, a leader of the self-appointed Nangarhar University student council that organizes regular demonstrations against the U.S. and President Hamid Karzai’s government. “The foreign troops are invaders.”
The council is described by other students as a well-organized group that can muster hundreds of protesters on a moment’s notice. Afghan and U.S. officials are taking note: Nangarhar University student demonstrations, which routinely block the main highway connecting Kabul to Jalalabad and the Pakistani border, feature the white flag of the Taliban and the green flag of Hezb-e Islami, the movement of anti-U.S. warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The students sometimes also fly the black banner used by al Qaeda. Afghanistan’s national flag, explains Hamad, a 24-year-old Islamic-studies student from the northern province of Baghlan who didn’t want to have his full name used, “has not maintained its integrity.”
The student militancy sweeping Afghan campuses ahead of the U.S.-led coalition’s withdrawal next year isn’t limited to Nangarhar. In late May, hundreds of students rallied outside the Afghan capital’s prestigious Kabul University to protest against legislation that criminalizes violence against women. “That demonstration really made me worried, that’s where you can see the radicalization of the youth,” said Najla Ayubi, a women’s rights activist and former judge.
This rise of extremism among Afghan students—some of the biggest direct beneficiaries of U.S. assistance—underscores the lack of goodwill that more than a decade of American taxpayer money has bought here. It also harks back to a potent precedent in recent Afghan history. Many of Afghanistan’s mujahedeen warlords who combated the Soviets, each other and the U.S. over the past three decades, including Mr. Hekmatyar, started out in politics as student activists in the 1970s.
U.S. and Western officials often cite the boom in school and college enrollments as a key sign of progress in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime’s downfall in 2001. A decade ago, Afghanistan had a dozen poorly funded colleges that were under the sway of local warlords; today it has 32 public universities and at least 76 private higher education institutions.
The international community’s investment in the Afghan university system is part of a larger development portfolio: Since 2002, the U.S. Agency for International Development has spent a combined $934.4 million on education here.
Much of the focus of the U.S. education strategy has hinged on teacher training, particularly for girls’ education. In recent years, the U.S. government has spent $10 million on education faculty buildings around the country; constructed provincial teacher training colleges at a cost of $23 million; and provided over $60 million in support to the country’s Ministry of Higher Education. Other Western allies spent on universities, too.
But gratitude is in short supply at Nangarhar University, even among ordinary students who aren’t involved in student politics. “The Americans have done reconstruction, but they’ve insulted Afghan culture,” said one of them, Sajjed Bahar, a literature student from Khost province. “They support our university, but in the meantime, they kill students.”
Students in Nangarhar said they were particularly incensed by the killing earlier this year of a fellow student in Wardak province. The student was abducted and later found with his throat cut, an incident for which the Afghan government blamed secret militias working for the U.S. special-operations forces. While the U.S.-led coalition said the allegations of illegal detention, torture and killings in Wardak were untrue, Mr. Karzai ordered U.S. special-operations units out of the province’s Nerkh district after the incidents.
Current and former U.S. officials say they have taken note of the radicalization at Nangarhar University and other campuses. “We are definitely aware that there are these sort of unsavory elements at the university,” said a U.S. official, adding: “If you have a society that is in upheaval—evolving and developing—you’re going to experience similar things in the university.”
Abdul Azim Noorbakhsh, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education, added that campus activism was part of the development of a robust political debate. “This is civil society and democracy,” he said.
Situated just northwest of Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan’s largest city, Nangarhar University was founded in 1962, its campus originally built with Soviet assistance. Today, it has nearly 10,000 students, many of whom are crowded into spartan, three-story dormitories.
Naeem Jan Sarwary, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university depended heavily on USAID as well as the local Provincial Reconstruction Team, a U.S. military-led development team, to provide Internet servers, computer laboratories, sports equipment and scholarship money. International donors helped provide housing for the school’s 500 female students.
Such assistance helps offset shortfalls in the school’s regular operating budget, which is provided largely by the central government. Gul Agha, the vice chancellor for administration, said the school’s monthly “ordinary budget” of 20 million afghanis (around $360,000) to cover payroll for 450 faculty members and other costs often doesn’t arrive on time, or is underfunded.
The activists at Nangarhar University, students say, are drawn largely from the school’s Shariah faculty, which produces preachers and Islamic judges. Their student council—also known informally as the “mosque committee”—is organized out of the university’s on-campus mosque, where they often announce their protests.
These activists described their opinions on a recent visit by two Wall Street Journal reporters to the university’s campus—after first probing the reporters about their own religious beliefs and their views on Islam.
“The invaders have often killed innocents intentionally,” said Sadaqat, a senior activist who didn’t want to give his full name. “And they’ve continued their oppression of the innocent people of Afghanistan.”
Describing how the protests are organized, Mr. Sadaqat said the members of the mosque committee usually consult with the rest of the student body. “Whenever there is an issue, we present the issue when the students come for prayers in the mosque. Then we hold a jirga [assembly] and talk about it. All students who stay in the dorms are involved in the decision-making,” he said.
Muhammad Sabir Momand, the head of Nangarhar University, said the protests blocking the road were limited to a small minority of a few hundred ideologically committed students. Mr. Momand said he had encouraged student protesters to keep their demonstrations on campus and not block the roads.
“I have told them that if they want to protest, do it on the university campus, and I will let representatives of the press in to hear your message,” he said. Investigating antigovernment activities was the responsibility of Afghanistan’s security agencies, not of the university, he added.
According to other students, however, the core group of radicals often successfully exerts pressure on the rest of the student body.
“When first-year students come here, they are vulnerable—they are the target for recruitment,” said Ahmad Aqbal, a political science student at Nangarhar University who doesn’t share the militant ideology. “They tell you, ‘If you join us, you’ll pass your exams.’ “
A brand-new U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. And nobody to use it.
AKHTER GULFAM/EPA – Trucks transporting NATO military vehicles cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan near the Pakistani city of Chaman on July 2.
…The Afghan government is demanding that the U.S. military pay $1,000 for each shipping container leaving the country that does not have a corresponding, validated customs form. The country’s customs agency says the American military has racked up $70 million in fines.
If left unresolved, the disagreement could inflate the price tag of the U.S. military drawdown by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars because of the higher cost of shipping by air — an unwelcome expenditure at a time when the Pentagon is scrambling to cope with steep congressionally mandated budget cuts and the White House is attempting to jump-start negotiations over a long-term security cooperation deal with Kabul.
The Afghan government’s demand for payment is part of a broader dispute over Kabul’s authority to tax entities from the United States, its chief benefactor. As the war economy that for years bankrolled Afghanistan’s political elite starts to deflate, the government is increasingly insisting that U.S. defense contractors pay business taxes and fines for a range of alleged violations.
The latest fight has added a new irritant to negotiations over a bilateral security agreement that will address the possibility of a residual U.S. military force in Afghanistan after 2014, when the NATO combat mission formally concludes. Washington and Kabul remain at odds over several details of the security deal, including the types of taxes and customs fees that would be imposed on the force and its contractors.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction warned in a letter to Congress last month that Afghan ministries were seeking to collect nearly $1 billion in business taxes and fines from U.S. contractors — an effort that some American officials see as a massive shakedown in one of the world’s most corrupt countries. U.S. funds intended to rebuild Afghanistan, inspector general John. F. Sopko said in his June 28 letter to lawmakers, are increasingly being used to “pay the cost of doing business in Afghanistan.”
Afghan officials dispute the charge. They say that U.S. contractors and government officials have flouted Afghan tax and customs regulations, citing operating agreements drafted shortly after the 2001 invasion. Those agreements gave the U.S. government vast leverage and protections.
Afghan government relents in dispute with U.S. over customs fines
Charles’ touch for a true hero: Touching pictures as brave Ben Parkinson receives his MBE
Poignant: Ben Parkinson stands to receive his MBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace
Inspiration: Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson lost both legs and suffered more than 40 injuries in a bomb attack in Afghanistan in 2006
Battling: Ben Parkinson has confounded medical expectations by learning to walk again following his horrific injuries
Karzai’s Bet: Vilifying U.S
Karzai’s Afghan critics say his fixation on lambasting the West comes at the cost of more important domestic problems that he has ignored, such as corruption and ineffective local governance. They worry that alienating the United States will lead to the total withdrawal of foreign troops and a more dangerous Afghanistan. Although Karzai’s popularity varies across the country, concerns about Afghanistan after 2014, when the vast majority of foreign troops are due to leave, are pervasive.
They [the State Department] should have been considering two fundamental drivers that had been fueling the burgeoning conflict in Afghanistan.
One was the increasingly bald, abusive, and structured corruption of the Afghan government. The notion that Afghans would take risks on behalf of such a government, when they were “slapped on one cheek by the Taliban, and on the other by [that] government,” as several put it to me, when they were shaken down, with a literal or figurative kick in the teeth, just about every time they encountered a government official, when they watched President Hamid Karzai protect government officials from repercussions for egregious crimes, release them from jail, or demote police officers or prosecutors who took action against them, simply defies logic.
The other and somewhat related driver of the conflict has been the Pakistani military’s policy of helping the Taliban to regroup, retrain, and plan and execute attacks inside of Afghanistan, and the exploitation of this growing Afghan disaffection with the Karzai regime to help the Taliban and allied extremist groups regain a foothold inside the country. The objective of this policy was to regain, most probably through eventual negotiations, a degree of the proxy control of Afghanistan that Pakistan had enjoyed before 2001.
Making Afghanistan a viable state is a flawed ambition, admit MPs
As state-building becomes ‘harder, if not impossible’ despite massive aid effort, MPs call for new focus on alleviating poverty
Afghan forces suffering too many casualties, says top Nato commander
Police and army may need west’s support for years, says General Joseph Dunford, as weekly death toll tops 100
MPs fear Afghanistan civil war after withdrawal
EMMA BAMFORD WEDNESDAY 10 APRIL 2013
Afghanistan could descend into civil war and corruption and drugs trading could continue to cause problems once coalition forces withdraw from the country in less than two years’ time, a report from the Defence Select Committee warned today.
In its report the committee also said the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office “painted a very positive picture of the transition” to the Afghan National Security Forces, but pointed out there were concerns over the capability of Afghan forces to fill the gap left once coalition forces withdraw at the end of 2014, particularly in terms of helicopters, close air support and logistics.
Given there are less than two years before the end of 2014, the committee called on the Government to set out how it sees its future role in Afghanistan.
There needs to be a contingency plan to deal with a breakdown in security as UK troops pull-out, including the possibility of an armed resistance to withdrawal, the group of MPs said.
And they conceded that some ground may have to be given in negotiations with the Taliban.
Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, the committee chair, said: “The UK and its international partners must show the Afghan people that they will abide by their obligations to continue to support them in their efforts.”
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said that vision was of an Afghanistan that could “maintain its own security and never again be a safe haven for international terrorism.
“The fact that Afghan security forces are now leading on more than 80 per cent of all security operations across the country shows we are well on the way to achieving that aim,” he said, adding that Britain had committed £70million to an international fund to sustain the Afghan security forces after 2014.
Up to 74 girls fell ill after smelling gas at their school in a suspected poisoning attack in northern Afghanistan
Activists say that 12 years after the Taliban were ousted from the country, very little has changed for women
Afghan MPs warn against total pullout of US troops
Disaster and civil war will follow if all US forces leave after 2014, leaders warn, as Obama and Karzai prepare to hold talks
Afghanistan ‘sliding towards collapse’
Afghan forces are far from ready to secure a country riddled with violence and corruption, Red Cross and think-tank warn.
“Time is running out,” said Candace Rondeaux of the International Crisis Group think-tank, in a blunt report about the handover from coalition to Afghan troops. “Steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse.
“Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when US and Nato forces withdraw in 2014.”
Afghans have to be paid to fight; to not fight; to stop fighting if they are already fighting and to not start fighting if they are passive but restless. The whole country is a giant web of extortion and counter-extortion.
Afghan civil servants took £2.5bn in bribes in one year despite Karzai’s promises to clean up government
The United States is expected to continue to foot the bulk of the bill for maintaining Afghanistan’s forces, having said that it anticipates spending $16.7 billion from 2013 to 2017.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. took command of both the American and the international military missions in Afghanistan in a traditional handoff ceremony on Sunday, becoming the 15th general to lead the international command here — and he is expected to be its last.
Afghan Army’s Turnover Threatens U.S. Strategy
Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Muhammad Fazal Kochai, 28, who deserted a year ago, said the Afghan Army will lose once the Americans leave. “The army can do nothing on their own.”
In 2009, when the White House approved plans to build a combined Afghan force of more than 300,000, the principal concern in Washington was the cost to sustain it once most U.S. troops depart, not the ability to assemble it. The sustainment cost is now projected at $4.1 billion a year, more than twice the Afghan government’s overall annual revenue. Much of that price tag will have to be borne by the United States, which already has spent almost $50 billion over the past decade to build the force.
Kalev Sepp, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., who has studied U.S. military assistance missions, said the American interventions in El Salvador in the 1980s and Colombia in the 1990s demonstrated that thinly staffed advisory missions can have a huge effect. A small support team places the onus on the local force, he said.
“It makes them fight for their own country,” Sepp said. Army leaders, he said, are too often inclined to draw up plans for large-scale missions. “It is not in their operational doctrine to send very small numbers of people.”
Despite friendly rhetoric, suspicion abounds between Afghan and U.S. troops
By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 2:25 PM
Col. Mohammad Daud, the district police chief, surveyed his men with evident pride. A general would be arriving soon, and they were ready.
Observing the scene from the nearby shade, an American soldier reached a different conclusion.
“They’re [expletive] worthless,” he said.
“I’ve never seen them in any formation before,” he said. “They’re never in uniform.”
“They’re a joke.”
One of the Afghan war’s key assumptions is encapsulated by three endlessly repeated Dari words: “shohna ba shohna,” or “shoulder to shoulder,” the chosen metaphor of military brass to describe the American partnership with Afghan troops: two nations side by side in the long hard march against the Taliban.
The reality is not so seamless. Early this month, an Afghan soldier allegedly turned his rifle on his American partners and shot dead two U.S. soldiers in Helmand province. Such fratricide remains an anomaly. But mutual suspicion and dissatisfaction are easier to find, as barriers of language and culture compound the daily frustrations of fighting.
Deadly week: On Tuesday two gunman wearing Afghan army uniforms killed a U.S. soldier in the Paktia province. Four Americans died on Wednesday in a suicide bombing attack in the Kunar province. Early Friday morning an Afghan police commander killed three U.S. Marines in Helmand Province and on Friday night an Afghan worker killed three U.S. Marines in the Garmsir district of Helmand province
Terrorist: The suicide bomber waves to the camera from behind the wheel, before driving off in a bid to kill soldiers at Base Salerno
Explosion: A chant of ‘allahu akbar’ can be heard on the video as the truck moves forward before exploding in a massive fireball
Alexander the Great built stone fortresses in Afghanistan, but he did not tame the Afghans. No one ever has. They are a fractious people, as riven by ethnic and clan rivalries as their land is by its mountains, as renowned for bravery in battle as they are for treachery in their dealings with one another and outsiders. They have never known a genuine central government.
Measuring success is a mixed bag. Surge forces did achieve tangible gains at a tactical level. They reclaimed long-held Taliban territory throughout the south and improved the quality and quantity of Afghan army and police units.
Unfortunately, those gains had little strategic effect and thus did not translate into political success. Military gains are threatened as Nato forces begin their withdrawal because the Taliban still enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan, Afghan forces have not demonstrated an ability to provide widespread security without Nato support, and because the Afghan government is still riddled with corruption.
In many ways, this is the story of the last decade of war. American military forces have been superior on the battlefield, but policy-makers seemingly have not learned that winning the battle does not necessarily mean winning the war. In response to a quip by Colonel Harry Summers, made shortly before the fall of Saigon, “You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,” a North Vietnamese officer replied, “That may be true but it is also irrelevant.”
Transforming Afghan government and military cultures within the time constraints originally outlined by President Obama was always a tall order. It’s hard to see what additional, sustainable gains can be achieved between now and 2014. Last Friday morning,
Secretary Panetta announced that the final wave of the surge troops was out of Afghanistan, safely heading home to the United States. What do you know: there’s some good news out of Afghanistan, after all.
‘Frightening’: A congressional hearing was told of SSG Sitton’s concerns and that IED attacks had increased by 45%. SSG Sitton left behind none-month-old Brodey and his wife, Sarah, who he is pictured with right.
‘Please pray for us over here’: American soldier’s haunting prophesy of own death from needlessly walking into Afghan ‘minefield’ prompts shock on Capitol Hill
Hello my name is SSG Matthew Sitton. I am in the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Ft. Bragg, NC. I am currently deployed with the 4th Brigade Combat Team in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. I am writing you because I am concerned for the safety of my soldiers. This is my 3rd combat tour to Afghanistan so I have seen the transition in Rules of Engagement and Overall Tactics over the past 6 years.
I am only writing this email because I feel myself and my soldiers are being put into unnecessary positions where harm and danger are imminent. I know the threat of casualties in war and am totally on board with sacrifice for my country, but what I don’t agree with is the chain of command making us walk through, for lack of a better term, basically a mine field on a daily basis.
I am in a platoon of 25 soldiers. We are operating at a tempo that is set for a full 35-40 man infantry platoon. We have been mandated to patrol twice daily for 2-4 hours each patrol on top of guarding our FOB and conducting routine maintenance of our equipment. There is no endstate or purpose for the patrols given to us from our higher chain of command, only that we will be out for a certain time standard. I am all for getting on the ground and fighting for my country when I know there is a desired endstate and we have clear guidance of what needs to be done. But when we are told basically to just walk around for a certain amount of time is not sitting well with me.
As a Brigade, we are averaging at a minimum an amputee a day from our soldiers because we are walking around aimlessly through grape rows and compounds that are littered with explosives. Not to mention that the operation tempo that every solider is on leaves little to no time for rest and refit. The moral and alertness levels on our patrol are low and it is causing casualties left and right.
Here is an example of how bad things have gotten. Our small FOB was flooded accidentally by a local early one morning a few days ago. He was watering his fields and the damn he had broke and water came flooding into our Living Area. Since our FOB does not have any portable bathrooms, we had to dig a hole in the ground where soldiers could use the bathroom. That also got flooded and contaminated all the water that later soaked every soldier and his gear. Instead of returning to base and cleaning up, our chain of command was so set on us meeting the brigade commanders 2 patrols a day guidance that they made us move outside the flooded FOB and conduct our patrols soaked in urine.
That is just one single instance of the unsatisfactory situations that our chain of command has put us in. At least three of my soldiers have gotten sick since that incident and taken away from our combat power because of their illness caused by unhealthy conditions.
I understand that as a commander you are to follow the orders of those appointed over you however there needs to be a time where the wellness of your soldiers needs to take priority over walking around in fields for hours a day for no rhyme or reason, but only to meet the Brigade Commanders guidance of you will conduct so many patrols for such an allotted time.
I’m concerned about the well being of my soldiers and have tried to voice my opinion through the proper channels of my own chain of command only to be turned away and told that I need to stop complaining. It is my responsibility to take care of my soldiers and there is only so much I can do with that little bit of Rank I have. My guys would fight by my side and have my back in any condition and I owe it to them to have their best interest in mind. I know they would and I certainly would appreciate it if there was something that you could do to help us out. I just want to return my guys home to their families healthy. I apologize for taking your time like this Sir, and I do appreciate what you do for us. I was told to contact you by my Grand Mother (name blacked out) who said that you had helped her son (my uncle) (name blacked) out many years ago. He also was serving in the military at the time. Thank you again for allowing soldiers like me to voice their opinion. If anything Please Pray for us over hear. God Bless
SSG Matthew Sitton
Sections of Taliban ready to accept US presence in Afghanistan – report
Moderates say they can see no prospect of victory so are prepared to negotiate – but not with the Karzai government
The report concludes: “The Taliban would be open to negotiating a ceasefire as part of a general settlement, and also as a bridge between confidence-building measures and the core issue of the distribution of political power in Afghanistan.
“A ceasefire would require strong Islamic justification, obscuring any hint of surrender,” it adds.
Even more surprising, in view of the official Taliban propaganda portraying it as leading a struggle against foreign invaders, the report says the insurgents are “prepared to accept a long-term US military presence in Afghanistan”.
Taliban ‘prepared to work with US on security in Afghanistan’
The Taliban is prepared to completely disown al-Qaeda, allow the US to retain several military bases in Afghanistan and agree a ceasefire deal to end its 11 year conflict with Nato, a major report released on Monday discloses.
According to the report, the Taliban representatives believe there is “no natural enmity” with the Americans, and that they would be prepared to accept a long-term US military presence in the country if it helped Afghan security
Any notion that the Taliban is interested in an accomodation with the Kabul government is ludicrous.
Ahmad Khan Samangani, who was killed after apparently telling staff to keep security checks on guests to a minimum. Photograph: Reuters
A suicide bomber has killed a senior anti-Taliban leader, top security commanders and more than a dozen other guests at a family wedding in northern Afghanistan in one of the bloodiest attacks on military and government officials of the war.
The main target was Ahmad Khan Samangani, an ethnic Uzbek MP who was attending the wedding of his daughter and his nephew in Aybak, the capital of the northern province of Samangan, when the blast happened.
Samangani, who rose to prominence during the fight against Soviet forces and then the country’s bitter civil war, had survived a previous attempt on his life five years ago.
The former anti-Taliban commander was welcoming guests to the wedding when the bomber struck, said Khalilluah Andarabi, provincial police chief in Samangan.
“I saw parts of bodies, blood all over the reception,” Ahmad Jawed, a guest, said of the blast scene. “Many wounded people were crying for help,” he told Reuters news agency.
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said the bomber had killed 17 people and wounded 43. He has ordered a probe into the killing of Samangani, who he said “played a crucial role in forging national unity”.
Cameron admits Taliban just waiting for troops to leave
Fears grow that early exit in 2013 would leave Afghans at mercy of rebel attacks
Questions About Afghanistan, If Congress Cared Enough to Ask Them
WASHINGTON — With the end in sight for Hamid Karzai’s days in office as Afghanistan’s president, members of his family are trying to protect their status, weighing how to hold on to power while secretly fighting among themselves for control of the fortune they have amassed in the last decade.
The future of the regime in Kabul will rest on three pillars: legitimacy, force, and money. In the past decade Afghans have experienced democracy without accountability, force without order, development without sustainability. For a few years, the blame game exhaustingly made its rounds. But with the withdrawal inked, pressed and ‘tranched’ into motion, finger-lifting has been deemed too cumbersome, and rightly so. Not so right, however, is the near-unanimous resignation to the uncertainty that looms. While strategic agreements are being signed with smiles, handshakes and declarations of solidarity, few are unaware of the arm-twisting and guilt-tripping entailed in nudging allies and partners up to the plate. The tacit message to Afghans resounds: “I love you, but I’m leaving.”
“As the Taliban ramped up its attacks in eastern Afghanistan’s Wardak province this spring, the Afghan soldiers here came to a painful conclusion: They were not ready to take on the fight alone. But it was too late — the Americans were not coming back.
The transition of Combat Outpost Conlon to Afghan control — marked by a flag-raising ceremony and a visit from top U.S. military brass — was an early milestone in the NATO drawdown that will continue through 2014.
But Afghan officials worry that the problems plaguing Conlon could be replicated across the country as the U.S. military hands over authority, leaving 200,000 Afghan soldiers without the equipment or wherewithal to defeat a resilient enemy.”
Not A Single Afghan Battalion Fights Without U.S. Help
Ten years of war. Two years of an accelerated effort to train Afghans to take over that fight, at an annual cost of $6 billion. And not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from U.S. or allied units.
That was the assessment made by the officer responsible for training those Afghan soldiers, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell. Out of approximately 180 Afghan National Army battalions, only two operate “independently.” Except that “independently,” in Caldwell’s National Training Mission-Afghanistan command, means something different than “independently” does in the States.
Those two “independent” battalions still require U.S. support for their maintenance, logistics and medical systems,” Caldwell admitted when Pentagon reporters pressed him on Monday morning.
Afghanistan aid pledges hide rehashed promises and familiar corruption fears
Anti-corruption provisions for Afghanistan outlined at Tokyo talks contain many demands but little to enforce them, warn analysts
Top General Accused of Blocking Corruption Probe to Help Obama
U.S. Efforts Fail to Curtail Trade in Afghan Opium
The great irony of the Afghanistan War is that the Taliban prohibited the cultivation of opium but now utilize the income derived from its cultivation to fund operations. Gen. Stanley McChrystal touted “Government in a Box”, which flopped like dog overcome by heat. With local checkpoints, taxes, and courts, Taliban government was/is more effective than the Karzai/Kabul central gov.
“All we want is security, whether you bring it or the Taliban. We are not supporting the war. We support peace and security. If you bring peace and security you are my king. If they bring security they are our kings. I want nothing. I don’t want a post in the government. All I want is to be able to move around…”
The comprehensive approach looked perfectly feasible in a PowerPoint presentation, when the beneficiaries, who weren’t consulted, were viewed as automata. When applied to an actual society, especially as fragmented, traumatized and complicated as Helmand’s [Province], it rarely lasted more than the first ten minutes of a shura. An anthropologist would struggle to understand the competing interests of local power-brokers, often motivated by long-running tribal, political and drug-trafficking rivalries. A few seemed to understand but the security situation meant that they were rarely, if ever, there when they were needed. Instead, soldiers had to do what they could.
When I finally got a seat to Sangin, I found myself next to a military policeman, there to train the A[fghan]N[ational]P[olice]. He had just sacked two men who had been caught smoking opium once too often and was on his way from a base he’d found being guarded by a twelve-year-old, in uniform, with a machine gun. I told him I was filming with the O[perational]M[entor and]L[iason]T[eam] and he asked how long the soldiers thought it would take to train the A[fghan]N[ational]A[rmy]. Ten years, I replied. How long [sic]it would take to train the police, I asked? ‘Double that at least’, he replied seriously.
The aim was to show the people why they should side with the Afghan government and reject the Taliban’s rule. But the only representatives of that government were the army and the police, who wouldn’t even be there if weren’t for the Marines. The people were being shown what they already knew: your government is incapable of looking after you, so don’t burn any bridges with the Taliban.’
Even if the Taliban had been vanquished, there were few signs that the government would be embraced and plenty that it was hated and feared. People approached marines in the bazaar, saying: ‘Please don’t leave us alone with those guys,’ referring to the police. The same thing had happened in every town I had seen cleared.
If I were Afghan, especially in Helmand, I certainly wouldn’t be picking sides. Certainly not if the American Marines and British soldiers who were asking me to are replaced every six months, and will be gone altogether within two to three years. If someone built me a school or repaired my mosque, I would understandably smile, shake their hand, maybe even make them a cup of tea or pose for a photograph. But this would be simple pragmatism. It would not mean I offered them my loyalty, much less that I had rejected the Taliban. The nature and detail of this pragmatism is entirely lost on idealistic foreign commanders.
The relationships that exist almost always exist because they have been paid for, which leads yet to another what if. Even if somewhere is cleared, held, built on and transferred to the Afghan security forces, what happens next? Currently ninety-seven percent of Afghanistan’s GDP comes from foreign aid and military spending, according to the World Bank. If the Afghan government is unable or unwilling to provide for its citizens when they are receiving such largesse, imagine what it will be like when the foreign money dries up. Until then, there is little incentive for the Afghan government to perform, or even behave, if that will hasten the foreigners’ departure and stop the gravy train.
Will civil war hit Afghanistan when the U.S. Leaves?
BY DEXTER FILKINS
Finish Off Al Qaeda. Stop Trying to Fix Afghanistan.
By ERIC GREITENS
Published: April 30, 2012
OSAMA BIN LADEN’S death a year ago Wednesday, at the hands of a Navy SEAL team, revealed that America has been fighting two wars in Afghanistan. One is against Al Qaeda, and is clearly in America’s national interest; the other war, to fix Afghanistan, is much more questionable. We must take lessons from the way we fight terrorism in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere: Focus more on finishing the fight against Al Qaeda, and less on bringing good government to a failing state.
After 9/11, American special operations and intelligence personnel killed and captured Al Qaeda leaders, eliminated its bases of operation, restricted its financing, and disrupted its ability to launch international attacks. Relentless pressure has kept Al Qaeda’s ability to conduct attacks low.
But in Afghanistan, it’s hard to see whether American efforts are succeeding, and what we should do next. On 9/11 we were not attacked by a country. Yet because many Qaeda fighters were based and sheltered in Afghanistan in 2001, some Americans argued that to make victory permanent we had to not just oust the Taliban government, but also build a democracy, a modern economy and an effective national security apparatus for Afghanistan. It was like arguing that to put out a forest fire, we had to pave the forest.
Today, despite years of investment, the Taliban, associated fighters, criminal families and warlords still resist control from Kabul. President Hamid Karzai has been, at best, an unpredictable ally. Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as more corrupt than any country except Somalia and North Korea. Government security forces still cannot coordinate intelligence and operations across the country without our support.
Since Bin Laden’s death, many Americans have decided that our job in Afghanistan is done. They see a victory in the counterterrorism campaign, and are tired of the corruption, confusion and dysfunction of the nation-building campaign.
But it would be a mistake to abandon the country entirely, and fortunately, leaving altogether is not the only alternative. America has learned to fight Al Qaeda in other failed and failing states — Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan — without completely rebuilding them. It’s time to bring those lessons learned back to where we started.
The weakness of the Karzai government need not pose any more of a threat to America than the ungovernability of large areas of Yemen and Somalia does. These areas must be watched closely by intelligence resources and cooperative tribal leaders, and any new threat must be cut down quickly. But that essential mission can be carried out by intelligence and Special Operations personnel who can smother remnants of Al Qaeda without having to rebuild every country where it sets up shop.
As the Obama administration negotiates with the Karzai government and with Pakistan, we may be tempted to make commitments that, in the name of nation-building, restrict our ability to fight terrorists. If we must involve the Afghan government in every night raid, our operations will slow and targets will escape. If Pakistani officials must know in advance of every drone attack, intelligence will leak.
Rather than asking how to support the Karzai government, we should be asking how, given the realities of Afghanistan, we can most effectively disrupt Qaeda operations and kill Qaeda leaders. An effective strategy should be built around eight principles:
First, maintain America’s ability to strike Al Qaeda with surprise, speed and violence. Don’t compromise it for the sake of a relationship with an unreliable ally.
Second, focus on the mission, not the number of troops. Embedding Special Operations and intelligence personnel throughout the country will reduce our footprint without sacrificing our ability to hit Al Qaeda.
Third, put in place a long-term plan for maintaining effective signals and human intelligence. Intelligence is easily overlooked in talk about “boots on the ground,” but is our first line of defense.
Fourth, make clear that our support for Afghanistan’s army and national police force depends on their ability to counter international terrorist attacks. Our continued investment must be dependent on their performance.
Fifth, if the Karzai government can’t get the job done, work with people who can. Local allies like tribal leaders can be partners. Our time should be spent working directly with them, rather than trying to get them to partner with Kabul.
Sixth, expand our options by strengthening relationships with nearby governments, while ensuring that our plans for naval deployments maintain effective cruise missile and aircraft carrier strike capabilities.
Seventh, be true to our friends. See that Afghans who have taken risks serving with American forces — translators, for example — are cared for, along with their families.
Finally, remember what constitutes success. Success means eliminating Al Qaeda’s ability to launch terrorist attacks against the United States and our allies.
Achieving that goal demands focus. Defeating a terrorist organization is like fighting a forest fire; there’s never a clear moment of victory, and even after you’ve won, you have to watch carefully. The successes of the past decade have required discipline, focus and sacrifice from America’s service members and their families. Now, to complete that mission, we must ask no less of our policy makers.
Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, is the author of “The Heart and The Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.”
The key questions to be discussed at Chicago all focus on the now imminent “post-international-intervention era”. It is clear to everyone that the west wants out – as fast as possible. Nato nations will be asked to foot the bill – and some of the labour – of maintaining an Afghan army of upward of 200,000 men to continue “security operations”. This will cost around $4bn – a hefty enough price but much less than the $100bn plus per year that the war is currently thought to be costing.
Among the spin, various things are obvious. Western expectations have now been pegged back to a degree that would be bleakly amusing in other circumstances. General John Allen, the supreme Nato commander in Afghanistan, has said that his new strategy involves “frontloading the risk” which means handing over areas of Afghanistan where fighting is toughest as soon as possible. He argues that this will allow a longer period of support from international forces before the latter pull out. This may be sensible. Perhaps it a shoddy excuse for cutting and running even faster. Either way, it is the total opposite of what I have heard senior officers telling me should be done on every trip I have made to Afghanistan since 2006.
English language al-Qaeda training manual revealed
The guide was written by Samir Khan, an American who served as the top propagandist for the Yemen-based branch of the terrorist movement, which is considered the most dangerous to the West. He was killed by a drone attack in September, alongside AQAP’s chief ideologue, Anwar al-Awlaki,
…He describes the “bee-like sound” of the unmanned aerial vehicles in a section headed: “aerial bombardment.”
“If you feel terrified,” he says. “Close your eyes and imagine yourself inside paradise. Think of your hoor [virgins] that are awaiting you as well as meeting the prophets.”
The center of gravity for the future of a stable Afghanistan rests with the legitimacy and viability of the Kabul/ Karzai government, which means forget it.
…U.S. military officials believe the Afghan army still has a long way to go before it can operate at top form, even with mentors. Only 18 of the country’s 293 battalions have been deemed by the Americans to be capable of independent operations with coalition advisers.
There is no purpose in sustaining a robust presence in that God-forsaken country beyond Special Ops and bases that can monitor Pakistan.
Afghanistan surge: Is the ‘clear, hold, build’ strategy working?
Posted on Friday, August 13, 2010
U.S. soldiers’ mission shows Afghan war’s uncertainties
U.S. soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment take aim at unseen militants during an operation to seize Babur, a Taliban-controlled village in Kandahar province’s Arghandab valley. | /Dion Nissenbaum/MCT
Dion Nissenbaum | McClatchy Newspapers
ARGHANDAB, Afghanistan — Setting out on one of their final patrols in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army and Afghan soldiers waded through waist-deep streams, scampered over crumbling 9-foot-tall mud walls and were closing in on a suspected bomb-making factory when their mission came to an unexpected halt.
Fifty yards short of their target, an Afghan soldier had been stung in the head by a bee. Now he wanted to abort the mission and head back to base.
American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division rolled their eyes as they told the pained Afghan fighter that scrapping their mission wasn’t an option.
“He’s like a little girl,” one of the U.S. soldiers said with disdain as a medic persuaded the glaring Afghan to press on.
After months of deadly and often demoralizing fighting alongside mediocre Afghan forces in one of the Taliban’s most intractable strongholds outside Kandahar city, the Americans in this Army company are asking themselves if it had been worth it.
“I’m ready to get out of here,” said Sgt. Joshua Middlebrook, 25, of Sanford, N.C., as the patrol made its way back to base after coming up dry in the search. “I’m tired of picking up body parts.”
American forces have been dying in record numbers this summer. The death toll in June was the highest in nearly nine years of war — until July, when U.S. deaths in Afghanistan reached a new monthly record of 66.
Many of the killings occurred here in Kandahar province, where President Barack Obama is gambling that an unfolding military campaign can dislodge Taliban fighters from their spiritual homeland and allow the U.S.-led military coalition to gain the upper hand.
Amid growing U.S. concerns about the war in Afghanistan, no one is feeling the pressure to demonstrate progress more than the Americans working on the rustic, isolated bases in southern Afghanistan.
In the sweltering Arghandab valley, U.S. soldiers have fumed in silence as Afghan fighters got high on drugs before setting off on military operations. They’ve questioned Afghan police commanders suspected of cutting private protection deals with Taliban insurgents. Problems with the Afghan police in Arghandab probably reached their nadir this summer when a teenage police officer accused an older officer of sexually abusing him on a U.S.-Afghan base. The accused officer was expelled.
Though American military strategists said they are making slow headway, some U.S. soldiers aren’t confident it will be good enough to assuage skeptical Americans back home and to convince wary Afghans to back the anemic Kabul government led by President Hamid Karzai.
“Some days I feel like we’ve made a difference,” Middlebrook said. “Other days, not so much. Maybe it won’t last and the Taliban will move back in. I don’t know.”
Over the past year, Charlie Company — of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team with the 82nd Airborne Division — has been hit especially hard.
Charlie Company squad leaders said that four of their soldiers were killed and 15 more seriously wounded as they battled Taliban fighters and grappled with an endless supply of well-hidden roadside bombs, said soldiers with the 82nd Airborne, based in Fort Bragg, N.C.
The company’s deaths accounted for more than a fifth of the 27 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division killed this year in Afghanistan, according to the iCasualties website.
Charlie Company spent much of this year in a part of Arghandab that some soldiers call the “Westside ghetto,” a chain of desolate villages and dense orchards running along the west side of the river that’s provided often impenetrable shelter for fighters over the centuries.
Like the Soviets before them, American forces have found the Arghandab River valley to be an especially punishing battlefield. Progress has been halting.
Many village elders from Taliban-controlled areas long ago sought refuge in nearby Kandahar city, and with Taliban insurgents routinely killing Afghans who work with U.S. forces, some village leaders are wary of American assurances that they’ll be safe if they come back.
That’s made it difficult for counterinsurgency strategists to make much headway in creating a network of trustworthy local leaders or hiring local Afghans to work on signature development projects.
“The local population knows who they’re afraid of — and it ain’t us,” said Staff Sgt. Chris Gerhart, an outspoken 22-year-old Charlie Company squad leader from Jacksonville, Fla.
With Americans increasingly questioning the war and U.S. generals pressing for swift results, military commanders in Afghanistan are anxious to demonstrate success.
When U.S. forces made significant headway in pushing Taliban fighters out of the southern stretches of the Arghandab valley, the insurgents retreated north.
“We had a greater flow of insurgents than I originally anticipated,” said Lt. Col. Guy Jones, the commander of the 82nd Airborne forces in Arghandab.
The intensified fighting soured some of the soldiers on the fundamental tenets of a U.S. counterinsurgency strategy — also known as COIN — that relies as much on wooing the population with political and economic progress as it does on routing enemy forces.
“I’m not saying you can’t win a COIN fight, but it’s not going to work in Afghanistan, and it’s not going to work during the fighting season,” said one Charlie Company soldier who asked not to be identified to avoid being disciplined for his candor. “It’s hard to go to hugs and kisses when you still close your eyes at night and see your friends’ body parts.”
The frustrations within Charlie Company were compounded this summer by a challenging transfer of control to 101st Airborne Division artillery forces who had little of the infantry experience needed for the grueling fighting in Arghandab.
In their first few weeks in Arghandab, the 101st Airborne took extensive casualties. At least four soldiers were killed and two dozen more were seriously injured, according to soldiers in Arghandab.
“They weren’t prepared physically, mentally and tactically,” Gerhart said.
Some Charlie Company soldiers blamed the 101st Airborne Division’s inexperience for the death of Sgt. Edwardo Loredo of Houston, who was killed by a roadside bomb one day before his 35th birthday in late June.
The problems came to a head in mid-July as the 82nd Airborne was preparing to cede control to the 101st and the joint forces got pinned down in a battle that some Charlie Company soldiers called the Arghandab Alamo.
The forces set out to fight the Taliban at one of the most contested canals in an area dubbed the “devil’s playground.”
The Taliban met the American forces with a well-planned strike that quickly ravaged the American forces, said soldiers who took part in the fight.
“If it wasn’t for the 82nd guys, we’d be dead by now,” said Private George Miller, a 19-year-old Redlands, Calif., native who’s now in Arghandab with the 101st Airborne.
The influx of new forces dispatched by Obama has given the 101st Airborne, based in Fort Campbell, Ky., more power to hold onto areas that the 82nd Airborne never could fully control.
Lt. Col. David Flynn, the head of the 101st Airborne in Arghandab, took it as a kind of personal mission to seize the “devil’s playground” and set up a new military base to throw the Taliban off-balance.
“I told the guys I would not let Sgt. Loredo die in vain,” Flynn said.
At significant cost, the new soldiers fought to establish Combat Outpost Stout, named after Sgt. Kyle Stout, of Texarkana, Texas, who was one of the first soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to be killed in Arghandab this summer.
“They don’t need to be the best infantry, they just need to be better than the Taliban,” Flynn said of his soldiers. “And they are.”
In the past five months, 38 soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division have been killed in Afghanistan, according to iCasualties. Five of them were killed in Kandahar province last month as the soldiers struggled to get their bearings.
Although the Afghan forces sent to fight alongside American soldiers in Arghandab are supposed to be among the best the country has to offer, U.S. officers gave them mixed reviews.
Drug use among Afghan fighters remains pervasive.
One Afghan commander turned up on a recent military operation in Arghandab with bloodshot eyes, suggesting that he was high.
U.S. soldiers at one Arghandab base refer to a particular guard tower as “the Hash Tower” because that’s where they say the Afghan soldiers go to get high.
“I trust them only as far as I can throw them,” Specialist Clayton Taylor, a 25-year-old Charlie Company soldier from Lake Wales, Fla., said while on patrol with the Afghan Army. “They’re lazy. They don’t care. And half of them are crooked.”
The Afghan police are an even bigger problem.
Charlie Company soldiers said they long suspected that the Afghan police commander in their area had cut a deal with the Taliban to ensure that he wouldn’t be attacked.
“You could tell he was playing both sides,” said Private Larry Nichols, a 21-year-old from St. Mary’s, Md. “He was doing what he did to stay alive.”
On a recent evening, Gerhart and his squad sat outside their tent as they counted down the days to their departure and released months of pent-up frustrations while talking to a reporter.
“Has the war been worth it?” Gerhart asked while pacing back and forth in the dimming light. “I don’t know, because it’s not over yet.
As Trained Afghans Turn Enemy, a U.S.-Led Imperative Is in Peril
A flag flies above a guard tower from where Afghan forces opened fire in March on the American soldiers who share the outpost.
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG
Published: May 15, 2012
COMBAT OUTPOST SANGESAR, Afghanistan — A burst of gunfire snapped First Sgt. Joseph Hissong awake. Then came another, and another, all with the familiar three-round bursts of an American assault rifle — and the unfamiliar sound of its rounds being fired in his direction.
The shooters were close. His first thought: “Are Taliban inside the wire?”
But it was not the Taliban. Over the next 52 minutes, as his company of paratroopers braved bullets and rocket-propelled grenades in the predawn darkness to retake one of their own guard towers in southern Afghanistan, they found themselves facing what has become a more pernicious threat: the Afghan soldiers who live and fight alongside the Americans.
The attack on Sergeant Hissong’s company, on March 1 at Combat Outpost Sangesar, left two Americans dead along with two Afghan assailants, but it was not the first time that Afghan solders had attacked forces from the American-led coalition, nor would it be the last of what the military calls “green on blue” attacks. Already this year, 22 coalition service members have been killed by men in Afghan uniform, compared with 35 for all of last year, according to coalition officials.
Yet with the coalition as a matter of policy offering only the barest of details about the attacks — the episode at Sangesar, for instance, was disclosed in a 71-word coalition statement — interviews conducted during a week at this outpost provided a rare and detailed account of the violence.
The attacks, and the personal animosity that officials believe have driven most of them, are threatening the joint-training model that is one of the remaining imperatives of the Western mission in Afghanistan. The future of that mission will be a main topic at a NATO summit meeting this weekend, as American and European leaders discuss whether to accelerate their drawdown.
At the personal level, the Sangesar attack was a nightmarish betrayal for the units involved, and in the moments after the violence ended their commanders were already struggling to figure out how the Afghan and American soldiers who share the base could possibly cooperate again.
They knew how quickly the situation could spiral downward. Just days before, hundreds of American advisers had been pulled from Afghan government offices in Kabul after two American officers were killed by an Interior Ministry employee, worsening an already poisonous atmosphere during the rioting that broke out after American military personnel burned Korans. The Afghan and American officers at Sangesar, in southern Afghanistan’s opium poppy belt, decided pulling back from one another was not an option at the base. Instead, they immediately put their men to work together repairing damage from the attack. The Americans also quickly turned down an Afghan Army offer to swap out the Afghan unit based at Sangesar.
Sergeant Hissong’s unit — Company B of the Second Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, from the 82nd Airborne Division — had assumed formal command of the outpost only on the night of the attack. New to the area, the Americans reasoned they needed the local knowledge of the Afghan unit, which had been in place for some time. The base is in the Zhare district of Kandahar Province, the closest thing to home turf for the Taliban, a group founded at an Islamic seminary a few miles from the outpost.
American and Afghan soldiers were back out on joint patrols within a week. Security measures imposed immediately after the attack — like posting armed guards at the American mess hall — had fallen away by the end of the month.
In April, American and Afghan soldiers paired up to successfully push the Taliban from a nearby village.
After watching Afghan soldiers kick down doors and clear mud-brick farm compounds, “it’s hard not to like some of those guys,” said First Lt. Nicholas Olivero, 24, of Fairfax, Va. “But I’d be lying if I said there was trust across the board.”
Another American soldier added: “I don’t always need to have them walking in front of me now. I did for a while.”
Yet Afghan soldiers still complain of being kept at a distance by the Americans, figuratively and literally. The Americans, for instance, have put up towering concrete barriers to separate their small, plywood command center from the outpost’s Afghan encampment.
Also still in place is a rule imposed by the Afghan Army after the attack requiring most of its soldiers to lock up their weapons when on base. The Afghan commanding officer keeps the keys.
One American soldier nonetheless advised a visitor to take an armed escort to the Afghan side of the base, which was about 100 feet away, “just in case.”
The effort at Sangesar to move past the attack, and the difficulties in doing so, exemplifies the broader struggle that American-led forces face as they seek to accelerate the training of the Afghan Army and police forces to take over before NATO’s combat mission ends in 2014.
Sangesar, like hundreds of other coalition outposts scattered across Afghanistan, is split between American and Afghan forces and situated on a few acres in a remote and often hostile area.
Its structures are made of little more than sandbags, heavy-duty tents, plywood huts and Hesco barriers, hulking bales of canvas wrapped in wire mesh and filled with dirt. The guard towers at Sangesar are essentially wooden frames filled out with sandbags and placed atop the base’s exterior wall of double-stacked Hescos.
Specialist Payton Jones, 19, was alone in one of the towers around 3 a.m. on March 1 when two Afghans sneaked up. They killed him with a bullet to the head.
Within minutes, Staff Sgt. Jordan Bear, 25, who was among the first soldiers on the scene, had been fatally wounded in a volley of fire from the tower. When Sergeant Hissong, a 35-year-old on his third tour in Afghanistan, arrived moments later, bullets were still smacking into the ground near where Sergeant Bear had fallen.
The two Afghans in the tower — a soldier and a civilian teacher — were in an easily defended position. The only approach was up a funnel-shaped stretch of open turf that gave them a clear field of fire to repulse any counterattack.
Along with assault rifles, the Afghans had an American machine gun and their own rocket-propelled grenades. One RPG obliterated a sandbagged bunker between a pair of mortar pits at the center of the base, just moments after an American officer had dashed out of it.
Despite the gun and RPG fire, Sergeant Hissong and another soldier managed to sneak closer to the tower along a row of Hescos. But they could not take a clear shot at the tower’s narrow entrance — its only opening — without dangerously exposing themselves.
They turned to their grenade launchers but were too close to the tower for the grenades to detonate once fired. Most landed with nothing more than a thud. The ones that did explode hit the tower’s exterior, inflicting little damage.
Helicopter gunships were soon overhead but could not risk firing their missiles or explosive rounds — the base’s fuel tanks were right next to the tower.
The paratroopers on the ground tried approaching the tower in an armored vehicle. But it was disabled with an RPG before it could be positioned to fire its powerful gun.
That left Sergeant Hissong and his comrade. After firing 17 grenades, they were down to their last one. They tried to position themselves so they could get a clear shot into the tower — and enough distance so it would detonate.
Instead, it bounced off a wall and exploded atop a thick fuel line, sparking a fire that quickly shot toward the main fuel supply: a rubber bladder as big as a swimming pool that was now separated from the flames by only a row of Hescos.
Racing to disconnect the line from the main fuel supply, Sergeant Hissong did not realize Company B had finally caught a break: Flames were also climbing the wooden stairs to the tower, filling it with smoke.
The Afghans in the tower pushed out an exterior window, jumped about two stories to the ground and ran. They made it roughly a hundred yards before being cut down by an Apache helicopter.
The fight was over. But as the Americans and Afghans at the base began to regroup, they soon learned a third conspirator, an Afghan sergeant, remained among their ranks.
At the outset of the attack, the Afghan sergeant had gone to the outpost’s entrance and shot the two guards — a fellow Afghan soldier and an American. Then he sneaked back to his bunk to wait out the fighting with the other Afghan soldiers.
His undoing: He had not killed either man at the entrance. The American was hit in the chest plate of his body armor, knocked down and badly bruised, but nothing more. The Afghan guard was shot clean through the shoulder, a serious but not life-threatening wound, and he quickly identified the third conspirator. Afghan forces detained him immediately.
The coalition and Afghan Army would now have a rare opportunity to interrogate an Afghan soldier who had turned on coalition forces; most are quickly killed in ensuing firefights. Why had three men attacked American soldiers they barely knew? Was it a personal grudge against Americans? Or had they turned to the Taliban?
The detainee has since presumably been asked those questions. But in a reflection of the official reticence to discuss green-on-blue attacks, his answers remain shrouded in secrecy. It is not even clear whose custody he is in.
Afghan commanders show new defiance in dealings with Americans
By Kevin Sieff, Updated: Friday, May 11, 6:30 AM
KABUL —Afghan commanders have refused more than a dozen times within the past two months to act on U.S. intelligence regarding high-level insurgents, arguing that night-time operations to target the men would result in civilian casualties, Afghan officials say.
The defiance highlights the shift underway in Afghanistan as Afghan commanders make use of their newfound power to veto operations proposed by their NATO counterparts.
For much of the past decade, NATO commanders have dictated most aspects of the allied war strategy, with Afghan military officers playing a far more marginal role. But with the signing of an agreement last month, Afghans have now inherited responsibility for so-called night raids — a crucial feature of the war effort.
To Afghan leaders, the decisions made by their commanders reflect growing Afghan autonomy from Western forces as NATO draws down, and prove that Afghan forces are willing to exercise more caution than foreign troops when civilian lives are at stake.
“In the last two months, 14 to 16 [night] operations have been rejected by the Afghans,” said Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the top Afghan army officer. “The U.S. has said, ‘This operation better be conducted. It’s a high-value target.’ Then my people said, ‘It’s a high-value target. I agree with you. But there are so many civilian children and women [in the area].’ ”
Many of the rejected night operations are later conducted once civilians are no longer in the vicinity of the targets, Karimi said.
U.S. officials point to progress they have made in their own efforts to reduce civilian casualties, and say that while the Afghans occasionally choose not to act on American intelligence, night operations are nonetheless frequently conducted. Americans continue to provide logistical support and backup, U.S. officials say, using their aircraft to deposit Afghan soldiers at the targets.
“The Afghans are the ones who give final say on whether or not the mission gets conducted. That’s how the process works now,” said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue. “The operational tempo hasn’t been affected by this. I don’t think there’s been a night when they haven’t conducted a good number of operations.”
But the resistance to American guidance on night operations represents the clearest indication to date that Afghan military commanders are heeding a directive from President Hamid Karzai last month. Just a day after signing a 10-year bilateral agreement with the United States, Karzai said Afghan soldiers should discard questionable information provided by the U.S. Military.
“If you have any doubt about an American intelligence report, do not conduct any operation based on it,” he told officials at the Interior Ministry.
The Afghan president grew even more disenchanted over the last week, when separate NATO airstrikes killed 18 civilians in Logar, Kapisa, Badghis and Helmand provinces, according to Afghan officials. The president and his advisers said the attacks raise questions about the newly minted partnership agreement.
“Karzai signed the strategic pact with the United States to avoid such incidents and if Afghans do not feel safe, the strategic partnership loses its meaning,” said a presidential statement released Monday.
In the past, such complaints would have been unlikely to affect military operations. But the transition to greater Afghan control of security has left Karzai and his military in a stronger position to stymie the American strategy.
The transition will continue in the coming months. This summer, a number of districts and provinces will be formally entrusted to Afghan security forces, the third round of regional transitions. In September, Afghans will assume responsibility for the U.S. military prison at Bagram, with about 3,000 detainees.
In the past, Western officials questioned whether Karzai’s opposition to night raids and other U.S.-led operations was politically driven — aimed at proving to his people that he was capable of resisting American demands.
Now, with more transitional milestones looming, Afghan political and military leaders say their growing responsibility has made the issue of civilian casualties even more delicate.
“Most of the people will say, ‘I don’t blame the foreigners if they kill us, but why do you kill me?’ ” Karimi said. “We have to be concerned. We have to have people on our side.”
Each time civilians are killed in either a NATO or Afghan operation, Karzai or one of his advisers calls the Defense Ministry for an explanation. Karimi said the president’s involvement in military affairs centers largely on reducing civilian casualties rather than on dictating troop levels or strategy.
NATO officials say they have greatly reduced the number of civilians killed in operations in recent years. The United Nations last year attributed 400 civilian deaths to NATO and Afghan forces, a slight decrease from 2010.
“We have significantly improved attention to detail when it comes to targeting,” a U.S. official said.
Human rights organizations say they fear that the methods and institutions developed by NATO to both track and prevent civilian casualties will not be replicated by the Afghan security forces.
“Right now, Afghan forces don’t have systems in place to prevent and respond to civilian casualties they may cause. International forces evolved their thinking over a decade, realizing they needed a civilian casualty tracking team and policies to investigate civilian harm caused by their own forces,” said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. “Without those systems in place, verbal commitments from the Afghan government to not harm civilians are likely to fall flat as Afghan forces take over.”
Two British servicemen shot dead by Afghan police they were training
Two British servicemen have been shot dead by Afghan policemen they were training in Helmand, in the latest killing by local security forces of Nato allies.
The killings in Helmand came less than two months after two other British servicemen were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in Lashkar Gah after an apparent quarrel. A total of 414 British troops have died in the Afghan campaign.
Sgt Luke Taylor of the Royal Marines and L/Cpl Michael Foley, 25, from the Adjutant General’s Corps were shot dead while on guard duty after Gul Nazir, an Afghan soldier, became enraged because they would not let him in.