Yet Another Unsupported Assertion of Progress in Afghanistan

Normally, when a column opens with the phrase “there is increasing evidence that…”, a reader has the right to expect that some evidence will be presented in the body of the column.  John Nagl and Nathanial Fick’s op-ed (The Long War May be Getting Shorter, February 21st) seemingly breaks this contract.  Their op-ed provides no data—not even one number—to suggest that security has improved.  The only bright spot from the column seems to be the size of the as yet untested Afghanistan National Army, which is costing taxpayers $12.8 billion to train in a country whose entire GDP is only $16.6 billion.

There is a very clear reason why pro-surge coinistas do not cite actual data and numbers.  If they did, they would have a difficult time selling their policies.  Fick and Nagl work for CNAS, an organization which has long been a proponent of billion dollar counter-insurgency strategies with an emphasis on military solutions.  Not surprisingly, they tend to view events in Afghanistan through rose-tinted glasses.  In just the last three days, stories from major newspapers tell a very different story.  On Monday, a suicide bomber in Kunduz province killed 31 Afghan civilians at a government census office.  Kunduz province lies in Northern Afghanistan, a region once viewed as one of the more stable.

Also on Monday, the Washington Post reported that drone attacks are becoming less effective at killing high level targets.

“CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two”

The increased use of drones was actually cited by Nagl and Fick as more “evidence” that the Pakistani sanctuary problem has been solved.

And finally, on Sunday, the Afghanistan government charged the U.S. of killing 65 civilians, including more than 60 children in Eastern Afghanistan.  There is no way of knowing whether these allegations, which come from the Governor of Konar are correct, but the U.S. has dramatically increased its bombing campaign there, and the by our own admission it is virtually impossible to distinguish between civilians and insurgents.

To be fair, Nagl and Fick do tout three other developments in Afghanistan:  the year-long troop escalation that has produced a worsening security environment, the renewed commitment to stay in Afghanistan forever (or at least to 2014 and beyond) despite widespread opposition in the United States, and yet another task force to combat corruption which apparently will pressure Karzai to act despite all evidence to the contrary.  If this is the best “evidence” the military can produce, we’re in deep trouble.


Nagl and Fick also tout the increased usage of nighttime raids as important development, but a report from Reuters on Thursday suggests that General Petraeus’s looser rules of engagement regarding these raids have led to an increase in accidental fatalities which fuel the insurgency.

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