Now that the last surge troops have left, what did it achieve? Limited tactical success against the Taliban. Strategically, less
guardian.co.uk, Monday 24 September 2012 16.01 BST[/*]
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US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta labelled recent attacks as the 'last gasp' of the Taliban's insurgency. Photograph: Larry Downing/AFP/Getty Images
As the Middle East erupted in violent protests two weeks ago, US efforts in Afghanistan sunk to new depths. There hasn't been much good news out of Afghanistan since March 2003, but last week was particularly bad– highlighted by an audacious attack on Camp Bastion and the announcement that all combined patrols with Isaf and Afghan troops would be temporarily halted. Overshadowed by those incidents were two more insider attacks that killed six Isaf service members the same weekend. Indeed, good news is hard to find.
Reminiscent of similar attacks on Pakistani military bases, a small group of well-trained militants carried out the spectacular attack on Camp Bastion, one of Isaf's largest bases in country. Fifteen well-armed militants disguised in US army uniforms breached the perimeter fence and split into three roving teams. The result: two US marines killed, including the Harrier squadron commanding officer, nine wounded, and eight AV-8B Harrier "jump jets" destroyed or damaged beyond repair. It was the largest, single-day loss of US military aircraft since Vietnam. At roughly $30m per copy, the loss of eight irreplaceable Harriers rendered VMA-211, the squadron hit, combat ineffective for the first time sinceDecember 1941.
Three days later, Isaf announced that most combined patrols with Isaf and Afghan troops would cease "until further notice". Ostensibly done to limit Nato troop exposure to Afghans while anger over a disgusting anti-Islam video remains palpable, it's hard to see this order as anything but a response to the growing insider threat – so-called green-on-blue attacks, when an Afghan soldier turns his weapon on his Nato partner. Thirty-six such attacks have killed 51 members of coalition forces this year, roughly 20% of all Isaf casualties. Given that Nato's withdrawal strategy rests entirely on the premise of ensuring Afghan forces are capable of providing security on their own, and that as of April 2012, only 7% (pdf) of Afghan army units were rated as fully capable, the suspension of combined operations calls the entire strategy into question.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta claimed the latest attacks were merely the "last gasp" of a weakened Taliban. If the aforementioned actions are the hallmark of a dying insurgency, I'd hate to think what actions characterize one on the ascendency.
When Barack Obama swept into office, there was fleeting hope that America could right the ship of the good war gone bad. But by the end of 2009, when President Obama announced his decision to surge an additional 33,000 troops into Afghanistan, early hope gave way to pessimistic realism about the limits of American power and what exactly additional troops could hope to achieve.
The goals of the surge were threefold. In President Obama's words:
"We must deny al-Qaida a safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces and government so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future."
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 inPakistan, 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.
Tags: Afghanistan, Occupation, US, NATO, Taliban, Pakistan, terrorist, Punjabi, ISI, Al, Qaeda, CIA,
Location: Afghanistan (load item map)
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