November 2, 2017
Military and political leaders in Kabul have unsuccessfully tried to cover up the entire horrific reality about the war in Afghanistan where the Taliban movement have been gaining strength by the week. Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to believe the answer to the crisis is unleashing more drone strikes, bombs, and night raids as the Taliban look on and smile, fully aware they have the upper hand and that Washington hasn’t a clue.
As part of the cover-up, the Afghan government in league with the Defense Department have refused to disclose data that is routinely released for oversight purposes, including Afghan security force casualty figures. U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, believes the move only hinders accountability while completely failing to hide anything.
“The Afghans know what’s going on; the Taliban knows what’s going on; the U.S. military knows what’s going on,” Sopko told the The New York Times on Monday, October 30, as SIGAR released its latest quarterly assessment. “The only people who don’t know what’s going on are the people paying for it.”
This is not the first time this has happened, the report noted. In 2015 the Obama administration tried to portray Taliban militants surging across the country as victory. U.S. officials at the time claimed that making the figures public “could endanger Afghan and American lives.”
As U.S. and Afghan officials run around trying to hide casualty figures, other key metrics that were released by SIGAR reveal a devastating outlook, including the fact that the Afghan government’s control of the population and territory have hit new lows.
As of August 2017, according to the SIGAR report, about 57% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are under Kabul’s control or influence, a 15 percent drop from when the watchdog first analyzed such data in 2015.
In addition, the U.S. military estimated that about 3.7 million Afghans live in districts under Taliban influence or control – a 700,000-person increase over a 6-month period.
U.S. Defense Chief James Mattis highlighted that one of the main challenges facing Afghan forces is the nature of the enemy. Mattis told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week that a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) must not include pesky limitations when dealing with such a foe.
“Any new AUMF must not be time-restricted. For example President Trump’s South Asia strategy is conditions-based – not time-based – because war is fundamentally unpredictable,” Mattis said on Monday. “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy.”
Adaptive enemy indeed. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the Taliban have been “evolving” both politically and militarily, gobbling up territory with an eye on a power-sharing arrangement in any post-conflict scenarios.
“The once mostly Pashtun insurgency is broadening its ranks, amending its tactics, and seeking political relevance, even as it advances its campaign of violence and intimidation against Afghanistan,” the report said.
The Taliban, as Sopko pointed out, are well aware of the sorry state of Afghan security forces and the defects of the latest military strategy the United States has attempted to roll out.
Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Saeed conveyed to The Guardian in an interview that the insurgents like their long-term chances.
“150,000 Americans couldn’t beat us,” Saeed said, referring to Obama’s surge strategy. Hence, he added, the extra 4,000 ordered by President Donald Trump, “will not change the morale of our mujahideen.”
The United States and its Afghan partners can over-classify ugly metrics all they want but they cannot hide the fact that a military solution is obviously not a viable alternative after 16 years of trying to implement one.
In fact, as the Pentagon escalates military involvement, State Department diplomats have remain barricaded, according to U.S. National Public Radio (NPR), which is another part of the oversight problem.
“The State Department is largely staying behind the gates and blast walls of its Embassy in Kabul and not heading out into the field,” NPR’s Tom Bowman said in a report on Tuesday, October 31. “Officials say it’s because of security concerns, but critics say it prevents the U.S. from keeping an eye on how the billions of dollars in aid is being spent and improving governance across the country.”
NPR also noted how Trump himself conceded when he unveiled his strategy that military power alone will not bring peace to Afghanistan, but one wonders if it is mere lip service because the non-military solution is nowhere in sight.
With a military strategy doomed for failure hatched in the halls of the Pentagon combined with a resilient and adaptive enemy in the Taliban and the lack of any political solution, the last thing the Afghan government should be worrying about is embarrassing casualty figures. That in itself is setting a bad precedent that can only exacerbate the situation as Sopko alluded to in his New York Times interview.
“If they start classifying this stuff now, what are they going to do next month?” the SIGAR chief added. “It’s a slippery slope.”