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Defeated in Afghanistan


“We must demonstrate to the people and to the Taliban that Afghan and International Security Assistance Forces are here to safeguard the Afghan people and that we are in this to win. That is our clear objective.”

— General (‘Embedded’) Petraeus, July 4, 2010

“Clearly, the security situation is improving, the number of enemy initiated attacks is decreasing and the vast majority of the Afghan population lives in areas where peace and stability has already been established.”

— Spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Brigadier General Gunter Katz, November 5, 2012

Nearly half of Afghans think their country is not moving the right direction, fear for their family’s safety, or are frightened to run into a member of their police or army, according to a nationwide poll.

Guardian (UK) November 14, 2012

Voutenay sur Cure, France

A week after the spokesman for foreign forces in Afghanistan made his ridiculous pronouncement about peace and stability four rockets were fired into Kabul city, home to one of the world’s most corrupt governments. Mercifully, only one person was killed, and there wasn’t much damage, but the militants had made the point that they can continue attacks whenever and wherever they want.  The amazing hi-tech gadgets of all the foreign forces can do a bit to reduce the number and effectiveness of attacks all over the country, but the fact that a few thousand raggy baggy Taliban (or call the insurgents what you will) can even begin to take on such a massive war machine is astonishing.  So far this month they have killed twelve US and British soldiers, who — all of them — have died for nothing. And the politicians and generals continue to feed us upbeat garbage about their lost war.

Almost everyone has forgotten the Davis Report of January this year in which one of the few honorable professional military commentators on the Afghanistan shambles made it clear that “Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America’s credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan.”

The writer of this well-researched exposure of inefficiency was Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Davis, who is decidedly not of the West Point upper crust like Petraeus and his embedded Broadwell.  Predictably, his analysis was smothered in a hazy maze of media-savvy pronouncements by military mouthpieces. And journalists whom you would think might support the cause and carry on his fight to influence government and public opinion seemed to wither away after the first (unavoidable) necessity to report his revelations. The Pentagon and the army were clever in avoiding direct criticism of Davis because this would have resulted in public exposure of inefficiency and misrepresentation on the part of many senior military officers.  The Pentagon has learned a lot about manipulating the media, but it’s a pity it hasn’t devoted comparable energy to examining the terrible leadership blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And for the current situation there are few people more to blame than the bright shining liar Petraeus.

In March last year Petraeus testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Taliban’s momentum “has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas”. He claimed that progress was “significant,” though “fragile,” but “on the right azimuth to accomplish the objective” of having Afghan troops take over from western forces by the end of 2014.

Don’t you just love the word “azimuth”?  It’s a classic quasi-intellectual confection that is meant to impress audiences without conveying anything of meaning. No Senator could ask the bright and shiny Petraeus exactly what he meant by “on the right azimuth”.  They wouldn’t have dared to do so.  And ignorance is bliss.  He might have meant “in the right direction”, but using such a simple term tends to pin the speaker down to having to explain unintended precision.

Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘azimuth’ in terms of astronomy — although astrology might have been a better choice in this case — and also notes that the word has a military connotation in that it describes “the movement of a bomb or missile on its downward course.” Maybe that’s what Petraeus intended. But when he delivered his upbeat astrological gobbledygook, intriguing things were happening in Afghanistan, on a downward course.


As I wrote in the Pakistan paper The News last week:

The publication Defence News comments expertly on military topics and recently described the performance of the US Air Force in supplying troops in Afghanistan with vital stores.  It noted that last year “43 forward operating bases were supplied solely by air, with 27,000 troops receiving all of their food, water, ammunition and fuel from the sky, dropped primarily by the US Air Force . . .  The necessity to resupply troops by air comes from several factors, not the least of which is the skyrocketing number of roadside bombs US, NATO and Afghan troops face, making travel by road a risky bet.”

This is a factual, down to earth (literally) record of proficiency. It is admirable that the US Air Force is capable of such expertise.  But it is also an admission of total strategic and tactical failure, because the very reliance on airdrop resupply shows that the vast hi-tech military machines of the West are incapable of controlling roads in a country where they have been fighting a futile war for ten wretched years in which so many thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded.

Lt-Colonel Davis described the fiasco in detail, in that

The United States, along with over 40 NATO and other allied nations, possesses the most sophisticated, powerful, and technologically advanced military force that has ever hit the field of combat. We have the finest and most well trained soldiers that exist anywhere; we have armored vehicles of every type, to include MIA2 Main Battle Tanks; artillery, mortars, advanced rockets, precision guided missiles, and hand-held rocket launchers; we have a wholly uncontested air force composed of NATO’s most advanced ground attack fighter jets, bombers, AWACS controllers, spy planes, signals-interception aircraft, B 1 bombers, attack helicopters, and massive transport jets to ferry our troops and critical supplies where they are needed; we have thousands of unmanned aerial drones both for intelligence collection and missile-launching; we have a helicopter fleet for personnel transport and attack support; we have an enormous constellation of spy satellites; logistics that are as limitless as the combined weight of the industrial world; we have every technological device known to the profession of arms; we are able to intercept virtually every form of insurgent communication to include cell phones, walkie-talkies, satellite phones, email, and even some ability to eavesdrop on otherwise private conversations; a remarkably capable cohort of intelligence analysts that are as educated, well trained and equipped to a degree that used to exist only in science fiction;  and our various nations have the economic wherewithal to spend $10s of billions each month to fund it all. And for almost 10 years we have pitted this unbelievable and unprecedented capability against: 

A bunch of dudes in bed sheets and flip-flops.

He is so right.

We shouldn’t be surprised about the Afghanistan shambles, because generals have been lying for years.  Does anyone remember Pat Tillman?  He was killed in a bungled shooting in Afghanistan by some of his comrades in an episode of panic and gross incompetence. The US army tried to cover up the tragedy by telling lies.  The generals decided they needed a hero (which Pat undoubtedly was) and Generals McChrystal, Abizaid and Kensinger — and many others — told majestic lies to try to make things look good. (Although Kensinger’s filthy deceit was so blatant that he could not escape censure,  minor as it was.)  So should we be surprised about the lies that Petraeus tells to his wife — and to who else and about what?

In 2005 I wrote that

The insurgency in Afghanistan will continue until foreign troops leave, whenever that might be. After a while, the government in Kabul will collapse, and there will be anarchy until a brutal, ruthless, drug-rich warlord achieves power. He will rule the country as it has always been ruled by Afghans: by threats, religious ferocity, deceit, bribery, and outright savagery, when the latter can be practiced without retribution. And the latest foreign occupation will become just another memory.

But Petraeus told the world that “we are in this to win. That is our clear objective,” and all the toadying puppets in Washington believed him.  Just as his wife did.

It is wonderfully ironic that some of the most forceful criticism of the Afghanistan debacle came last week from a British Lord, one Paddy Ashdown, known by the UK’s merciless tabloid press as ‘Paddy Pantsdown’ following his affair with his secretary.  His wife of thirty years forgave him his dalliance, just as the long-suffering spouse of Petraeus seems to have done.  But at least Paddy has more of a grip (no double entendre intended) on the Afghanistan situation than Petraeus.  He made it clear on November 16 that “We cannot pretend there is any more to do in Afghanistan. The urgent priority is to get out . . .  It is not worth wasting one more life in Afghanistan. All that we can achieve has now been achieved . . .  All that we might have achieved if we had done things differently has been lost. The only rational policy now is to leave quickly, in good order and in the company of our allies. This is the only cause for which further lives should be risked.”

But the Petraeus legacy of “in this to win”  will remain under Obama,  sentencing who knows how many more soldiers to death for a cause that has never been defined in terms other than “to safeguard the Afghan people.”  But how do you ‘safeguard’ people?

Well, perhaps by embedding them.

Brian Cloughley’s website is

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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