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Explaining Afghanistan’s Future

by BRIAN CLOUGHLEY

Email is a wonderful medium for communication, but there are drawbacks, one of which is the deluge of spam that hits our inboxes. We’ve all had weird messages couched something like

Forgive my indignation if this message comes to you as a surprise and if it might offend you without your prior consent and writing through this channel. I am Moses Arnett, Chairman, Contract Awarding committee . . .

They’re stupid and annoying, but sometimes they’re amusing, if you can be bothered opening them.  After all, who would believe a missive that begins “forgive my indignation”?  — although I have to admit the phrase does have a certain quirky humor.  But when we consider more serious things, like the future of Afghanistan and Washington’s commitment to that dismal prospect,  it isn’t at all funny to listen to some of those who explain US policy to the world.  Sometimes it’s like opening a spam-mail, because many mouthpieces of the Pentagon and the State Department are no more effective in their attempts at communication than the preposterously illiterate spam-dodos.

Consider, for example, the matter of disagreement concerning the ability or otherwise of  the Afghan army to operate independently. There are many authorities who assert that it cannot do so, and the meaning of the word ‘independent’ has come under well-deserved scrutiny.

There seems to be no definition in any US military dictionary of the word “independent” ;  not even in the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms.  But although it doesn’t appear in official volumes, the word is explained in ordinary dictionaries as meaning  “free from control in action . . .  autonomous . . .  capable of acting for oneself or on one’s own.”  That’s clear enough ;  but over the past year the Pentagon has modified the meaning of ‘independent’ so far as operations by the Afghan army are concerned.   It is evident to almost everyone that the Afghan army is incapable of undertaking operations without assistance from foreign forces, but in order to clarify matters the Pentagon’s spokesman said

Let me talk about ‘independently’ a little bit . . .  You heard me earlier say, Afghan — the Afghans are in the lead, and carry out independently many of the operations.  So, when — and that — and that measurement that we’re talking about, being operated independently, that means they have every — that they have not just the — that their soldiers are capable, and that their leaders are capable, but they have the equipment, including the enablers, including the intelligence-collection ability, including the access to their own air force — air capability  . . .   I think in terms of the fighting capability of the Afghan forces, the fact that they go out and carry out — carry out — independent operations at many levels, with some coalition support — sometimes that’s actual advisers with them, sometimes that’s fighting units with them, sometimes that’s intelligence, sometimes that’s air support either rotary wing or fixed wing air support — but, that’s the actual fighting, the actual operations on the ground, the actual patrolling is being done.

So, I wouldn’t — very careful to not confuse the term that we use, “independent operations.”  “Independent operations” means that they’re independent sort of from bottom through all the range of capabilities when you have a military.  But it doesn’t mean that they don’t operate independently.”

Do you understand what this person said?   Did he explain how “independent” the Afghan army is?  What on earth did he mean?

The Afghan war is a shambles, and the least the world deserves is to be told in frank and lucid terms exactly what is happening and what is to be done in the future. But there’s no hope of that, because the Washington briefings are supported in the field by equally stupid purveyors of fatuous gobbledygook.

Take Major General Jake Polumbo, the Director of the International Security Assistance Force Air Component Coordination Element, and Commander 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force, Afghanistan. You might imagine that anyone who could reel off that lengthy job description without looking at his notes would be a person with verbal talent.  Alas,  No.   Because when the general was asked by a reporter  “what other types of airmen do you see in Afghanistan post-2014?” he replied

The types of airmen that we’ll have besides the advise and assist airmen will be primarily airlift, people that assist in regards to any of the drawdown that might not yet be done and assisting with the aerial ports of demarcation for our retrograde ops, and then some manned ISR will be a small footprint, but, again, enough that it’ll be a recognizable percentage of the footprint into ’15.

This is garbage-speak;  and his replies in the rest of the interview are equally fatuous and incoherent. But no doubt he will be promoted, because he speaks with the tongue and style of his leader, the pompous General Joseph Dunford, who commands everything in Afghanistan.  Last week at a Nato meeting in Brussels he enthralled his audience by stating that

And — and I would just offer to you, there’s a number of variables that you should track over the next 18 months — certainly the performance of the Afghans this summer, the results of the elections in 2014, any political processes that may — that may bring the Taliban into a political process will have an effect on that, which obviously affects the — the strength of the insurgency. So I think it’s impossible today, except with a linear progression, to project out to 2015 what the security environment is going to be.  So I think all those discussions about what’s going to take place in 2015 right now, I think you need to bear down and — and take a hard look at the assumptions that people are making when they — when they have that discussion.

It might not be a bad idea to take a hard look at Joseph Dunford himself, because he considers high casualties to be a measure of success.  That’s high Afghan Army casualties, of course, not dead Afghan militants.

This all-powerful US general was asked “We’ve heard that the Afghan security forces are facing very heavy losses.  Could it be useful to get a sense of just how many?”  And he replied  “Yeah, they are — they are taking heavy losses.  In fact, last week, we had a memorial service, and they — they lost 104 in one week.  And that’s been an issue,” and changed the subject.   But when asked again about Afghan army deaths he said “it’s probably, you know, 70 one week.  It was 44, 34, and then the last two weeks have been over 100.”   So that is over 350 dead in five weeks.  Imagine the furious outcry there would be if the US military suffered a dead body count even approaching this number.  But of course it’s only Afghan soldiers who are dying, not Americans, and, according to General Dunford, their deaths show that  “in terms of on the ground, you know, I think their performance actually exceeds where we thought they’d be a couple of months ago.”

It is beyond belief that any military commander — any military person of any rank, never mind the senior man in Afghanistan — could possibly claim that the performance of an army could be regarded as improving when it suffers a staggering increase in the number of its soldiers killed in combat.

Let’s put it in perspective :  310 members of the US armed forces in Afghanistan were killed in the whole of 2012.  Now we have the Afghan army taking 350 killed in the last five weeks and the US commander declares that “And I would tell you that based on their performance over the last couple months, I feel pretty good about that.  The — the challenges they’ve had against the Taliban, they’ve absolutely confronted those.  And — and not had an issue, you know.”

No; they haven’t had “an issue” other than 350 grieving families, and appalling effects on the morale of the Afghan army — and  sense on the part of the militants that they are on a wave of success, described by General Dunford as  “in terms of how they’re doing, the Taliban came out and they’re doing exactly what they said they would do, high-profile attacks, attempting insider attacks against the Afghans, and then fear, murder and intimidation.”

Good prediction, General.  But when the senior US commander in Afghanistan says of his enemy that  “they’re doing exactly what they said they would do” this is a bizarre admission of utter failure.  It’s his job to STOP an enemy doing what it says it will do.

In terms of explaining what’s happening in Afghanistan, Dunford and the rest of his incompetent followers make as much sense as the email spammers who “respectfully request” our bank account details.  They want our attention, but all they get is well-deserved derision.  And Afghanistan goes further down the drain.

Brian Cloughley’s website is www.beecluff.com

 

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

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