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The Afghanistan Con

The Lie Factory

by SHELDON RICHMAN

In his latest major address on foreign policy, President Obama said this:

So after I took office … we pursued a new strategy in Afghanistan, and increased our training of Afghan forces.…

In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for that country’s security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counterterrorism force, which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.…

In the Afghan war theater, we must — and will — continue to support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014.…

The Afghan war is coming to an end.

If this and the usual sycophantic news reporting is all you’ve heard lately about the war in Afghanistan, you might think things are going well, that “America’s forces are winning.”

They are not. I trust it will be no shock to say this, but people in government lie, including presidents of the United States. Even presidents proclaimed to be different from anyone else who has ever run for that office.

Afghanistan is a hellhole. Writes Conn Hallinan at CounterPunch,

Only U.S. Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Dunford, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) thinks the war on the Taliban is being won, and that the Afghan Army is “steadily gaining in confidence, competence, and commitment.” Attacksby the Taliban are up 47 percent over last year, and the casualty rate for Afghan soldiers and police has increased 40 percent. The yearly desertion rate of the Afghan Army is between 27 percent and 30 percent.

Things have gotten so bad, Hallinan writes, that gunman in Pakistan burned a NATO convoy taking equipment out of Afghanistan. He comments,

There is nothing that better sums up the utter failure of America’s longest war than international forces getting ambushed as they try to get the hell out of the country. And yet the April 1 debacle in Baluchistan was in many ways a metaphor for a looming crisis that NATO and the United States seem totally unprepared for: with the clock ticking down on removing most combat troops by 2014, there are no official negotiations going on, nor does there seem to be any strategy for how to bring them about.

But what about the legendary Obama surge of 2009? When George W. Bush left the White House, there were 38,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Shortly after taking office, Obama sent about 30,000 more. As he said at the time, “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qa’ida supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Then in November 2009 he announced that he would send around 30,000 more, bringing the total, the New York Times reported, to about 100,000. “There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum,” Obama said. The administration has always been a bit vague about the numbers, and the term “surge” has only been applied to the second deployment. In fact, Obama roughly tripled the U.S. troop strength, before later reducing it by a third. At this point, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is almost double the number present when Bush left office.

And what has been the result? Hallinan writes,

When the Obama administration sent an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in 2009 as part of the “surge,” the goal was to secure the country’s southern provinces, suppress opium cultivation, and force the Taliban to give up on the war. Not only did the surge fail to impress the Taliban and its allies, it never stabilized the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Both are once again under the sway of the insurgency, and opium production has soared. What the surge did manage was to spread the insurgency into formerly secure areas in the north and west.

With the exception of the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, virtually everyone has concluded that the war has been a disaster for all involved.

(This is not the first time we’ve heard this. Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis made a detailed report to that effect after spending 2011 in Afghanistan. “What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground,” Davis wrote.)

The facts don’t stop Obama from giving the same rosy reports while promising to have the troops out by the end of next year. NATO has a withdrawal treaty with the government of President Hamid Karzai (the same one who proudly acknowledges accepting buckets of cash from the CIA), but that doesn’t mean the U.S. government will have zero presence come 2015. Hallinan writes that “several thousand U.S. Special Forces, military trainers, CIA personnel, and aircraft will remain on nine bases until 2024.”

To give you an idea of how well things are going, a May 16 suicide bomb in the capital killed six Americans and 16 Afghans. As though that were not enough of a commentary on conditions there, the political wing of the group that claimed responsibility for the bombing, Hezb-i-Islami, “is a major player in the Karzai government, with its members holding down the posts of education minister and advisor to the president.”

With allies like that.… And let’s not get started on “insider attacks,” in which Afghan troops and police kill the American and NATO troops who train them.

But Americans believe all is well and peace will prevail come 2015. Not so fast, Hallinan writes.

In theory, ISAF combat troops will exit Afghanistan in 2014 and turn the war over to the Afghan Army and police, organizations that have yet to show they can take on the insurgency. One of the Army’s crack units was recently overrun in eastern Afghanistan. Given the fragility of the Afghan government and its army, one would think that the White House would be putting on a full court press to get talks going, but instead it is following a strategy that has demonstrably failed in the past.…

Part of the problem is that the call for talks is so heavily laden with caveats and restrictions — among them that the Taliban must accept the 2004 constitution and renounce violence and “terrorism” — that it derails any possibility of real negotiations.

Obama apparently is looking for a way to bring home most of the troops without the place collapsing in chaos, which would be bad for his legacy. But, as Hallinan asks, “If the United States couldn’t smother the insurgency during the surge, how can it do so now with fewer troops?”

The lesson? Fish swim, birds fly, and people who run governments lie. They will say anything to achieve their political objectives. Any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.

One trusts them at one’s peril.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) in Fairfax, Va. He can be reached through his blog, Free Association.