Afghan War Success 'Political Fiction'
April 23, 2012
Joel Brinkley / San Francisco Chronicle
American support for the Afghan war has collapsed. Several new surveys show that even most Republicans, from the party that is home to the nation's hawks, now oppose the 10-year-old conflict. And it's no wonder. The US military has been deceiving the nation for years. Listen to Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who spent the past year working in Afghanistan.
SAN FRANCISCO (April 22, 2012) -- American support for the Afghan war has collapsed. Several new surveys show that even most Republicans, from the party that is home to the nation's hawks, now oppose the 10-year-old conflict. And it's no wonder. The US military has been deceiving the nation for years.
Listen to Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who spent the past year working in Afghanistan.
"I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops" across the nation, he wrote in the Armed Forces Journal last month. "What I saw bore no resemblance to the rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground." Instead, he added, "I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level."
Not surprisingly, his is a dissenting voice in the US military. But the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, representing hundreds of nongovernmental organizations working there, offered similar observations in its most recent status report. The number of violent incidents they counted from their stations in almost every province was 14 percent higher last year than in 2010, while the official military count showed a 3 percent decline.
"We find their suggestion that the insurgency is waning to be dangerous political fiction," the report said.
In fact, attacks on the NGOs themselves increased by 20 percent. Compare that to the saccharine quote a Pentagon spokesman offered just after 40 people died in protests over the accidental burning of those Qurans on a US base in late February.
Senior officers "believe we have achieved significant progress in reversing the Taliban's momentum and in developing the Afghan security forces," he said. A few weeks later, a NATO-trained Afghan soldier shot and killed two British troops, and on the same day a police officer killed a NATO soldier. That brought the total number of Western forces that Afghan soldiers have killed - green on blue killings, as they're now called - to 80.
As a result, the Afghan National Security Directorate is sending intelligence officers to infiltrate its own military and spy on the soldiers to ensure they are not Taliban traitors intent on killing Western allies. The army also ordered all of its several thousand soldiers whose homes and families are in Pakistan to move to Afghanistan or leave the force - understandably afraid they are likely traitors.
But then there's a question about how competent those efforts will be.
"There is a systematic level of incompetence inside the Ministry of Defense that has gone on for so long that it has become a culture," Andrew Mackay, a British major general, told the Sunday Telegraph. He, too, just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
For example, the ministry hasn't been able - or willing - to stop Afghan Air Force pilots, flying aircraft paid for by the United States, from using them for drug-trafficking flights. And no one has explained why nearly a dozen fully armed suicide vests were found inside the ministry building late last month.
All of this and more has led 66 percent of Americans to decide that the war is no longer worth fighting, a new Washington Post-ABC News survey found. Late last month, a New York Times-CBS News poll came to a similar conclusion: 69 percent said they believed the United States should end the war. Other surveys, by Gallup, the Pew Research Center and others, offered consistent findings.
That leaves Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney facing a quandary, particularly because most people in his own party now oppose the war. He has repeatedly said the nation's goal should be to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield.
No one knows what finally pushed so many Americans to turn decisively against the war. Perhaps some of them heard Lt. Col. Davis on "Democracy Now" radio, saying: "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."
One major problem is that measuring success in this war is virtually impossible. What are the metrics? Unfortunately, that has led to a resumption of the much-maligned "body count" strategy - counting insurgent attacks and enemy dead.
Western forces have become "hopelessly mired in body count as a measure of success," Mackay said. "The history of Vietnam tells us that's a terrible way of doing it. But we've still gotten into: 'Oh, we've killed 300 Taliban on this tour.' "
As the NGO report put it, "The only coherent strategy the international community ever had in Afghanistan was the one to leave."
(c) 2012 Joel Brinkley Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.
(c) 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.