Lieutenant colonel breaks ranks: Afghanistan is a disaster, claims report

Read it if you haven’t already followed the link from Drudge. His complaint is that military leaders from Petraeus on down aren’t leveling with the public about how bad things are on the ground, but this feels like a strange debate to have when the die on withdrawal has apparently already been cast. The White House claimed last week that Panetta’s comments about ending combat operations a year early were misunderstood, but here’s the NYT with a new report today about drawing down regular combat troops and offsetting their loss with a stronger presence of special forces to target Taliban units as circumstances require. The era of counterinsurgency is over, in other words, which means this report is less relevant as a catalyst for a change in policy than in the extent to which Obama will be able to spin the war as a victory when the withdrawals begin in earnest.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency…

In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described — and many, many more I could mention — had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out. Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war.

As the numbers depicting casualties and enemy violence indicate the absence of progress, so too did my observations of the tactical situation all over Afghanistan.

Plenty of anecdotes about Afghan troops’ haplessness and/or corruption at the link. The thing is, I’ve been reading news stories in that vein sporadically for years now. Davis would presumably say that that’s the point, that as the years roll on the same problems recur, but you don’t need his report to realize that. Look no further than the new NIE on Afghanistan, which the LA Times summarizes as warning that “security gains from an increase in American troops have been undercut by pervasive corruption, incompetent governance and Taliban fighters operating from neighboring Pakistan”. Or consider the bombshell NATO report based on detainee interrogations that was leaked just a few weeks ago describing “widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military,” in the BBC’s words, and concluding that the Taliban think they’ll be back in control of the country after the U.S. leaves. Davis’s claims are, unfortunately, old news. And while it’s true that 55 percent think things in Afghanistan were going very or fairly well as of last month, 56 percent nonetheless wanted the troops pulled ASAP rather than kept in place until the country has stabilized. What his report adds is a public note of dissent from within the ranks, but if you’ve been following the news, I don’t know how much extra weight that adds to the scale by now.