Dark secrets about our war in Afghanistan

Summary: Trump has began his term by boosting the war in Afghanistan, just as Obama did. Accompanied by the usual happy talk. But this time we have 16 years of experience and good data. We will not be fooled again — if we pay attention. We can end our mad wars.

Afghanistan war

From 1979 to 1989, the CIA’s Operation Cyclone helped overthrow the secular government of Afghanistan and in 1996 brought the Taliban to power. In 2001 we invaded and occupied Afghanistan, installing a puppet regime. NATO and allied troops peaked in 2011 at 132,457. Now, almost 40 years after our initial involvement, we can see the constant during all that: propaganda about our imminent victory. From the Hollywood films showing secular westernized Afghan insurgents to the steady flow of confidently upbeat reports, Americans have heard little but propaganda. In October 2003, my second post debunked the narrative (the first of 200+ posts about the Af War).

“Many reports indicate that the Taliban appears ready for Phase 2 operations – holding significant territory and fighting with company-size units. …Coalition forces have been pushed onto the defensive.”

Now President Trump has deployed an additional 3,000 US troops to the country, bringing the total to 14,000. American casualties are also surging. This new build-up is accompanied by a new wave of propaganda. But the numbers are available. Look at them and decided for yourself we are on the path to victory — or marking time at great cost, until we withdraw and the Taliban retakes control.

The Truth is Out There

(1) DoD describes the state of the Afghan war

DoD provides comprehensive data. See the Q1 Quarterly Report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The chapter on Security gives the most important data.

“American combat casualties are also rising. From January 1 through November 26, 2017, 11 U.S. military personnel were killed in Afghanistan, and 99 were wounded. This is an increase of one person killed in action, and 51 personnel wounded in action since last quarter, and double the personnel killed in action compared to the same periods in 2015 and 2016. USFOR-A also reported that two contractors were wounded in action since last quarter. This brings the total number of U.S. casualties during the Afghan war to 2,269 service members and civilians killed and 20,289 wounded, as of January 22, 2018. …

“The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) did not release a civilian-casualty report this quarter. As reported in UNAMA’s civilian-casualty report from last quarter, it documented 8,019 civilian casualties from 1 January 2017, through 30 September 2017, a 6% decrease from the same period in 2016.

“As of 31 December 2017, the Congress had appropriated more than $74.8 billion to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). This accounts for 61% of all U.S. reconstruction funding for Afghanistan since FY 2002. …In 2018 we will spend $4.9 billion funding the Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF).”

By most metrics, this massive funding has bought only continued slow deterioration in our puppet government’s control of Afghanistan. Click to enlarge the following graphs.

Who controls Afghanistan? Here is the picture from SIGAR’s October 30 report. DoD omitted this data from their January report. We can guess at the reason.  GIROA = Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. See the BBC’s numbers further below, which paint a darker picture. It depends on the interpretation of an area the government “influences” vs. that it “contests” (it is in the eye of the beholder).

SIGAR - Who Controls Afghanistan - figure 3-5

Look at the trend in the government’s control in terms of land and population. Note that there is no data for January 2018. Click to enlarge.

SIGAR - population control in Afghanistan - figure 3-27

 

SIGAR - district control in Afghanistan - figure 3-28

 

SIGAR - security incidents in Afghanistan - figure 3-26

 

SIGAR - insider attacks - figure 3-30

Some things are increasing. 2017 was a banner year for opium farmers.

SIGAR - Opium production - figure 3-52

The background: US troops deployed in this mad project. Click to enlarge.

SIGAR - US troops in Afghanistan - figure 3-29

DoD knows how to make the the picture look better.

“For the second consecutive quarter, RS and USFOR-A continued to classify other data essential to assessing the development and performance of the ANDSF. This data includes…

  • all but the most perfunctory assessments of ANDSF force elements’ performance,
  • updated information about ANDSF force generation, including the percentage of the ANA and ANP that are trained and untrained,
  •  the number of ANDSF and ALP casualties,
  • the ANA corps- and ANP zone-level breakdown of equipment operational readiness.

“RS and USFOR-A also classified data SIGAR requested for the first time this quarter, including…

  • information about the specific security goals for Afghanistan outlined in the administration’s new South Asia strategy,
  • information about the increase in U.S. and Coalition air strikes in Afghanistan since mid-2017, including how many air strikes have been carried out by U.S. and Coalition forces in 2017, and the number of civilian casualties incurred from these air strikes in 2017.”

U.S. Makes Afghan War Data Secret as Military Effort Intensifies
By Jessica Donati and Craig Nelson at the Wall Street Journal, 30 January 2018. Gated.

“…SIGAR said the classified figures on the Afghan army, police and civilians were among the last metrics available to the public to track the success of the more than 16-year war. …’Redacting this kind of information makes no sense,’ said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. ‘…when you classify things like this, it feeds a perception that we’re not doing well.’

“The latest report in which the Afghan casualty figures were disclosed was last July, when SIGAR reported that 2,531 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed and 4,238 wounded in the first four months of 2017. That put the death toll among Afghan forces on a pace to exceed the previous year’s record of 6,700 deaths.”

(2)  A BBC study paints an even darker perspective of Afghanistan

Taliban threaten 70% of Afghanistan
by Shoaib Sharifi and Louise Adamou at the BBC.

This is a detailed article describing their exhaustive analysis.

“Taliban fighters, whom US-led forces spent billions of dollars trying to defeat, are now openly active in 70% of Afghanistan, a BBC study has found. Months of research across the country shows that the Taliban now control or threaten much more territory than when foreign combat troops left in 2014. …

“The BBC study shows the Taliban are now in full control of 14 districts (that’s 4% of the country) and have an active and open physical presence in a further 263 (66%), significantly higher than previous estimates of Taliban strength. About 15 million people – half the population – are living in areas that are either controlled by the Taliban or where the Taliban are openly present and regularly mount attacks. …

“The extent to which the Taliban have pushed beyond their traditional southern stronghold into eastern, western and northern parts of the country is clearly visible from the BBC study. … Meanwhile, there is no prospect of an end to the conflict and a new generation of Afghans live in the shadow of violence. …”

The bottom line. Click to enlarge.

BBC map of the Taliban in Afghanistan

 

(3) Listen to Afghanistan’s people

Afghanistan in 2017: A Survey of the Afghan People
By the Asia Foundation.

“The 2017 Survey of the Afghan People polled 10,012 Afghan respondents from 16 ethnic groups across all 34 provinces, including insecure and physically challenging environments. The annual survey is the longest-running and broadest nationwide survey of Afghan attitudes and opinions. Since 2004, the Survey has gathered the opinions of more than 97,000 Afghan men and women, providing a unique longitudinal portrait of evolving public perceptions of security, the economy, governance and government services, elections, media, women’s issues, and migration.”

These two key metrics show slow deterioration over time. Click to enlarge.

Performance of the Afghanistan government

 

Corruption in Afghanistan

(4) Now for DoD’s excuses!

US officials push back against report on losses in Afghanistan.”
By Kyle Rempfer at the Military Times.

Capitan Tom Gresback (USN), public affairs officer for Operation Resolute Support, provides some excuses.

“This is a criminal network, not a government in waiting.”

“What really matters is not the number of districts held, but population controlled. [Resolute Support] assesses that around 12 [percent] of the population is actually under full Taliban control, even if the number of districts and ground held is greater than this.”

  • The we hold the cities! excuse; a commonplace excuse on the way to insurgents’ defeat of foreign armies.

“{I}n 2017, the Taliban failed to deliver on their stated aims to retake provincial and district centers.”

  • That is as significant as the failure of the US and Af governments to deliver on their goals.

(5) But the future looks bright, as always!

Everyday is Groundhog Day (as in the film). We wake up in the exact same situation as before. My posts from 2008 showing the war’s folly are just as timely today as then. Is this news story recent — or a decade old?

“The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said on Monday he believes he could help Afghan forces drive back the Taliban enough to control at least 80% of the country within two years, compared with about two-thirds today.

“General John Nicholson, citing counter-insurgency doctrine, said gaining 80% control of the country would represent a turning point in the 16-year-old conflict, which has become the longest U.S war. “‘This we believe is the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance, meaning they’re living in these remote outlying areas, or they reconcile, or they die,’ Nicholson told a Pentagon news briefing via video conference from Afghanistan.” {Reuters, 17 November — 2008 or 2018?}

Endless War: Madison

(6) For More Information.

Our allies in Af also have problems. See “The Afghan Files” by Dan Oakes and Sam Clark at the Austrialian Broadcasting Company, July 2017 — “Defence leak exposes deadly secrets of Australia’s special forces.”

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see all posts about Afghanistan and Iraqabout COIN, and especially these…

  1. Return of the COINistas (the zombies of military theory).
  2. Why we lose wars so often. How we can win in the future.
  3. A powerful new article shows why we lose so many wars: FAILure to learn.
  4. Study body counts to learn about our wars: how we fight, why we lose.
  5. Two generals chat about Afghanistan (a funny, sad, horrifying look at our war).
  6. Why Trump’s plan for Afghanistan will fail.
  7. Stratfor pans Trump’s new Afghanistan War plan.
  8. A reminder that we pay for our wars in money and blood.
  9. How We Learned Not To Care About Our Wars.
  10. On the 16th anniversary of Afghanistan, see why we lost.

Two enlightening books about the Afghanistan War.

Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way by Tim Bird and Alex Marshall (2011).

The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan by Jack Fairweather (2014).

Afghanistan: How the West Lost Its Way
Available at Amazon.
The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan
Available at Amazon.

15 thoughts on “Dark secrets about our war in Afghanistan

    1. SF,

      Thanks for catching that! I eagerly await AI spell checkers that will fix such things.

    2. Even there, the AI might be legit confused. You might be talking about Ivanka or Tiffany! What would probably be most useful is if the AI can flag points of confusion and ask you about them, like a spellchecker.

  1. Apart from giving the army valuable experience in fighting I cant work out why the US is in Afghanistan.

    Sure it was the hangout of Osama, wrong, he was in Paki… They might as well be in Pakistan as the same criterion apply there or any of a dozen shithole countries across the world… Oh, I forgot that the US is already fighting low intensity wars in them as well, Is there some vital strategic route that they are protecting or perhaps an undisclosed oil reserve?
    Perhaps it is just that army guys have to find something to blow up and its better to have them blowing things up in odd countries than have them home. Something like having Cesar fighting Gaul stopped him having to be stabbed at home.

    1. 7zander, the reason we are in Afghanistan is simple. We went in there looking for Osama and so far nobody has been willing to give the order to leave.

      Another issue is that this is an asymmetric struggle. The Taliban are fighting to control Afghanistan, the US military is fighting to control the blowback from when we do leave. This means that the Taliban is focused on controlling Kabul and the US military is focused on controlling Washington.

      To amend Colin Powell’s “Pottery Barn rule” slightly, “You break it, you have to politically own it when you leave.” This gives the “let’s build a classic Western democracy in Afghanistan” neo-liberals incentive to keep the war alive until they retire in another 10 or so years.

    2. 7zander,

      “I cant work out why the US is in Afghanistan.”

      The US government gave clear reasons for our occupation of Afghanistan. See my summary from August 2009: You can end our war in Afghanistan.

      1. To prevent another 9-11, and
      2. to build a stable and “good” Afghanistan (good being defined in many ways — cherishing human rights, prosperous, democratic, etc).

      The first of these is the Big Lie.  Afghanistan had little or no role in 9-11.  Whatever we do in Afghanistan does not prevent another 9-11.  The 9-11 attack was planned in Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, and Hamburg.  The most important and relevant training of the 9-11 terrorists took place in the US.

      The second goal is delusional.

      August 2009 was pivotal, for by then any intellectual justifications for the war had collapsed. Many people, overestimating the role of facts and logic in our wars, assumed that this meant it would end soon. See these posts, about debates long since put down the memory hole.

      See these about the debates at a high profile (pro-war) website in August 2009, which showed the intellectual bankruptcy of the hawks.

      1. Exum: “Introducing the Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue” – This includes my submission.
      2.  The first salvo in the Afghanistan Strategy Debate – An extraordinarily weak start for the pro-war side.
      3. Second salvo in the Afghanistan Strategy Debate — Bernard Finel
      4. The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Three
      5. The Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: Day Four
    3. Some people buy stocks and cannot stomach selling the stock when it is losing money. There must be some element of this delusional thinking at play in our inability to disengage in Afghanistan.

  2. Not single American death is worth it in what is truly one
    of the world’s greatest hellholes.

    OBL, is gone and so should we.

    1. Bill,

      Nicely said. As someone about to send a second son off to fight in our mad wars, I agree (I got the first one back safely, and hope for similar luck with the second).

  3. As per Jim Donald, the only way we can “win” in Afghanistan, other than exterminating the entire population, is by installing a king, preferably a descendant of Mohammed Zahir Shah. The King must share the values of regular Afghanis, which is to say, conservative Islam. That means Afghan girls staying home or attending all-female madrassas instead of mixing with boys and being taught how to put a condom on a banana.

    If Western progressives find that solution unacceptable, let them occupy Afghanistan and impose progressive values thereupon.

    1. Dave,

      Exterminating the Afghanistan population is not an option, since it would brand Americans as psychopathic criminals.

      I’d want to see some strong data before believing that many in Afghanistan want a monarchy, or that they would accept anyone “installed” by the US.

  4. The imperial impulse rules Washington and the people swishing around there in their silken togas. They can’t help it any more than a drug addict can. Just as the people of Imperial Rome slowly went insane. So to shall we. Hell we’re pretty much already there.

  5. My Dear Editor:

    I must compliment you for the very professional layout of this article; particularly the very concise charts and graphs.

    This is extremely high grade works ! On behalf of your loyal readers, your excellency, a most humble thank you.

    1. Bill,

      Thank you for the feedback! Now I just need to learn how to make these popular. People want certainties, even cartoons. The Boom is coming! The Crash is ahead! The fact that the predictions on websites like ZeroHedge are wrong most of the time (perhaps almost always) doesn’t bother their fans.

      Descriptions of uncertain trends don’t make good clickbait.

  6. Due to a WordPress system problem, a batch of comments were lost in the trash, including this one.

    Delusion, madness, avarice, et al pervade the human race. People by and large see what they want to see, very few are truly skeptical. Most of those who think that they are skeptical, are just credulous. Nothing changes. Both Left and Right have crafted perfect stories of imminent and everlasting Apocalypse that require they must act in our “interests” without accountability, for problems that are false and therefore unsolvable. Each failures brings them more prestige and power. Results don’t matter and no accountability, they can just claim they saved the future. Human brains have trouble differentiating real from imaginary, I see no solution proffered.

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