Don’t Be Fooled by the Report on Afghanistan

The report released today on progress in Afghanistan cited “notable gains” in our 9 year long war against a fabricated enemy, and the Administration seized this tenuous opportunity to greatly over exaggerate our success in the region. But if all we have achieved in 9 years of combate are “modest gains,” it wold seem that the costs outweigh the benefits. 

The report cited the growth of Afghanistan security forces as the most promising area of progress.  It reads with some areas of concern and inconsistency but nothing fatal up until the terminal moment when the report assesses the situation in Pakistan:

In one particularly blunt sentence, the report said that while it recognized the “tremendous effort” Pakistan was making against some insurgents inside its country, “insurgent safe havens along the border will remain the primary problem to achieving a secure and stable Afghanistan.”

So, the primary problem in Afghanistan is Pakistan.  Why do we even care about a report on Afghanistan then? Where’s the report on Pakistan? Well, apparently there are less well known intelligence reports on Pakistan, and they offer a far less optimistic view of our efforts in the Middle East.  According to these National Intelligence Estimates, there is a “limited chance of success” unless Pakistan begins to cooperate:

As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

It seems like we’ve been well aware of this information for a long time, and yet the Obama Administration seems not to notice.  The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the elaborate efforts of the Bush Administration to avoid relevent CIA reports indicating the absence of WMDs in Iraq.  Those reports proved to be correct.  There is no reason to expect that these reports on Pakistan will be any different.  In assessing the likelihood of renewed participation with Pakistan, these reports give the most realistic vision yet by an official government source:

For their part, American commanders and Pentagon officials say they do not yet know if the war can be won without more cooperation from Pakistan. But after years and billions spent trying to win the support of the Pakistanis, they are now proceeding on the assumption that there will be limited help from them. The American commanders and officials readily describe the havens for insurgents in Pakistan as a major impediment to military operations.

The military is at odds with the intelligence analysis, claiming that there is still hope to be had from Pakistan, but one wonders just how much of that talk is mere posturing from military leaders who need to maintain support from Pakistan for survival.  The intelligence report is just about the only reasonable official analysis of Afghanistan in 9 long years of denial about the viability of a cooperative Pakistan.  In truth, the only difference between these two reports is in the final analysis.  The Intelligence Estimate concedes that there is no way to work with Pakistan, and the Pentagon report allows that a cooperative Pakistan is a distant possibility.  Here is the analysis of Pakistan according to the Pentagon report:

“There has been significant progress in disrupting and dismantling the Pakistan-based leadership and cadre of Al Qaeda over the past year,” the report said. “Al Qaeda’s senior leadership has been depleted, the group’s safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in several ways.”

But those gains appear dwarfed by the challenges that remain, particularly in Pakistan, where the review characterizes progress as “substantial but also uneven.”

In Pakistan “the denial of extremist safe havens will require greater cooperation with Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan,” the review said. “Furthermore, the denial of extremist safe havens cannot be achieved with military means alone, but must continue to be advanced by effective development strategies.”

While the overview appeared to take pains not to specifically criticize the Pakistani government, administration officials have expressed frustration over Pakistan’s willingness to hunt down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The supporting information is essentially the same in both reports, but somehow the Pentagon report derives that the U.S. can work with Pakistan from information that hardly seems to support that conclusion.  The Pentagon report does not even specifically criticize the corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai, which is known to be another prominent obstacle to ultimate success.  So, what exactly does the report prove? Well, it proves that we’ve killed some members of the Taliban and drilled some Afghans on how to pull the trigger of an AK-47, but it doesn’t prove that we’re any closer to stabilizing Afghanistan.  We haven’t solved the most pressing issues in the conflict: Pakistani insurgency and a corrupt Afghan regime, and as much as the Pentagon would like to make it seem as though these problems will be fixed soon, their supporting evidence is anemic.

Consider the assessment of Pakistan from a U.S. military officer stationed in Islamabad:

A military official in the U.S. Embassy here points to a map of Pakistan. “Thisis the problem we should be dealing with,” he says, drawing a big circle around the entire country. Instead, he continues, now drawing a little circle around the frontier area known as North Waziristan, “we’re in danger of focusing on this.”

So, if we want to fix Afghanistan, we really have to fix Pakistan first.  When we want to take on another exercise in futility by engaging in Pakistani nation-building then we’ll be serious about winning in Afghanistan.  But even if Pakistan wanted us to do that– and they don’t–we would never do it (hopefully).  So we’ll never be serious about Afghanistan, and all this other stuff– you know, like dead U.S. troops–is just political baloney.



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