Finally, the Bush Administration is sending additional combat troops to Afghanistan. A Marine battalion is due to arrive in November, although the Marines currently operating in southern Afghanistan are due to come home around that time so I’m not sure that’s a net gain, and an Army brigade is due to arrive by January. The failure to significantly increase troop levels in Afghanistan as the security situation there rapidly deteriorated over the past two years must go down as one of the Bush administration’s most serious strategic failures.
It’s not as if commanders in Afghanistan haven’t repeatedly requested more troops, helicopters and reconnaissance assets. Just last week, Maj. Gen.l Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of CJTF 101 and RC East, speaking to reporters, said: “I've got a couple areas here, as I've mentioned, throughout RC East that I have very low numbers of troops in and therefore I'm not able to really get good effects on the ground. I can come in and I can clobber the enemy, but then I can't hold it and stay with the people.” He went on to call for more surveillance and reconnaissance assets -- in other words more aerial drones.
A reporter pressed Schloesser on whether or not we are winning the war there. He hedged: “I feel like we're making some steady progress. It's a slow win, I guess, is probably what we're accomplishing over here. It's not the way that I think both the Afghans, the international community and the American people would like to see us conduct this war. It will take longer the way we are doing it right now as far as the level of resources that we have. I'd like to speed that up.”
Hopefully, a new administration will be able to focus a bit more on Afghanistan and speed things up there.
Leading defense analyst -- and astoundingly prolific writer -- Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at CSIS, writes in a commentary posted on the think tank's web site, says its time for the Pentagon to come clean on the situation in Afghanistan and begin to provide some hard facts to the American public, as the military has for some time now in Iraq. Cordesman is well known for his lengthy, data heavy reports filled with all manner of charts and tables, with the information usually provided to him by commanders on the ground, so it is interesting to be hearing this complaint coming from him. “Basic military data are either missing or provided in interviews and statements that are contradictory or show too little change over time to be credible,” he says, “the figures quoted by various commanders are not defined and often repeat the same figure for months at a time.”
Cordesman says the more one digs for data the harder it is to find. Hard data is lacking on everything from Afghan Army and police readiness, economic aid, enemy activity and Afghan killed or wounded. The politically charged Iraq war early on became a war over definitions of the fighting, whether it was an insurgency or not, and over measurable metrics of success or failure, such as enemy killed or captured, daily attacks and Iraqi civilian deaths. The lack of hard data from Afghanistan only contributes to the idea of it being, as some have called it, the “forgotten” war.
As Cordesman points out, the lack of transparency is most glaring in the case of aerial bombing that results in civilian Afghan deaths. In the type of war being waged in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters and civilians are frequently mixed together. The problem is, “the US and NATO/ISAF have failed to show that they have effective targeting methods and rules of engagement, or can quickly validate whether or not civilians were hit that were not directly colocated with threat forces.” The end result is an increasingly angered populace that sees the foreign military presence as the threat.
Winnin this type of irregular war, where the information and perceptions battle is so vitally important, will require much greater transparency from the military.