On December 3 David Woods, AOL's Chief Military Correspondent, reported:
White House Mulls Grim Picture of 'Deteriorating Stalemate' in Afghanistan'An earlier report by Woods on the use of the retrofitted supersonic B1 Cold War bomber in Afghanistan is a window on the 'population-centric' counterinsurgency strategy at the heart of the ISAF war plan. The bomber is an awesome killing machine but since the COIN strategy settled in, only a fraction of its firepower has been deployed:
The assessments now pouring into the White House from Afghanistan run the gamut from discouraging to awful, as the Obama administration finishes up its long-awaited December review of the war strategy the president announced a year ago.
In many ways, the cold facts charting the grim course of the war belie the upbeat views that the perpetually confident Gen. David Petraeus, the war's top commander, has expressed in public.
Neither battlefield victory nor negotiations are even dimly visible on the horizon, and another troop "surge" is politically and militarily unlikely. The White House, it seems, has no choice but to push on and hope for the best in a bad situation.
A recent Pentagon report, for instance, asserts that U.S. and allied forces and the new strategy announced by Obama a year ago are "beginning to have cumulative effects." But in unusually frank terms, the report concludes that despite combat operations against the Taliban by the 97,000 U.S. troops and 49,000 NATO and allied troops, the insurgents' "capabilities and operational reach have been qualitatively and geographically expanding." In other words, despite the U.S. "surge," enemy forces are getting better and bigger.
The Pentagon assessment said Petraeus' strategic drive to squeeze the insurgents by cutting off their supply lines has failed to produce "measurable results;" that Afghans are losing faith in their government's corrupt judicial system; that promised development projects are languishing because of corruption and other problems, and that the Taliban are recruiting easily from an expanding population of disillusioned Afghan youth.
"A deteriorating stalemate" is the description of the war's current status by U.S. Army Col. Robert M. Cassidy, who holds a doctorate degree from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and is a member of Petraeus' staff on his third combat tour in the region.
An independent analysis by the International Crisis Group, an independent blue-chip analysis center, looks at the current situation this way: the U.S. strategy "sounds fairly simple: try to pound the Taliban, build support by protecting civilians, lure disillusioned Taliban over to the government, expand access to basic services and create resilient security forces.
"The problem is that none of this is working."
A worse problem, unfortunately, is that the prospects for breaking off and leaving Afghanistan are even more grim. As the International Crisis Group notes, without outside support the government of President Karzai would collapse. The majority Pashtun Taliban would openly seize control of much of the country, reigniting the civil war with non-Pashtun warlords in the north and west that devastated much of Afghanistan in the 1990s, and drawing in money and weapons from its competing neighbors, Iran, Russia and India.
"Even a partial Taliban victory would provide succor and a refuge for Pakistani jihadi groups" including Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the Nov. 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and al-Qaeda, the ICG report says. The resulting regional conflict, it said, "would be well beyond the control of a few drone attacks" that are the main U.S. weapons against Pakistani-based militants.
Afghanistan's most immediate problem is the lack of security against the Taliban, and it is here that the Pentagon assessment is most bleak.
Kabul, the capital and where U.S. and allied headquarters are located, is "relatively secure," the Pentagon said. But across the country, shootings and bombings continue "to exceed historical trends," up 300 percent since 2007 and up an additional 70 percent since last year. The use of homemade bombs, or IEDs, was up 82 percent from 2009, and civilian casualties rose 53 percent over last year, according to the U.N.
Although U.S. officials and senior military officers often attribute the increasing violence to more widespread and aggressive U.S. military operations, the Pentagon report explicitly cites "a greater frequency and wider dispersion of insurgent-initiated attacks." Despite a concerted U.S. effort against IEDs, the main killer of American and allied troops, the Pentagon reported that "homemade explosives are readily available throughout the region." U.S. forces have been unable to break the Taliban's "resilient" logistics and command capabilities, even with a record number of close air support and reconnaissance missions being flown over Afghanistan, the report said.
[I]nstead of blasting the area with high explosives, the commander wants to attempt scaring off the insurgents, to force them to break off the firefight and flee. That's the point of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, after all: not to try to kill all the Taliban, but to protect the people.If you don't know about the capabilities of the B1 bomber don't assume from the above that it's not doing much; it's been an invaluable asset in Afghanistan, as Woods's report details. I highlighted the above passages to underscore that this war is being run by people who honestly think it's already won and that they are in the reconstruction/nation-building stage while dealing with an insurgency that pretty much has to be waited out.
Ten years ago, the ground commander bought the bomb -- if he said he wanted it dropped on a nearby enemy, he got it. The air crew's job was just delivery. But that's all changed -- the tactics, and the underlying strategy.
"You can't rebuild a country by blowing it up," explains Grasso, who is after all a professional bomber pilot. "We don't want to go in and take out targets unless we have to. We could drop all the bombs we have and not necessarily win this war."
Every effort is made to avoid having to drop a bomb -- including asking the ground commander if he can break contact with the enemy and go home. But sometimes there's no alternative.
There's another passage I want to highlight, a quote from the above-mentioned Pentagon report in the section that discusses the insurgents' weaknesses.
"Despite the presence of shadow governors, the insurgency still cannot deliver sustainable development or administer governance beyond the crudest dispensation of justice."
I think the writer meant to convey that despite serving as shadow governors the Taliban couldn't deliver the named services. But the point is that the "crudest dispensation of justice" is just why the Taliban have been able to regain power. In the absence of a functioning legal system in the country the Taliban kangaroo courts are the only way that the vast majority of Afghans have been able to get routine legal disputes settled without having to pay fortunes in bribes and wait years for a ruling!
So the Taliban have been keeping the case loads moving. And THAT, and not physical security, is what Afghans need almost as much as food, water and oxygen! It would be the same in the USA or anywhere. What use is to live behind cement barriers if you can't settle the most simple legal issues?
The Afghans keep asking for law and order. That's not the same as "security." But they must feel as if they're in a glass booth because every time they ask the Western forces to please kindly provide them with a functioning justice system, what do they get in response? A lecture on how government and the justice system works in a democracy and how corruption must be stopped before the country can have a viable justice system.
Meanwhile, Afghans just need stuff adjudicated and arbitrated. So the Taliban zip into a village on a motorcycle with a copy of the Koran in tow, set up court under a tree, and hear cases and make a ruling and carry out the sentence. A portable justice system. That's what the villagers need, which is why they tolerate the Taliban in so many places.
Would they prefer a legal system that's less harsh than the Taliban's version of Shariah? Well sure, but what the populace most wants is to get the legal disputes settled. That calls for consistency in the rulings and the assurance that the rulings will stand.
The kicker is that many of the legal issues are small-claims stuff. You don't have to wait to create the Hague to hear them. Now why can't the Coalition forces in Afghanistan grasp this simple point? Part of it might be the perception or unconscious bias that Afghans are an uncivil people. Yet the opposite is true. Many Afghans are EXTREMELY law-abiding. That's a big part of the problem: they want things done by the book so they need judges. But when they ask for law and order the Coalition hears this as a call for more troops, not more judges.
Another obstacle might be that Europeans and North Americans in the Coalition have a concept of a judicial system that they're always trying recreate wherever they go in the 'developing' world. If the standard can't be met they consider it a failed or "crude" system. So they have set a very high bar for the Afghan legal system then say, 'Oh it'll take at least a generation before they can meet that.'
One way to overcome such a mental block would be to think less in terms of courts and more in terms of arbitration, which is very popular in the USA for many minor disputes. That would be just the ticket for Afghans.
If anyone would like to test this theory, that could be arranged. Afghanistan's Tolo TV station has started airing a drama series that's not exactly propaganda but it's aimed at teaching how a good police force operates and building faith in the Afghan police. I doubt it has a huge audience because Afghans know of the great gap between the good ethics of the fictional Afghan police and the real thing.
However, if you aired an Afghan version of Judge Judy, I predict Afghans would be beating down the TV station's door to get on the program so the judge could hear their cases.
Of course Judge Judy and other TV judges don't have the power of the legal system behind their decisions. But the people who appear before them agree to have their legal disputes arbitrated and to abide by the judge's decisions.
The court TV shows have a perennial audience in the USA. After being on the air since as long ago as 1996 Judge Judy is the top-rated show on daytime TV this year in the USA. Yet in courts-starved Afghanistan, I think you'd have to be airing the show 24/7 and still wouldn't make a dent in the demand for the TV judge's services. I think the shows would be so popular they'd become a target for the Taliban but that would be a demonstration of my point.
And you'd have to focus-group the show before airing it to find the kind of TV judge who would go over best (and it would have to be a male judge of course). Judge Judy is the most popular of the TV judges but she is also controversial; some presiding judges think her abrasive style gives real judges and the court system a bad name. She defends the insults she metes out from the bench by saying it's often part of the punishment. (Would Afghans accept Judge Judy-style tongue lashings as punishments in lieu of real lashings?)
However, an Afghan version of Judge Judy's courtroom -- which could also be aired on radio -- does not solve the problem of how to compete with the portable aspect of the Taliban's justice system. Without that solution the Taliban will continue to run rings around the Coalition for reasons I think Genghis Khan would have immediately understood. That takes me to a conversation I had last week, and which I'll publish later this week as my next post.