Afghanistan

Does anybody know if the US is “winning” in Afghanistan?

Don’t ask retired Four Star General and Secretary of State Colin Powell. On Meet the Press on Sunday, he said he “doesn’t know whether the United States is winning in Afghanistan.”

Powell said that “although generals in the Afghan campaign claim progress as they move into new territory, it’s hard to tell if the Taliban really is being defeated or merely is moving from one place to another.”

Well if the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs doesn’t know if the U.S. winning, maybe our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates can give a straight answer. Three days before Powell’s Meet The Press interview, Gates made his case for continued support without solid evidence of progress after nine years.

Gates said last week, citing recent assessments from the new top U.S. and NATO commander and Gates’ personal impressions from a recent trip to Afghan battlefields:

“I think there is a general feeling that there has been some progress in that area, but it will have to be sustained.”

That doesn’t instill much confidence, or tell us what “winning” really means.

Back in December 2009, one week after President Obama announced the “surge” of 30,000 troops, Gates defined winning as, “reversing the momentum of the Taliban – denying them control of territory, population.”

Apparently, we’re not doing that.  The deterioration of security is described in a recent New York Times article:

“With one attack after another, the Taliban and their insurgent allies have degraded security in almost every part of the country (the one exception is Panjshir Province in the north, which has never succumbed to Taliban control).

The Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office says that by almost every metric it has, Afghanistan is more dangerous now than at any time since 2001.

The most recent troop buildup comes in response to steady advances by the Taliban. Four years ago, the insurgents were active in only four provinces. Now they are active in 33 of 34, the organizations say.”

Based on the increase in violence in 33 of the 34 provinces, the US has not “denied the Taliban control of territory”. In fact, if the US military is only able to claim control of one of the 34 provinces, it’s clear that the Taliban is the one denying the US control.

Unarmed government employees can no longer travel safely in 30 percent of the country’s 368 districts, according to published United Nations estimates, and there are districts deemed too dangerous to visit in all but one of the country’s 34 provinces.

The number of insurgent attacks has increased significantly; in August 2009, insurgents carried out 630 attacks. This August, they initiated at least 1,353, according to the Afghan N.G.O. Safety Office, an independent organization financed by Western governments and agencies to monitor safety for aid workers.

Based on the evidence of an increase in attacks, from 630 in August of 2009 to 1,353 in August of 2010, we are not winning. Based on the inability of humanitarian aid workers to travel and operate inside Afghanistan, we are not winning. Based on the inability to provide security and monitor elections in a significant portion of the country, the US does not have the territory, or the situation, under “control.”

So after nine years, 100,000 troops,  335 Billion dollars, 14,000-34,000 Afghan deaths,  and 1,985 coalition deaths, our nation’s highest ranking military officers do not know if they are winning but tell us when they have “a general feeling” about progress? By Sec. Gates’ definition of winning, we are losing the war in Afghanistan.

The fact is, there is no military means of “winning” this war, and defining success in military terms means grasping at unattainable goals. It also means many thousands more dead and many billions more spent. The Obama administration  needs to start seriously looking at implementing a more cost effective, less counterproductive strategy, based on a non-military realistic definition of “success” rather than an unrealistic military definition of “winning”.