Afghanistan- Another Lost Occupation
September 24, 2008

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan is, apparently, too grim to release. The Bush administration are falling back upon their usual penchant for secrecy, saying that it isn’t policy to release NIE’s – but others have been released, or at least their summaries, since that decision was taken so no-one is buying it.

US intelligence analysts are putting the final touches on a secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan that reportedly describes the situation as “grim”, but there are “no plans to declassify” any of it before the election, according to one US official familiar with the process.

Officials say a draft of the classified NIE, representing the key judgments of the US intelligence community’s 17 agencies and departments, is being circulated in Washington and a final “coordination meeting” of the agencies involved, under the direction of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is scheduled in the next few weeks.

According to people who have been briefed, the NIE will paint a “grim” picture of the situation in Afghanistan, seven years after the US invaded in an effort to dismantle the al Qaeda network and its Taliban protectors.

And so the American people are to be expected, still, to support an occupation with their taxes and votes from a position of ignorance about the intelligence community’s predictions of success. It enables the administration to continue to push the Afghan portion of Bush’s grand adventure as “winnable” and leaves professionals like Admiral Mullen with an “out” in their statements they are more than happy to take advantage of. Still, the cracks in the administration’s facade are obvious to anyone paying attention.

Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan at the Rand Corporation think tank, called the situation in Afghanistan “dire.”

“We are now at a tipping point, with about half of the country now penetrated by a range of Sunni militant groups including the Taliban and al Queida,” Jones said. Jones said there is growing concern that Dutch and Canadian forces in Afghanistan would “call it quits.”

“The US military would then need six, eight, maybe ten brigades but we just don’t have that many,” Jones said.

… Perhaps foreshadowing the NIE assessment on Afghanistan, Adm. Mullen told Congress, “absent a broader international and interagency approach to the problems there, it is my professional opinion that no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the objectives we seek in Afghanistan.”

As my colleague Fester points out today, those additional brigades are nowhere to be found.

Those brigades are in the rotation cycle for Iraq and have been in the rotation cycle for the past six years. Those brigades would still be in Iraq if the US pulls down to half its current force level in the next three months (and that is not happening.) Bin Laden’s objective of tying the US down and bleeding its strategic flexibility by a thousand cuts is being achieved.

Even if those brigades magically became available – say, by the efforts of NATO allies who have their own intelligence assessments saying the situation is dire too, then they still wouldn’t be enough.

we have to consider the lessons learned from the surge, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Violence dropped during the period designated as “the surge”. Its a fact proved by statistics that we can’t deny. There is some debate as to whether this was the product of the surge itself, or the completion of ethnic cleansing. But ultimately, regardless of the cause in the drop in fatalities, the surge has not achieved its stated goal of creating room for the growth of the Iraqi government.

The problem there is that the troop surge lacked a comparable surge in assisting the Iraqi government in reconciling its factions and stabilizing governance. We cannot make this same mistake in Afghanistan. Three Brigades will go along way towards achieving success in the country. It will help train a competent and legitimate police force and army. It will assist in sealing the Pakistani border. It will help hold districts in the South after we have run the Taliban out of them.

But what a troop surge will not do is end the corruption of the Afghan government. It will not legitimize municipal governments. It will not assist poor farmers in converting their Taliban funding poppy farms into a legitimate cash crop. It will not create roads, ensure the security of the vital Kajacki Dam. It will not end Pakistani meddling. It will not end proxy wars being fought within Afghanistan’s boarders, and it will not ensure Pakistan returns the eye that has thus far been blind to the Taliban forces in its own borders. Three more brigades of American troops is a good start, but it won’t fix everything.

It doesn’t take much looking to realise that Afghanistan has become as unwinnable a “victory” for the U.S. as Iraq. Neither nation is looking at long-term internal stability or even freedom from crippling internicene violence. Worse, the violence in Afghanistan has polarized the two major players in the region and contains even more of a prospect of igniting a regional bloodbath than the occupation of Iraq.

In seeking to bribe Pakistan into an alliance of highly dubious efficacy, the Bush administration “sold” them weapons by the backhanded method of granting billions in dollars of US taxpayer’s money to Musharraf to buy high-tech arms from U.S. companies. F-16s and anti-shipping missiles are pretty much useless against the Taliban, though – they’re only really useful against India, the Pakistani military’s only and pervasive bugbear. To counterbalance those sales, the administration then sold more weaponry to India, triggering a regional arms race involving at least two nuclear powers and causing everyone within range of those nuke-tipped missiles from Tokyo to Tel Aviv to reevaluate their military options. With it’s usual aplomb, though, the Bush administration has ignored the thuddingly obvious point that it is engaged in arming two nuclear sides of a situation where there have been four major conflicts in the past and major recent crises that threatened serious violence and conflict. To their everlasting discredit, the media haven’t exactly noticed either. Maybe it’s because Pakistan and Israel are on different pages on the atlas despite the fact that both’s missiles can reach the other.

And now the Pakistani alliance, only created by a threat to bomb that nation back to the Stone Age, is being exposed as just the hollow thing one would expect of an alliance under such terms. Antipathy to the US-led “war on terror” can be judged by the popularity of Nawaz Sharif, the leader most opposed to it, which currently runs at some 86%. Recent incursions into Pakistan by US special forces and UAV’s have further heightened Pakistani antipathy to the point where the Taliban’s program of terrorism to advance an objective (rather than simply advance an ideology) – that is, to make supporting the US too costly for the Pakistani government – is on the verge of success. It’s an objective apparently backed by the ISI intelligence agency and the military too and an over-belligerent response to it carries the very real risk of opening a new front in the war, against America’s reluctant and half-hearted ally or of at least alienating it entirely.

At that point, no-one will be able to ignore the SNAFU.

Speaking on Capitol Hill, General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs, said the Pentagon was testing alternative routes to prepare for a scenario where Pakistan prevented the US military from using supply routes into Afghanistan.

Underscoring the importance of Pakistan, Mr Gates, said the US relied on supply routes through Pakistan for 80 per cent of the cargo, and 40 per cent of the fuel, brought into Afghanistan.

Gen Cartwright told the Senate armed services committee that it would be “challenging to sustain our presence” without Pakistani logistics support.

Earlier this month, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, the Pakistani defence minister, reportedly said Pakistan had blocked a fuel supply route because of a US special operations raid inside Pakistan. Officials later said the checkpoint was closed to allow another military operation.

The development of alternative routes also comes after a Russian warning that it might bar Nato aircraft from its airspace because of criticism of its actions in the conflict with Georgia.

Alternative routes don’t exist, as a quick look at a map will confirm, unless the Pentagon hopes to do a deal with the Ascended masters of ShangriLa to borrow their legendary tunnels.

There’s not enough troops to provide stability for long enough, even if there were there’s not enough reconstruction and reconcilliation and even if there was there’s not enough regional goodwill for American adventurism. Just like Iraq. And just like Iraq the Afghan occupation is an unwinnable one. The best that can be done is a “slow bleed” which will hopefully be less destructive to the region and American interests than a fast one. Just like iraq, though, there’s no evidence that such is possible.

Yet, unfortunately, both mainstream party’s prospective Presidential candidates will continue to decide foreign policy by the touchstone that America has always used and inflict domestic vote-winning tough talk on foreigners yet again. Obama at least has the opportunity not to – his plan actually contains some real seeds for an unravelling of the Gordian Knot that don’t require sword-weilding – but I’m entirely pessimistic about him making a brave decision to voluntarily reverse himself on his previous saber waving.

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