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May 13, 2010

The Pentagon Spins Marjah
Posted by Michael Cohen

Earlier this week I noted the recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of Frank Ruggerio, civilian director for the US effort in southern American. At the same hearing there was testimony from  Marine Brigadier General John Nicholson and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for AF/Pak/Central Asia David Sedney on the situation in Afghanistan - and what can best be described as an interesting discrepancy emerged.

We’ve seen other positive indicators in the last year, as well.  Of the 121 key terrain districts identified by ISAF in December 2009, 60 were assessed as sympathetic or neutral to the Afghan Government.  By March, 2010, that number had climbed to 73 districts.

Yet here is what the Pentagon's recent report on Progress Toward Security and Stability In Afghanistan, released on April 30th said (pg. 35):

The overall assessment indicates that the population sympathizes with or supports the Afghan Government in 24% (29 of 121) of all Key Terrain and Area of Interest districts. 

What is one to make of this? Well as it turns out, the Pentagon report chose to highlight the very small number of districts that are defined by a "secure environment" or "occasional security threats" and "emerging" or "full governance authority." There are a mere 29 of those among the 121 that the Pentagon considers essential to the war effort. Since support of the populace for the government is essential to the COIN mission in Afghanistan this is a pretty damning number.

Nicholson and Sedney took a different approach. They have added into the mix those "neutral" districts where growth is minimal, threats are frequent and governance appears to be, at best, sparse to suggest that confidence in the Kabul government is improving. But just out of curiosity, how is a neutral district considered a win for the government?

But more important, is there a reason that the Pentagon report focused on the overall lack of popular support for the Afghan government while Nicholson and Sedney in public testimony for Congress cherry-picked the numbers to make support for the Afghan government look stronger than it may actually be?

If I was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I think I might demand an answer to that one.

Just to be clear, the problem in this testimony are not restricted to the discrepancy above. Check this out:

Despite the serious issues that remain to be addressed, a national survey completed in March 2010 indicates that 59% of Afghans believe their government is headed in the right direction, an increase of 0.5% over December 2009 and 8% over September 2009.   

An increase of 0.5% - are you f***ing kidding me? This is supposed to be a positive metric for success - that's a rounding error. And frankly an 8% increase from September 2009 to March 2010 isn't much to write home about it either. That means that even after a presidential inauguration of Hamid Karzai combined with the decision of the United States to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan . . . it only moved the dial 8%. And we're bragging about this?

Finally, here's one last piece of disinformation:

Due to our change in approach, the percentage of Afghan civilian casualties caused by Coalition actions has dropped substantially.

Yes, but what Nicholson and Sedney don't mention is that the number of Afghan civilian casualties in general has jumped by nearly 50% since the beginning of the year. It seems like that might be relevant to this discussion.



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