Thursday, April 29, 2010

Afstan: Looking at the glass

1) Half (?)-full (Washington Post):
Pentagon says instability in Afghanistan has '‘leveled off'

The Afghan government can count on popular support only in a quarter of the main urban areas and other districts that are considered key to winning the war with the Taliban and other insurgents, the Pentagon said in a report delivered to Congress on Wednesday.

In the status report on the war in Afghanistan, the Defense Department said that years of rising instability had "leveled off" since January and that the number of Afghans who see their government heading in the right direction has increased.

The report stops short of declaring that the tide has turned in a nine-year war in which the Taliban has made a strong comeback since it was toppled from power after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks...

A major obstacle facing the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy is persuading skeptical Afghans that the central government deserves their allegiance over the Taliban. In an assessment of 121 Afghan districts that it considers crucial to winning the war, the U.S. military found that only about one-quarter -- or 29 districts -- could be classified as sympathetic to the government.

In comparison, 48 of the districts were classified as supportive of or sympathetic to the Taliban, a proportion basically unchanged since December. The remainder of the districts was rated "neutral," meaning that their sympathies were considered up for grabs.

One bright spot in the report is that a majority of Afghans surveyed in March thought their government was "headed in the right direction," an increase of eight percentage points from September, around the time when national elections were widely criticized by international observers as fraudulent.

Views on government corruption, however, "continue to be decidedly negative," the report found, with 83 percent of Afghans reporting that corruption affected their daily lives -- an increase of four percentage points from September...
2) Half (?)-empty (LA Times):
Afghan Taliban getting stronger, Pentagon says
A Pentagon assessment, while expressing confidence in U.S. strategy, says the movement has flourished despite repeated assaults.

A Pentagon report presented a sobering new assessment Wednesday of the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, saying that its abilities are expanding and its operations are increasing in sophistication, despite recent major offensives by U.S. forces in the militants' heartland.

The report, requested by Congress, portrays an insurgency with deep roots and broad reach, able to withstand repeated U.S. onslaughts and to reestablish its influence, while discrediting and undermining the country's Western-backed government.

But the Pentagon said it remained optimistic that its counter-insurgency strategy, formed after an Obama administration review last year, and its effort to peel foot soldiers away from the Taliban will show success in months to come...

The new report offers a grim take on the likely difficulty of establishing lasting security, especially in southern Afghanistan, where the insurgency enjoys broad support. The conclusions raise the prospect that the insurgency in the south may never be completely vanquished, but instead must be contained to prevent it from threatening the government of President Hamid Karzai.

The report concludes that Afghan people support or are sympathetic to the insurgency in 92 of 121 districts identified by the U.S. military as key terrain for stabilizing the country. Popular support for Karzai's government is strong in only 29 of those districts, it concludes...

...The official acknowledged the assessment of the insurgency was more pessimistic than in previous assessments. "This is a very serious and sober report," he said...

U.S. and allied officials have stressed the importance of improving the Afghan security forces. But the report notes that efforts to enhance the Afghan national army have made "slow progress" over the last year, due largely to "high attrition and low retention" of recruits.

U.S. commanders said Afghan troops who supported Marines in the battle to end Taliban control of Marja early this year were better than those who fought in similar circumstances last year, but still need much more training.

Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the Marine commander in the Marja operation, said he would give some Afghan units an A-minus or B-plus. But others, particularly those with soldiers fresh from basic training, performed much worse [more on training here]...
Now, will any enterprising journalist in Ottawa ask for the government's reaction to this assessment? Will the opposition in Question Period? And will any minister give a substantive reply?

And why has the Commons' Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan not asked for such a report? Just kidding, folks. Not that our government would permit the CF to be anywhere near as frank and detailed as the US military.

Update: Text of the report is here.


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