There’s got to be some symbolism—if not irony–in the fact that just as the last of the 33,000 troops surged by Obama two years ago supposedly to pacify Afghanistan pulled out, the highest ranking Chinese official to visit Afghanistan in almost half a century pulled in—arriving in Kabul for a secret round of meetings with top Afghan officials.
Question: How will China deal with the country that proved such an expensive and bloody disaster for both the U.S., its NATO allies–and the U.S.S.R before them?
In a brief visit, unreported until he had left Kabul, Zhou Younkang, China’s chief of domestic security, met with Afghani leaders, including President Hamid Karzai. They talked about drugs, international crime, terrorism, and developing Afghanistan’s huge natural resources—just as visiting Americans have done for years.
The result, a cluster of agreements, among them an announcement that 300 Afghan police officers will be sent to China for training over the next four years.
Which is another irony of sorts—coming at the same time as news that the U.S. and its allies have been obliged to scale back joint operations with the Afghan military and police, because they can no longer trust the men they’ve trained. American troops in the field with their Afghan allies now keep weapons ready and wear body armor even when they’re eating goat meat and yoghurt.
So far this year 51 American and NATO troops have been gunned down by Afghan military or police: a startling 20% of all NATO casualties this year.
The off-the-wall video from California ridiculing the prophet Mohammed has only further fueled anti-American hatred.
As the New York Times quoted one 20 year old Afghan soldier, NATO casualties could even be higher.
“We would have killed many of them already,” he said, “but our commanders are cowards and don’t let us.”
There are still some 68,000 American troops based in Afghanistan, but the plans are for them all to be out by the end of 2014. Which means that China will be confronting serious security problems of its own in Afghanistan. They already have direct investments of more than $200 million in copper mining and oil exploration, and have promised to build a major railroad east to Pakistan or north to Turkestan.
But they could pour in billions more if Afghanistan were a secure, well-ordered country, free from the Taliban, free from kleptocratic war lords and venal government bureaucrats, patrolled by well-trained Afghan soldiers and police: in other words, exactly the kind of country the U.S. would like to have left behind—and didn’t.
Instead, of course, despite America’s huge sacrifice in men and treasure –more than half a trillion dollars since 2001–things haven’t worked out that way. [For a dramatic, running count of the enormous hemorrhage that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still represent to the U.S. economy check out costofwar.com.]
Meanwhile, corruption is rampant, and it’s by no means certain that Afghanistan has—or ever will have–a national army and police force worthy of the name.
The U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, peered into the Pentagon’ s 1.1 billion dollars fuel program to supply the Afghan Army, and concluded that there was no way to be ascertain how much if any of that fuel is really being used by Afghan security forces for their missions. There was also no way to know how much was stolen, lost or diverted to the Taliban and other insurgent groups. Almost half a billion dollars worth of receipts detailing with fuel payments over the past four years have been shredded.
With the Americans heading for the exits, the challenge facing the Chinese—and anyone else, like India–interested in investing in the country–is how to navigate this imbroglio.
Indeed, the Chinese have apparently already run into problems in Afghanistan. Work at the Mes Aynak copper mine in Logar Province is already behind schedule, and no work has begun on the promised Chinese-built railroad yet. Various impediments have turned up, like recalcitrant bureaucrats, tensions provoked by the need to displace local populations, the discovery of Buddhist ruins, as well as ramshackle Soviet-era mines that first had to be cleared.
And then there’s the rival, rapacious warlords, who see the country’s resources as a way of fueling their own ambitions—like General Abdul Rashid Dotsum, who the government has accused of attempting to extort illegal payoffs from the Chinese oil company.
However, in their dealings throughout the developing world, from despots to democracies, the Chinese have shown themselves adept at navigating such quagmires. There’s no talk from Beijing of Chinese “exceptionalism”. They’ve been taking on the world as it is—not as someone in a Chinese think tank would want to remake it.
They’ve generally turned a blind eye to considerations of human rights, opted to pay off or work with the powers that be, and used offers of huge new infrastructure projects as bait, steadily increasing their share of the globe’s resources.
Many potential investors still shy away from Afghanistan. They have no idea what lies on the other side of the political abyss after 2014 when the U.S. completes its withdrawal.
China is also wary, but they’re also seriously planning their Afghan strategy for the post-American future.
As Wang Lian, a professor with the School of International Studies at the Paking University in Beijing, put it, ”Almost every great power in history, when they were rising, was deeply involved in Afghanistan, and China will not be an exception.”
Unmentioned, of course, was what an unmitigated disaster that involvement turned out to be for the USSR, the US–and Afghanistan.
We’ll see how China fares.
- Did Afghanistan’s Surge Fail? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Is the Afghan Surge Really Over? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Afghanistan surge achieved its mission, Dempsey says (nation.com.pk)
An analysis by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, which the U.S. Army has not approved for public release but has leaked to Rolling Stone magazine, provides the most authoritative refutation thus far of the official military narrative of success in the Afghanistan War since the troop surge began in early 2010.
In the 84-page unclassified report, Davis, who returned last fall after his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, attacks the credibility of claims by senior military leaders that the U.S.-NATO war strategy has succeeded in weakening the Taliban insurgent forces and in building Afghan security forces capable of taking primary responsibility for security in the future.
The report, which Davis had submitted to the Army in January for clearance to make it public, was posted on the website of Rolling Stone magazine by journalist Michael Hastings Friday. In a blog for the magazine, Hastings reported that “officials familiar with the situation” had said the Pentagon was “refusing” to release the report, but that it had been making the rounds within the U.S. government, including the White House.
Hastings wrote that he had obtained it from a U.S. government official.
Contacted by IPS Friday, Davis would not comment on the publication of the report or its contents.
Writing that he is “no Wikileaks guy Part II”, Davis reveals no classified information in the report. But he has given a classified version of the report, which cites and quotes from dozens of classified documents, to several members of the House and Senate, including both Democrats and Republicans.
“If the public had access to the classified reports,” Davis writes, “they would see the dramatic gulf between what is often said in public by our senior leaders and what is true behind the scenes.”
Davis is in a unique position to assess the real situation on the ground in Afghanistan. As a staff officer of the “Rapid Equipping Force”, he traveled more than 9,000 miles to every area where U.S. troop presence was significant and had conversations with more than 250 U.S. soldiers, from privates to division commanders.
The report takes aim at the March 2011 Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, then the top commander in Afghanistan, and the Defence Department’s April 2011 Report to Congress as either “misleading, significantly skewed or completely inaccurate”.
Davis attacks the claim in both the Petraeus testimony and the DOD report that U.S. and NATO forces had “arrested the insurgents’ momentum” and “reversed it in a number of important areas”.
That claim is belied, Davis argues, by the fact that the number of insurgent attacks, the number of IEDs found and detonated and the number of U.S. troops killed and wounded have all continued to mount since 2009, the last year before the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops and 10,000 NATO troops.
Davis notes that Petraeus and other senior officials of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the U.S.-NATO command in Afghanistan, have boasted of having killed and captured thousands of insurgent leaders and rank and file soldiers, cut insurgent supply routes and found large numbers of weapons caches as well as depriving the insurgents of their main bases of operation since spring 2010.
If these claims were accurate measures of success, Davis writes, after the Taliban had been driven out of their strongholds, “there ought to have been a reduction in violence not a continual, unbroken string of increases.”
In fact, Davis writes, Taliban attacks “continued to rise at almost the same rate it had risen since 2005 all the way through the summer of 2011″ and remained “well above 2009 levels in the second half of 2011″ even though it leveled off or dropped slightly in some places.
Davis notes that total attacks, total number of IEDs and total U.S. casualties in 2011 were 82 percent, 113 percent and 164 percent higher, respectively, than the figures for 2009, the last year before the surge of 30,000 troops. The annual number of U.S. dead and wounded increased from 1,764 in 2009 to 4,662 in 2011.
The veteran Army officer quotes Congressional testimony by Adm. Mike Mullen December 2, 2009 as citing a lesser increase in Taliban attacks in 2009 of 60 percent over the 2008 level as a rationale for a significant increase in U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, implying that the war was being lost.
Davis leaves no doubt about his overall assessment that the U.S. war effort has failed. “Even a cursory observation of key classified reports and metrics,” Davis concludes, “leads overwhelmingly to the conclusion that over the past two years, despite the surge of 30,000 American Soldiers, the insurgent force has gained strength….”
Davis is also scathing in his assessment of the Afghan army and police who have been described as constantly improving and on their way to taking responsibility for fighting the insurgents.
“What I saw first-hand, in virtually every circumstance,” writes Davis, “was a barely functioning organization – often cooperating with the insurgent enemy….”
Both in his longer report and in an article for Armed Forces Journal published online February 5, Davis recounts his experience at an Afghan National Police station in Kunar province in January 2011. Arriving two hours after a Taliban attack on the station, Davis asked the police captain whether he had sent out patrols to find the insurgents.
After the question had been conveyed by the interpreter, Davis recalls, “The captain’s head wheeled around, looking first at the interpreter and turning to me with an incredulous expression. Then he laughed.”
“No! We don’t go after them,” he quotes the captain as saying. “That would be dangerous!”
According to Davis, U.S. troops who work with Afghan policemen in that province say they “rarely leave the cover of the checkpoints”, allowing the Taliban to “literally run free”.
Describing the overall situation, Davis writes, “(I)n a number of high profile mission opportunities over the past 11 months the ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police) have numerous times run from the battle, run from rumors, or made secret deals with the Taliban.”
The draft posted online notes after that statement that the classified version of the paper has been “redacted”, indicating that Davis provides further details about those “secret deals” in the classified version.
The Army dissenter calls on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to “conduct a bi-partisan investigation into the various charges of deception or dishonesty in this report….” He urges that such a hearing include testimony not only from senior military officials but from mid- and senior-level intelligence analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies.
Both Senate and House Armed Services Committees have exhibited little or no interest in probing behind the official claims of success in Afghanistan. That passive role reflects what many political observers, including some members of Congress, see as cozy relationships among most committee members, military leaders, Pentagon officials and major military contractors.
It remains to be seen whether Davis’s success in raising the issue of misleading claims of success in a front-page New York Times story February 6 and in subsequent television appearances will bring pressure on those committees from other members to hold hearings on whether senior military officials are telling the truth about the situation in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan is brushing off Davis’s critique as having no importance. During a briefing in which he claimed continued steady progress in Afghanistan, Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, dismissed the Davis report as “one person’s view of this”.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.