State of the War in Afghanistan: Despite Record Violence, Obama May Mention Success of Afghanistan War In State of the Union

Jan 25, 2011 3:12pm

From Nick Schifrin in Kabul:

President Obama is unlikely to dwell on Afghanistan in tonight’s State of the Union address. But if he mentions the longest war in U.S. history, he is expected to claim the same successes that Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all international forces in Afghanistan, did today in a letter addressed to all troops and civilians working for the military.

"Throughout the past year, you and our Afghan partners worked together to halt a downward security spiral in much of the country and to reverse it in some areas of great importance,” Petraeus wrote. "Each of you is part of your country's New Greatest Generation."

But there is an alternative narrative here espoused by many: that the war is not going so well.

The respected umbrella security office for NGOs in Afghanistan released its quarterly assessment of the war today and does not mince its words.

It says there is “indisputable evidence” that conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating.

Attacks by insurgents have increased by 2/3rds over already record levels in 2009, the “highest annual growth rate we have recorded,” the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office says. “Their momentum would appear unaffected by US-led counterinsurgency measures.”

The group dismisses the U.S.’ claims of significant progress in the south: “massive interventions in Helmand and Kandahar… achieved little other than to diversify and diffuse the insurgency.”

And it argues that the White House and the military’s claims of success are overstated.

"We encourage NGOs to recognize that, no matter how authoritative the source of any such claim, messages of this nature are solely intended [original emphasis] to influence American and European public opinion, ahead of the withdrawal, and are not intended to offer an accurate portrayal of the situation for those who live and work here.”

Military commanders admit the violence in the country has never been higher, but they argue it’s a product of a larger, more aggressive U.S. presence. And they warn that the spring and summer will be even more violent. But at the end of the day, there is a deep belief here that the military is making steady progress, despite the challenges.

"There is much hard work to be done in 2011. And, as always in Afghanistan, the way ahead will be difficult. As President Karzai made clear, the Kabul security bubble needs to be extended into neighboring provinces. The gains in the south and southwest need to be solidified, joined, and expanded. Areas of improved security in the east and west need to be connected and extended. And insurgent advances in recent years in the north and mountainous northwest need to be halted and reversed,” Petraeus wrote today.

For those looking after the security of NGO workers in Afghanistan, the challenges are much more fundamental.

“If the 2011 spring offensives [by the Taliban] sustain, or build on, the level of violence achieved this year then it will be a sure indicator that the surge operations achieved little. If they do not[,] then the US conclusions, in those provinces at least, will be validated,” the NGO Safety Office said in its quarterly review. “To borrow a phrase from the global warming debate… keep your eyes on the climate, not the weather."

President Obama is unlikely to dwell on Afghanistan in tonight’s State of the Union address. But if he mentions the longest war in U.S. history, he is expected to claim the same successes that Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all international forces in Afghanistan, did today in a letter addressed to all troops and civilians working for the military.

"Throughout the past year, you and our Afghan partners worked together to halt a downward security spiral in much of the country and to reverse it in some areas of great importance,” Petraeus wrote. "Each of you is part of your country's New Greatest Generation."

 

But there is an alternative narrative here espoused by many: that the war is not going so well.

 

The respected umbrella security office for NGOs in Afghanistan released its quarterly assessment of the war today and does not mince its words.

 

It says there is “indisputable evidence” that conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating.

 

Attacks by insurgents have increased by 2/3rds over already record levels in 2009, the “highest annual growth rate we have recorded,” the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office says. “Their momentum would appear unaffected by US-led counterinsurgency measures.”

 

 

The group dismisses the U.S.’ claims of significant progress in the south: “massive interventions in Helmand and Kandahar… achieved little other than to diversify and diffuse the insurgency.”

 

And it argues that the White House and the military’s claims of success are overstated.

 

"We encourage NGOs to recognize that, no matter how authoritative the source of any such claim, messages of this nature are solely intended [original emphasis] to influence American and European public opinion, ahead of the withdrawal, and are not intended to offer an accurate portrayal of the situation for those who live and work here.”

 

Military commanders admit the violence in the country has never been higher, but they argue it’s a product of a larger, more aggressive U.S. presence. And they warn that the spring and summer will be even more violent. But at the end of the day, there is a deep belief here that the military is making steady progress, despite the challenges.

 

 "There is much hard work to be done in 2011. And, as always in Afghanistan, the way ahead will be difficult. As President Karzai made clear, the Kabul security bubble needs to be extended into neighboring provinces. The gains in the south and southwest need to be solidified, joined, and expanded. Areas of improved security in the east and west need to be connected and extended. And insurgent advances in recent years in the north and mountainous northwest need to be halted and reversed,” Petraeus wrote today.

 

For those looking after the security of NGO workers in Afghanistan, the challenges are much more fundamental.

 

 “If the 2011 spring offensives [by the Taliban] sustain, or build on, the level of violence achieved this year then it will be a sure indicator that the surge operations achieved little. If they do not[,] then the US conclusions, in those provinces at least, will be validated,” the NGO Safety Office said in its quarterly review. “To borrow a phrase from the global warming debate… keep your eyes on the climate, not the weather.”

 

-Nick Schifrin

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