Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Afghanistan at a Turning Point

Here is the Afghanistan blurb from this morning's "Situation Report" by Foreign Policy's Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley:
Echoing American generals who have run the war in Afghanistan for the past decade, leader of U.S. and NATO troops there, Gen. John Campbell, told a congressional panel Tuesday that the country “is at an inflection point.” If Washington pulls out too many troops by the end of this year, 2016 “is at risk of being no better, and possibly worse, than 2015,” which was the bloodiest year yet for Afghan security forces. The general -- expected to retire in the coming months once Lt. Gen. John "Mick" Nicholson comes to Kabul to take over -- praised the White House’s decision to keep U.S. troop strength at around 9,800 troops for much of this year, eventually falling to about 5,500 by 2017. "Ultimately, Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction in our support in 2016," Campbell said.
Last year the casualty rate sustained by the Afghan security forces was deemed unsustainable. According to Mujib Mashal's "Taliban Bombing Kills at Least 20 at Kabul Police Station":
. . . [C]asualties among Afghan soldiers and police officers had risen by almost a third in 2015, compared with a record casualty rate in 2014 that some officials then considered unsustainable.
Intense Taliban offensives this winter, including the string of bombings in Kabul, have Afghan and Western officials increasingly worried about the pressure on the Afghan security forces. 
Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, a spokesman for NATO and United States forces in Afghanistan, said the casualties of Afghan forces through 2015 were 28 percent higher than in the previous year. Colonel Lawhorn, who would not go into details about the new casualty report, said a difficult year for Afghan forces had long been expected because they were carrying responsibility for a “significantly increased operational tempo” last year, after the end of the NATO combat mission. 
An Afghan official briefed on the matter put the number of casualties last year at close to 16,000 soldiers and police officers, with more than 5,000 killed. Even those numbers seemed low, considering that 4,100 were killed in the first six months of 2015, and the fighting greatly intensified in the last six months of the year.
Oruzgan Province north of Kandahar is in trouble, as Mashal goes on to relate:
In the district of Deh Rawood in southern Oruzgan Province, where the police have long complained of a lack of equipment and ammunition while practically under siege, four security checkpoints were abandoned by the police and later burned down by the Taliban, according to Mohammad Karim Khadimzai, head of the Oruzgan provincial council. Around 30 police officers deserted their posts in Deh Rawood and arrived in Tirin Kot, the provincial capital.
In today's paper Mashal and Taimoor Shah report that a hero boy soldier was assassinated by the Taliban in front of his home in Tirin Kot ("Taliban Gun Down 10-Year-Old Militia Hero in Afghanistan").

Gen. Campbell appears to have told Congress the truth when he announced that 2016 is an "inflection point" for Afghanistan. If the Chinese can't put enough pressure on Pakistan to get substantive peace negotiations moving, it is hard to see how the U.S./NATO project in Afghanistan survives.

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