Afghan war effort suffers from lack of attention to politics: Report

The war effort in Afghanistan suffers from a lack of attention to the volatile politics of the country, according to a former adviser to the top US general there.

Updated: May 06, 2010, 11:34 AM IST

Washington: The war effort in Afghanistan suffers from a lack of attention to the volatile politics of the country, according to a former adviser to the top US general there.
"The United States and its allies have not thought rigorously enough about how U.S. and allied interests might not align with those of the Afghan government," said a report from Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security. Exum had been an adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

"Good counterinsurgency tactics and operations cannot, in and of themselves, win a campaign," according to a report being released Thursday.

When two top Pentagon officials testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, they gave a newly upbeat assessment of the war, putting the best face on a conflict that many senior military officials worry could go either way.

"I`m cautiously optimistic," said Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy, offering a view shared by a top general who testified alongside her before sometimes skeptical lawmakers. "The insurgency is losing momentum."

That`s a change from recent appraisals by McChrystal and others who have said they see encouraging signs but have not yet pronounced that the war has turned the corner toward full success. And it is a stark contrast to the jaundiced eye of many academics and military analysts.

The war to displace a persistent Taliban is now in its ninth year, and even strong supporters of the effort say staggering amounts of time and money have been wasted. The Obama administration ordered a top-to-bottom reorganization of the war effort and a major increase in U.S. forces.

About half of the 30,000 additional forces ordered by President Barack Obama last year are in place. By the end of summer some 98,000 U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan.

Flournoy and Lt. Gen. John Paxton ticked off examples of what they called successes or encouraging signs, including what they described as greater goodwill from ordinary Afghans toward their government and foreign forces.

Paxton said there was a sharp increase in the number of tips to U.S. forces about the location of homemade bombs during this spring`s operations around the districts of Marjah and Nad Ali in Helmand province.

Some of the assessments adopted the sunniest interpretation of the contest to win the Afghan people`s trust and peel away support for the insurgency.

Flournoy told the Armed Services Committee that of 121 key regions of Afghanistan examined by the NATO-led international force in December, 60 were considered sympathetic or neutral to the Afghan government. By March, the number had climbed to 73 districts, she said.

A Pentagon report to Congress last week broke out those numbers more precisely, and in a less flattering light. It found that there were no districts where the Afghan government held full control and where the local population completely supported the NATO-backed central government.

In 29 other districts, Afghans sympathized with their leaders in Kabul, while in 44 the population was neutral. The rest either supported or sympathized with the insurgency.

Paxton and Flournoy said violence is up, partly because of the larger numbers of U.S. troops in the country. About half of the 30,000 additional forces ordered by President Barack Obama last year are in place and by the end of summer some 98,000 U.S. forces will be in Afghanistan.

The war to displace a persistent Taliban is now in its ninth year, and even strong supporters of the effort say staggering amounts of time and money have been wasted. The Obama administration ordered a top-to-bottom reorganization of the war effort and a major increase in U.S. forces.

"Afghanistan is our No. 1 priority," Flournoy said.

The upcoming military campaign in Kandahar, the southern city partly controlled by militants, is expected to test the Obama administration`s revamped counterinsurgency strategy far harder than this spring`s smaller offensive in Helmand Province.

The committee`s chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., predicted higher casualties, and Flournoy did not disagree. "Our adversaries are intelligent and adaptable, and we will need to continuously refine our own tactics in response," Flournoy said.

Paxton gave the Kandahar operation a name Wednesday: Operation Hamkari, which translates as "cooperation."

Bureau Report