Petraeus issues state of the Afghan war assessment
Only hours before his commander chief, President Barack Obama, was to deliver his State of the Union address, Army Gen. David Petraeus delivered a state of the war assessment for Afghanistan.
In a letter to the 100,000 U.S. forces, Petreaus said that over the last year, the U.S.-led counter-insurgency campaign had succeeded in halting "a downward security spiral in much of" Afghanistan and even reversed "it in some areas of great importance."
As evidence, Petraeus said that despite occassional attacks in Kabul, the Afghan capital and surrounding region "enjoyed impressive security throughout the latter half of 2010." He called the reduction in insurgent strikes there "particularly noteworthy given that nearly one-fifth of the Afghan population lives in the greater Kabul area and Afghan forces lead in all but one of the (Kabul) province's districts."
Petraeus said "hard-won progress" also was made in the southern Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the focus of last year's surge of an additional 30,000 U.S. forces, and there were "advances" in areas of the east, west and north.
"While there clearly is a need for additional work in numerous areas, it is equally clear that ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and Afghan forces inflicted enormous losses on mid-level Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders throughout the country and took away from of their most important safe havens," Petraeus wrote. "Now, in fact, the insurgents increasingly are responding to our operations rather than vice-versa, and there numerous reports of unprecedented discord among the members of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban senior leadership body."
Of course, it was Petraeus who reported in September that senior Taliban leaders had reached out to President Hamid Karzai's government to discuss holding negotiations on a much-longed for political settlement of the war. The intelocutor, however, turned out to be an impostor and no apparent progress was made on starting negotiations. That wasn't mentioned in the general's letter.
Nor did it say that 2010 saw a massive increase in violence and the highest U.S. casualties - at least 499 dead and more than 5,100 wounded - since the 2001 U.S. invasion, nor that many experts believe that the U.S.-led offensives in the south prompted insurgents to move to previously unaffected areas of the country.
Civilian casualties also hit an all-time high in 2010, with more than three-quarters blamed on the Taliban and other insurgent groups. The United Nations charted a 20 percent increase - to at least 6,215 - in civilian casualties for the first 10 months of 2010 compared to the same period a year earlier. And adjacent areas of Pakistan, where U.S. drone attacks rose by more than 160 percent last year, remained sanctuaries for the Taliban and allied groups.
None of that was in Petraeus' assessment either.
Petreaus said that to capitalize on the progress he outlined, U.S.-led forces will have to expand the "Kabul security bubble," solidify and extend the "gains in the south and southwest," connect and expand "areas of improved security in the east and west," and halt and reverse the insurgency's "recent advances" in the north and northeast.
He also acknowledged the need for progress on what many experts and U.S. officials and other experts regard as the Achille's Heels of the counter-insurgency campaign that Petraeus is leading: endemic corruption in Karzai's government and the lack of Afghan officials capable of providing good governance and services to people in areas regained from the insurgents.
"To capitalize on the security gains we achieved in 2010, we will also have to maintain our support for Afghan-led efforts to establish governance that can earn the support of the people," Petraeus wrote. "Additionally, we will have to expand our efforts to help Afghan officials implement President Karzai's direction to combat corruption and criminal patronage networks."
Left unsaid by Petraeus, however, was that Karzai's refusal to allow prosecutions of family, friends and allies is seen by many U.S. officials and others as a major impediment to the U.S.-backed anti-corruption efforts.
Petraeus warned that this year will see more intense fighting, a prediction that few will dispute.
"In sum, 2010 was a year of significant, hard-fought accomplishments," he wrote. "The year ahead is likely to be a tough one, too."