TCS Daily

New Survey of Afghans Says Time Running Out

By Michael Fumento - March 9, 2007 12:00 AM

Afghanistan may be called "The Forgotten War" but we'd better hurry up and remember it, for time is short. That's increasingly the word from experts both military and non-military, including an exhaustive survey based on 1,000 interviews with Afghans just released by the D.C.-based -based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Put another way, the peak year for progress appears to have been 2005. It's been downhill since then and if it isn't arrested soon the nation will be lost. "2007 is a critical year," the study's co-director Frederick Barton, said at an event releasing the survey.

The survey assesses the state of five "key pillars:" security, governance and participation, justice and accountability, economic conditions, social services, and infrastructure. There has been progress in some areas, such as the economy and rights for women, it says. But fear of the insurgents is on the rise. So, too, is frustration with government corruption, a discredited justice system and a severe lack of basic services. "As a result, Afghans are beginning to disengage from national governing processes and lose confidence in their leadership," says the report.

This is probably more pessimistic than official statistics or media accounts suggest. But its conclusion reflects remarks made just few weeks ago by the departing U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who said "a point could be reached at which the government of Afghanistan becomes irrelevant to its people, and the goal of establishing a democratic, moderate, self-sustaining state could be lost forever."

The CSIS report, funded in part by USAID, finds a diminishing feeling of security as the insurgent Taliban step up attacks and corruption becomes ever more widespread.

"Our perceptions of security are so far from theirs in so many ways," the study's lead author Seema Patel told me. "For example, we assume drug traffickers make people feel unsafe but [those surveyed] say [they're] not scared of them," says Patel, who recently spent six weeks traveling throughout Afghanistan. "The fear for most people is insurgents, not even local Taliban but Taliban coming from outside the community whether they be cross-border (from Pakistan) or not." Further, she says, what we call "corruption" sounds fairly benign to us, like bigwigs paying bribes to government officials. "But in their psyche it's abuse and violence. They pay or they get beat up."

The military situation also is worsening said CSIS.

"The insurgency has gained momentum in the South and East, regaining and holding control in many districts," according to the report. "Insurgents have managed to occupy critical roads and conduct ambushes from these strategic points. The insurgency is now able to recruit in larger numbers, wage battles with battalion-sized forces and is employing new tactics."

"Afghanization" is not proceeding especially well. "Official sources indicate that to date, 30,100 of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers are operational and 49,700 Afghan National Police officers have been trained," the report says. "Yet after taking into account desertion, ghost names and the incompetence of many, the total is more likely to be half the number, if that. The incentives to fight for the weakened Karzai government are inadequate to recruit and retain professional troops. Morale is low."

It continues, "Income for those in the lower ranks remains insufficient to meet more than the most basic needs. ANA soldiers now receive $100 month as a new recruit for a three-year commitment, up from $70 month." However, "In some reported cases, the Taliban are paying up to $12 a day, three times as much as the ANA field soldiers, and there is evidence of defection from the national security forces to the Taliban ranks."

NATO forces are also inadequate. They currently have a three-hour response time for emergencies, but that must be reduced to a mere 15 minutes the report insists. We need to "Double the helicopters, communications, intelligence, and resources available, and shift more personnel to Kandahar and Helmand" provinces (in the south and east) where "the Taliban are most likely to initiate their offensive."

Some of this sounds like wishful thinking. President Bush has announced U.S. forces would be increased by 3,200 to 27,000, the highest level of the war, and Britain has indicated it will increase its troop presence by perhaps 1,000 troops to 6,600. But it's sobering to realize that Afghanistan is larger than Iraq in both land mass and population.

The report also makes a call to "renegotiate NATO country caveats." Translation: France, and Spain don't seem to understand that soldiers should be used as soldiers. Italy's troop presence in Afghanistan threatens to pull down that nation's government, even though the troops are nowhere near the fighting. The same Germany that in World War II was able to conquer and control virtually all of continental Europe has only a few hundred men even authorized to fight in Afghanistan.

All said, the Afghan situation remains considerably better than that in Iraq. "But just last year we had significantly more options," says Patel. "There are opportunities to turn things around but the changes need to be made immediately, otherwise next year we might find ourselves with nothing but a last-ditch effort available."

Michael Fumento is a D.C-based former paratrooper who has been embedded three times in Iraq.



Running out of Time???
It is Afghanistan. What is a time imperative in that stateless state? There never was a central government which provided the "five pillars." Why would our commanders on the ground and the pundits in the Ivory Towers think there is some scenario in which the Afghan people will think as one? We can't do that in the USA after 230 years of experience.

The issue in Afghanistan is do most of the folk want to have a central government or not. If they do, would they want an Islamist government or a Islamist/Secular government or some combination of the two.

I read that the Provincial Assistance Teams are accomplishing remarkable things, establishing schools, providing basic medical care, improving infrastrucure, improving agricultural procedures and basically providing creature comforts to the people who never had anyone do that before for them.

I doubt the veracity of the pundits and the guys above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Somehow those guys are above the fray.

Allan J. Fritz
COL, USA (Ret.)

Antibiotics misuse
Our misadventure in Afghanistan is directly comparable to the misuse of antibiotics in combating infection.

When you have an infection it is advised to complete the course of the antibiotic, so every last pathogen is destroyed. Stop too soon and you leave a residual population that has built up a resistance to the agent of destruction.

That resistant population then propagates, and the next time you try to fight them with the same antibiotic, it no longer is effective. They've "learned" it and can readily elude it.

We're seeing exactly that in Afghanistan. The Taliban, saved from destruction by our adventitious entry into Iraq with the troops we could have used to fully secure the area, are now "tanned, rested and ready". What few troops exist there are inadequate to hold territory or to build sturdy institutions resistant to being undermined. We have aided the enemy by teaching him the only tricks we had available for his destruction.

Backing the wrong horse
A key mistake we made early in the game was backing the wrong horse when we secured the country-- or at least quite a lot of it-- and allowed the Afghans to convene their loya jirga, and decide their own future.

This would actually have been playing to our strength-- endorsing a traditional form of direct democracy that would have perfectly decided the day. They would have seen that our objective was truly to aid them in bringing about a mutually agreed upon plan for self-government.

They chose old Zahir Shah, the remnant from their golden, pre-soviet age, to be their leader. No one else had the ,moral authority to reunite the fractured tribes into a nation. And we told them they were regrettably mistaken-- that the correct choice was our guy, young, fashionably dressed Hamid Karzai.

Well, the reason they had tolerated the Taliban in the first place was that the long suffering Afghans are by now very, VERY tired of fighting. So they went along with HK, thinking he could at least keep the Americans there to keep order.

They were wrong. Instead, we turned over local rule to the most unpopular factions in the country-- the warlords. Undemocratic, thriving on injustice, disloyal-- you name it, by every yardstick these guys were at the bottom. And we found it easiest to allow them to re-secure their control of their little patches of turf, just like the worst of the bad old days.

So now there is little progress and even less justice. The warlords are equally disloyal to all, be they Taliban or NATO, and win when both sides wear each other down to a nub, in strife without a resolution. Whether we now go home, or stay for another decade, the facts on the ground are fixed. The new status quo will be for both the Tals and the troops to have a roughly equal presence.

so very true
There is something to what is being said, it would be a good idea to get some of the outlying areas better secured. But overall, you are correct.

Maybe It's Time For a Technological Not-So-Quick Fix
Warning: this post may be completely loony. Feedback appreciated.

So, as usual, everything boils down to security. AQ and the Taliban have certainly figured this out, as have the entire menagerie of Iraqi groups.

Our entire counterinsurgency doctrine is ultimately based on two premises, both of which turn out to be wrong:

1) Insurgent actions are ultimately constrained, either by their own standards of decency or by the need to govern once they "win." This is clearly no longer true--these guys are willing to destroy the target societies completely, using any means available.

2) Only the local population can root out the insurgents and ultimately stabilize the situation, because counterinsurgency will never be able to locate all the bad guys. This works great if assumption #1 holds. Since it doesn't, there's no way we get the process bootstrapped.

So, we're left with a situation we've never had before: We may have to kill close to every single last one of these guys before they're no longer able to commit incredible atrocities and the locals feel safe enough to root the rest of them out. Oh yeah--we have to kill all the bad guys while leaving the local population virtually untouched.

Hopefully, you're with me so far. Here's where it's gonna get weird:

So, how do we make progress when we're going to get virtually no valid intelligence? Well, we'd be just fine if we had perfect surveillance over every square meter of the millions of square miles of the battle area. If you can detect ten guys with guns getting into a truck in the back of beyond and drop a bullet on each one of them (not a bomb--no collateral damage allowed), then the insurgency grinds to a halt immediately. Of course, this is complete science fiction.

Or is it?

Let's look at some trends:

1) UAV technology is dropping precipitously in size and price.

2) UAV autonomy is improving very rapidly--one human controller can handle an ever-larger number of UAVs.

3) Cameras are tiny and dirt cheap, approaching the point where you can sprinkle them liberally and randomly over an urban area or supply route for a reasonable price.

4) After languishing for 20 years, automated pattern recognition and visual scene interpretation software is finally making real progress.

5) Sensor network technology is not ready for commercialization yet, but that may be more for lack of a compelling market driver than a technical problem.

So, how far are we away from being able to use black-sky reconnaisance and dense networks of air-dropped cameras to identify most types of suspicious activity with massive amounts of computing power--over the **entire** battle area? How long before automated systems can forward a small enough set of high-quality hits up to human controllers, who can dispatch lethal force to the situations that turn out to be real problems? 15 years? 10? 5? And how much could we accelerate that if we made it a priorty? Remember, military technology is funny: it doesn't have to be commercialized, only hardened. Some amazingly kludgy systems show up on the battlefield and make a huge difference.

Please note that a lot of this is already happening. It's just not effective enough yet, because the productivity of the human controllers isn't high enough to cover the whole battle area, and the cost of the technology is still too high. We know how fast productivity can increase and costs can drop with a compelling need. God knows the need is compelling enough.

Of course, the real problem with this is what happens if it's successful. Think it won't get re-tasked for homeland security applications? Then for anti-crime systems? What stops it from becoming the ultimate in Big Brother?

diamond age
i really hope you just (re?)read neil stephenson's diamond age and have an overactive immagination

unfortunately i know this really is the future of 'warfare' (i put it in quotes because there wont be much to warfare if such a system is ever put in place)

i'm all for security, and a strong defense program, but seriously, (self)automated detection systems with search and destroy capabilities (was it indonesia that just posted the $1million reward for a robot that could do this in urban settings?), kill me before that day dawns, please
we're long past 1984 and i dont need orwell(or some hacker) coming back in and rewriting our calendar, and with it our bill of rights

Defending Against Terrorism and Lawlessness
"Of course, the real problem with this is what happens if it's successful. Think it won't get re-tasked for homeland security applications? Then for anti-crime systems? What stops it from becoming the ultimate in Big Brother?"

One of the "lessons learned" to date from Iraq, Afghanistan and the terror war in general is that success in combating terror will require new technology designed specifically for terrorist and urban combat.

Improvement in surveillance capability is critical. A surveillance UAV should be capable of multi-frequency "see" in the visual, the infrared and the microwave/radio frequencies. Data from a target vicinity must then be relayed to and processed by a control center in near real time. If the data indicates a potential intervention, an analyst must decide whether to dispatch robotic and/or on-call human forces. With the right system and complete coverage, terrorist activity can be minimized within a defined vicinity.

While securing urban vicinities would be the first priority, the second priority must be the BORDERS. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, a way must be found to stop, or at least minimize, the movement of weapons and recruits. Once the cities and the borders are acceptably secured, then economic and political efforts have an improved chance for success.

If the US is serious about winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, then successful development and deployment of wide-area-detailed surveillance is needed...yesterday. The terrorists will surly outlast us if we fail to find the means to control them.

As for "Big Brother"...improved surveillance could help prevent/deter terrorism and crime in the US, and be especially helpful in securing US borders. Improved surveillance should be a tool of peace and security for the law abiding citizen, but could be the worst nightmare of a terrorist, an invader(illegal immigrant) or a criminal.

Oddly Enough...
...I **did** just re-read that. But this doesn't require any nanotech at all. We're perilously close to being able to do this with good old-fashioned digital signal processors and a whole bunch of adapted robotics technology. Not there yet, but pretty soon.

These systems don't have to be autonomous-kill systems to work. They merely have to filter lots and lots and lots of video images, looking for trouble and dispatching it to a human, who makes the decisions. That human obviously needs weapons that are smarter than those available today, but not that much smarter.

NB: I am not at all sure that this is good for us as a society, but neither is an embedded terrorist presence in a variety of different places in the world.

Arnie knows
As I recall from movies like Total Recall and Robocop, the cyborg forces employed by Big Brother, using UAVs to destroy the rebels, were the bad guys. And the outlaws were actually not terrorists but freedom fighters.

Is that the way you remember it?

running out, or running away?
This is predicatble that if you try to fight PC way, then you can't win. Better not to go to war if you're not prepared to really win. But here's another idea for those who don't like it at all. American forces could be more like the German one there who hide up north and won't do anything that could lead to any kind of fighting at all. Directly traffic and cleaning trash OK. But here's a little mind excercise for you. What if those Germans were allowed to fight the way they used to do? How many, and how long do you think it would take to do a number on the terrorists? I've got a really good idea because I was trained by them to fight similar types of mountain partisans. And no, we didn't have to wipe out nuns and schoolgirls and babushkas in the marketplace.

The problem
is a shortage of numbers. With less than 30,000 soldiers, Nato is attempting to provided security for a country larger than Iraq and with far less amenable terrain than Iraq. Given the magnitude of the problem, the success Nato has had to date has been remarkable.

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