Foreign Policy

Afghanistan: Things Getting Better, If By "Better" You Mean More IEDs Going Off and Hurting People

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USA Today reports from America's favorite quagmire:

The number of improvised explosive devices that were cleared or detonated rose to 16,554 from 15,225, an increase of 9%, according to data obtained by USA TODAY. In 2009, total IED "events," as they are known, came to 9,304.

Insurgent reliance on IEDs as their No. 1 weapon meant a rise in concussions and severe wounds to U.S.servicemembers who have been operating on foot to root out Taliban fighters in remote areas. Civilians were increasingly becoming the main victims.

The number of Afghans killed or wounded by IEDs jumped 10% in 2011, compared with 2010, according to figures released by the military command in Kabul. The bombs account for 60% of all civilian casualties, which totaled more than 4,000 killed or wounded in 2011. Insurgents caused more than 85% of those casualties.

As with so many failed government programs, the internal logic of the problem seems to demand expanding the war. Just as "you can't do just one thing," sometimes it's tricky to fight a war on just one country.

The leaky border with Pakistan remains a problem, according to the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, the Pentagon's lead agency for combating makeshift bombs.

Pakistan is the source for 80% of the fertilizer-based homemade bombs in Afghanistan, JIEDDO says. Those bombs cause 90% of U.S. casualties. Jones said IEDs will continue to plague the coalition and civilians. "This is likely due to the ability of insurgents to import IED materials, including triggering devices and ammonium nitrate, from Pakistan," he said.

Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., has pushed Pakistani officials to stem the flow of bombmaking materials…

Meanwhile, Reuters reports on the Afghanistanization of the hated NATO tactic of the "night raid":

The raids enrage entire communities and fuel anti-American sentiment and are politically calamitous for Karzai and his government. Joint Afghan-U.S. raids began in 2009 to try to dampen public opposition.

But Karzai last year told a meeting of leaders from across the country that unless night raids by NATO forces ended, he would not conclude a strategic agreement covering the presence of U.S. soldiers in the country beyond 2014.

In a compromise, Afghan defense officials decided in late December to form special forces—benignly named the Afghan Partnering Unit (APU)—to take over raids on private homes as soon as possible, with members selected from commando units.

My past writings on the Afghanistan war.

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  1. How fair is it to the patriotic young men and women who join the armed forces to put them into a situation where they are viewed as occupiers?

    BRING THEM HOME!

    Rush 2112!

    1. We must first destroy the priests!

    2. If they were really viewed as “occupiers” we would have a hell of a lot more casualties than we do. Plenty of Afghans view them as the only thing standing between them and the living hell the Taliban would like to create.

      1. Then let -them- stand up to the Taliban.

    3. we havent killed enough brown people yet

      1. Arabs are brown. Persians are not.

    4. agree

      We have no reason to be over there.

  2. Eggs…omelet. Legs…some undetermined goal.

    1. Legs…some undetermined goal

      The goal, my dear JB, is to get them to spread those legs.

      1. I suppose that’s much easier when they’re no longer attached.

  3. So the Taliban is killing more civilians and that is our fault? So by that logic do you guys plan to start blaming civilian deaths in Pakistan on the Taliban anytime soon?

    1. No, John,

      It means the U.S. army is failing to win…

      It’s incapable of severing Taliban supply lines, and the vast sums of treasure and blood being thrown at the problem are being wasted.

      The effort has dengenerated into a farce that reads like something out of the head of Milo Minderbinder – the Taliban is receiving siginificant funding from the U.S. government in the form of bribes paid to permit the passage of supplies through Taliban controlled areas!

      The U.S. supply lines are open only because the enemy finds it more profitable to keep them open than to shut them down!

      What achievable strategic outcome is the U.S. government fighting for?

      1. The only goal is to create an Afghan government that isn’t taken over by the Taliban. If we leave completely, we take all of the people who ever allied with us and tell them “fuck off you are all going to die sorry” like we did with the Cambodians. That strikes me as a pretty awful thing to do.

        I don’t see why we have the number of people we do in there. It is way risky for that. And it puts us at the mercy of the Pakistanis. The reality is that if we leave, the Taliban will claim victory set up shop again and provide a haven for anyone who wants to plan and launch terrorist attacks against the US.

        So basically, there is no good way out. We are stuck fighting these people until they die or get tired of fighting us because they are never going to give us peace even if we go home.

        1. We are stuck fighting these people until they die or get tired of fighting us

          And considering the history of Afghanistan, they will never get tired of fighting.

          1. They might not. Sucks to be us. But it sucks worse to be them.

            1. They might not. Sucks to be us. But it sucks worse to be them.

              I’m not so sure. After decades, even centuries of, unending war and tribal conflict, it seems they’ve gotten pretty used to the status quo of living in mud huts and living a life of abject poverty. Whereas, we are going to see some serious effects on our quality of life as we continue to pour money and the lives of our troops into this quagmire.

        2. “”We are stuck fighting these people until they die or get tired of fighting us because they are never going to give us peace even if we go home.””

          They are fighting for their homeland, they will never get tried. Just as we would never get tired fighting for ours.

          So how many more years of this crap do you expect us to pay for such a utopian outcome?

          1. “They are fighting for their homeland, they will never get tried. Just as we would never get tired fighting for ours.”

            No they are not. They are fighting to set up a terrorist state. There are lots of Afghans on our side. Aren’t they fighting for their homeland too?

            It is not like we just one day decided to attack them. If they were so fucking concerned about their homeland, they should have thought about that before they attacked us.

            How can you act like these people are victims Vic? They started the war.

            1. “”How can you act like these people are victims Vic?”

              I don’t, I don’t think they are but is nice of you to make up such bullshit and put my name on it. How do you expect people to take you as sincere when you impose your fantasy on others.

            2. “”They are fighting to set up a terrorist state.

              Yeah, but in their homeland. Do act like you don’t know what homeland means.

              There are lots of Afghans on our side. Aren’t they fighting for their homeland too?””

              They are.

          2. They are fighting for their homeland,
            ———————-
            the Taliban? Bullshit. They’re fighting for power, control, and the money from opium trading. There is no Afghani homeland. The place is what pre-colonized America was – a bunch of separate tribes inside a common border.

            1. “”The place is what pre-colonized America was – a bunch of separate tribes inside a common border.””

              By that definition, North American isn’t the homeland of native indians.

              1. By that definition, North American isn’t the homeland of native indians.

                Well, it isn’t. Siberia is.

            2. “”They’re fighting for power, control, and the money from opium trading. “”

              Come to think about it, sounds like our politicians.

        3. “If we leave completely, we take all of the people who ever allied with us and tell them “fuck off you are all going to die sorry”

          If most of our ‘allies’ in the Kabul government were worth a damn, we would be done by now.

        4. John, I don’t think you are thinking clearly.

          Leaving does not mean the U.S. has to betray any allies. Evacuate them. Allow them to settle in the U.S. legally. The U.S. doesn’t have to screw them the way it is screwing Iraqi translators.

          The U.S. took this approach after it was defeated in Vietnam, and the Vietnamese who came to the U.S. have created a great deal of wealth, and now, three decades the enmity has been replaced by increasing commerce and travel.

          The largest miscalcualtion you are making regards the Taliban. They don’t care about attacking the U.S. They are a pro Pashtun force bankrolled by the Pakistanian Intelligence Service in order to prevent Iranian dominance of the Afghanistan.

          Despite their reputation for ferocity in battle, left to their own devices the Pashtun are
          generally pastoral farmers with little concern for the outside world. Historically, they do not
          raise standing armies or wage war outside their tribal lands.

          The very nature of their
          egalitarian social structure makes the imposition of military command and discipline a near
          impossibility. For this reason, the British would not allow their enlistment into the British
          forces in India. Although regarded as good fighters, they were unreliable and would
          frequently desert once they passed the boundaries of their ancestral lands.
          HUMAN GEOGRAPHY IN THE AFGHANISTAN – PAKISTAN REGION:
          UNDERMINING THE TALIBAN USING TRADITIONAL PASHTUN SOCIAL STRUCTURES by John H. Cathell Major, U.S. Army

          The Taliban permitted Al Queda to operate in Afghanistan because:
          1) Al Queda provided 1/3 (if memory serves) of the Taliban govt’s operating budget.

          2) Osama bin Laden provided them with a regiment of foreign fighters to use in the war against the Northern Alliance.

          The Pashtuns are very isolationist and when left to their own devices the tribes focus on local affairs. Moreover, the Taliban’s brand of Islam is incompatible with Pashtunwali, and absent an outside invader like the U.S, the Taliban become the outside invader to be opposed.

          AS far as the Taliban allowing anybody to set up shop who wants to attack the U.S. let’s think about that for a moment. Osama bin Laden was to only non-state actor who had the funds to do that. The only reason why he had the influence to have people join his cause was the U.S. backing of the regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. As Ron Paul points out, once the U.S. stops supporting such corrupt regimes, the people who are fighting those regimes have more urgent and productive targets to focus their ire on.

          I love to contrast Osama bin Laden to that white supremacist who started the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. Simmilar ideology, yet the guy could only scrape together 100 loser followers because his claims that black people were oppressing whites was such obvious bullshit.

          If the U.S. were to anounce that it was pulling out of Afghanistan unilaterally, I suspect that there would be no non-state actor with the funds and the moral influence to use Afghanistan as a base for attacking the U.S. And hostile states control their own territory and would have no need. Additionally, there is a pretty good chance that the Taliban would be kicked out after ruling for only a few years: as in Iraq, the locals will get fed up with their savage brutality.

          1. Wait, how is the US screwing over Iraqi translators? There’s one working in the cube across from me…

    2. No, John,

      It means the U.S. army is failing to win…

      It’s incapable of severing Taliban supply lines, and the vast sums of treasure and blood being thrown at the problem are being wasted.

      The effort has dengenerated into a farce that reads like something out of the head of Milo Minderbinder – the Taliban is receiving siginificant funding from the U.S. government in the form of bribes paid to permit the passage of supplies through Taliban controlled areas!

      The U.S. supply lines are open only because the enemy finds it more profitable to keep them open than to shut them down!

      What achievable strategic outcome is the U.S. government fighting for?

      1. I click submit once and get a double post? WTF?

        1. Cyber terrorism.

          1. Perhaps even cyber bullying!

            1. I feel . . . othered. Must be micro-aggression.

        2. The squirrels have won.

    3. “”So by that logic do you guys plan to start blaming civilian deaths in Pakistan on the Taliban anytime soon?””

      I think we do that already and we blame the Taliban when we kill civilians in Afghanistan too?

      Does logic even apply anymore?

      We are still fighting in a country because the Taliban wouldn’t give up a guy that’s been dead for a few months.

      1. “We are still fighting in a country because the Taliban wouldn’t give up a guy that’s been dead for a few months.”

        We are still fighting in the country because the Taliban has shown no signs not be willing to do exactly the same thing again. If the Nazis had handed over Hitler but still kept the same ideology and intent would that have solved the problem?

        Yeah, when you harbor a group that uses your land to plan and kill 1000s of Americans, you don’t get to be in charge anymore, ever.

        1. “”We are still fighting in the country because the Taliban has shown no signs not be willing to do exactly the same thing again””

          I wonder how many Russian Generals had a similar arguement.

          You are aware we are holding peace talks on the side, right?

          How much longer do you think we should in Afghanistan? What is your limit in terms of years?

          1. We should leave Afghanistan the day there is a government that is not the Taliban that is strong enough to stay in power without us.

            I don’t care if it turns into America or even a nice place. But I do care that the Taliban never come back into power and tell the world how they attacked America and got away with it.

            1. “”We should leave Afghanistan the day there is a government that is not the Taliban that is strong enough to stay in power without us.””

              The reality is we have very little control unless we do become real occupiers, and then for how long?

              It’s not too tough to understand time is on their side, not ours. They know that and are using it to their advantage.

              We invaded as a punitive measure, not regime change. At some point it will be the Afghans in charge of their destiny and they will do what they will. If they accept the Taliban coming back, it will be their choice.

              I think they would be stupid for allowing such a thing. But I have enough problems in my own backyard. I don’t need their problems too.

        2. I basically agree with most of your points John but we need a way to wrap this shit up. Legalizing opium import-export is a good start as is ending combat restrictions. And we need to stop nation-building in Pak and Af.

          It should be noted that before American help, the Soviets were dominating Afghanistan pretty hard. It’s never impossible to defeat an insurgency.

          1. My idea would be to legalize opium and give the Afghans a license to sell it on the condition that they never let the Taliban back in.

            1. My idea would be to legalize opium and give the Afghans a license to sell it on the condition that they never let the Taliban back in.

              That alone would be enough to cause Russia to declare war on us.

  4. The number of Afghans killed or wounded by IEDs jumped 10% in 2011, compared with 2010, according to figures released by the military command in Kabul. The bombs account for 60% of all civilian casualties, which totaled more than 4,000 killed or wounded in 2011. Insurgents caused more than 85% of those casualties.

    But, but, but…the DRONES!

    1. Drones are used in Pakistan, not so much in Afghanistan.

      1. That doesn’t change the point.

    2. MURDER BOMBS!

  5. This article is gonna give skynet a hard on.

    http://www.latimes.com/busines…..0306.story

  6. Sen Casey “pushed Pakistan?” How so?
    Strongly worded e-mails? How about cutting off all their freaking foreign and military aid.

    1. this is one area Paul is light years ahead of the rest. Why is any country getting US money? As it is, the Muslim Brotherhood (predictably) is in charge of Egypt, or will be. Good thing the Arab Spring worked out.

      1. This is the kind of thing that really tempers my dislike of RP’s FP. He’s wrong in many areas but right in so many others.

  7. Pakistan better watch out. When we get done with Iran in 20 years, we’re coming after them.

  8. I wonder what the average blast radius of an IED is. Can it hurt troops who are stationed on another continent, for example?

    1. I wonder what the average blast radius of an IED is. Can it hurt troops who are stationed on another continent, for example?

      Well, as the Vietnamese have proven, it can hurt the morale of those far-away troops.

      1. “”Well, as the Vietnamese have proven, it can hurt the morale of those far-away troops.””

        Something else Vietnam proved was that you don’t need to win the war for postive change to happen in the long run.

  9. I think the question to ask from this story is, “how is it we’ve been fighting a semi-organized, barely literate, modestly equipped cabal of religious zealots in Afghanistan for the last decade… and they’re *winning*.” Seriously. WTF. How much do we suck? Don’t give me shit about how the Russians got served too. I dont buy the comparison. I’m just confounded at the fact that we’ve had so goddamn long to figure out how to rout these towel-wearing dope farmers, and apparently we’ve gotten strategically dumber as time has passed. Vietnam was a war we probably never could have done right, so is in a way almost excusable as a enormous political/military debacle. Afghanistan? I think this one is all our bad. No excuses.

    1. “”Seriously. WTF. How much do we suck? “”

      I wouldn’t say we suck. If we were out to kill them all, we could do a pretty good job. The problem is with strategy. We are basically putting ourselves in the middle of a insurgency where the citiznery is indifferent about who’s side to take. They are more concerned about tribal conflicts than nationalism.

      If you look at the reality, the question is how did we ever think we would win?

      This is a good article about it.

      http://www.villagevoice.com/20…..-vacation/

      1. If you look at the reality, the question is how did we ever think we would win?

        Because in the Jawbreaker operation, we whooped the living crap out of the T-ban, who at the time were fighting as a semi-organized, semi-conventional military, using tanks, APCs, ZSU-23s, and ‘technicals’ (pickups with gun mounted)… air power utterly devastated them out in the open. We figured they were offensively defanged. The big mistake IMHO is drawing down rather than consolidating at that point. We sent most of the troops to Iraq, and handed off the region to NATO babysitters. And the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ began.

        1. “”The big mistake IMHO is drawing down rather than consolidating at that point. We sent most of the troops to Iraq, and handed off the region to NATO babysitters. And the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ began.””

          I had an issue with troops being sent to Iraq too. But keeping them in Afghanistan would not have helped win the political ends which we have hung our hat.

          The reality I speak of, is about what the Afghan people want, and will allow. We have been waaaaay to optimistic with a lot of people that don’t share our view of government, life, or the world. The reality is the Afghan people are extremely divided or indifferent about nationalism. Many just want to defend their valley from tribes in neighboring vallies. The clusterfuck will continue no matter how many bombs we drop or Taliban we kill until the Afghans decide otherwise.

          1. I had an issue with troops being sent to Iraq too. But keeping them in Afghanistan would not have helped win the political ends which we have hung our hat.

            If you mean, “more troops would never have stopped Karzai from being a divisive, self serving fucktard”, I completely agree.

            The clusterfuck will continue no matter how many bombs we drop

            Also agree. I still think we could have provided them a better window in which to make the ‘decision’ you describe. That time is way past.

            1. It’s not really about Karzai. I doubt the “right guy” could pull Afghanistan together as a nation. It’s about Afghans in general and what kind of nation they want. They like being tribal and xenophobic to their fellow countryman, it’s just how they roll.

              When you consider we are figthing to build a country not many want, you have to ask, how did we think we could win?

              IMO, the road to failure began when we moved from punitive action to rebuilding their nation in ways they have little or no interest.

              Check out the article I linked above, it explains why were are screwed. It was written in 2009 and is still relevant.

              1. I read the article. Not bad, but doesn’t really explain much. More just like observation of some blatant realities.

                One of the more amusing details I heard once was that a ranger unit rolled into a valley, and when meeting with the “tribal elders”, was told immediately and definitively that they had no rubies in the village, but that they would provide plenty of hash if the soldiers would not rape their women.

                The ranger explained they weren’t looking for rubies, and weren’t planning to rape anyone.

                The elders were puzzled. “…well… Then why ARE you here?”

                My favorite Afganistan source=

                http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com…..g_of_peace

            2. To put it another way. I don’t think llah could pull Afghanistan together even if Mohammad was supplying the virgins.

              1. llah = Allah

  10. Granted that Afghanistan is not Iraq, but why are we still using tactics in Afghanistan that had been proven failures in Iraq (ie, night raids)? The change in operations as a result of moving to a COIN strategy, combined with some luck and fortunate timing allowed the US to at least leave Iraq not a complete disaster. After 10+ years Afghanistan really seems to be the military version of Groundhog Day.

  11. “”USA Today reports from America’s favorite quagmire:””

    Come on, everyone knows America’s favorite Quagmire is Glenn.

    Giggity.

  12. I say bring the boys home.

    Yeah, its hard on the Afghans who were helping us. Sorry about that, but the fundamental unfairness here isn’t that we’re leaving before we’ve installed a brutal enough dictator to keep the Taliban out, its that they are stuck in Afghanistan in the first place.

    At some point, you have to say “enough”. I’m at that point.

    We gave this country a hell of an opportunity to raise itself out of tribal barbarism, and an opportunity is all anyone is owed.

    Tell ’em next time they host a terrorist strike on America, we’re not coming back. We’re just them bombing them flat. We should probably start working on our orbital kinetic mass weapons, just so we can be ready when they go all stupid on us again.

    1. Somehow I don’t believe orbital mass kinetic weapons are going to work in Afghanistan. Or Pakistan. Or Iran. Something about mountains, they’re just a real pain in the ass and keep getting in the way.

      If you could put a combination of manned and unmanned vehicles in the skies of Afghanistan 24/7, covering the whole country, and if you were willing to bomb anything that moved for approximately three months, you might get results.

      Places like Afghanistan can only be dealt with in one of two ways:

      1) Invade, dominate and impose conditions, and shoot anyone who doesn’t submit. That means you plan on staying more or less forever. There’s not enough of value in Afghanistan to make any sense of that approach.

      2) Depopulate the region.

      The US is never going to be willing to do either one.

      I hate to say it, but this is why we’re never going to “win” in Afghanistan.

  13. Well said RC.

  14. The bombs account for 60% of all civilian casualties, which totaled more than 4,000 killed or wounded in 2011. Insurgents caused more than 85% of those casualties.

    Remember, they’ll hate us for killing civilians and we can’t hurt a single civilian.

    But they don’t hate it when their own people are killing them. That’s different, just business as usual.

  15. Night raids don’t work? Night raids are the ONLY thing that works. Night leader engagements as well. Afghan locals are too afraid to talk to NATO forces during the day because the Talib is always watching. BUT conducting raids or key leader engagements at night allows locals who support NATO to talk to them freely and discreetly without worrying about the possible beheading the next day.

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