The Spectacle Blog

Optimism On Afghanistan?

By on 10.13.10 | 7:20PM

On Monday, Rowan Scarborough reported in the Washington Times that retired Army General Jack Keane, a prominent counterinsurgency strategist and outside advisor to General David Petraeus, said that he saw signs of progress during a two week tour of the battlefield in Afghanistan:

Gen. Keane told The Times he has witnessed in Afghanistan the same shift in fortunes [as seen in the Iraq surge]: Taliban fighters are changing sides, villages are being cleansed of the enemy and protected, and intercepted communications show flagging Taliban morale....

Gen. Keane offered two observations as evidence. First, most commanders with whom he spoke said they are encountering Taliban who want to stop fighting and reintegrate into Afghan society. "That's a big deal," he said.

Second, "There's evidence of erosion of some of the will of the Taliban. We pick it up in interrogations, and we also pick it up listening to their radio traffic and telephone calls in terms of the morale problems they're starting to have," Gen. Keane said.

Today, CJ Chivers reports in the New York Times on the status of Afghan security forces. They haven't performed well so far, but that may change:

Two main training sites - the Kabul Military Training Center, used principally by the Afghan Army, and the Central Training Center, used by the police - have become bustling bases, packed with trainers and recruits, and there is a sense among the officers that they are producing better soldiers than before.

The military center has been graduating 1,400 newly trained soldiers every two weeks, as the Obama administration, eager to show progress in a slow-going war, has devoted more trainers and money to the effort.

NATO officials hope that the clear changes in the training, both in output and atmosphere, are grounds for a measure of optimism in a war that has frustrated those waging it and provoked increasing opposition at home...

"Basically, there is a big change in training, the quality of the training," said Brig. Gen. Aminullah Patyani, the commander of the Kabul Military Training Center.

This month, for example, the Afghan Defense Ministry opened a school for artillerists. Some of these programs show clear signs of progress, including scheduled flights with Afghan pilots and helicopters to transfer wounded Afghan soldiers from Kandahar to Kabul.

"We're getting to the point where we have reliable, repeatable Afghan Air Force missions," said Brig. Gen. David W. Allvin, who commands the NATO effort to develop an Afghan aviation capability.

There's a common thread in both stories, though, that ought to temper our optimism: The withdrawal deadline that President Obama has set. Army consultant and military analyst Robert Maginnis tells Scarborough "that if Mr. Obama insists on the July 2011 deadline, it will result in the Taliban simply returning from Pakistan to retake villages and cities." And Chivers closes his story with a quote from Brigadier General Carmelo Burgio, the Italian officer in charge of NATO's police development efforts: "We need time. Without time, without patience, it is impossible."

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