On Wednesday, the non-partisan Government Accounting Office released a report (pdf) on Afghanistan. The report reminds us that President Obama chose to increase troop levels in Afghanistan in response to increasing levels of violence there. Despite the increased troop levels, there has been a continued increase in violence, which is further hampering the efforts to provide conditions under which a stable Afghan government can operate.
The GAO report describes the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan:
In December 2009, recognizing that the situation in Afghanistan had become more grave since the March 2009 announcement of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, the administration concluded a 10-week review of the strategy’s goals and the methods needed to achieve them. In announcing the results of this review, the President reaffirmed the core strategic goal of disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan and preventing them from threatening the United States and its allies in the future. To meet this goal, the President announced his decision to rapidly deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. In addition, he pledged a “surge” of civilian experts to help enhance the capacity of Afghan government institutions and assist in the rehabilitation of key economic sectors.
The report then describes the the security situation:
DOD attack data as of March 2010 show that the pattern of enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan has remained seasonal in nature, generally peaking from June through September each year and then declining during the winter months (see fig. 1). As figure 1 indicates, while attacks have continued to fluctuate seasonally, the annual attack “peak” (high point) and “trough” (low point) for each year since September 2005 have surpassed the peak and trough, respectively, for the preceding year. Similarly, while attack levels have fallen since their August 2009 peak, they remain higher than comparable figures from prior years. For example, total attacks against coalition forces between September 2009 and March 2010 increased by about 83 percent in comparison to the same period last year, while attacks against civilians rose by about 72 percent. Total attacks against the ANSF increased by about 17 percent over the same period.
Here is where things get interesting. . . . The GAO, without naming him, quotes General David Petraeus:
According to the commander of the U.S. Central Command, overall security incidents can be expected to continue their rise in the summer of 2010, as U.S. and coalition partners fight to retake enemy strongholds and, as a result, face an increased risk of enemy attacks.
They continue, in the same paragraph, to cite Pretraeus describing factors that allow the insurgency to flourish:
According to this same official, the resilience of the insurgency has been facilitated by several factors, including the porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the ineffective nature of governance and services in various parts of Afghanistan, assistance from militant groups outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and continued financial support in the form of narcotics trafficking revenue and funds from outside of the region.
With the GAO putting these explanations side by side (increased violence due to increased troop levels or increased violence due to other factors), McClatchy is reading the tea leaves to see GAO refuting Petraeus’ claims that the most recent violence increase is a short term response to the surge:
The GAO report said that the rising levels of violence in Afghanistan had made it harder for U.S. and international aid agencies to build development projects there — a key aspect of the U.S. policy to undercut Taliban influence in the country. United Nations development teams have only limited ability to visit much of the country, the GAO reported.
The GAO also disputed Pentagon assertions that violence is rising because the Taliban if [sic] fighting back against the surge of U.S. troops and because of U.S. offensives to push the Taliban from strongholds around Marjah in the southern opium-producing province of Helmand.
McClatchy then follows with a description of Petraeus’ list (quoted above) of factors contributing to the insurgency’s strength.
Finally, here is the more detailed explanation from GAO that the increase in violence is moving us further from our stated goals:
State’s January 2010 Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy cites reconstruction and development as key elements of the overall effort to stabilize Afghanistan and reduce the strength of the insurgency. However, the strategy acknowledges that the success of such civilian programs in Afghanistan is contingent on improved security. In November 2009, we reported that while U.S. and international development projects in Afghanistan had made some progress, deteriorating security complicated such efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country. Since that time, the lack of a secure environment has continued to challenge reconstruction and development efforts. For example, according to a March 2010 United Nations report, direct attacks against the aid community have limited the accessibility of development program activities in 94 districts considered very high risk and 81 districts assessed as high risk. [Footnotes removed]
Bottom line: the non-partisan GAO is telling us that even with the Afghanistan surge, we continue to slip further away from achieving the stated goals in that country. In addition, we can expect those goals to move even farther away from our reach throughout a summer of continually increasing violence.
What’s the over-under on a September call for a “super-surge”?