Individuals in the upper level of the Pentagon and media polloi are beginning to commit a cardinal sin. They’re blurting the truth – sort of. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s senior spin surgeon (his father was a Hollywood publicity agent), says that "Afghans are in the lead" of the Marjah offensive. But not everybody involved in writing the narrative is willing to tell a lie that big.
New York Times journalist C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, was among the first mainstream media voices to shoot down claims the Afghan army was leading the operation. In a Feb. 20 article posted from Marjah, Chivers reported that Marines were doing the "heavy lifting" while the Afghans lagged behind. They lagged so far behind, Chivers noted, that the Marines coined a new acronym: WOA (waiting on the Afghans).
"Statements from Kabul have said the Afghan military is planning the missions and leading both the fight and the effort to engage with Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and the newly arrived troops," Chivers wrote. "But that assertion conflicts with what is visible in the field. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops."
In response to truth-outs like Chivers’, unnamed "senior military officials" tell us via NPR that the U.S. definition of "in the lead" means the Afghans are "planning the operation" and are "sitting down with Afghan elders in mosques or in meetings known as shuras."
If the Afghans are sitting down with elders in mosques, it’s because U.S. planners told them to go find another babysitter. Planning a military operation like the Marjah madness involves a lot of things; talking to old civilians isn’t really one of them.
The logistical complexity of moving and equipping and feeding a force the size of the one Gen. Stanley McChrystal drove into Marjah is something far beyond anything the Afghans are capable of. Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson blurted to NPR that the quality of Afghan troops and police is so poor that "probably 3 to 4 out of every 10 we have probably need to really go home.”
That assessment jibes with a Jan. 31 60 Minutes report on U.S. Army Green Berets attempting to train Afghan commandos. These Afghan commandos were supposedly the best of the best recruits the Afghan army has, um, recruited. On top of that, the Afghan commandos received three months of "advanced training" before coming to the Green Berets for graduate-level studies. The best of the best Afghan soldiers turned out to be a battalion of Sad Sacks. One night one of the Afghan commandos accidentally shot the unit’s American medic in the leg. The next night one of the Afghan commandos shot himself in the foot, a haunting analog of what we’re doing to ourselves in Afghanistan.
Frustrated, the Green Berets began retraining the Afghans in basics of loading their rifles and carrying them safely. When the best-of-the-best Afghan troops couldn’t even handle that, the Green Berets put them back in "boot camp," attempting to teach them by yelling at them, by making them do strenuous exercise until they vomited, and probably by roughing them up a considerable bit (60 Minutes didn’t show the roughing-them-up part).
James Danly, a retired Army officer who trained Iraqi forces, told NPR, “You don’t forge armies out of nothing." That’s disheartening, since it sounds like "nothing" is precisely what we’re trying to forge the Afghan army out of. It’s not a simple thing, Danly says, "for units to become cohesive" and to learn to do tasks like load and carry their rifles tasks properly. “It could take a long time,” Danly says.
It could take forever. Afghan forces are starting from prenatal stage compared to where Iraq’s security force started – prior to the Iraqi Freedom invasion, Iraq had an actual army that had won an actual war with one of its neighbors – yet the Iraqis haven’t progressed much past the Gomer Pyle level themselves.
In July 2009, five years after "King" David Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the U.S. Army’s Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, blurted a memo lambasting the Iraqis’ lack of combat readiness. Corruption in the Iraqi officer corps is "widespread," Reese said. Enlisted men are neglected and mistreated. Cronyism and nepotism are "rampant." Laziness is "endemic." Lack of initiative is "legion." Iraq’s forces are "unable to plan," and their "near total effectiveness" prevents them from becoming self-sustaining.
After Iraq’s fourth election since U.S. psychological operations forces staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad nearly seven years ago, violence is once again rampant and the hapless Iraqi forces are helpless to stop it. Conditions in Iraq are so bad that Petraeus’ pet ox, "Babe" Odierno, who always makes me think of John Candy’s character in the film Stripes, is again echoing the mantra that he may have to delay the timeline for sending combat troops home. (Lean-mean-fightin’ Odierno has been the official mascot of the Long War Society since February 2009, when he went on record with Petraeus hagiographer and former journalist Thomas E. Ricks as wanting to scrap President Obama’s withdrawal plan and keep 30,000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq until 2015 or whenever.)
As investigative correspondent Gareth Porter notes, the main purpose of the Marjah offensive was not to gain a military advantage over the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan. The operation was geared to influence U.S. public opinion. In operational art, this sort of thing is called an incremental victory, a success (usually a meaningless one) designed to dupe the folks on the home front to continue to support an unjustifiable war.
Ricks blurted in a February Washington Post piece clearly aimed at pleasing the war mafia that Petraeus, as commander of the surge in Iraq, never had any intention of "creating conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage,” as he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Petraeus’ intention was to use cherry-picked violence statistics and other incremental victory stratagems to make Congress and the public think he was making progress so the Pentagon could make its Long War longer.
The modus is the same in Afghanistan. Marjah is a "test" that will tell us if the much-touted clear-hold-build counterinsurgency strategy will work. Marjah will pass the test, of course. At least, it will in the press releases McChrystal’s psyops czar Rear Adm. Gregory Smith hands out to the mainstream media’s stenography pool. And in Smith’s version of history, the Afghan army will have led the victory, no matter how many people blurt that they did so from their safe haven in the rear echelon.
Petraeus himself did a bit of blurting recently on Meet the Press when he explained that the Marjah offensive was "just the initial operation of what will be a 12- to 18-month campaign." That would put the campaign right up against President Obama’s July 2011 deadline for beginning to withdraw troops, a deadline that the Petraeus mob is taking as seriously as it’s taking Obama’s Iraq deadlines. Petraeus also noted that the 12- to 18-month campaign has been "mapped out" by Gen. McChrystal and his team. Petraeus apparently didn’t get the memo about how he’s supposed to say the Afghans are doing all the planning now.
Tsk, tsk, General.