Slowly but surely, the media has begun to realize that the war in Afghanistan is faltering pretty badly, and they learned this by reading the government’s own assessment of the state of things on the ground:

The evidence for this comes from an unclassified, 150-page Defense Department document called “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan.” Released in late April, it’s the fifth in a series of semi-annual reports mandated by Congress. A few disheartening lines from its executive summary were duly recited by the media. But the full report is a hair-raiser. The news is almost all bad; and the few bits of good news turn out, on close inspection, to be extremely misleading […]

Here’s how the report summarizes the situation in straight prose: “Some individual islands of security exist in the sea of instability or insecurity.” The authors muster only two islands: the town of Mazur-i-Sharif in the north and “small contiguous areas” near the Ring Road in the south. The level of security, they add, is “significantly related to the presence of well-led and non-corrupt” units of Afghan soldiers or police.

The problem is that “well-led and non-corrupt” Afghan security forces are, as yet, rare commodities. The Afghan army and national police force are making “slow progress” toward its manpower targets because of “high attrition and low retention.” Between 60 percent and 70 percent of uniformed police are “hired and deployed with no formal training.” By this August, NATO troops will be mentoring Afghan police in 45 of the 80 most important districts. Yet the report notes that even well-trained police units “have regressed” after a mentoring team is reassigned elsewhere.

The “good news” in the report comes from things like spinning public opinion polls in Afghanistan (and exactly how credible can they possibly be) to get favorable results. More to the point in those polls, under those terms, no regions of the country fully support the Afghan government.

If anything, the facts have grown worse since then. The New York Times’ story on farmers leaving Marja, where Americans have engaged in a military offensive since February, is really devastating to the case for optimism. The basic story is that NATO took the area with virtually no resistance, but haven’t been able to hold it, and as a result of the poor security, the citizens are on the run, refugees in their own country. And if this is what’s happening in what amounts to a collection of tiny villages in Marja, how can different results be expected for a planned offensive in the 800,000-strong city of Kandahar, with a force far too small for such an operation?

Essentially, these reports show an outcome of no progress, just treading water at best. Given these facts, it becomes harder and harder to justify the continued occupation.

UPDATE: Jonathan Alter’s book has some info about the internal debate between the President and the Pentagon over Afghanistan which certainly suggest that the President is totally prepared to start withdrawing next year if things don’t turn around. I guess we’ll see what happens.

David Dayen

David Dayen