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U.S. Military Officials, Come Up With A New Strategy Over Unfavorable Data

"Obviously, we haven't kicked the terrorists out if they're still blowing things up and we're negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed."

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National Army
Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the Jalalabad-Kabul road, on the outskirts of Kabul, April 28, 2019. VOA

A decision by U.S. military officials in Afghanistan to stop tracking the amount of territory controlled by the Taliban is sparking an increasingly tense showdown with the watchdog overseeing reconstruction efforts.

The so-called district-level stability assessments, which measure the number of the country’s districts under government or insurgent control or influence, have been one of the most widely cited indicators of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

But the assessments are missing from the quarterly report issued Wednesday by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the first time the report has failed to include the data since 2015.

In a letter to SIGAR in March, the U.S.-commanded Resolute Support mission said the information had been dropped because it was “of limited decision-making value.”

Ending data collection

A spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Col. David Butler, further defended the decision to stop collecting the data Wednesday.

“The district stability assessment that was previously provided by (the Department of Defense) was redundant and did little to serve our mission of protecting our citizens and allies,” he said, adding, “the intelligence community produces a district stability assessment which is available to SIGAR.”

Only SIGAR, which has expressed growing alarm about the amount of information that is no longer being collected or which has been unnecessarily classified, said this is the first time military officials have raised such concerns.

“SIGAR has always gotten the district assessments from the RS (Resolute Support) command, not from the intelligence community,” SIGAR spokesman Philip LaVelle told VOA, via email.

“When RS provided their formal response to our data call on this issue, they made no mention of it being discontinued because it’s ‘redundant’ and no indication of it being made available to us from the intelligence community,” he added.

Intelligence officials contacted by VOA are looking into whether the information is being collected and might be available to SIGAR.

But the assertion such data is collected would appear to contradict the letter Resolute Support sent SIGAR in March.

“District stability data has not been collected since the October 22, 2018 data submitted last quarter,” Resolute Support wrote. “There are no products at command or other forums that communicate district stability or control information.”

FILE - Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019.
Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

Loss of data

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, SIGAR decried the loss of the data.

“Despite its limitations, the control data was the only unclassified metric provided by (Resolute Support) that consistently tracked changes to the security situation on the ground,” it said.

SIGAR also noted that previous commanders of the Resolute Support mission “had previously cited its importance in public statements.”

The U.S.-led mission’s decision to eliminate the stability assessments comes after successive reports showed the Afghan government’s control of the country falling to record lows.

In its November 2018 report, SIGAR said the Afghan government controlled or influenced only 56 percent of the country’s districts, at the time the lowest level recorded since the watchdog began tracking district control in November 2015.

In SIGAR’s subsequent report, issued this past January, that number had slipped to less than 54 percent, as the Afghan government lost seven districts to the Taliban.

According to some, the figures suggest U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan, meant to increase pressure on the Taliban and force them to negotiate an end to decades of fighting, is not having the level of success claimed by administration officials.

FILE - An Afghan man rides on a bicycle past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base, Afghanistan, April 9, 2019.
An Afghan man rides on a bicycle past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base, Afghanistan, April 9, 2019. VOA

Concerning data

Other data collected for the latest SIGAR report also show reason for concern.

The average number of attacks initiated by the Taliban jumped 19 percent for the three-month period ending in January. The number of casualties suffered by Afghan forces were 31 percent higher than compared to the same period last year.

The report found Afghan civilian casualties were also up, increasing 5 percent from 2017 to almost 11,000, while the number of civilians deaths jumped 11 percent, to more than 3,800.

“Ultimately, I don’t think we’ve met all of our strategic goals there,” U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told reporters last week, ahead of the report’s release.

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“We were going to get the terrorists out and create a government that could keep the terrorists out,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t kicked the terrorists out if they’re still blowing things up and we’re negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed.”

Sopko also raised concerns that increasing amounts of information about U.S. difficulties or failures in Afghanistan is being hidden from the public.

“What we are finding now is almost every indicia, metrics, however you want to phrase it, for success or failure is now classified or non-existent,” he said.

“The Afghan people obviously know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it,” he said. “The only people who don’t know what is going on are the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer.” (VOA)

Next Story

Diplomatic Moves Do Not Work against Terrorists

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo realised it once again how the diplomatic moves did not work against terrorists

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Diplomatic, Terrorists, US
Taliban has been exposed as an incorrigible set of Islamic extremists wedded to jihad to achieve their objective and so has been the collusive role of Pakistan in sheltering a whole lot of Taliban leaders. Pixabay

The year long efforts of Zalmay Khalilzad – US representative holding talks with Taliban to hammer out some sort of ‘Peace Accord’ between the two – primarily to facilitate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan – have come apart with President Donald Trump rejecting the diplomatic exercise following a fresh terror attack by the Taliban in Kabul.

Khalizad has been recalled to the US and there is a new situation now in Afghanistan as that country’s General Election draws close. Taliban has been exposed as an incorrigible set of Islamic extremists wedded to jihad to achieve their objective and so has been the collusive role of Pakistan in sheltering a whole lot of Taliban leaders of Afghanistan on its soil- as given out now by Taliban leadership itself.

President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo realised it once again how the diplomatic moves did not work against terrorists and gave up on Zalmay’s initiatives- they were even considering a continued strong military presence in Afghanistan. The US President was never too trusting of the Islamic militants wherever they were and the abandoning of the negotiation with Taliban would hopefully lead to a re-evaluation by him of Pakistan as the hub of Islamic terror groups.

Mohammad Suhall Shaheen spokesman of Taliban came on TV in Kabul to say a few things- in response to Donald Trump’s decision -that established how nothing had changed to the advantage of the US in the face of the creed of faith- based violence Taliban was committed to.

Diplomatic, Terrorists, US
The year long efforts of Zalmay Khalilzad – US representative holding talks with Taliban to hammer out some sort of ‘Peace Accord’ between the two – primarily to facilitate withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Pixabay

He confirmed the widely known fact that Taliban derived sustenance from Pakistan for pursuing ‘Islamic interests’. Shaheen’s statement demonstrated how Islamic radicals can never be expected to leave the path of violence and how Zalmay might have allowed himself to be duped by the Taliban – Pakistan combine on the questions of ‘ceasefire’ and Peace Agreement- this axis was all the time working for restoration of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan relegating the democratic rule of Ashraf Ghani to the background.

It was a strategic error on the part of the US interlocutor to hold talks with Taliban totally at the back of the present democratic regime in Afghanistan. Diplomacy can never succeed if it handles only the peripherals without tackling the main problem. In the absence of a ‘ceasefire’ US troops had rightly kept up their counter-terror operations and the Taliban revealed its true colour as a violent Islamic force by carrying out a suicide attack on a US army truck at Kabul killing an American soldier.

Apparently this happened when Zalmay had already submitted the draft ‘peace pact’ to the US President without sorting out the vital issue of ‘ceasefire’. The Taliban spokesman justified the retaliatory act at Kabul showing how the Taliban was totally recalcitrant about not accepting the cessation of its violent methods as a precondition for peace accord.

These developments in Afghanistan underscore the need for the democratic world to wake up to the continuing threat of Islamic terror emanating out of the Muslim world. Zalmay’s mission is a telling example of how diplomacy runs into limitations when dealing with advocates of violence blinded by fanaticism.

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The world must call for an express denunciation of Jehad as an instrument of pursuit of political objectives in today’s world, by individual Islamic countries and by the Organisation of Islamic Conference chaired by Saudi Arabia itself. It goes to the credit of Trump’s presidency that the artificial distinction- promoted earlier by narrow political interests — between ‘ good terrorists’ and ‘bad terrorists’ had been abolished and to the great relief of India , Pakistan was called out by the US upfront for providing safe haven to Islamic militants across the spectrum — from Al Qaeda to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India, the US, Russia and European countries that see the menace of this new terror must work together in Afghanistan to install a democratic regime there. The world must take the ‘war on terror’ to its logical conclusion. It is becoming difficult to get any voice from the Muslim world that upholds a Democratic Republic as the obvious preference over an Islamic State.

The inherent political asymmetry between a democratic India — that houses more Muslims than their number is in Pakistan — and the Islamic state of Pakistan is a fundamental roadblock between the two countries and the situation is becoming worse with Pakistan projecting Kashmir as a Muslim issue and openly calling for jihad there to bolster its sinister game plan against India. The case of Afghanistan shows how diplomatic instruments will not succeed against those who had taken to terrorist violence to get their way on political issues.

India must firmly stick to the policy of ‘terror and talks do not go together’ and use its diplomatic prowess to convince the democratic nations- and this is not difficult- that the challenge for India in Kashmir was to protect the Kashmiris from the onslaught of hardened Pak terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba infiltrated from across the LoC who were destroying the cultural values of Kashmiriyat and browbeating the law abiding Kashmiris into submission to the oppressive Salafism.

Diplomatic, Terrorists, US
Khalizad has been recalled to the US and there is a new situation now in Afghanistan as that country’s General Election draws close. Pixabay

As the terrorists are beaten back the people in the valley would be willing to come out in freedom and markets would start opening up -overcoming the sense of fear of the militants. The world should know that during this short period of prohibitory orders in Kashmir there have been no casualties.

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The Centre has taken the direct responsibility for providing development and security to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that they were kept from- because of the Pakistan sponsored cross border terrorism. India is committed to restoring the statehood of J&K in course of time. Kashmir is all about people falling victim to terror and not a case of denial of Human Rights. Pakistan’s failed attempt to muster any strength in UNHRC vindicates India’s transparent stand on Kashmir. (IANS)