The present-day U.S. military qualifies by any measure as highly professional, much more so than its Cold War predecessor. Yet the purpose of today’s professionals is not to preserve peace but to fight unending wars in distant places. Intoxicated by a post-Cold War belief in its own omnipotence, the United States allowed itself to be drawn into a long series of armed conflicts, almost all of them yielding unintended consequences and imposing greater than anticipated costs. Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. forces have destroyed many targets and killed many people. Only rarely, however, have they succeeded in accomplishing their assigned political purposes. . . . [F]rom our present vantage point, it becomes apparent that the “Revolution of ‘89” did not initiate a new era of history. At most, the events of that year fostered various unhelpful illusions that impeded our capacity to recognize and respond to the forces of change that actually matter.

Andrew Bacevich

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Update for Wednesday, August 19, 2015

While I haven't been posting a day-to-day chronicle of events, today's 96th anniversary of Afghan independence from Britain is an occasion to step back and look at the big picture. It is not good.

The UN reports that the first half of 2015 has seen record civilian casualties with conflict spreading to wider areas and more than 100,000 additional people displaced this year alone.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen. Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering. . .

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces do not trust their Afghan counterparts and keep largely separate from the units they are supposed to be training and advising:

For seven months after the formal end of the NATO combat operation in Afghanistan, US forces have guided their counterparts from the sidelines with a mixture of pride, bewilderment - and suspicion.

The latter is clearly evident in the layout of this temporary base in Nangarhar province, where a snaking barbed-wire fence separates the armies of the two nations.  For "Operation Iron Triangle" which concluded on Saturday, US forces kept very much to themselves - with a squad of guard dogs and a 7.62 Caliber machine-gun at the entry point reinforcing a simple message to Afghan forces: do not enter.

[Spec.] Whitten chews his tobacco and spits. "Sometimes they shoot in the air, we don't really know what for," he says, in a sign of the mistrust that permeates US forces after years of "insider attacks", including the killing of General Harold Greene by a radicalised Afghan soldier a year ago.
Vanessa Gezari tells the tale of the utter failure of a ridiculous army social science program called the Human Terrain System.  I won't even try to summarize this, read it for laughs.

Serious tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan continues as Pakistani shelling kills 8 Afghan police.

Afghan forces abandon Naw Zad district in Helmand province.

And, in a particularly ominous development, former warlord Rashid Dostum, who joined the central government as a Vice President, has given up relying on the government for security in his territory of Jowzjan and raised his own army

Back in his home province of Jowzjan, Mr. Dostum turned his pink palace into a command center and announced that he was coordinating the war efforts there and in the neighboring provinces of Faryab and Sar-i-Pul. Local officials and militia commanders, many of them with fully armed forces despite a costly disarmament campaign, began rallying to his call.

Mr. Dostum’s actions have been publicized here as the bravery of a battle-hardened general. But in what is supposed to be a year that tests the ability of the Afghan security forces to fend off enemy threats on their own, his moves have also raised a serious question: Amid a territory-gobbling insurgent offensive, will the strongmen and former warlords prominent in the Afghan government honor the national security system, or will they remobilize militias that in the 1990s caused the chaos that gave rise to the Taliban in the first place?
So, what does the U.S. get for its blood and treasure? John Quiggin has the answer:

let’s look at the opportunity cost of maintaining a single additional combat soldier in Afghanistan. The direct cost has been estimated at $2.1 million per soldier per year. Indirect support costs (for example, the Pentagon bureaucracy) and the need to provide for future medical care would greatly increase this.
We could look at the opportunity cost in terms of alternative ways of providing aid to Afghanistan. The US development agency USAid provides around $70 million a year in educational and social services aid to Afghanistan, a sum which is claimed to enable one million additional children to enrol in school, among other benefits. Obviously there is plenty of room for more expenditure of this kind, in Afghanistan or elsewhere. So, the opportunity cost of keeping 35 soldiers in the field is school education for a million young people. . . .