A "Comprehensive Civilian/Military Effort" in Afghanistan? Hardly.

A new report out today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction gives lie to the Pentagon's assertion of a "comprehensive civil and military effort" in Kandahar.
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Last week I wrote about the fanciful "progress" talk about Afghanistan coming out of General Petraeus' shop, showing that the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate even in areas held up by the military as positive examples. One of the facets of this drivel with which I took particular issue was the assertion of a "comprehensive civil and military effort" in Kandahar. A new report (.pdf) out today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) further deflates that false narrative.

Recall that in Carlotta Gall's NYT piece, she wrote:

"Unlike the Marja operation, [military and other administration officials] say, the one in Kandahar is a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security."

As I pointed out last week, military officials repeatedly described Marjah (yes, that Marjah) as a "comprehensive civil-military campaign," so it's laughable that we should buy that kind of description as an assurance that the push into Kandahar won't a) fail spectacularly, or b) turn out like Marjah. But the association of the phrase "comprehensive civil and military effort" with Marjah isn't the only reason we should be really, really worried.

SIGAR's latest report audits the implementation of the "civilian surge" meant to accompany the military troop increase. The report raises several concerns about the civilian side of the "civil and military effort," including:

  • the effectiveness and quality of training for field personnel;
  • the level of agency guidance for field work;
  • the application of models for civilian-military integration;
  • civilians' ability to oversee implementing partners;
  • the civilian surge's long-term sustainability; and
  • the Embassy's lack of a formal and systematic mechanism for collecting and implementing best practices and lessons learned.

Reading between the lines of report, we can also see that the civil/military partnership is, shall we say, a bit rocky (emphasis mine):

"improvements were needed in such areas as agency-specific procedures, working within an interagency setting, field conditions, and civilian-military dynamics."

"Both civilian and military personnel have stated that they would benefit from further training on the precise dynamics and best practices of the civilian-military relationship, as well as more integrated civilian-military training. For example, one official stated that training should include more exercises and scenarios requiring conflict resolution between civilian and military personnel."

"...an IPA summary of conclusions reached from interviews with approximately 50 State, USAID, and USDA personnel stationed throughout Afghanistan concluded that civilian-military integration is occurring because of personal tenacity rather than institutional planning. The summary added that there are no clear lines of communication for civilians in the field on how to act with the military portion of their PRTs, or how to delineate "taskings" from their military partners."

This audit is just the latest in a string of reports indicating real trouble not just with the relationship between the civilian and military personnel but with the entire civilian "uplift" itself.

Remember that the U.S.'s idea of a "comprehensive" civilian/military effort is a ratio slightly above one civilian for every 100 military personnel. SIGAR says that the January 2012 personnel target for this uplift is 1,500 personnel. That's fewer people than live in my little hometown in Texas, and it's expected to be a "comprehensive" partner for a 100,000+ military force in a country larger than California. Those 1,500 people will face a "lack of clarity from their agencies on various aspects of their work in the field," unrealistic training for their partnership, and massive logistical challenges. And, as the SIGAR report makes clear, they will also face a lack of respect from military colleagues who deride them as unreliable and ineffective because the arrangement of the civilian presence leaves them out of the information loop even when it comes to civilian-led projects happening in their area of responsibility. This is not a recipe for success, and it certainly cannot be described as a "comprehensive civilian and military campaign." It's a military campaign with a civilian fig leaf.

"Comprehensive civilian and military effort" is the new "government in a box."

We should replace these and other junk phrases with a new counterinsurgency motto: "Over-promise, under-deliver."

The Afghanistan War isn't making us safer, and it's not worth the cost. If you're tired of the spin, join the tens of thousands of others working to end the war at Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.