General Petraeus' Parting Spin

On his way out of Afghanistan, General David Petraeus continues to throw out deceptive spin about the direction of the conflict in that country. The general wants to use cherry-picked numbers and vague characterizations to paint the insurgents as reeling under an assault by his pet counterinsurgency campaign, but big-picture "progress" exists only in his imagination. The truth is that security for Afghans is much, much worse than it was when Petraeus and his protege, General McChrystal, arrived.

Here's Petraeus' most recent attempt to put lipstick on the counterinsurgency pig, from The New York Times:

...[T]he general said signs of progress were beginning to appear. Insurgent attacks were down in May and June compared with the same months in 2010, and July is showing the same trend, he said.

"This just means that they have less capacity; they have been degraded somewhat," he said of the insurgents. "This is the first real indicator -- for the first time since 2006 -- compared to the previous year, insurgent attack numbers are lower."

First of all--General Petraeus has been claiming at least since the launch of the Marjah offensive in early 2009 that "the inputs...are about right, and now we're starting to see the first of the outputs." So what is Petraeus telling us in the New York Times' piece quoted above? Surely he wasn't telling Congress that we were making progress without any "real indicators" of such progress, was he?

Second: General Petraeus, as always, loves his cherry-picked statistics. Here's a chart showing insurgent-initiated attacks over time from the Afghan NGO Safety Office's latest bi-weekly report (.pdf):


Here's another chart from the same report, showing the rate of attacks in Helmand province, where Petraeus' counterinsurgency project focused over his and McChrystal's tenure:

See all that progress? I don't, either.

The increased rate of attacks by insurgents and the escalated NATO response to it means that Petraeus' counterinsurgency campaign has failed in one of its primary objectives: to protect the Afghan population. From the L.A. Times:

The Afghan war claimed 15% more civilian lives in the first half of this year than in the same period a year ago, the United Nations said in a report Thursday that painted a picture of deteriorating safety across the country.

The grim figures contrasted with relatively upbeat recent security assessments presented by senior U.S. military officials as an American troop drawdown gets underway.

The U.N. said it had documented 1,462 civilian deaths from January to June, four-fifths of them caused by insurgents. The report singled out the "dramatic growth" in the use of improvised explosive devices whose pressure plates can be tripped even by the weight of a child.

This snippet at the end of today's New York Times article sums up the disconnect between Petraeus' continued deceptions on the situation in Afghanistan and the true state of the conflict:

"There is no plan," said Thomas Ruttig, a co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research group.

"What we have is a public relations strategy -- 'Everything is improving; it's hard but we're making progress,' " Mr. Ruttig said, quoting Western officials here. "But for the president, the picture is gloomy. For Afghanistan, the picture is gloomy."

For a recap of Petraeus' unhinged P.R. campaign, see this video.

More Afghans are dying. Violence in Afghanistan is at the highest levels observed in the 10-year conflict. The simple fact is that security for Afghans is worse now than it was before the Obama Administration's repeated escalations. Afghanistan is more dangerous for Afghans than it was before counterinsurgency enthusiasts turned it into a laboratory to test a now-discredited doctrine of war. And Petraeus, on his way out the door, is just as deceptive in his spin as ever.

If you're fed up with this war that's not making us safer and that's not worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.