By Michael Hirsh
May 7, 2012
TARIN KOT, Afghanistan -- Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, on Monday rejected statements made by the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence committees that the Taliban has grown stronger since President Obama’s surge of additional U.S. troops, and he suggested that “sound bites” from Washington were not helping.
In an interview from his southern regional command post, Allen indicated he did not fully understand the source of remarks made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who heads the House Intelligence Committee. “I’m just interested in understanding the comment in its entirety,” Allen said. “I’ve not seen anything other than what’s been reported in the papers.”
“We have, I think, pretty clear evidence that the momentum has been reversed, that the surge has accomplished a great deal,” Allen said. He added that Taliban reverses on the battlefield "are very easily documented" across most of the country’s 34 provinces, except for those in the east bordering Pakistan’s tribal regions.
But the worst news for the Taliban, Allen said, was that because of the commitment being made to Afghanistan’s long-term future through the recently announced U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership, as well as commitments from NATO allies and 22 other countries taking part in the International Security Assistance Force that he heads, “there’s going to be an international military presence here in Afghanistan for a long time, a long time after 2014.”
As a result, many Taliban are rethinking their long-held “narrative,” which is that they can just wait the conflict out and then move into “a very quiet battle space” in a few years, Allen said. “If your narrative is 'just wait us out,' [and] you’re going to have to wait now for decades ... you're going to start to lose some enthusiasm.”
While praising Feinstein and Rogers for their “tremendous assistance” so far, Allen said he lamented “sound bites” from Washington that can “cause folks at home to doubt the mission.” He said that the war is complex, involving a multilayered approach to defeating insurgents and building up Afghan security and governance.
“There is this sense, and it’s a very Western sense I think, that there is a Napoleonic decisive battle that tends to end wars. In counterinsurgency, it’s much less about that than about creating an enduring capacity that grows and compounds on itself over time," Allen said. "And that’s what’s happened.”
When asked if he cared to offer up his own sound bite, Allen said: “My sound bite is, we’re being successful.”
Feinstein and Rogers on Sunday gave a very different assessment after returning from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan recently and receiving intelligence reports. “I think we’d both say that what we’ve found is that the Taliban is stronger,” Feinstein told CNN when asked if Obama’s deployment of 33,000 additional troops had degraded the Taliban’s capabilities.
They also appeared to challenge the president’s statement in a speech from Kabul last week that “we broke the Taliban’s momentum.” Feinstein a suggested that Allen and U.S. officials were too optimistic that Afghanistan’s government and new security forces would render a Taliban return to power impossible, saying the Islamist radical group has “a shadow system of governors in many provinces.”
U.S. and NATO officials in Afghanistan concede that the number of attacks has jumped since before the surge began in 2009, but they say that the trend has been gradually declining in the past year and that the severity of attacks is way down as well.
At a meeting with leaders of Uruzgan province on Monday, attended by visiting reporters, Allen made the case that the main concern in the once-violence-torn province was economic progress more than security. And in general, “in the south and southwest, it really is a post-conflict conversation,” he said.
Allen also said that ISAF was well ahead of schedule in bringing Afghan security forces to their full strength of 352,000, saying it would likely occur by June rather than the original target date of October.
By Michael Hirsh
May 7, 2012