Pentagon warns that insider attacks could derail the war in Afghanistan

In its latest mandated update to Congress, the Pentagon reports that safe havens in Pakistan and corruption within the Afghan government are the greatest risks to 'sustainable security.'

Musadez Sadez/AP
Afghan protesters who have lost family members in the past three decades of war march during a demonstration for human rights in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday.

Although the level of violence in Afghanistan is higher now than before the surge of US troops ordered into the country by President Obama in 2009, senior defense officials argue that the strategy was still a success. 

That's one assessment of the latest congressionally mandated report from the Pentagon on how the war in Afghanistan is going.

Among the report's other findings:

• Although the capability of enemy fighters has declined from its peak in 2010, the Taliban remains a powerful force throughout Afghanistan and may try to regain lost ground through a campaign of assassinations and high-profile attacks.

• Insider attacks – the latest Taliban tactic – have the potential to derail the US war in Afghanistan. 

• Just one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades is able to operate independently, without US supplies or planes.

The report warns that the insurgency’s safe havens in Pakistan and the corruption within the Afghan government “remain the greatest risks to long-term stability and sustainable security” in the country.

For now, some 68,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, a quarter fewer forces than were there last year.

At the same time, civilian casualties caused by US and NATO forces have declined by 28 percent since 2010.

There has been a rise, however, in enemy attacks against US forces over the same time in 2011, which the report attributes to a shorter poppy harvesting season (during which time fighting generally abates). 

Some of the attacks have been high-profile, like the one in September on a major US base that destroyed six aircraft and damaged another two.

“Even though violence remains high, the fact it’s in less populated areas shows that it’s less effective violence, less effective in terms of altering the views of the people in Afghanistan as to where the future lies – whether it lies with the Taliban or the government,” says a senior defense official.

Even as the insurgency recedes in the north and west of the country, narco-trafficking and criminal networks are becoming more prominent in these regions. 

But the biggest problem is the safe havens in the ungoverned regions of Pakistan, and US relations with Afghanistan’s neighbor remain strained, according to the report.

“I don’t want to leave you with the impression that we think everything is working well, because the safe havens do continue to exist,” said the official. “This is still a problem.” 

And what about the training of Afghan security forces – the prime objective of the US troops remaining in the country? The report deems the training a steady success, as Afghan forces take over more missions. An official says that despite what the rating system would suggest – that only one of 23 brigades can operate independently – many units do plan and conduct their own operations. “They often don’t rely on any assistance from us at all,” said the official. 

That said, the report also rates coordination between the Afghan Army and police as “poor,” and noted that the security forces will probably require an additional “decade of development” into 2024 to be truly independent.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.