Despite 2009 “Surge” Taliban Remains Force to be Reckoned with in Afghanistan

Foreign Policy’s Stephen Walt highlights a chart by Belfer Center fellow Matt Waldman showing that as the US-led 2009 “Surge” in Afghanistan proceeded, US casualties increased. The pace in 2012 is also roughly similar to the toll from the previous two years:

Equally important, the final column (based on figures reported by Simon Klingert) suggests that the Taliban’s ability to inflict casualties on Afghan security forces (ANSF) remains undiminished. Given that U.S. hopes of a “soft landing” following withdrawal depend on the ANSF taking up the fight themselves, this does not augur well for Afghanistan’s post-American future.

Michael Cohen meanwhile argues in the Guardian that General David Petraeus’s fatal flaw was not his extramarital affair (which he will forever remembered for) but his surge strategy in Afghanistan:

Petraeus was wrong – badly wrong. And more than 1,000 American soldiers, and countless more Afghan civilians, have paid the ultimate price for his over-confidence in the capabilities of US troops. And it wasn’t as if Petraeus was an innocent bystander in these discussions: he was working a behind-the-scenes public relations effort – talking to reporters, appearing on news programs – to force the president’s hand on approving a surge force for Afghanistan and the concurrent COIN strategy.

But when he took over as commander of the Afghanistan war in 2010, Petraeus adopted the harsh military strategy that he’d claimed the new, more civilian-focused COIN military plan would eschew. He ramped up airstrikes, which led to more civilian deaths. He increased the use of special forces operations. Perhaps worst of all, he sought to hinder the implementation of a political strategy for ending the war, seeking, instead, a clear military victory against the Taliban.

The greatest indictment of Petraeus’s record is that, 18 months after announcing the surge, President Obama pulled the plug on a military campaign that had clearly failed to realize the ambitious goals of Petraeus and his merry team of COIN boosters. Today, the Afghanistan war is stalemated with little hope of resolution – either militarily or politically – any time soon. While that burden of failure falls hardest on President Obama, General Petraeus is scarcely blameless. Yet, to date, he has almost completely avoided examination for his conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.