Panetta Declares Surge Successful, But What Have We Won?
September 23, 2012 • 9:49AM

The last of the 33,000 surge troops that President Obama decided, in December of 2009, to send to Afghanistan have returned back to the United States. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made the announcement while in Auckland, new Zealand during his latest jaunt around the Pacific. "As we reflect on this moment, it is an opportunity to recognize that the surge accomplished its objectives of reversing Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increased the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces," he said.

Really? Even the New York Times is skeptical on what the surge managed to accomplish, if anything, reporting in a Sept. 22 article that the surge troops are leaving behind "an uncertain landscape of rising violence and political instability..." Indeed. It adds that the Taliban and the Haqqani network are still able to pull off bombings, while insider attacks on NATO troops have forced cutbacks in NATO training of Afghan troops, a vital component of Obama's exit strategy. One senior American official indicated to the Times that the Taliban have hardly been diminished. "They're not going to go away for years," he said. Mohammed Naim Lalai Amirzai, a member of the Afghan parliament, added that "As the American surge ends, the Taliban surge will begin." UN and NATO figures show that the violence remains at a higher level than before the surge. But the thrust of the Times article isn't just that the surge is a failure, it's a failure and it's the fault of the Afghan government and security forces "to fill the void and cultivate a good relationship with the locals," in the words of Jawid Kohistani, a Kabul-based military analyst.

But even NATO troops have been having trouble holding their own against the Taliban, as events on the weekend of Sept. 15-16 show. The most dramatic example was the insurgent attack on Camp Bastion, the base in Helmand province where both US Marines and British troops are based. Bastion is described as one of the most heavily defended places on earth, yet on the night of Sept. 14, about 15 insurgents, reportedly dressed in US Army uniforms, penetrated the base perimeter, and successfully destroyed six Marine Harrier jets parked on the ramp, heavily damaged two more (out of ten assigned to the squadron), destroyed three refueling stations and three aircraft hangars. It took Marines and British forces on the base several hours to track down and kill all of the insurgents except for one who was captured alive. Two Marines, including the Harrier squadron commander, were killed, and the squadron was rendered ineffective in terms of being able to provide air support to Marines on the ground. This was the worst loss of aircraft suffered by any US force since the Vietnam War.

Some Marines interviewed by the San Diego Union Tribune attributed the loss to the ongoing drawdown of Marines from Kandahar and Helmand Provinces. The Marine forces have dropped from about 20,000 troops to 7,000. The Harrier squadron had moved, in July, from Kandahar airfield to Camp Bastion because of the consolidation of forces. Some believe that, as a result, security for the remaining forces has been compromised.

The Camp Bastion attack was not the end of it, however. The very same weekend, sic more NATO troops, 4 US and 2 British, were killed in separate insider attacks by supposedly allied Afghan troops, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai lashed out again at NATO for killing Afghan civilians in an airstrike, in this case, 8 women who were killed on Sept. 16. Afghan officials said they were out collecting firewood when they were attacked.

It wouldn't be fair to say that nothing has changed in Afghanistan as a result of the surge. The 2007 surge in Iraq at least had the appearance of having worked, but the surge in Afghanistan doesn't even seem to have that.