Top general can’t spin Afghan failures

In Washington ISAF commander John Allen puts a brave face on a war going badly

Topics: Afghanistan,

Top general can't spin Afghan failuresJohn R. Allen (Credit: AP)

After an Afghan soldier killed two British troops in Kabul on Monday, Gen. John Allen, chief of the international forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Washington it was the 40th such attack in recent years. “An erosion of trust has emerged,” he conceded.

Such tactful understatement was the order of the day as Allen tried to put the best face on President Obama’s floundering war policy. Fielding friendly questions at the Brookings Institution from Michael O’Hanlon, a war supporter, Allen gave an assessment of the war that was positive in general but downbeat to the point of discouraging in many of its specifics.

The contrast is the norm in Washington as the Obama administration continues to wage an unpopular war with the support of an acquiescent Congress and sympathetic analysts like O’Hanlon. Allen general faced only gentle questioning on Capitol Hill last week despite the fact that 50 percent of Americans polls say the U.S should speed up its troop withdrawals, twice as many as say the U.S. should stick with Obama’s plan to leave by 2014.

The general’s candor sometimes belied his spin. While the Taliban has tried hard to infiltrate the Afghan forces, Allen said the insurgents accounted for less than 50 percent of “green on blue” attacks that have claimed the lives of 15 allied soldiers in the last three months.  A majority of the attacks, he went on, have been perpetrated by Afghans whom he described as  “self –radicalized.” He cited the influence of the viral video of U.S. soldiers urinating on dead Afghans, the burning of the Koran at a U.S. base, and “the recent events in Panjwai,” a delicate reference to the killing of 17 people by a U.S. army sergeant last week. In other words, the actions of the U.S. military are more effective than Taliban ideology in inspiring Afghans to kill Americans. This was less than reassuring.

You Might Also Like

So was Allen’s heavily qualified claim that after a decade the Afghan people accept the U.S. military presence. “I think there is hope that the population is on the right trajectory to accept the security forces,” he said carefully.

To his credit, Allen did not scant on facts that offered less hope than his rhetoric suggested. Taliban attacks are down in the north and the western part of the country, he claimed while admitting attacks have increased in the east where the “insurgency continues to boil.” He predicted that in coming months the Taliban would “increase the tempo of suicide attacks and assassinations.”

The U.S. effort to replace has incompetent or corrupt military commanders, he said, has been stymied by the Afghans themselves. ”We have pointed out a number of individuals,” he explained. “The results have been mixed. Some of them have been removed quickly. Some have been moved to units elsewhere and resurfaced.”

Allen concluded by saying U.S.-Afghan relations are “strong” and he praised Afghan soldiers as “some of the greatest  fighters you’ll ever meet,” but he added pointedly “the ferocity of the individual is less important than planning.”

Not even O’Hanlon’s effusive commentary–”You sketched that beautifully,” he told Allen at on point—could dispel the impression of a mission that can’t be completed on U.S. terms. When the general finished speaking, O’Hanlon said. “You’re presentation was riveting.” It was, but not in a good way.

 

 

 

Jefferson Morley

Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>