Petraeus Spins the Afghan War Mess

A few weeks ago, Gen. David Petraeus
pulled off a flawless remake of Gen. William Westmoreland's 1967
performance in which the Vietnam War commander detected "light at the
end of the tunnel" - just months before the Viet Cong launched its Tet
offensive, proving the resistance was very much alive and well.

This time, the geography is Afghanistan. But Gen. Petraeus's
upbeat claims on NBC's "Meet the Press" and elsewhere - that U.S. and
NATO troops have ousted some Taliban from conflicted areas, helped
reform the corrupt Afghan government, and trained Afghan security
forces to fight on their own - are equally phony, according to a former
senior U.S. government official.

In an interview, Matthew Hoh, an
ex-Marine commander in Iraq who took a high-ranking State Department
job in Afghanistan before resigning a year ago because he "couldn't
stand the BS of it anymore," disputed each Petraeus claim.

First, rather than the U.S. having ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan's south and east, quite the opposite is true, Hoh said.

"Villagers still turn to their
Afghan brothers to rid their towns of carpetbaggers," Hoh said. "These
include not only U.S. or NATO forces, but also the Afghan government
that ... is staggeringly corrupt and its troops are mainly from different
ethnic groups or regions."

These areas of Afghanistan are so anti-outsider that U.S. congressional and other delegations can't venture there.

According to Hoh, nothing has
improved, even though "the number of NATO troops soared from under
30,000 in 2005 to the current 150,000, and we've spent about $350
billion for the military and $50 billion for reconstruction programs,
which include training and equipping Afghan forces."

Also, recent press reports indicate that in the north, which was stable until recently, security is deteriorating.

As further proof of a downward
spiral, Hoh pointed to the Pentagon's failure in its Marjah campaign
this past winter to evict the Taliban and impose the authority of the
central government. Thus, the generals had to postpone the next
offensive planned for the same purpose in Kandahar Province in early
spring. As of now, it's still on hold.

Hoh said colleagues in Afghanistan
tell him that fighting in parts of Marjah is still intense and about
2,000 Marines are stuck there. He said locals in the south and east, who
are rural, traditional Pashtuns, still hate the central government,
which consists mainly of the more urban Uzbeks, Hazaras and Tajiks.

"Think of it like the feuds
between the Hatfields and McCoys, only it's a civil war that's been
going on since the 1970s, where we've propped up one side," Hoh said.

Hoh also cited an International
Council for Security and Development from July, which found that 76
percent of Helmand residents and 88 percent of Marjah villagers see the
Taliban groups as having a legitimate role in their communities'

As for Afghanistan's legendary
corruption, there's little evidence it's been curbed, Hoh said. Daily
press reports tell of high-ranking Afghans soliciting bribes, carting
off cash to Dubai, and the need to install "U.S.-developed currency
counters" at Kabul airport to stanch the flow of millions diverted from
drug proceeds and foreign aid.

On Aug. 22, a Washington Post
article estimated the money being diverted at over $1 billion a year.
The situation is so bad that a congressional panel is threatening to
withhold $4 billion in aid - until the country cleans up its act.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai promises to support anti-corruption teams, he actually does the exact opposite.

Recently, when two U.S.-backed law
enforcement teams arrested a top security advisor, Mohammad Zia
Salehi, on corruption charges, Karzai released him immediately, accusing
the teams of "violating human rights" and being "un-Islamic" and

Hoh said the continued inflow of
billions of dollars only worsens the corruption and deepens rivalries
between those with their hands in the till and those who are left out.

Finally, as for an improved Afghan army, despite Gen. Petraeus's assurances, success stories are hard to find.

The U.S. Office of the Special
Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction wrote in July that, despite
the $27 billion-plus that the U.S. has spent to train and equip the
Afghan army, it still can't operate without U.S. forces planning and
leading the fight.

Possibly to deflect the growing
skepticism, Gen. Petraeus claimed that the war plan was only recently
fine-tuned and given the resources it needed.

However, Gen. Stanley McChrystal,
whom President Obama fired in late June, got the 40,000 extra troops he
requested (30,000 from the U.S. and 10,000 from allies) and the extra
billions to support them as far back as December, to launch his Afghan
version of the Iraq "surge."

Petraeus seems to be trying to
re-start the clock to when he took over, even though he had been head
of the U.S. Central Command and - as McChrystal's boss - helped develop
the counterinsurgency plan that McChrystal was implementing.

Meanwhile, the war's
price in blood and money continues to climb. This past year, 468 U.S.
troops have been killed in Afghanistan, with 66 in July alone, making it
a grim record-setting month.

Perhaps Petraeus has come to
believe all the power-point-presentations that paint glowing pictures
of progress in Afghanistan. To Hoh, however, they're "dog and pony
shows, just like the Potemkin villages the Soviets used to show success,
while one kilometer away the war rages and the scene is devastated."

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