Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Is the surge failing in Afghanistan?

May 19, 2010
(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province.Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Six months into the surge in Afghanistan, Americans and Afghans alike are asking the question whether it has worked and the ugly reality is that it has failed to make a difference, writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post.

To be sure, as U.S. President Barack Obama said last week only half the reinforcements he ordered in December have arrived and there is still more than a year to go before the troop withdrawals begin.

But comparisons with Iraq – America’s other war – are hard to push away and they don’t look good at all. Diehl says five months into the Iraq surge in 2007, sectarian violence was dropping, Sunni tribes were turning against al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government was delivering on its promises.

Afghanistan, in contrast, is a failure on all these counts. Violence has gone up and it cannot just be because more troops have been deployed in new areas and there is more fighting. As we wrote earlier, there were 400 attacks in one week in April, a majority of them roadside bombs.

On Tuesday, the Taliban struck in heavily-guarded Kabul, killing 18 people including six foreign troops  in a suicide attack on a NATO convoy. It was the biggest loss for NATO since September and the deadliest attack in the capital since a February raid.

On the same day, across the border in Pakistan a bicycle bomb ripped through the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan killing 12 people, and you begin to wonder if Obama’s entire regional war strategy policy is at risk of unravelling.

For a panel discussion on Afghanistan organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation click here

While the Taliban seemed to have launched their promised “spring offensive” with these attacks,  the U.S.-led coalition is having a re-think about the planned operation in Kandahar, according to a clutch of media reports.

Key military operations have been delayed until the fall, efforts to improve local government are having little impact, and a Taliban assassination campaign has brought a sense of dread to Kandahar’s dusty streets, McClatchy newspapers wrote this week. NATO officials once spoke of demonstrating major progress by mid-August, but U.S. commanders now say the turning point may not be reached until November, and perhaps later, it said.

They are not even calling it an offensive any more, its a process of incremental changes rather than a D-day big bang operation. The idea is to slowly build up government authority in the Taliban’s spiritual capital. But even that aim is under threat with the insurgents picking off the leaders the West would rely upon the most to pacify Kandahar, as the Los Angeles Times reported,  pointing to the assassination of Kandahar’s respected deputy mayor.


This author’s details are lacking during the course of this report. Afghanistan is not Iraq and the comparison needs to stop. The author himself stated not all the troops are currently present for the ‘Surge’ and it is known that any campaign needs to wait for the weather to clear. Volunteers for the Afghani Army and Police are not nearly as high as NATO forces would like, making it difficult to train new recruits and establish rule of law. Instead of immediately focusing on the negative aspects, why not focus on the positives? The Farmer’s Aid Program in Helmand is winning over locals and also rebuilding the country. It is assisting in the shift from poppy farming for profit to sustainable agriculture. There are other news reports stating residents are returning to previously abandoned towns because they are now safe from the Taliban. I’d say give the policies time, the effort and intent are there, just not all the troops.

Posted by A. Messersmith | Report as abusive

we need to quit messing around and get to conducting and engaging a war , What we need is a D-day offensive.these jokers are not going to get the point until we ram it down there throat with the greatest military machine the world has ever known. why are we farting around its like owning a cadillac and driving a V.W. unleash the marines and lets get this thing over with.


The Taliban and al Qaeda are having a “surge” of their own. They have LEARNED from the allied surge in Iraq that they need to win the propaganda war DURING our surge in order to seize the initiative, regain the element of surprise and retain their foothold in their traditional power-base.

What can WE learn from this? NOT to be discouraged. We are fighting an intelligent enemy – so we should EXPECT them to learn, adapt and seek to thwart our plans. We should not be so naive as to suppose that we can use the exact same military/political plan twice with the exact same results – almost every significant military commander who has done this in the past has come to his fate by BEING TOO PREDICTABLE. We need to catch them on the back foot, and keep them there until we’ve pummeled them out of existence.
We’ll fight the hard-core terrorists and win the hearts and minds of those who want the path of true Islam and true brotherly peace.


* Afghanistan is 50% larger than Iraq. Terrain is more rugged, less navigable, and there are far more natural hiding-places.
* Afghanistan’s population is the same as Iraq’s.
* Terrorists based in Afghanistan and northern Pakistan hatched the plan to blow up the twin towers, the act of war that started all of this off. By contrast, Iraq was never a direct threat to the West – we only thought they were because of the active deception of our intelligence services (probably by the Iranians, Iraq’s old arch-foe) – Iraq was invaded pre-emptively in order to defend the Bush family’s pride and boost their investment interests, whereas Afghanistan was invaded only after the deaths of 3000 civilians in order to defend a few billion people in the free world.

YET (get this): We committed FAR MORE troops to IRAQ than Afghanistan!!!
AND, IN TERMS of troops per square kilometre, the planned Afghan surge is proportionally smaller than the Iraqi one!!!

WHAT are we thinking???

The Afghan war has been fought in a half-committed manner from the start. Bush’s failure to authorise reinforcements at Tora Bora was only the start. It sends totally the wrong message. We need to commit fully to this war, regardless of what else that means.

We need to stop telling Al Qaeda’s central planners to expect no more than another 30,000 troops spread across Afghanistan’s vast South and East. We need to start telling them, over and again, what we told them in the first place – that there will be nowhere to run or hide for anyone with blood on their hands, and no limit to our resolve to bring them to justice.


I didn’t read the article as it doesn’t really matter. Another nation tried a conflict in the conflicted nation of Afghanistan a couple decades ago and got nowhere – the Soviet Union. What makes us think we can do successfully, what they couldn’t? There are a few points of contention, but you can’t stop idealism and I, for one, am personally tired of my tax dollars being spent on a protracted foreign conflict without any viable exit strategy. Especially when education and occupations are at risk due to budget issues and stupid, blind legislation like NAFTA, GATT, global warming, cap ‘n trade, etc.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I happen to agree with the essence of the post by A. Messersmith. It is at least a plan. As widely recognized the previous administration dropped the ball. The current administration had to start from a position of less than zero making for a tougher, longer effort. The stabilization process will not be accomplished overnight nor with a troop build up that is late in full deployment. Nation building processes take time, setbacks and fortitude to see them through. The only real way to evaluate the process is to look back significant periods of time to see progress. Anyone who runs a business knows this is a basic “business 101″ practice. The Taliban are a smart organization and know how to play the media and happy / entertained to see articles such as this, playing into their political agenda to bring public opposition to the war and furthering their cause.

Posted by Harold S. | Report as abusive

Obama is a fool. Flat out.

The most dangerously inept president in American history.

I was no fan of George Bush but when he said he was going to stay in Iraq until the job was done everyone understood he meant business.

Clearly, Obama is emotionally disturbed in some way.

Over time that is becoming increasingly clear.

A malign narcissist and a pathological liar.

America is in deep trouble with this person in the White House.

Posted by Moses Remnick | Report as abusive

Of course with the arrival of the full complement of combat forces, the Taliban will simply run and hide and at 2 a.m. will launch rockets and mortars and otherwise follow the Ho Chi Mihn edict: just wait till they give up and go home.

Richard Nixon ultimately could not get away with his deceptive program of Vietnamization and Barak Milhaus Obama won’t either.


of course the American troops will never defeat the Taliban. What the hell are they fighting them for anyways?

It all started with Al Qaeda and they’re pushed out and hiding in the Pakistani hills. The USA is done and wrapped up with Afghanistan. Or have they forgot why they are there?

Or do the generals really care who they fight – as long as they keep current with weapons and war tactics?

Posted by marius | Report as abusive

I don’t see any political errors in Obama Administrations yet, they are doing good job and we must support our new elected president in any way.


“we need to quit messing around and get to conducting and engaging a war , What we need is a D-day offensive.these jokers are not going to get the point until we ram it down there throat with the greatest military machine the world has ever known. why are we farting around its like owning a cadillac and driving a V.W. unleash the marines and lets get this thing over with.”

I agree wholeheartedly that we still haven’t learned the lessons of Vietnam in that don’t go to war unless you’re ready to flatten your enemy and we all know our soldiers could take the planet if the politicians could get the hell out of the way along with liberals who only encourage the enemy with their divisive protesting.

They cool it the wars are done in 1/5 the time.


Most of the people are under the impression that if they succeed in reforming the Afghan Army then the Afghan army will be able to tackle the Taliban, but in Pakistan there is an effective paramilitary force called FC whose soldiers are exclusively from Pakistans tribal areas and they are very well trained, well equipped and they know the terrain very well but still they are unable to handle the Taliban and the troop surge will only provide the Taliban with more target because they can hide easily and they are very good at hit and run missions I read an interview of a Pakistani army officer who got injured while fighting the Taliban and he said that a Taliban fighter can wait for his target to come within the striking distance for as long as a week so in my humble opinion the only viable option is to hold talks with the taliban, otherwise if the US withdraws in a 2-3 years time then they can take over Afghanistan again and can start wars not only in Pakistan but also in central asian countries….

Posted by Saad Abbasi | Report as abusive

Help me out here. We only have about have of the promised troops deployed there, but we’re going to start pulling troops out within 12-18 months?

Huh? This doesn’t add up to me. So by the time we get all of our promised troops there, it’s time to start withdrawing them. Either I’m dumb, or our Commander-in-Speech is.

Posted by Lawrence | Report as abusive

@chicago ray
we all know our soldiers could take the planet……..
Do you also know that most of the citizens ould disappear if the russian might attacks major cities in eaight hours or less. This was the estimated time which the experts predicted during Kennedy’s presidency. Do’nt you think the USA administration should be using the great army to plug the hole in the oil well which is destroying your beautiful country? Your illusions about the planet are unlikely to help solve the domestic disasters.

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see