Update on the Kandahar Campaign

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The New York Times reports that a NATO field commander suggests that the “fate” of the Kandahar Campaign will not become clear until June (2011).

Key Highlights:

  • A NATO offensive to secure the Taliban’s birthplace of Kandahar is putting pressure on militants, but genuine success will not be clear until next June, the region’s top commander said on Thursday. British Major-General Nick Carter’s comments were the latest by U.S. and NATO officials touting battlefield advances but also calling for patience ahead of a NATO summit in November and a White House strategy review in December. Kandahar is expected to figure prominently at both events. Thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops are engaged in a campaign to flush insurgents from districts around Kandahar city, a campaign seen as vital to turning the tide of a war now in its 10th year.
  • General Carter, briefing Pentagon reporters, said he saw “some encouraging signs, definitely momentum.” “(There is) a sense that probably the initiative is now with us and not, as it was a year ago, with the insurgency,” he said. Carter said it is impossible to gauge advances from one season to the next because fighting in Afghanistan is seasonal. Fighting peaks in the summer, when foliage provides Taliban fighters with cover and casualties are at their highest. “You, in Afghanistan, have to be very careful about not measuring progress until you match it to the appropriate season and the appropriate time of year,” Carter said.  “And I sense it won’t be until June next year that we’ll be sure that the advances we’ve made during the course of the last few months are genuinely success.”

SFTT Analysis:

  • More mixed signals from Kandahar on whether current progress is being made or whether it is too early to assess effects.  British Major General Carter chirps that “we won’t know if we are making progress until June 2011.”
  • Either NATO lacks a coherent and coordinated strategic communications plan – not very plausible given Petreaus’ background and modus operandi.  But perhaps this is simply a very sophisticated strategic communication effort designed to:
    • 1) sow confusion within policy makers as they contemplate how to begin reducing troop strength next July or
    • 2) provide some breathing room for NATO capitals while they consider the “next steps” in Afghanistan.  Regardless, imagine trying to explain “progress” to a rifleman before he leaves the wire for the umpteenth time – he can see right through all this.
  • Major General Carter also cautions matching any progress to “seasons,” prattling on about foliage, etc, and how this impacts an effective measure of progress until June 2011.  Unfortunately that logic doesn’t square.  Perhaps there are some lingering frictions and

    bruised feelings between the US and our British allies post-Basra, Iraq on who lost Basra and now that has carried over to Afghanistan proper.  Maybe the remarks are meant to support a future blame-game on who lost the south in Afghanistan?

  • Or maybe Major General Carter took umbrage with US Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills’ recent comments that Regional Command Southwest would not rest during the winter and press the fight to the enemy.
  • As for winter and the “seasons”, someone should remind the chap that over 25% (82 of 341) British casualties suffered in Afghanistan since 9/11 have come during the winter “season” (November through February).