Will the Surge’s Impact Last?

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Army photo / Master Sgt. Kap Kim

Mohammad Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province, was fired Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Here Mangal, left, meets earlier in 2012 with International Security Assistance Force commander Marine General John Allen at the governor’s palace in Lashkar Gah

Now begins a two-year endgame.

Less than a week after a brazen attack inflicted the biggest loss of U.S. military aircraft since Vietnam, and as the Air Force begins deploying its deadly flying-cannon AC-130 gunships over Afghanistan during daylight hours to suppress the Taliban, President Obama’s three-year surge of 33,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan has ended. It happened the same day that Afghan President Hamid Karzai sacked the pro-U.S. governor of a key province in the southern part of the country.

Some will suggest that the surge’s end is a pre-election strategy designed to improve Obama’s chances of getting votes from citizens weary of 11 years of war. Others insist it’s the only way to prod Afghanistan into securing its own territory. But as the surge ends, one question hangs: Are its gains — largely territory in southern Helmand and Kandahar provinces — real or fleeting?

“There’s no question there will continue to be difficult days ahead,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during a stop in New Zealand while on a Pacific trip. “But this is an opportunity to recognize that the surge did accomplish its objectives.”

Yet another surge — of insider, or so-called green-on-blue attacks — has led to a reduction in the partnering of U.S. and Afghan forces. Such training, U.S. military officials say, is vital to honing the combat skills of the Afghan security forces. Any reduction in that training gives the enemy an edge. There’s a nervous twitch in some quarters of the Pentagon and at the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters in Kabul. Is the Afghan glass half-full or half-empty?

Panetta, the politician running the Pentagon, says the rash of Taliban attacks “is kind of a last-gasp effort to be able to not only target our forces but to try to create chaos, because they’ve been unable to regain any of the territory that they have lost.” But Army General Martin Dempsey, who as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the nation’s top military officer, terms it “a very serious threat” to the campaign.

Like all war tactics, the surge was a political act carried out by the military. Obama pointedly announced it at West Point, allowing him to declare that he wouldn’t shortchange the Afghan conflict as President Bush had done to invade Iraq. Afghanistan, after all, was seen by many Americans as the “good war,” justified by the 9/11 attacks, while Iraq was a war of choice largely motivated by weapons of mass destruction that no longer existed.

The surge’s goal was simple: to wipe the Taliban out of wide swaths of Afghanistan and let an improving Afghan military take over security. “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,” Panetta said. “This growth has allowed us and our ISAF coalition partners to begin the process of transition to Afghan security lead, which will soon extend across every province and more than 75% of the Afghan population.”

But there is concern among many in uniform that the rush to pull the surge forces out of Afghanistan — conveniently before the election — will jeopardize the gains that have been made. Most of the 68,000 troops still there will return home by the end of 2014, although Kabul and Washington have agreed that some military trainers and perhaps special-operations forces will remain. The U.S. troop presence reached its peak of 101,000 last year.

Even as the surge ends, there are signs that the war goes on, both in military and political spheres.

Air Force Lieut. General Eric Fiel, the service’s top special-ops commander, said this week that his AC-130 gunships, with their huge 105-mm cannons, are now flying daytime missions over Afghanistan. “We have not flown gunships during the day before, but they are currently flying during the day” there, he said at the Air Force Association’s annual meeting outside Washington. New sensors allow the planes to see bad guys from further away, apparently beyond the reach of enemy weapons. Unfortunately, the new sensors, he said, “allow us a longer standoff range, which caused a little problem since the weapons can’t engage targets at that range.” The Air Force is working that issue.

A bigger problem is Karzai’s decision Thursday to fire Mohammad Gulab Mangal, the pro-U.S. governor of Helmand province, who has long been viewed as one of the nation’s best leaders. He stood alongside a U.S. general in July for a press conference that was piped into the Pentagon from Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province. Mangal said he wasn’t concerned about the pullout of U.S. troops. “Taliban will try their best to disrupt the security situation,” he said. “But now ANSF — Afghan National Security Forces — are at the level that they can maintain the security of the Helmand province.”

Karzai’s office didn’t detail why the President ousted Mangal, who holds an appointed, not elected, office. U.S. officials suggested Karzai may have viewed him as a political threat and that his canning is part of the messy business of trying to build a more democratic government. Its impact on the Taliban in Helmand remains an open question.

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The governor's local government was well know for being corrupt by the people who live there, including involvement in the drug trade, and Helmand continues to produce some 50-60% of the world's opium. What changed? But he was well know for saying the right things to us, the media and our NATO allies, which makes him us..." who has long been viewed" (by us) "as one of the nation’s best leaders." So? Anybody checked his bank accounts recently? Millions have gone down the drain in this very agriculturally productive province on frequently irrelevant (irrelevant to the rural population, most of the people) projects.  

Mike Smith
Mike Smith

This post is complete crap.  I know Haji Gulab Mangal, I worked with Haji Gulab Mangal, he has been a guest in my home in Virginia, I am proud to call him my friend, and he is the only Afghan I would take a bullet for.  He is the only honest, incorruptible man in Afghanistan, and he is a Karzai enemy who wouldn't go along with the Karazi crime family schemes in Helmand, and they fired him for it.  Read "Little America" and learn something before you post here here like the total ignoramus you are. 


I worked between 1971 and '78 as the USAID Research and Evaluation Officer in Afghanistan when USAID did field evaluations , and much of that time was spent in Helmand because that is where we had our biggest project, the central Helmand irrigation system, the largest in the country. I got back into Helmand to look at (and photograph) the system in 1997 when the Taliban made it safe enough to travel. I started the first irrigation rehabilitation project in Helmand after the Soviets left using mostly hand labor in 1998-99 working on the problem areas of the Boghra Canal with State and INL funding. So far I have read "Little America" a couple of times...a great piece of reporting. I am in it having to do with cotton which is one of the alternative crops for poppy that the farmers have been asking for help with the marketing since 1997. And all the governors have ignored this traditional cash crop with the exception of Gov. Sher Mohammad in '02, as have our "development projects" and the British who built the Lash cotton gin in about 1965. Gov. Mangal's wheat seed project and associated giveaways like tractors, water pumps etc. were not the answer and fraught with corruption, as you must know. For more info. on Helmand after 2001, see my website: www.scottshelmandvalleyarchive.... I helped start up 3 other reconstruction projects in Helmand in that early period, not covered in "Little America", one of which, the Central Helmand Drainage Project in 02, reduced opium cultivation in Nad-i-Ali, an area of some 30,000+ acres of irrigated land, by some 85% in that one crop year before our funding was cut by USAID...according to the annual UNDCP annual report.  It took a year to get the project back in the field with a different for- profit company in 04, with which I re-started it in Nad-i-Ali with many of the same people I had worked with in '98 and 02 and some of which I had known since the 70s. In short, I have some knowledge of Helmand and the people and maintain contact with a couple that I have known since the 1970's.

Afghans can be some of the best friends possible. And you do not want to have them as enemies as we, the Soviets and the British have learned. But even the best of friends may not always be honest in the context of  foreigners throwing millions away with little supervision.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith

What a stupid headline.  There was no surge impact.  It's as if they were never there.




“These thirty years of action and advocacy comprise and express my life-effort and I am content to be judged upon them. I have adhered to my rule of never criticizing any measure of war or policy after the current event unless I had before expressed formally or publicly my opinion or warning about it. Indeed in the after light I have softened many of the severities of contemporary controversy. It has given me pain to record those disagreements with so many men whom I liked or respected; but it would be wrong not to lay the lessons of the past before the future. Let no one look down on those honorable, well-meaning men whose actions are chronicled in those pages, without searching his own heart, reviewing his own discharge of public duty, and applying the lessons of the past to his future conduct.


It must not be supposed that I expect everybody to agree with what I say, still less that I only write what will be popular. I give my testimony according to the lights I follow. Every possible care has been taken to verify the facts; but much is constantly coming to light from the disclosure of captured documents or other revelations which may present a new aspect to the conclusions which I have drawn. This is why it is important to rely upon authentic contemporary records and the expressions of opinions set down when all was obscure.


One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle. The human tragedy reaches its climax in the fact that after all the exertions and sacrifices of hundreds of millions of people and of the victories of the Righteous Cause, we still have not found Peace or Security, and that we lie in the grip of even worse perils than those we have surmounted. It is my earnest hope that pondering upon the past may give guidance in days to come, enable a new generation to repair some of the errors of former years and thus govern, in accordance with the needs and glory of man, the awful unfolding scene of the future.”1


Embassies are still burning, Iran wanting to destroy Israel, North Korea in uncontrollable, China and Japan are at odds, the world economy is suffering, the current president has time for Letterman yet can’t meet with Netanyahu. Is it wrong to lay the lessons of the past before the future? Can this president learn from W.S.C.? I wonder.


Alan G Phillips

Bloomington, IL


Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, The Gathering Storm, Houghton Mifflin, 1948, Boston, p. IV-V

Brad Holman
Brad Holman

Let's get our troops outta the middle east period. Sounds to me like the plan that can't be beat.  Let the people who live there solve their own problems however they want. We got too many problems here that need fixed. Team America World Police needs to be shelved. 

Nathan Dean
Nathan Dean

All these political discussions are very interesting for me, but they don't give any positive results. Only quarrels.


Joint with Russian to attack from north west mountains if you want to destroy Afghan


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