Pentagon report says changes in Afghan war strategy have produced better results

Pentagon report says changes in Afghan war strategy have produced better results

Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper walks with the commander of the Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces−Afghanistan, Army Gen. Austin Scott Miller, at NATO headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 27, 2019. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says changes under new military leadership in Afghanistan have altered the balance in the battle against the Taliban while continuing to boost Kabul’s military punch.

The new perspective was outlined in a congressionally required report called “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan” that was released late Friday night.

“The injection of new military capabilities and operational authorities coupled with the continued growth of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF), have increased the effectiveness and efficiency of the United States’ small footprint military campaign,” the report said.

The Pentagon gave credit to Gen. Scott Miller, who assumed command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan last September.

“General Miller’s new operational design synchronizes U.S. counterterrorism (CT) capabilities with increased Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) operations and focuses NATO Resolute Support Mission’s Train, Advise, and Assist (TAA) efforts to the ‘point of need’,” the report said.

“This model has restored the Coalition’s tactical initiative and put heavy pressure on the Taliban. The objective of the operational design is to bring the Taliban to the bargaining table and to provide strong incentives for them to engage in meaningful negotiations with the U.S. and Afghan governments.”

The Pentagon’s conclusion are highly at odds with other analysis of the enduring 18-year war in Afghanistan, including those by the military’s entities.

In May, the Pentagon stopped providing data on which parties control territory in Afghanistan, removing one of the last remaining public metrics that tracked the worsening security situation war. That was in response to reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) showing increased territorial control by the Taliban.

Miller dismissed the need for the assessments, saying others exist. That tracks the position articulated by President Donald Trump, who has accused the Pentagon of giving away too much war information.

Last week, during his confirmation hearing to be the next chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley said it is not yet time to leave Afghanistan.

“I think pulling out prematurely would be a strategic mistake,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon report said “key Afghan and U.S. senior leaders met weekly to share intelligence, prioritize objectives, allocate assets, and coordinate operations. These initiatives resulted in a more focused, successful military campaign.”

It said that Miller eliminated unnecessary overhead in Afghanistan in order to reduce waste and focus energy on supporting the ANDSF in a more narrowly defined military campaign.

“Together, the new operational design and the current U.S. military footprint represent the most efficient use of small numbers and resources to generate combat power and battlefield effects since the opening year of the war in Afghanistan,” the report said.

The report concedes that “Terrorist and insurgent groups continue to challenge Afghan, U.S., and Coalition forces. During this reporting period, ISIS-K made territorial gains in eastern Afghanistan. Regionally the group continues to evade, counter, and resist sustained CT pressure.”

As often noted by the Pentagon, Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from an externally supported insurgency and the highest regional concentration of terrorist groups in the world, the report said.

Beyond the Taliban and ISIS, other terrorist groups in Afghanistan include al-Qa’ida core (AQ), al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the report said.

“I think it is slow, it’s painful, it’s hard. I’ve spent a lot of my life in Afghanistan,” Milley said. “But I also think it’s necessary.”

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