US War Against IED's in Afghanistan a Strategic Failure

  September 27, 2012

US War Against IED's in Afghanistan a Strategic Failure

Garth Porter: US has been unable to limit the high casualties suffered as a result of a key Taliban strategy
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Gareth Porter is a historian and investigative journalist specializing in US foreign and military policy. He writes regularly for Inter Press Service on US policy towards Iraq and Iran. He is the author of five books, of which the latest is Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.


US War Against IED's in Afghanistan a Strategic FailurePAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Welcome to this week's version of The Porter Report. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.


JAY: Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist, a historian. He writes for IPS. He's a regular contributor to The Real News Network.

So in our last segment, we were talking about the failure of various Obama administration policies in Afghanistan. And you wanted to kind of elaborate on that.

PORTER: Yes. There is a third—and in some ways, I think, most important of all—strategic defeat that the United States and NATO command and the Pentagon have suffered in the Afghan War in the last two years, and that is a strategic defeat in the IED war, that is, the war over improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban forces, essentially in order to injure or kill U.S.-NATO troops. And this is clearly a strategically key part of the entire war, because when the U.S. troop surge took place in 2009, the commander in Kabul, McChrystal, and the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, both determined that they would do things to, essentially, reduce the damage that the Taliban were able to do through these IED explosions to U.S. and NATO troops, primarily to U.S. troops.

And so they had a strategy that involved very high-tech devices that would protect the vehicles and thus protect the forces from IED explosions, and also to find the IEDs ahead of time, before they exploded, and diffuse them so that there wouldn't be any explosion to harm the U.S.-NATO forces. And then, from the point of view of McChrystal and his successor, Petraeus, what they were intent on doing was actually tracking down the networks behind the IED strategy of the Taliban, so that they could detain and, in some cases, of course, kill the people who were laying the IEDs and the people who were—the networks were bringing in material for it.

And so that was a very important part of the strategy for defeating the Taliban IED war.

Well, now, two years later, with all of that high-tech gadgetry having been transferred to Afghanistan—at one point the skies were filled with blimps who were taking photographs from the sky of everything on the ground, wherever they felt there might be a possibility of IEDs being laid and various other things being introduced into the war—it's clear that the U.S. counter-IED war has failed completely, because in 2011 the number of people who were killed by the IEDs was more than twice the number in 2010. And in 2012, we don't know how many people have been killed so far, we don't know how many people have been injured, but we definitely know that in 2011, the number of injured had skyrocketed to a level of roughly 3,300 people actually injured by this. And that represented a more than twofold increase over the previous years. So this was a huge increase in the numbers who were killed and injured, and primarily in the injured.

And what I want to emphasize here is that the news media coverage of the IED war has been essentially responding to the propaganda themes put out by the Pentagon and the NATO command, which has been saying, well, we've done a good job, we've done a better job of identifying these bombs before they go off, and so the effectiveness of the IED strategy of the Taliban has gone down. But what they don't say is that the number of bombs laid has continued to rise, and there's every reason to believe that the injuries continue to be at a very, very high level. And we know that a large part, a significant part of the injuries had been amputation—have involved amputation of limbs. There has been a huge increase in the number of U.S. and NATO troops who have lost limbs, and in many cases multiple limbs, to IEDs. So the toll of this war, this IED war, on U.S. forces has been enormous, and it has not been reported in any meaningful way.

But believe me, the U.S. military knows very well what the toll has been. And one of the things that has happened in the past year is that the U.S. has transferred roughly 4,000 to 5,000 troops from Helmand Province, which is where 45 percent—Helmand and Kandahar, where 45 percent of the IEDs have been going off. And part of the reason, no doubt, is to relieve the pressure on U.S. troops in that part of Afghanistan where they're taking tremendous casualties from dismounted patrols which stepped on IEDs.

So I think that the U.S. again has suffered a tremendous strategic defeat. It has been unable to reduce the number of bombs, unable to essentially destroy or attrit the networks that have been laying the bombs. And in so doing, it has allowed the Taliban to continue to carry out a critical part of this strategy, which is to impose very high casualties on U.S.-NATO forces.

JAY: I mentioned last time we talked that there was—Nicholas Burns, the former undersecretary of state during the Bush administration, was on C-SPAN, and one of the things he said in sort of answering a viewer question about why the war was going so badly, he said, well, you can't really win, because the American forces are fighting a guerrilla warfare—against a guerrilla warfare. And, I mean, that's quite something to say, actually, that this massive conventional machine, war machine, can't defeat guerrilla war.

PORTER: Well, it's absolutely right that this massive war machine has been tied up in knots by the Taliban strategy. And then I have to say I made a comparison in the previous segment between the war in Afghanistan and the war in Vietnam.

I think we have to pay tribute to the Taliban's strategists, whoever they are, who I think have brilliantly dissected the problems that the United States would have looking forward, you know, after the introduction of the 35,000 or so troops in 2010, and essentially coming up with a series of strategies that would frustrate and defeat each of the aspects of what the United States had hoped to accomplish, this IED war and the enormous step up in the number of IEDs and the ability to, particularly, impose thousands upon thousands of injuries, and in many cases very, very serious injuries, on U.S. and NATO troops being, I think, absolutely critical to that overall counterstrategy. And what they've done, effectively, is to prevent the United States from doing any of the things that it had wanted to do in Afghanistan.

JAY: And, of course, the people that are going to pay the highest price for all this will be the Afghan people, who have not only been stuck in the middle of this decade-long war, but the majority of whom do not want the Taliban back. I mean, most people in Afghanistan, poll after poll has shown they consider the Taliban a kind of medieval fascist force. On the other hand—.

PORTER: Well, that may be true that the Afghan people are paying the highest price, but I think one cannot deny the reality that this war is imposing a huge cost on U.S. society. And I've mentioned the toll of the IED war, thousands of injuries to U.S. troops, but beyond those multiple amputations of limbs and other injuries that are being counted, there are uncounted mental and brain injuries that are not being counted at all in the statistics but which are in the long run probably going to be the largest cost to U.S. society of this entire war. And we're talking about as many as 250,000, roughly, injuries to the brain, traumatic brain injuries to U.S. troops because of the Afghanistan War. That is an unprecedented number, to my knowledge, or, at least, a measurement of a cost to the U.S. society in a war which we're only going to begin to see the reality of over the coming decades.

JAY: Yeah. Well, nobody's winning from this situation. Thanks for joining us, Gareth.

PORTER: Thanks very much, Paul.

JAY: And thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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