Streetwise Professor

January 13, 2010

Some Follow Up on Afghanistan

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:49 pm

Further my post on the Gromov-Rogozin agitprop published courtesy of the NYT, here are a couple of items of direct relevance to my argument.

First, re civilian casualties, the UN–yes, the UN–clearly places blame for the vast bulk of the civilian casualties there on the Taliban:

KABUL, Afghanistan — Last year was the most lethal for Afghan civilians since the American-led war began here in late 2001, with theTaliban and other insurgent groups causing the vast majority of noncombatant deaths, according to a United Nations survey released Wednesday.

The report said 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009, a jump of 14 percent over the previous year. Another 3,566 were wounded.

The growing number of civilian deaths reflects the intensification of the Afghan war over the same period: American and NATO combat deaths jumped to 520 last year, from 295, and the Taliban are more active than at any point in the past eight years.

But the most striking aspect of the report was the shift in responsibility for the deaths of Afghan civilians. The survey found that the Taliban and other insurgents killed more than twice the number of civilians as the American-led coalition and Afghan government forces did last year, mostly by suicide bombings, homemade bombs and executions.

The 1,630 civilians killed by insurgents — two-thirds of the total — represented a 40 percent increase over the previous year.

By contrast, the number of civilians killed by the NATO- and American-led coalition and Afghan government forces in 2009 fell 28 percent, to 596, about a quarter of the total number. The cause of the 186 other deaths could not be determined.

The report attributed the drop to measures taken by the American-led coalition to reduce the danger to civilians. Since taking over in June as commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has issued several directives aimed at winning over the Afghan population, sometimes at the cost of forgoing attacks on Taliban fighters.

Principal among these directives was the tightening of the rules governing airstrikes, the main cause of civilian fatalities caused by the American and other NATO forces.

Under the new rules, coalition forces caught in a firefight with insurgents may not order an airstrike on a house in a residential area unless they are in danger of being overrun. In the past, airstrikes carried out in the heat of battle in residential areas accounted for several widely publicized episodes of civilian deaths.

I would also note that the total number of civilian deaths, though obviously tragic, is low compared to the numbers in comparable conflicts.  Moreover, a goodly number of the deaths blamed on US/NATO forces were due to Taliban use of civilians as shields.

And re the Gromov-Rogozin slur about the cowardly Americans fighting from the air, as opposed to the brave Soviets who fought face-to-face, this from StrategyPage:

It’s not by chance, but because of better equipment, weapons, tactics and leadership. The lower casualty rate makes troops bolder, less stressed, and more effective. The older Taliban, with experience fighting the Russians in the 1980s, noted this early on, and warned their young associates to be careful when fighting the American and NATO troops. These new foreigners are much more aggressive, and dangerous, than the Russians (who were mostly poorly trained conscripts). The Taliban old timers remember that the Russians had some aggressive, and effective, troops in the form of Spetsnaz commandos and paratroopers. There weren’t many of them, but with the Americans, everyone seems to be a commando. So the Taliban rely more on roadside bombs and mines. And the Americans come right after the people who make and employ this new weapon. Some Taliban are getting discouraged by all this. Especially with the Pakistani Taliban getting hammered by the Pakistani Army. It wasn’t this way back in the 1980s, when the Russians were lousy fighters, and safe base camps in Pakistan were full of rich Arabs giving out equipment, weapons and cash. These days, there’s no safe haven, and you have to protect drug dealers in order to make the payroll or buy new gear. Worse, most Afghans hate the Taliban. The good old days are really gone, and more Taliban are just giving it up.

The Taliban also know that more American troops are on the way. The American tactics of spreading these new troops out, in territory the Taliban thought they controlled, has worked. The Taliban are searching for new ideas, because without much support from the population, and an enemy you cannot defeat in combat, the prospects don’t look so good. Thus the Taliban are increasing their Information War efforts, by planting more atrocity stories (some invented, some taking actual incidents and altering them). This obviously works. While the Taliban kill five times as many civilians as government and foreign troops, most of the media coverage is of Afghans killed by foreigners. [Emphasis added.]

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  1. StrategyPage, debka, stratfor, daily mail, news of the world…

    Comment by So? — January 13, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

  2. Mr. “So?” would you please give us the name of resource that is harshly critical of Russia that you acknowledge as authoritative and unimpeachable?

    Or do you think anyone who dares criticize Russian performance is a fool or a liar or both?

    Out of curiosity, do you claim that you yourself are more reliable than debka?

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 13, 2010 @ 9:37 pm

  3. The aforementioned “resources” are not authoritative on *any* topic.

    Comment by So? — January 13, 2010 @ 10:03 pm

  4. Just like I thought. You won’t answer because you don’t accept that ANY strong criticism of Russia is valid. Therefore your comments are nothing but propaganda gibberish.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 14, 2010 @ 6:07 am

  5. @ So? – Out of the three you named I deem Stratfor the odd one out. I respect them, they do make some very intelligent observations. I never heard of Strategy Page so I looked into it and it looks like a mutation of debka.

    Comment by Leos Tomicek — January 14, 2010 @ 5:41 pm

  6. LaR:
    Logic is not your strongpoint.

    Comment by So? — January 14, 2010 @ 7:09 pm

  7. Leos:

    With regards to the sites listed, Debka is actually pretty good with regards to domestic Israeli politics. The military stuff should be taken with a pound of salt (not just a grain). I’ve never heard of news of the world. Full disclosure: I manage the predictions market at, so I’m biased. However, the principal authors of the items are actually very well respected, and consult with various military and civilian agencies. The specialty is operations research, or making mathematical models of projected outcomes. If you go to the web site, you can order the book “A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.” It’s worth the money. Strategypage is designed to give high density sound bites that non-military types can comprehend. The info serves as a starting point if anyone would like to do further digging on their own time. If you ever played any kind of wargames from Avalon Hill or Strategy & Tactics, Jim Dunnigan was the principal designer.

    The difference between sites such as strategypage, debka, stratfor, and other civilian intel sites is that the people have to sign the reports they provide, which makes them accountable. As I said, I’m biased as I work for strategypage. If you have the time, go check out the “On Point” feature at strategypage, or the “strategy talk” segments.

    Comment by RPL — January 15, 2010 @ 9:14 am

  8. SO?:

    Truth is not yours. Once again, you will not acknowledge ANY source that criticizes Russia as valid, so your claim that any particular source is unreliable is utterly meaningless.

    Comment by La Russophobe — January 15, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  9. You’re making inferences out of thin air.

    Comment by So? — January 15, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

  10. Fantastic analysis perfesser! There are far too few Russia skeptics out there. Keep up the great work.

    Comment by Swaggler — January 19, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

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