General David Petraeus, on September 3, 2010, leaked classified information to the Associated Press’ Kimberly Dozier. He revealed that U.S. Special Operations Command carried out over 4,000 raids across Afghanistan during the past three months and that 235 militant leaders were killed or captured, 1,066 Taliban soldiers were killed and 1,673 were detained. While leaking positive, pro-American news is apparently legal, leaking classified information that reveals Taliban successes or American failures in Afghanistan remains a crime in the United States.
The new Petraeus “body count” statistics, revived from the days of the Vietnam war, are today as pointless a metric as they were then. First of all, if one kills 10 Taliban and 15 replacements arrive from Pakistan, then the effort is a net failure. Second, if the 10 “Taliban” killed are fringe, part-time soldiers or, even worse, civilians misidentified as “militants,” then the killings are counter-productive.
General Petraeus should release to the public some useful information, such as:
1. The estimated troop strength of the Taliban and of each of its affiliated organizations such as those in the Haqqani network and those loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and whether troop levels are rising or falling;
2. The daily, weekly and monthly infiltration rates from Pakistan into Afghanistan of new enemy forces;
3. A District by District analysis of growing Taliban influence;
4. A breakdown of the persons killed, captured and detained. Are they hardcore Taliban, local criminals, locals hired part-time by the Taliban, members of anti-government militias, tribal members falsely accused by other tribes or civilians?;
5. The percentage of special operations raids that produce no tangible results. This percentage is expected to be very high;
6. Analysis as to why such raids failed. Was it inaccurate intelligence, stale intelligence, mistakes in following directions or were suspects simply not at home?
The broader analytical issue is whether these American counter-terrorism efforts are productive or counterproductive. That analysis requires a determination as to the current reliability of U.S. tactical intelligence. The concern is that there is such a demand to show “progress” that Petraeus is launching more and more special operations raids just for the purpose of improving his statistics.
In the past, too many of the U.S. military’s “credible intelligence sources” turned out to simply be Afghans who were using the Americans to settle old scores against rivals. What assurances does the public have that this is not continuing? These raids may be damaging the Taliban or they may simply be fueling endless cycles of revenge and counter-attacks.
Further Reading: See the August 20, 2010, report by CBS News “Killing the Wrong People in Afghanistan” by Pratap Chatterjee.