Retired Army General Predicts 300 to 500 Casualties Per Month in Afghanistan

Thursday, 07 January 2010 09:41 By Mary Susan Littlepage, t r u t h o u t | Report | name.

Retired Army General Predicts 300 to 500 Casualties Per Month in Afghanistan
(Photo: Lance Cpl. John McCall / isafmedia)

The US could see as many as 300 to 500 soldiers killed and wounded per month in Afghanistan as 30,000 additional troops are sent to the country to launch a major offensive against insurgents, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey said in a recent report.

McCaffrey, who is currently a professor of international affairs at the US Military Academy at West Point, said the surge will cost taxpayers about $300 billion due to a larger US presence. McCaffrey has visited Afghanistan numerous times since 2003 to assess the security situation on the ground.

Although McCaffrey said that President Barack Obama's Afghanistan Strategy Speech at West Point last month was "coherent, logical and sincere" and the "result of a very deliberative and thoughtful analytical review of the situation in Afghanistan and our several unpalatable options," he wrote, "We are unlikely to achieve our political and military goals in 18 months."

In the speech, Obama announced plans to add 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by July and to start withdrawing soldiers within 18 months of deployment.

But McCaffrey predicted a dire situation in Afghanistan, saying, "This will inevitably become a three- to ten-year strategy to build a viable Afghan state with their own security force that can allow us to withdraw. It may well cost us an additional $300 billion and we are likely to suffer thousands more US casualties."

McCaffrey's most recent assessment was based on a wide range of sources, including information he obtained from US Central Command Gen. David Petraeus; Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commanding general of International Security Assistance Force and US Forces in Afghanistan; Afghan officials such as Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak; and diplomatic officials such as Karl Eikenberry, US ambassador to Afghanistan.

Additionally, "personal research, data provided in-country during this [Afghanistan] trip and first-hand observations gained during my many field visits to Pakistan, Kuwait and Afghanistan during the period 2003 forward to the current situation" was used to prepare the report, McCaffrey said. "The conclusions are solely my own as an adjunct professor of international affairs at West Point and should be viewed as an independent civilian academic contribution to the national security debate."

High Number of Casualties

US, Allied and Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police casualties "have gone up dramatically," McCaffrey said. He said that as of last November, there were 922 US casualties and 4,565 wounded soldiers. The Pentagon confirmed these statistics.

Also, in fiscal year 2009, the war in Afghanistan cost $55.9 billion in regular appropriations with an extra supplement of $80.73 billion, McCaffrey wrote. "Clearly Afghanistan will run with a burn rate in excess of $9 billion per month by the summer of 2010," he said.

Achieving stability in Afghanistan will be difficult because the country and its 28 million people "are trying to build the basic elements of a civil and Islamic society while traumatized by 35 years of cruel violence and chaos."

However, McCaffrey wrote, "The Afghans are such impressive, devout, generous and energetic people," and, "They are intensely focused as students at any age and quick to learn and adapt."

The Taliban people believe they are winning the war, McCaffrey said, and the Afghan people do not know who will prevail - their government or the Taliban. "Most Afghans are also dismayed at the injustice and corruption of their government (in particular the Afghan National Police) compared to the more disciplined and Islamic Taliban," he wrote.

The Taliban are well equipped and heavily armed, and in recent months large groups of Taliban fighters have conducted complex attacks using surprise, fire support and enormous courage in trying to overrun isolated US units, McCaffrey said. "This is not Iraq," he said. "These Taliban have a political objective to knock NATO out of the war - backed up by ferocious combat capabilities."

Currently, 42 nations provide 35,000 non-US NATO troops, and the current US force level of 68,000 troops will increase by as many as 33,000 additional troops, which Obama called for in a speech last year. Allies may well provide an additional 7,000 or more reinforcements, McCaffrey said.

Also, he said that the Afghan National Army "is a growing success story," that 46 battalions "are rated as capable of independent operations," and that "Plans are to take the ANA from 90,000 to 240,000 by 2013."

Meanwhile, the Afghan National Police, now 92,000 officers, "are a work in progress," McCaffrey said. "They are six years behind the ANA in development. The police are badly equipped, corrupt (7,300 fired in last two years) and untrained (64 of 365 police districts have gone through training)." The US Department of Defense will now take charge of the program, but getting the ANP up to speed may take awhile, he said.

"It will take a decade to create an Afghan National Police Force with adequate integrity which can operate at village level in a competent manner," McCaffrey said. "It will also require 1,000 trained and protected judges - and a competent force of prosecutors and defense lawyers."

Many smart, talented people are trying to help Afghanistan, McCaffrey said. "All three of our superb senior US-NATO dual-hatted combat leaders - General Stan McChrystal, LTG Dave Rodriguez and LTG Bill Caldwell have called upon the best and the brightest of the military services and the inter-agency operators (FBI, DEA, AID, Border Patrol, etc.) to rally to this Afghanistan campaign," he said. "We now have the absolute best leaders in uniform, the CIA, law enforcement, and state/US AID headed into Afghanistan to run this operation."

Still, Afghanistan faces many problems, McCaffrey said. For instance, he said that the country is the fifth poorest nation, and that Afghans lack infrastructure, justice, resources and the most basic forms of local and national government. Also, he said that the country is the second most corrupt country after Somalia. "There is almost no civic or criminal justice," he wrote. "Court trials last only minutes in many cases and lack juries." Also, prisoners are often subject to torture.

McCaffrey said that general life expectancy in Afghanistan is less than 45 years. Tuberculosis and drug addiction are widespread, and the country is infested with millions of land mines, which have disabled more than 200,000 Afghans.

On the positive side, McCaffrey said, is that the country elected President Hamid Karzai, whom he described as "brilliant, well educated, non-violent, a politically astute dealmaker in a nation where murder, not compromise, is the normal political tool" and "a man who deeply cares for his people." Karzai also is "committed to earning his place in history as a transformer of his nation to a peaceful place in the civilized world."

In addition, McCaffrey said that people in Afghanistan are generally "extremely grateful" for US and international presence and that US/NATO forces have a 60 percent or higher favorability rating in polls. US poll numbers are lower in the UK, South Korea, Germany and Japan. However, the Afghans are worried that troops will leave them, resulting with their dealing with the chaos of endless civil war.

Meanwhile, social indicators have gotten better, McCaffrey said. Access to basic health care has rocketed from 8 percent in 2001 to 79 percent. Also, child mortality has been reduced by 25 percent, and Tuberculosis deaths are down by 50 percent.

On the other hand, the opium crop continues to hurt the country, McCaffrey said. "The $3.4 billion opium crop of 7,700 metric tons (in 2008) produces weapons and supplies for the Taliban and al Qaeda, corrupts the police and civil authorities, diverts land from food (two million drug workers) and has addicted a significant percentage of the population," he said. "Left unaddressed - the heroin menace will defeat our strategic goals in this campaign." There are at least 920,000 drug users in Afghanistan, and the country provides 93 percent of the global supply of heroin. "This criminal trade funnels $200-$400 million into the Taliban and the warlords," he said. "These huge criminal Afghan heroin operations, if not defeated, will corrupt legal governance, addict the population, distort the economy and funnel immense resources to the Taliban and terrorist groups."

McCaffrey recommended a solution: Work on alternative agricultural crops, have the Afghan political leadership confront the opium issue as un-Islamic and one that destroys their culture and destroy the crops.

In summary, McCaffrey said that to build a stable Afghan state, "We can achieve our strategic purpose with determined leadership and American treasure and blood." Also, he said that NATO forces are central to achieving success because they bring resources, political legitimacy and brainpower. "They will be a huge help with training and monitoring the growth and mentoring of the Afghan National Army And Afghan National Police," he said.

Because "we now have the most effective and courageous military forces in our nation's history committed to this campaign," McCaffrey said that he thinks the following goals can be achieved in the next five years:

* Create an Afghan security force that will operate in defense of their people and reduce our own active combat role.

* Create governance from the bottom up at district and province level that makes the lot of the Afghan people better (and worth supporting the government against the Taliban).

*Mitigate the corruption of the Afghan transition by having a parallel chain of financial custody and approval of resources - until the Afghan government is operating unlike an active criminal enterprise.

McCaffrey said, "Our focus must now not be on an exit strategy - but effective execution of the political, economic and military measures required to achieve our purpose."

Last modified on Thursday, 07 January 2010 18:33