One of the big changes in the U.S. military over the course of my career has been the diminution of happy talk and propaganda designed to hoodwink the public about the true situation on the ground in war zones. There are no more 5 o’clock follies–a reference only those of us old enough to remember Vietnam will understand (it refers to the Army’s daily press briefing, which was not chock full of reality). The latest evidence is the Pentagon’s report on “progress” in Afghanistan in the past six months: there wasn’t very much. And furthermore:
In 92 districts assessed for their support of the Afghan government or their antagonism to it, not one supported the government, although the population was neutral in 44 districts. The number of districts sympathetic to the insurgency or supportive of it increased to 48 in March 2010 from 33 in December 2009.
The report notes that the insurgents have proved adept at returning after a military operation to clear them out and at regaining a foothold by using intimidation and selected executions. Far from winning the support of the population, the Taliban are seen by 52 percent of Afghans as the chief cause of instability, and this perception provides the Afghan government with an opportunity to show itself as the protector of the people. The government has yet to take advantage of that.
It should be noted that members of the military are congenital optimists. They still believe–near-unanimously, in my experience–that they can stabilize Afghanistan. But they have a clear-eyed view of the difficulty of the road ahead.