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Correcting the Record
Myths V. Facts:

Debunking Newsweek's Article on Afghanistan: “The Rise of Jihadistan” (October 2, 2006)
 
October 5, 2006
 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “The 2003 invasion of Iraq did more than divert essential resources from Afghanistan; it created a test lab for new insurgent weapons and tactics that have since been adopted by the Taliban.”

RESPONSE:

  • The assertion that the Iraq invasion “diverted” resources from Afghanistan is a talking point of critics of the Bush administration. It is an opinion, not a fact.
  • Resources to Afghanistan have increased since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. In March 2003, the United States had about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. Today, there are more than 21,000 U.S. forces either under U.S. or NATO command in Afghanistan or directly supporting missions there.
  • The insinuation that Iraq has created new tactics is, at best, exaggerated. Guerrilla warfare techniques and terror tactics such as suicide bombings were not invented in Iraq.
  • Additionally, the logic of this claim seems to be that U.S. forces should never confront terrorists far from our shores because of the danger that the enemy might fight back -- and learn new tactics in the process. This is not a coherent policy.

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “Five years after the Afghan invasion, the Taliban are fighting back hard, carving out a sanctuary where they -- and Al Qaeda’s leaders -- can operate freely.”

RESPONSE:

  • Afghanistan is undergoing a difficult transition from a state of anarchy in many areas to a country with a democratically elected central government that is reaching out to long ungoverned territories. The article frequently relies on myths, opinions, worst-case scenarios, and a disinclination to mention any positive developments.
  • The strength and influence of the Taliban has grown in some areas, but the Coalition, NATO/ISAF and Afghan forces are on the offensive and will relentlessly pursue Taliban and al-Qaeda extremists, as well as any associated movements. The rise in violence is often directly attributable to OEF Coalition, NATO/ISAF, and Afghan National Army and Police offensive operations.  These operations are designed to set the stage for the continued development and extension of the central government’s reach into areas that have been lawless for decades. Not all the violence can be attributed to the Taliban and al-Qaeda: some arises from criminality, tribal strife, land disputes, or narco-trafficking.

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “To impose order following the 2001 invasion, the Pentagon relied heavily on the same corrupt mujahedin chiefs whose brutal misrule first spawned the Taliban in the mid-1990s.”

RESPONSE:

  • This is an opinion stated as a fact.
  • Instead of initiating a massive military occupation along the lines of the Soviets during the 1980s, the Coalition has worked with local leaders and institutions to move Afghanistan forward from its tragic past. National disenfranchisement often encourages Afghans to fight against the Coalition, so an Afghan solution -- not a U.S.-imposed solution -- was deemed best.
  • The Coalition worked quickly to help emplace an interim government that would be acceptable to the Afghan people. Hamid Karzai was selected by the Loya Jirga -- a traditional assembly of Afghan tribal and community leaders. President Karzai was democratically elected by the Afghan people in their first such vote in the country’s history.
  • Many of these chiefs or “warlords” did initially have their own separate militias, but most were placed under the control of the Ministry of Defense -- then disarmed and demobilized. The Afghan National Army has since grown to more than 30,000 troops, with the possibility of increasing to 70,000. The government of Afghanistan continues to work to disarm illegal armed groups in the country.

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM:“After U.S. commanders failed to seal off the Pakistan border near the besieged caves of Tora Bora, letting bin Laden escape, the Qaeda leader helped rebuild Mullah Omar’s decimated forces.”

RESPONSE:

  • This claim is disputed and lacks context. In an Oct. 19, 2004, op-ed in The New York Times, Gen. Tommy Franks, the CENTCOM commander at the time, wrote: “We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001.” Franks noted that some intelligence sources said bin Laden was present; other sources indicated he was in Pakistan; and still others suggested he was in Kashmir.
  • Concerning the actual conduct of the battle, Tora Bora is a mountainous and difficult region of Afghanistan -- an area that was all but impossible to surround or seal off. Haphazardly sending a massive U.S. force into unfamiliar terrain would have invited intense resistance from local tribesman, potentially bloody battles, and would have alerted al-Qaeda operatives to an impending attack, which might have given many of those we captured more time to flee.
  • Gen. Franks has stated that the United States enlisted Afghan fighters to help lead the search for bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members because “[k]illing and capturing Taliban and Qaeda fighters was best done by the Afghan fighters who already knew the caves and tunnels.”
  • In addition, special operations forces from the United States and several other countries were also there, providing tactical leadership and calling in air strikes.
  • Pakistani troops also provided significant help: As many as 100,000 took up positions along the border and rounded up hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “Washington pushed Musharraf to crack down on the never-tamed Afghan borderlands, but fierce tribal resistance led to a formal deal letting the Taliban retain their bases there.”

RESPONSE:

  • This claim is disputed.
  • According to Pakistan’s President Musharraf, the agreement with tribal leaders had “bottom lines” that were non-negotiable. In his words, the agreement requires: “No al-Qaeda activity,” and “no Taliban activity in our tribal agency or across [the border] in Afghanistan.”
  • Gen. James L. Jones, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has said that “[i]f all the elements of the agreement are, in fact, lived up to by the signatories, then the situation on the border should improve.”

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “As doubts rise over Bush’s global aims, NATO is hard put to find the troops it needs for the mission.”

RESPONSE:

  • Each of NATO’s 26 members is contributing to the Afghanistan mission -- an unprecedented commitment for the Alliance outside of its own borders.
  • On Oct. 5, 2006, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force took over security operations in the eastern part of Afghanistan, bringing more than 12,000 U.S. troops under NATO command. At the recent NATO ministerial in Slovenia, Poland pledged 1,000 additional troops to support ISAF.
  • With nearly 20,000 non-U.S. NATO troops, plus the more than 12,000 U.S. troops under NATO command, the NATO mission is the strongest it has ever been, and Alliance forces have been directly taking the fight to the enemy in southern Afghanistan.
  • In testimony before Congress, Gen. Jones stated: “[T]he opposing militant forces have tried to test NATO to see if we have the will and the capability to stand and fight. And the evidence is in: The overwhelming answer is yes.”

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “In the countryside over the past year Taliban guerrillas have filled a power vacuum that had been created by the relatively light NATO and U.S. military footprint of some 40,000 soldiers, and by the weakness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration.”

RESPONSE:

  • Qari Mohammed Yousaf Ahmadi, generally viewed as the Taliban’s current chief spokesman, stated publicly on Sept. 15, “The Taliban forces have conducted a tactical retreat.” It is difficult to fill a power vacuum if your forces are retreating.
  • As Gen. Jones has recently stated, much of the recent increased fighting stems from the Afghan central government extending into areas in the south that have been lawless for decades. Much of the fighting reflects a decision by the Taliban to challenge the NATO force in southern Afghanistan. The tactic hasn’t worked.
  • President Karzai himself has acknowledged the importance of strengthening and improving Afghanistan’s governmental institutions. A representative government has never before existed in Afghanistan’s long history, and strengthening that government will take time and patience.

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “Afghanistan is ‘unfortunately well on its way’ to becoming a ‘narco-state,’ NATO’s supreme commander, Marine Gen. Jim Jones, said before Congress last week.”

RESPONSE:

  • While Gen. Jones did in fact warn of such a possibility, that was not all he said in his testimony to Congress. Left out of the Newsweek article was his assessment that this situation can be reversed if the Afghan government, NATO, and the Coalition work aggressively to reduce the cultivation and flow of opium in Afghanistan and provide rural economic development to improve the economic prospects of Afghan farmers. This is precisely the approach being taken.
  • The article also leaves out other parts of Gen. Jones’ statement that give fuller context to his sentiments. He went on to say, “Afghanistan should no longer be considered a failed state, but rather a fragile state.”

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “But the harsh truth is that five years after the U.S. invasion on Oct. 7, 2001, most of the good news is confined to Kabul, with its choking rush-hour traffic jams, a construction boom and a handful of air-conditioned shopping malls. Much of the rest of Afghanistan appears to be failing again.”

RESPONSE:

  • Afghanistan was -- and is -- one of the poorest country’s on the face of the earth. It will take years of hard work by the Afghan people and the international community to reverse the effects of decades of occupation and civil war.
  • Improvements are not confined to Kabul, though it is true that much of the development and growth has been in larger cities, such as Kabul, Herat, and the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Nonetheless, there has been a significant economic growth and donor efforts to improve living conditions across the country. Some examples:
    • Afghanistan’s GDP was valued at $2.4 billion in 2001. In 2006, it was valued at $7.3 billion, and that number is projected to rise to $8.8 billion next year.
    • The government of Afghanistan collected more than $177 million in revenue in 20022003, and $300 million in 20042005, an increase of 70 percent.
    • Eighty-five percent of all property deeds in Afghanistan have been restored or reorganized, decreasing land and ownership disputes.
    • There is now a Central Bank with 32 computerized provincial branches.
    • The completion of the Kabul-Kandahar highway improved transportation and commerce by dramatically reducing travel times between the two cities.
    • Thousands of kilometers of roads have been built or improved since the Taliban fell. The U.S. portion of the Kandahar to Herat highway has reduced the travel time between those two major cities from 10 hours to 4.3 hours. The average speed on 70 percent of Afghanistan’s roadways has increased three-fold, from 20 kilometers per hour to 60 kilometers per hour.
    • There have been more than 28,000 micro-loans given out for agricultural activities.
    • At least 2.5 million Afghans have benefited from irrigation and road projects linking farms to market. Other agricultural improvements include 210 irrigation structures and 300 kilometers of canals that have been rehabilitated to improve 300,000 hectares of cropland.
    • At least 2.3 million animals have been vaccinated against disease.
    • In 2001, only eight percent of Afghans had access to basic health care. Now, 80 percent do.
    • There are currently more than 5 million students enrolled in schools -- 34 percent are girls.

 

INCORRECT NEWSWEEK CLAIM: “Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups now have a place from which to hatch the next 9/11.”

RESPONSE:

  • This assertion is contradicted within the same article by Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Commander, Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan. He points out that al-Qaeda or its successors have nothing like the liberty that allowed them to plot September 11 in the open. He states: “They have no safe haven inside Afghanistan that if we find it, we will not strike against them.”
  • It is one thing for al-Qaeda remnants to operate within Afghanistan’s borders while being vigorously pursued and attacked by Afghan, NATO, and Coalition forces -- as is happening now. It is quite another thing for a terrorist organization to have an entire nation where they can plan, train, and launch attacks with impunity -- as Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda did in Afghanistan before September 11.
  • There is simply no comparison between the situation in Afghanistan when 9-11 was “hatched” to the situation today.
Last Updated:
12/11/2006, Eastern Daylight Time
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