In Iraq the situation is rather unchanged, and to steal a theme from Charles Dickens, The Surge has worked, and the Surge has failed.
In Iraq violence is down and life, while not real good, is not getting worse. The addition of tens of thousands of US troops into the area has helped to reduce the carnage from apocalyptic to just horrifying. Some claim that this means that the surge has worked.
Well, they are kinda right, but mostly wrong. Violence is down, down a lot, but how much can be attributed to the surge is a debatable point. Prior to the surge the awakening councils were created and our paying the Sunni's to not attack us has been a great help in reducing violence without the addition of US forces. In addition, the fact that by the time the surge got into place many of the areas where the worst violence occured were effectively ethnically cleansed. This reduced tensions and has greatly helped to reduce conflict (at a very high cost). These actions occured prior to the addition of forces and have clearly impacted the levels of violence.
That said, I doubt that you can find many people who did not thing that the US armed forces, when given enough man power, could not also do the job of reducing violence. Even if we had not seen the success of the awakening counsels and the ethnic cleansing, there is every reason to expect that the troops, when in sufficient numbers, would be able to reduce violence.
This does not mean that all is well, fFor those who view the reduction of bombings from 60 a day to 60 a week as a victory, they can pretend that the surge has worked. There is only one problem with this. The Surge has always been a 2 step process. Part 1 was the addition of troops to reduce the violence. This was to lead to part 2 of the surge. The development of functioning political and security systems within Iraq that will allow for it's self rule.
This is still an abject failure.
Those who like to claim that the surge has worked clearly do not understand that the surge only works if part 2 gets accomplished. If it doesn't then we have to continue to leave our troops in place forever. Sadly, we are no closer to Iraq's political unification than we were 5 years ago. Unless this is accomplished the surge has failed, and there is little out there that indicated that this is ever going to happen.
On the Afghan front, our hearts and minds efforts have taken another blow. It appears that our armed forces have again blown-up a bunch of civilians.
These deaths are a tragic by-product of every war, and in no way a surprise. Another non surprise is that when this story first broke out the US armed forces made claims that the very few civilian deaths were an unfortunate by product of a successful strike on the bad guys. The local authorities claimed over 80 woman and children killed, we argued that is was less than 10, and we were also able to kill 30 or 40 bad guys.
Even after a second investigation we claimed that, yes a few civilians were killed, but most of the dead were bad guys. One of the reasons given for this finding was the testimony of a 'media witness' Oliver North.
As far as the Army was concerned case closed.
Unfortunately for them, there were video images that contradicted the 'facts' that we tried to present.
The UK TimesOnline has posted a video of the aftermath of the killings of dozens of villagers in the Afghan village of Nawabad (called Azizabad in other stories). The U.S. has maintained that seven civilians and three dozen Taliban militants were killed in the combined U.S. Special Forces/Afghan Army/U.S. air operation last August 21. The United Nations and local villagers insist that 92 civilians were killed, over half of them children.
Perhaps the most amazing political news surrounding the Nawabad massacre is that the Pentagon says it relied for its account, in part, on corroborative evidence by the embedded journalist on the scene: Fox News "reporter" Oliver North! The Times portrays North as coming "to prominence in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair."
There are a few lessons that we should learn here:
First, it is foolish to assume any in-house investigation will find the truth. Sadly this has been proven over and over again with our armed forces.
Second, Relying on the statements of a person who is know for having a unique few of the truth is not necessarily a wise choice. Mr. North's track record for objectivity and clear observation is at best questionable. This is just more evidence of that.
Third, the use of overwhelming firepower should be reserved until you are 100% sure of your target, especially in a combat arena where there are high concentrations of civilians. A lesson that one would have thought we would have learned by now.