More than ten years after 9/11, it’s still little appreciated how America and its allies have lost two wars comprehensively, Iraq and Afghanistan (though a friend today said to me that the former was a success, with any number of oil contracts going to North American firms).
Although the surge of “insider attacks” on U.S.-NATO forces has dominated coverage of the war in Afghanistan in 2012, an even more important story has been quietly unfolding: the U.S. loss of the pivotal war of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to the Taliban.
Some news outlets have published stories this year suggesting that the U.S. military was making “progress” against the Taliban IED war, but those stories failed to provide the broader context for seasonal trends or had a narrow focus on U.S. fatalities. The bigger reality is that the U.S. troop surge could not reverse the very steep increase in IED attacks and attendant casualties that the Taliban began in 2009 and which continued through 2011.
Over the 2009-11 period, the U.S. military suffered a total of 14,627 casualties, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Casualty Analysis System and iCasualties, a non-governmental organisation tracking Iraq and Afghanistan war casualties from published sources.
Of that total, 8,680, or 59 percent, were from IED explosions, based on data provided by the Pentagon’s Joint IED Defeat Organisation (JIEDDO). And the proportion of all U.S. casualties caused by IEDs continued to increase from 56 percent in 2009 to 63 percent in 2011.
The Taliban IED war was the central element of its counter-strategy against the U.S. escalation of the war. It absorbed an enormous amount of the time and energy of U.S. troops, and demonstrated that the counterinsurgency campaign was not effective in reducing the size or power of the insurgency. It also provided constant evidence to the Afghan population that Taliban had a continued presence even where U.S. troops had occupied former Taliban districts.
U.S. Pentagon and military leaders sought to gain control over the Taliban’s IED campaign with two contradictory approaches, both of which failed because they did not reflect the social and political realities in Afghanistan.