As 2012 draws to a close, we should all cast a thought to the roughly 68,000 American living in dusty military outposts in places such as Kabul and Kandahar who are celebrating the holiday season far from their loved ones. It has been a busy year in Afghanistan — U.S. forces have downsized by one-third, Afghans have assumed much more responsibility for the security of their country, NATO supply lines through Pakistan were reopened, and the U.S.-Afghan Strategic Partnership Agreement was signed. But the question remains: Are we really winning this war?
When assessing the facts and figures, it’s hard to separate spin from substance. Reaching any hard conclusions about where Afghanistan is heading is no easy task. For those who want to believe the mission is going badly or who believe the war is a distraction from more pressing American national priorities, it is easy to find dismal trends to make their case. For those still hopeful, it is comparably easy to identify signature successes that put the United States on track to achieving President Barack Obama’s stated goal of ending the current mission by 2014.
Take the recent debate, spurred by the Pentagon’s December 2012 semi-annual “1230” report to Congress, on the evolution of Afghan security forces’ capabilities. That report identified only one Afghan army brigade that is in the top tier of readiness and no longer requires any outside help for its operations. Some critics have concluded that this illustrates the failure of U.S. efforts to develop strong Afghan security partners.