Thursday, July 02, 2009

The Afghanistan Surge Begins - Or Does It?

Our warriors in Helmand province are engaged in a large operation against the Taliban, according to the WAPO.

But based on what our Marine's own commander is saying (no doubt dictated by the Obama Administration) I doubt the Taliban is exactly quaking in their turbans:

Once Marine units arrive in their designated towns and villages, they have been instructed to build and live in small outposts among the local population. The brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, said his Marines will focus their efforts on protecting civilians from the Taliban and on restoring Afghan government services, instead of mounting a series of hunt-and-kill missions against the insurgents.

"We're doing this very differently," Nicholson said to his senior officers a few hours before the mission began. "We're going to be with the people. We're not going to drive to work. We're going to walk to work." {...}

The U.S. strategy here is predicated on the belief that a majority of people in Helmand do not favor the Taliban, which enforces a strict brand of Islam that includes an-eye-for-an-eye justice and strict limits on personal behavior. Instead, U.S. officials believe, residents would rather have the Afghan government in control, but they have been cowed into supporting the Taliban because there was nobody to protect them. {...}

"Our focus is not the Taliban," Nicholson told his officers. "Our focus must be on getting this government back up on its feet." {..}

In meetings with his commanders at forward operating bases over the past three days, Nicholson acknowledged that focusing on governance and population security does not come as naturally to Marines as conducting offensive operations, but he told them it is essential that they focus on "reining in the pit bulls."

"We're not going to measure your success by the number of times your ammunition is resupplied. . . . Our success in this environment will be very much predicated on restraint," he told a group of officers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines on Sunday. "You're going to drink lots of tea. You're going to eat lots of goat. Get to know the people. That's the reason why we're here."

General Douglas MacArthur once answered a reporter who asked him to define defensive war by using one word: "Defeat."

A few things stand out here. First you might remember that a certain presidential candidate criticized then-President Bush for alienating our allies and promised that he would mend those relationships and get NATO to send more troops. Now that he actually has the job of commander-in-chief, it's obvious from who's doing the heavy lifting in Helmand that President Obama's rhetoric on this subject was just another crack fantasy.

Second, there's a huge assumption being made here that the people of Helmand are instinctively anti-Taliban and favor the Karzhai Afghan government. I'm not sure I'd take that bet.

The population of Helmand province is mostly made up of ethnic Pashtuns,the same group the Taliban is primarily composed of. And Helmand is surrounded by Pashtun controlled areas with substantial Taliban influence, Kandahar province to its east and Nimroz province to the west. Pakistan makes up its southern border.

Given the tribal nature and clan loyalties inherent in Afghan society and its historic and traditional hatred of foreigners, the idea that the people of Helmand are going to jettison their Pashtun homeboys in favor of a bunch of stinking ferenghi infidels who want girls to go to school seems to be a long shot to me, especially since it's obvious that our warriors have some pretty restrictive Rules of Engagement in place.

I hope I'm mistaken, but this smells a lot like the old Hearts And Minds/ fortified villages strategy used in Vietnam.

Another factor I think complicates matters is Helmand's prominence as an opium growing area. It appears no one in the Obama Administration has taken up my idea of controlling the traffic and starving the Taliban of funds by offering the growers the option of selling the crops to us at market price or having their fields destroyed. That means our troops are going to be in the position of either looking the other way as the locals continue to deal with the Taliban or of trying to interfere with the traffic - which is not exactly going to win friends and influence people among the locals.

I sincerely hope someone sat down and thought about these angles before they dispatched our troops to drink tea, eat goat and hang out with the locals while they make sure to avoid shooting at the enemy too much.

1 comment:

nazar said...

This is reminiscent of the vietnam era helicopter raids that we would do, only to find that the vc had melted away because they knew they couldn't stand up to american firepower.

The taliban are there in helmand, and there's plenty of them. They're just slipping back into the shadows and waiting for us to leave. However, if we stay in the villages, that will make it harder for them, and we may win that area back.

In vietnam, the marines had a program called CAP -combined action platoons which involved one platoon protecting a village or a community with the aid of the local populace. Those areas were pacified quicker and stayed pacified longer than the areas in which we used hunt and destroy tactics.

I completely agree with your views on opium farming.