Operation Moshtarak: A Week In
One does get a sense that we’re beating our head against a wall. I found a certain irony in the fact that the Brits in the above clip were using an old British Fort dating from the 1830’s as a base!
Stephen Walt of Foreign Policy makes three very good points…
First, most of the accounts we are getting from Marjah are from official sources or embedded journalists, and these initial reports often tend to highlight achievements unless the operation is a complete disaster. In short, there may be a bit of an upward bias in the reports we’ve seen so far.
Second, it is always difficult to know whether a tactical success is strategically significant, especially in this sort of engagement. There was never much question about the Marines’ ability to expel the Taliban, the only question was how much resistance they would face and what the casualty ratios might be. Casualties do not seem to be that high on either side, however, which suggests that many (though not all) of the Taliban have slipped away to fight another day. That problem has always been one of our major strategic challenges, especially given the porous Afghan/Pakistani border. How can the United States and its allies pacify the entire country, when the adversary can flee and wait us out?
Third, as others have already noted, the real issues are 1) will Afghan security forces will be able to hold the area after the Marines move on, and 2) can the various groups and factions in Afghanistan achieve a workable political formula that will stabilize the country and (eventually) permit the United States and NATO to withdraw? Unfortunately, as Juan Cole notes today, there are still good reasons to be skeptical about the ongoing effort to train reliable Afghan police and security forces. And there are still few signs of genuine political reconciliation (or even compromise)
MARJAH, Afghanistan – The Taliban’s white flag no longer flies over villages across this militant stronghold. Afghan and NATO troops have replaced it with Afghanistan’s official green-and-red banner, which they promise heralds new schools and clinics and good governance.
But residents have heard that before, and for many, Taliban rule hasn’t been all that bad. Plenty of Afghans have made a living off the opium trade, which also funds the insurgency. While some residents greet NATO forces with tea, others just want the troops to clear their streets of explosives and leave.
No one here needs liberating, they say.
"The Taliban didn’t create any problems for people. Every Thursday there was a court session, and if someone had a problem, he would go in front of the Taliban mullah who was the judge," said Samad Khan, a 55-year-old poppy farmer in the village of Saipo on the outskirts of Marjah. The Islamist militant group levied a 10 percent yearly tax on his poppy crop, and let him be.
Now, Khan says, he’s worried that the assault, which began Saturday, is putting his family in danger.
"I’m afraid for my children, for my village, because the fighting is increasing," he said. He’s looking for a way to flee to the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah but said he’s scared to pick his way through the explosive-laced fields to get there. The Taliban planted countless bombs in the area in preparation for the U.S.-led attack.
Definitely proof positive that we’re winning over their ‘hearts and minds’!
The BBC has a decent timeline on Operation Moshtarak…
Several notable Afghan editorials:
EDITORIAL in WEESA
[The government and Nato] try to show that the operation is very important to find pretexts to bring and deploy a large number of troops there. There are huge resources of oil in Helmand, Nimroz and Herat provinces that can meet the western requirements for decades.
EDITORIAL in DAILY AFGHANISTAN
The Taliban has usually staged guerrilla attacks, planted mines and committed suicide bombings instead of waging face-to-face war… Therefore, people won’t value the achievements of the current operation (seizing Marjah District from the Taliban) until they observe practical changes… The government must install administrative and judicial officials in this district and expand the government’s control there.
A cynical lot, those Afghans!