McClatchy’s Dion Nissenbaum filed this gem today…
"You’ve got to be patient," Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told McChrystal. "We’ve only been here 90 days."
"How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?" McChrystal replied.
A charged silence settled in the stuffy, crowded chapel tent at the Marine base in the Marjah district.
"I can’t tell you, sir," the tall, towheaded, Fort Bragg, N.C., native finally answered.
"I’m telling you," McChrystal said. "We don’t have as many days as we’d like." […]
"This is a bleeding ulcer right now," McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.
"You don’t feel it here," he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, "but I’ll tell you, it’s a bleeding ulcer outside."
Throughout the day, McChrystal expressed impatience with the pace of operations, echoing the mounting pressure he’s under from his civilian bosses in Washington and Europe to start showing progress.
Progress in Marjah has been slow, however, in part because no one who planned the operation realized how hard it would be to convince residents that they could trust representatives of an Afghan government that had sent them corrupt police and inept leaders before they turned to the Taliban.
A hundred days after U.S.-led forces launched the offensive, Marjah markets are thriving, the local governor has begun to build a skeleton staff and contractors have begun work on rebuilding schools, canals and bridges.
Marines are running into more firefights on their patrols, however. Taliban insurgents threaten and kill residents who cooperate with the Americans, and it will be months before a permanent police force is ready to take control of the streets from the temporary force that’s brought some stability to Marjah.
The U.S.-backed Marjah governor, Marine officials said, has five top ministers. Eight of 81 certified teachers are on the job, and 350 of an estimated 10,000 students are going to school.
In an attempt to contain the creeping Taliban campaign, Lt. Col. Christmas’ 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, in northern Marjah recently ceded direct control of an outlying rural area, collapsed its battle space and moved a company back into the population center, which had been neglected.
"There was no security," said Haji Mohammed Hassan, a tribal elder whose fear of the Taliban prompted him to leave Marjah two weeks ago for the relative safety of Helmand’s nearby provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.
"By day there is government," he said. "By night it’s the Taliban." […]
"What we have done, in my view, we have given the insurgency a chance to be a little bit credible," McChrystal said in one meeting. "We said: ‘We’re taking it back.’ We came in to take it back. And we haven’t been completely convincing."
…"The vast majority of people are going to be on the fence, and they’re going to wait," said the U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because the meeting was meant to offer candid advice to McChrystal.
"The hard question for us is: Can we push them off the fence or do we have to wait for them? It will take time, and even if you throw two more battalions in there, it is still going to take months and months."
"It was a long way gone; therefore I think patience is necessary," said Mark Sedwill, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. "But I can quite understand why the sheer amount of attention created a sense of expectation that is hard to fulfill."
As Col. Pat Lang had noted so adroitly…
I keep saying that the preliminary COIN effort at Marja is a predictor of what the likely prospects are for COIN success at Kandahar and elsewhere around the country. Where is the news from Marja?
Time is short. William Hague, the new British foreign minister urges the US not to withdraw "too soon" from Afghanistan. That is easy for him to say. His government is new and not yet scarred. The horizon seems far away just now. For President Obama the horizon is close and approaching fast. We have learned now that Obama recognized during the Afghan policy debate that the generals and admirals were trying to "roll" him for what they wanted. They wanted a long COIN war in Afghanistan with an open ended commitment to that war. He called Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates to his office and summoned them to subordination. The threat behind that was obvious. In spite of that he gave them much of what they wanted, but with a caveat driven by his political need to start the end of the war before November, 2012.
That clock is ticking. The Afghan insurgents can hear it ticking. The generals do not have the time they would need to make their strategy work.
The West Point commencement speech yesterday was interesting. It becomes increasingly obvious that Obama is both a social democrat and an internationalist in the classic old mold. These are heavy political burdens for a candidate to bear these days. He will not be able to bear an additional burden in Afghanistan in 2012.
Interestingly, it seems that Marja was a wake up call for our ‘effort’ in Kandahar…
… Until a few weeks ago, U.S. and NATO military officials were describing the upcoming operation in Kandahar as a major offensive — the cornerstone of the new strategy meant to break the momentum of the Taliban insurgency — and said it was due to get under way this spring or in early summer, to be wrapped up by August.
But then last month, American military spokesmen in Kabul began telling reporters it was incorrect to use terms such as "offensive" or "operation" in describing plans for Kandahar. Last week, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the "efforts" in Kandahar are a process, not an event.
"We’re not using the term ‘operation’ or ‘major operations,’ because that often brings to mind in people’s psyche the idea of a D-Day and an H-hour and an attack," he said. […]
"I think what’s happening in Kandahar is that they’re digesting some of the lessons of Marja," says John Nagl, a counterinsurgency specialist with the Center for a New American Security.
In February, the U.S. launched an offensive in the villages of the Marja district, driving out the Taliban. Since then, militants have filtered back in, and the newly installed government is struggling to take hold.
Nagl says U.S. military strategists learned a great deal over the past few months with the Marja operation, and now they recognize the need for a strong government in Kandahar — to help secure the trust of the city’s residents — before going in.
"We recognized that the Afghan government … didn’t have much capacity to come into a new area and establish a high degree of control," Nagl says.