Democracy Arsenal

« Sec Clinton: You Can Have Too Many Nuclear Weapons | Main | Which do they care more about? »

October 22, 2009

A Tale of Two Afghanistans
Posted by Michael Cohen

There are two very interesting stories out today in the LA Times and Washington Post about the state of the fight against Taliban forces in Afghanistan. First the good news from Rajiv Chandrasekaren who reports from Nawa in Helmand Province where things are apparently looking up:

In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.

But at the same time, we see the limitations of the US military's counter-insurgency strategy - the lack of Afghan support:

The turnaround here remains fragile. Marine commanders in Nawa acknowledge that their gains could melt away if the Afghan government and security forces do not move quickly to deliver essential public services, or if U.S. troop levels are reduced here before stability is cemented. Many of the insurgents who left Nawa in July have taken refuge 10 miles to the northwest.

 . . . Despite repeated requests, the government in Kabul has not sent officials to Nawa to help on issues that matter most to local people: education, health, agriculture and rural development

This seems a rather large fly in the ointment - and suggests that any gains made in Helmand could be transitory even if more American troops are sent to Afghanistan. There is plenty of reason to have confidence in the US military's ability to clear an area of Taliban fighters. It's the hold and build part that is tricky and from every indication we simply don't have Afghan support or the political will to make that happen.

Case in point, this article from the LA Times, which suggests that the Taliban are making dangerous inroads in the North:

Reporting from Kunduz, Afghanistan - The hulks of burned-out fuel tankers on the doorstep of this provincial capital stand as scorched testament to the growing reach of the Taliban and other insurgents across Afghanistan's once-stable north . . . residents of a widening arc of territory a half-day's drive from the capital, Kabul, describe daily lives fraught with danger as the militants' foothold becomes stronger.

Just beyond the Kunduz city limits, insurgents brazenly tool around in Ford Rangers stolen from the Afghan police. A Taliban-run shadow administration, complete with a governor, a court system and tax levies, wields greater authority than its official counterpart in much of Kunduz province.Local Afghan officials are frustrated. Their own security forces are spread far too thin, they say -- in Kunduz, fewer than 1,000 police officers safeguard a province of 1.4 million people. Attacks against the Afghan police are relentless: In August, Gov. Omar's brother, a district police commander, was killed in a clash with the Taliban.

Now I realize that you can only read so much into two articles, but these pieces do seem to suggest that perhaps there is a greater need for prioritization by US forces in Afghanistan. The challenge of pacifying Southern Afghanistan is clearly enormous and without a serious influx of American troops it's unlikely to happen (and even then I'm not so sure). Even if we do send, say 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, it will be quite a while before they are in country. With little hope of the ANSF turning into a modern army any time soon -- and not to mention the fact that Taliban fighters in the South can easily slip across the border into safe havens in Pakistan -- I just don't understand why we have made pacifying Helmand and extending the writ of the government there the focus of our military operations. 

Why not focus energy and resources on places like Kunduz where support for the Taliban is weaker and where the size of their fighting force is smaller? If the price of building up forces in the South is that the situation in the North and West becomes destabilized (a point that the article suggest is happening) then it seems the foray into Helmand is actually doing more long-term harm than good.

One thing seems clear: without the support of the Afghan Army and police; without enough ISAF troops, without proper backing from the Afghan government, the US and NATO cannot be everywhere in Afghanistan. So perhaps the focus should be on being in the places that we can be the most successful.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A Tale of Two Afghanistans:


Helmand was planned under GEN McKiernan. It really wasn't preferred by GEN McChrystal, who wanted to use those Marines to hold Kandahar.

Kunduz is a priority area, certainly, but so is Khost.

But, gee, it sure would be easier to hold both if we had more troops ...

it sure would be easier to hold both if we had more troops ...Swiss Replica watch .

Sadly, the Afghan police force has been infiltrated "at every level" by the Taliban, according to a retired British soldier who mentored police in Afghanistan, therefore severely denting confidence in their effectiveness.

Thank you for your sharing.! seslichat seslisohbet

Thank you for your sharing! I like i very much!

Great comments! You are so nice, man! You never know how much i like'em!

The nation is divided about America’s mission in Afghanistan. In a new WASHINGTON POST – ABC News poll, 55% of respondents expressed confidence that President Obama will pick a strategy that will work, but 52% said that the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting given the costs versus the benefits...

Yes, that's cool. The device is amazing! Waiting for your next one!

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use