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April 05, 2010

We Aren't Fooling Anyone in Marjah
Posted by Michael Cohen

Yesterday's New York Times article on the challenges facing the US military in convincing residents of Marjah to accept ISAF's presence - and "side" with the government is a depressing, yet not terribly surprising reminder of how misguided our counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan has become.

Military officials are shocked, shocked to discover that the promise of money for siding with the government isn't quite working out; that discouraging the growing of poppy is pissing a lot of people off and even more so, that the Taliban continue to intimidate locals into not working with the government. According to Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines the Taliban have “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways” and "we have to change tactics to get the locals back on our side.”

Sigh. Is there any reason to believe that a near-term change in tactics is going to meet the psychological goal of convincing local Afghans that the US and NATO will a) stay for the long haul (at the same moment that ISAF is already plotting its next offensive into Kandahar) or b) will provide the sort of long-term security in a town where as even Marine generals admit "most people identify themselves as Taliban."

We of course we have no intention of staying for the long haul; we can't protect every Afghan from the wrath of the Taliban; money only goes far in canceling out ethnic loyalty and fear of possible retaliation; and it certainly doesn't help that we are working on behalf of a government and President that (for good reason) doesn't appear to command one iota of popular loyalty.

But perhaps even worse we are lying to ourselves about why we are even in Afghanistan. Consider the words of General Nicholson, commander of the Marine force in Helmand:

“There are lots of people with lots of money invested here, and they are not just going to give that up,“ General Nicholson said. “Now is the heavy lifting. We have to convince a very skeptical population that we are here to help them.”

I know that I'm becoming a broken record on this point, but we are NOT in Marjah to help the Afghan people. We are in Marjah; and in Helmand; and in Kandahar; and in Afghanistan to defeat al Qaeda and make sure that no terrorist who threatens America can find safe haven in that country again. That we are helping Afghans is a nice by-product of our presence in Afghanistan, but as most Afghans must know it's ultimately not why we are there. And when we accomplish our mission - or far more likely, when we get tired of a never-ending war in South Asia and bring our boys home - the Afghans in Marjah and elsewhere will have to fend for themselves. Is it any wonder they aren't buying what the US and NATO is selling?

Perhaps right on cue there is this horrifying story that not only did US Special Operations forces kill three  Afghan women, they covered up the crime - even going to far as to dig bullets out of the bodies of the victims. It is yet another reminder that for all the talk of protecting civilians - and all of General McChrystal's noble efforts to prevent civilian deaths -- they are still happening, and they are still undermining our population centric goals in Afghanistan (again when you put 100,000 US troops, who are trained to kill and protect themselves, in a foreign country none of this should be even slightly surprising).

And as much as I hate to write it, this is likely only going to continue - and we wonder why we can't convince local Afghans to side with us?


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I only want to say Karzai is playing to the local population, who fear a U.S. puppet administration. No big deal. We are leaving anyway. He is trying to build a bridge to those who have been fighting, but don't trust the U.S. to deliver, on integration. The Taliban lies have made the fighters fearful.

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