Marines or State Department: Who Does Afghanistan?

BY Herschel Smith
8 years, 10 months ago

Could the Marines be headed to Afghanistan?

The Marine Corps is pressing to remove its forces from Iraq and to send marines instead to Afghanistan, to take over the leading role in combat there, according to senior military and Pentagon officials.

The idea by the Marine Corps commandant would effectively leave the Iraq war in the hands of the Army while giving the Marines a prominent new role in Afghanistan, under overall NATO command.

The suggestion was raised in a session last week convened by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and regional war-fighting commanders. While still under review, its supporters, including some in the Army, argue that a realignment could allow the Army and Marines each to operate more efficiently in sustaining troop levels for two wars that have put a strain on their forces.

As described by officials who had been briefed on the closed-door discussion, the idea represents the first tangible new thinking to emerge since the White House last month endorsed a plan to begin gradual troop withdrawals from Iraq, but also signals that American forces likely will be in Iraq for years to come.

At the moment, there are no major Marine units among the 26,000 or so American forces in Afghanistan. In Iraq there are about 25,000 marines among the 160,000 American troops there.

Let’s switch gears for a moment to discuss a strategy currently being considered for the Afghanistan campaign (h/t Uncle J at Blackfive).

After the biggest opium harvest in Afghanistan’s history, American officials have renewed efforts to persuade the government here to begin spraying herbicide on opium poppies, and they have found some supporters within President Hamid Karzai’s administration, officials of both countries said.

Since early this year, Mr. Karzai has repeatedly declared his opposition to spraying the poppy fields, whether by crop-dusting airplanes or by eradication teams on the ground.

But Afghan officials said the Karzai administration is now re-evaluating that stance. Some proponents within the government are pushing a trial program of ground spraying that could begin before the harvest next spring.

The issue has created sharp divisions within the Afghan government, among its Western allies and even American officials of different agencies. The matter is fraught with political danger for Mr. Karzai, whose hold on power is weak.

And why would they willingly choose to do something like this?

Many spraying advocates, including officials at the White House and the State Department, view herbicides as critical to curbing Afghanistan’s poppy crop, officials said. That crop and the opium and heroin it produces have become a major source of revenue for the Taliban insurgency.

But officials said the skeptics — who include American military and intelligence officials and European diplomats in Afghanistan — fear that any spraying of American-made chemicals over Afghan farms would be a boon to Taliban propagandists. Some of those officials say that the political cost could be especially high if the herbicide destroys food crops that farmers often plant alongside their poppies.

“There has always been a need to balance the obvious greater effectiveness of spray against the potential for losing hearts and minds,? Thomas A. Schweich, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics issues, said in an interview last week in Washington. “The question is whether that’s manageable. I think that it is.?

Well, there you have it.  State Department thinking at its finest, the same sort of thinking that forced the 3/2 Marines to release Moqtada al Sadr who at the time in 2004 had a body guard and now has the Jaish al Mahdi.  I had initially considered a public flogging for Mr. Schweich, but in order to be civil about this thing, let’s just let him go to a corner and do origami so that he doesn’t hurt anything else.

I cannot possibly rain enough derision and opprobrium down upon this idiotic idea to truly convey my disgust for it.  It is so jaw-droppingly stupid that it is difficult to imagine that it is real rather than a bad joke.  In lieu of trying to do that, I’ll leave a short post-it note for the State Department.  Do you want to see Karzai’s government toppled?  Do you want to see Afghanistan become a bloodbath for NATO forces there?  Do you want to see an enraged Afghan population?  Well then, just follow Mr. Schweich’s advice.

But it you want to let the adults wage the war, then you cannot see the Afghan farmers as the enemy.  In order to keep the poppy crops from becoming an influx of cash for the Taliban, you have to go after the Taliban.  Among the many useful things we have learned in Operation Iraqi Freedom, we know that David Galula’s ideas of small footprint and competition for good governance of the population are hopelessly archaic and outmoded.  The Taliban aren’t interested in governance.  They are only interested in religious radicalism, power and terrorization of the innocents.  The surest way to lose Afghanistan is to be worse terrorists than the Taliban.  The campaign must keep the Afghan people at least moderately pro-U.S.  It isn’t about governance, roads and utilities.  In time, that will all come to the people of Afghanistan.  It is about terror, and as long as we are not inflicting it on the people, the campaign may proceed by removing those who do.

Going after the enemy is what the Marines do: ” … close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, and repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat.”  It is just what the Taliban need.  Tooling for Afghanistan, however, will require new training.  Mohave Viper and MOUT may not be so important, but mountain and cold weather training in Colorado, Vermont and West Virginia will prove to be useful.  This is why the Marines need to know now – to retool the training.

At The Captain’s Journal we say “aye, Sir,” and fall in behind the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  We support this realignment, but let’s leave the State Department out of it.  Let the Marines go in and Afghanistan will be won.  Unleashing the State Department means trouble for everyone.




You are currently reading "Marines or State Department: Who Does Afghanistan?", entry #648 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Marine Corps and was published October 11th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

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