Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water [read more]
The New York Times has a must-read on the state of the fight in parts of the Helmand Province. It’s a sad tale of corruption, ineptitude, laziness and lack of governmental viability. There are a few money quotes that will be called out below.
Governor Massoud has no body of advisers to help run the area, no doctors to provide health care, no teachers, no professionals to do much of anything. About all he says he does have are police officers who steal and a small group of Afghan soldiers who say they are here for “vacation.”
[ ... ]
Meanwhile, Afghans in Khan Neshin, the Marines’ southernmost outpost in Helmand Province, are coming to the Americans with requests for medical care, repairs of clogged irrigation canals and the reopening of schools.
“Without the Afghan government, we will not be successful,” said Capt. Korvin Kraics, the battalion’s lawyer, who is in Khan Neshin. “You need local-level bureaucracy to defeat the insurgency. Without the stability that brings, the Taliban can continue to maintain control.”
[ ... ]
The Marines, unlike units in some other regions, answer to a NATO-led command and are under orders to defer to Afghan military and civilian officials, even if there are none nearby.
For instance, Marines must release detainees after 96 hours or turn them over to Afghan forces for prosecution, even if the nearest prosecutors or judges are 80 miles away. Some detainees who the Marines say are plainly implicated in attacks using improvised explosive devices or mortars have been released.
[ ... ]
The Afghan National Army contingent appears sharper — even if only one-sixth the size that Governor Massoud said he was promised — but the soldiers have resisted some missions because they say they were sent not to fight, but to recuperate.
“We came here to rest, then we are going somewhere else,” said Lt. Javed Jabar Khail, commander of the 31-man unit. The Marines say they hope the next batch of Afghan soldiers will not be expecting a holiday.
First, concerning the issue of the attitude of the Afghan National Army (ANA), this is a depressing account of lazy and cowardly troops who are relying on the Marines to do the heavy lifting in the Province. Furthermore, they are liars. No ANA soldier really believes that he has been sent to the worst Province in Afghanistan to take a vacation. This is one more in our stable of accounts of the poor training, inept personnel, untrustworthiness, lazy attitude and lack of professionalism that plagues the ANA. As for ANP stealing, this corruption is one more in a large number of accounts that confirm that they cannot be trusted in any circumstance or with any authority whatsoever.
Second, the attitude the Marines are taking to the fight is dissimilar to the fight in Anbar, and relies too heavily on Afghan help. The government is not strong enough, the ANA not professional enough, and the courts too corrupt and distant to make a difference in Afghanistan right now. As for the complaint from the Battalion lawyer (why is a Battalion lawyer telling us what it takes to win a counterinsurgency?), he apparently never spent time in the Anbar Province. It relied heavily on Marines doing exactly what is being done now in Helmand. To be sure, the governmental institutions need to be brought along, but relying on them before it is time leads to things like releasing IED makers and emplacers who then go back to blowing the legs off of Marines. It’s worse than stupid. It’s immoral when it can be done differently.
Third, the problem we just described sounds like we are already operating under an effective status of forces agreement with Afghanistan, whether formal or not. This is a mistake that will lead irrevocably to loss of the campaign. Our deference to the Afghan government won’t convince any Afghan to show or have the same respect. Respect is earned, not granted.
Finally, if the Marines are indeed actually operating as ISAF forces rather than under the purview of CENTCOM (can someone confirm or dispute this?), then this is an error of staggering proportions, and Commandant Conway has lost his bearings if he agreed to such an arrangement for the U.S. Marines. This error should be immediately undone and the Marines untethered to operate independently from ISAF / NATO.
Prior on ANA: Afghan National Army Category
Prior on ANP: Afghan National Police